Includes bibliographical references (leaves 199-222).This study monitored the transformation of Grade 9 Natural Science classrooms toward social constructivist learning environments in three contexts described by socio-economic status (SES) (i.e., high, medium and low SES). The study further assessed the influence of social constructivist learning environments on three key student outcomes, namely, students' attitude toward science, achievement and gender equity. The present study employed a mixed-method approach, which took place in two main sequential data collection phases, namely, the quantitative data collection phase (QUAN) and the qualitative data collection phase (qual). This contemporary approach was employed to triangulate the quantitative data with the qualitative data, in order to provide credible and trustworthy answers to the following research questions, namely, 1) To what extent do teachers implement social constructivist-based learning environments, required by the revised National Curriculum Statement, in Grade 9 Natural Science classes? 2) Do different levels of congruence of students' experienced (i.e., actual) and preferred learning environments in selected Grade 9 classrooms occur and, if so, why? 3) Does the students' background, described in terms of their socio-economic status, influence their perceptions of their learning environment? 4) What is the influence of social constructivist-based learning environments in promoting student outcomes of attitude toward science, achievement, and gender equity in three socio-economic contexts? For the QUAN phase, a newly developed instrument, the'Social Constructivist Learning Environment Survey (SCLES)'was developed. The questionnaire assessed students' perceptions of six aspects of the learning environment. Four of the aspects were assessed using dimensions that were adopted and adapted from past learning environment questionnaires (namely, Scientific Investigations, Personal Relevance, Collaboration, Critical Voice and Uncertainty in Science). Two dimensions were developed specifically for the present study in order to contextualize the questionnaire to the requirements of the new curriculum (namely, Metacognition and Respect for Difference). The student outcome, Attitude toward Science, was taken directly from one of the Test of Science-Related Attitudes (TOSRA), and an achievement test was developed to assess the skills related to the drawing of straight line graphs, as well as predicting from and interpreting information from a straight line graph. iii After the pilot study of the questionnaire and subsequent modifications to it, data were collected from a random sample meticulously chosen to reflect the heterogenous nature of schools in the Western Cape Province. The sample was stratified according to the education districts that the schools were located in, and the SES of the schools. This method of selecting the sample'as recommended by Creswell (2003)'ensured a total random stratified sample of 1955 Grade 9 Natural Science students in one class in 52 schools representative of urban and public schools in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. The results show, first, that SCLES and the Attitude toward Science scale were valid and reliable, suggesting that SCLES can be used with confidence in Grade 9 Natural Science classes. Second, in order to describe the 52 classes using SCLES, a one-way MANOVA and effect sizes showed that students preferred a more positive learning environment than the one that they presently perceived on all six SCLES scales. These results highlight educationally important differences between students' perceptions of the actual and preferred learning environments in classrooms. Third, students' perceptions were compared by SES using a one-way MANOVA, as well as a Tukey HSD post hoc test. These results highlight that SES is a factor that is influential in describing differences between students' actual and preferred learning environment, as well as Attitude toward Science and achievement. Fourth, associations between SCLES, and the three student outcomes were examined. The scale Attitudes toward Science and the achievement test were examined using simple correlation and multiple regression analyses, while gender equity was examined using one-way MANOVA for repeated measures. These results crucially suggest that in order for teachers to maximize the student outcomes, they should be sensitive to dimensions perceived as important by students in different SES contexts, as there is no 'one size fits all' approach to teaching in a social constructivist learning environment. The study offers important implications and recommendations to teachers and policy-makers regarding social constructivist learning environments, as well as fruitful avenues for further research
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