Jumping to science rather than popularizing: a reverse approach to update in-service teacher scientific knowledge.





teacher training, science education, didactical transposition,


The need for keeping science teachers up-to-date is stronger than ever, but science curricula and teaching is often still focused on outdated approaches and knowledge. We will discuss some of the strong forces that shape the transformations of knowledge from research to curriculum and to classroom - Chevallard (1991)’s Didactical Transposition (DT) - and propose a different approach specifically for teacher professional development. Our research question is: can a different approach reduce detrimental effects of these processes on teacher development and their educational practice? We will bring arguments for an inverted approach that could improve or circumvent DT. We then present the Jump-To-Science (JTS) project developed since 2006, and discuss some results on the basis of on-line questionnaires administered in 2013 (39 responses) and 2019 (47) addressing teachers’ use and perception of JTS. The readership of JTS has regularly grown over the years, suggesting relevance. Respondents mentioned JTS’s importance for their teaching and their awareness of changes in biology. The use of primary articles increased 2013-2019. Teachers’ engagement in the use of primary literature for themselves and for their students is worth noting and promising (effectively using the opportunity to jump to science). Taken together, the results suggest that JTS succeeds in empowering an important fraction of the biology teachers to read authentic scientific research, circumventing the knowledge transformation effects of DT. This might support a progressive move towards more up-to-date and active learning strategies by confronting learners with more authentic sources.

Background: Chevallard’s Didactical Transposition (DT) research shows that scientific knowledge as it percolates from research into classrooms is transformed before it can be used by teachers. It loses the context in which it was elaborated and a large part of its uncertainty, and becomes definitive and generalized in order to be taught. The knowledge teachers effectively use has inspirational thrust, is craft legitimated and locally adapted, proximal and available (Huberman,1983), in stark contrast to classical academic literature.

Purpose: This contribution discusses a new approach to address the difficult question of keeping in-service secondary school teachers up-to-date with the continuous progress of biology research. Our research question is: can a different approach reduce most of the detrimental effects of the growing distance between taught biology and research biology on teachers’ development and their educational practice?

Setting: First we will bring arguments for an inverted approach that could improve or circumvent DT. We then propose a sample project in a local setting (Geneva, Switzerland) that implements this approach developed over 15 years, and discuss some results. Understanding these knowledge transformations as inevitable transposition steps rather than bad popularization enables a new approach: rather than attempting to popularize differently down to teachers, the Jump-To-Science (JTS) project proposes helping teachers up to scientific knowledge directly in its most authentic available form: in scientific journals. It also takes into account the characteristics of knowledge that research identifies as effectively used by teachers: it carefully shares teachers’ values, and gives tokens of teaching experience, and highlights the practical usability in classrooms.

Methods: A 2019 survey study evaluates the perceived use and usefulness of the JTS publication using descriptive or exploratory statistics. We received 47 responses from a total subscriber population of 443. We present some frequencies for all respondents and compare these to results from an earlier 2013 survey (N=39). We then focus on the secondary teacher subpopulation in the 2019 sample (N=27). Correlations were computed with Spearman’s rho. We conducted a principal component analysis on seven questions with 4-point response items and identified three dimensions of use and usefulness explaining 72.4% of the variance. A K-means procedure that is appropriate for ordinal data was used to create a typology of these teachers and we identified an interesting three groups solution.

Results: JTS has been published since 2006 and readership regularly increased (currently 443), an indicator of perceived relevance. 83% of respondents to the 2019 survey (N=47) consider that JTS is important for their teaching and their awareness of changes in biology, up from 60% in an earlier 2013 survey (N=39). 73% believe JTS has changed the approach of some chapters in their teaching, compared to 60% in the 2013 survey. Use of original materials reaches 86% in 2019. Cluster analysis of the 27 secondary teacher sub-population who responded reveals different types in the use of JTS. Some moderately or strongly engage JTS in the use of external resources for themselves and for students, effectively using the opportunity to jump to science, while others engage JTS for teaching improvement but rarely read original articles, using JTS as a form of teacher-adapted popularization. The most interesting correlation in this subset (N=27) is that teachers who follow up primary literature discussed in JTS articles for themselves also offer some of these to students.

Conclusions: Our exploratory analysis suggests that there are different types of engagement in primary literature: it is either read and distributed as resources for student learning, read for teachers’ own use, or ignored (teachers rely on JTS’s summaries and comments). Taken together our results suggest that JTS succeeds in empowering an important fraction of the local biology teachers to read authentic research results, which can be interpreted as circumventing the knowledge transformation effects of TD.This could give rise to a slow evolution from a classical transmissive style (teacher informs, summarizes, transposes and diffuses knowledge) towards more up-to-date and active learning strategies by confronting learners with more authentic sources.

Keywords: Teacher training; science education, didactical transposition

Author Biographies

François Lombard, Geneva University, TECFA, IUFE



Daniel Kaspar Schneider, Geneva University, FPSE, TECFA

Professor,FPSE, TECFA

Laura Weiss, Geneva University, IUFE




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