Research in Science Education

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 481–509 | Cite as

Evaluating Junior Secondary Science Textbook Usage in Australian Schools

  • Christine V. McDonald


A large body of research has drawn attention to the importance of providing engaging learning experiences in junior secondary science classes, in an attempt to attract more students into post-compulsory science courses. The reality of time and resource constraints, and the high proportion of non-specialist science teachers teaching science, has resulted in an overreliance on more transmissive pedagogical tools, such as textbooks. This study sought to evaluate the usage of junior secondary science textbooks in Australian schools. Data were collected via surveys from 486 schools teaching junior secondary (years 7–10), representing all Australian states and territories. Results indicated that most Australian schools use a science textbook in the junior secondary years, and textbooks are used in the majority of science lessons. The most highly cited reason influencing choice of textbook was layout/colour/illustrations, and electronic technologies were found to be the dominant curricula material utilised, in addition to textbooks, in junior secondary science classes. Interestingly, the majority of respondents expressed high levels of satisfaction with their textbooks, although many were keen to stress the subsidiary role of textbooks in the classroom, emphasising the textbook was ‘one’ component of their teaching repertoire. Importantly, respondents were also keen to stress the benefits of textbooks in supporting substitute teachers, beginning teachers, and non-specialist science teachers; in addition to facilitating continuity of programming and staff support in schools with high staff turnover. Implications from this study highlight the need for high quality textbooks to support teaching and learning in Australian junior secondary science classes.


Science textbooks Junior secondary science Curricula materials Scientific literacy 


  1. Abd-El-Khalick, F., Waters, M., & Le, A.-P. (2008). Representations of nature of science in high school chemistry textbooks over the past four decades. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(7), 835–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ainley, J., & Gebhardt, E. (2013). Measure for measure: a review of outcomes of school education in Australia. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.Google Scholar
  3. Ainley, J., Kos, J., & Nicholas, M. (2008). Participation in science, mathematics and technology in Australian education. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd.Google Scholar
  4. Alexander, P. A., & Kulikowich, J. M. (1994). Learning from physics text: a synthesis of recent research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(9), 895–911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (1993). Benchmarks for scientific literacy: a Project 2061 report. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2010). Schools, Australia (Cat. No. 4221.0). Canberra: ABS.Google Scholar
  7. Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2013). Australian Curriculum: Science F-10. Sydney: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  8. Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. K. (1996). Reform by the book: what is—or might be—the role of curriculum materials in teaching learning and instructional reform? Educational Researcher, 25(9), 6–8. 14.Google Scholar
  9. Ball, D. L., & Feiman-Nemser, S. (1988). Using textbooks and teachers’ guides: A dilemma for beginning teachers and teacher educators. Curriculum Inquiry, 18, 401–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Banilower, E. R., Smith, P. S., Weiss, I. R., Malzahn, K. A., Campbell, K. M., & Weis, A. M. (2013). Report of the 2012 national survey of science and mathematics education. Chapel Hill: Horizon Research, Inc.Google Scholar
  11. Bazler, J. A., & Simonis, D. A. (1991). Are high school chemistry textbooks gender fair? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28, 353–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bennett, J., & Hogarth, S. (2009). Would you want to talk to a scientist at a party? High school students’ attitudes to school science and to science. International Journal of Science Education, 31(14), 1975–1998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carnine, L., & Carnine, D. (2004). The interaction of reading skills and science content knowledge when teaching struggling secondary students. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 20, 203–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chall, J. S., & Conard, S. S. (1991). Should textbooks challenge students? New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  15. Chambliss, M. J., & Calfee, R. C. (1998). Textbooks for learning: nurturing children’s minds. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Chiappetta, E. L., & Koballa, T. (2002). Science instruction in the middle and secondary schools (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Merrill Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  17. Chiappetta, E. L., Sethna, G. H., & Fillman, D. A. (1991). A quantitative analysis of high school chemistry textbooks for scientific literacy themes and expository learning aids. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28, 939–951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chiappetta, E. L., Sethna, G. H., & Fillman, D. A. (1993). Do middle school life science textbooks provide a balance of scientific literacy themes? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30, 787–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chiappetta, E. L., Ganesh, T. G., Lee, Y. H., & Phillips, M. C. (2006). Examination of science textbook analysis research conducted on textbooks published over the past 100 years in the United States. San Francisco: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching.Google Scholar
  20. Cook, A., & Tulip, D. (1992). The importance of selected textbook features to science teachers. Research in Science Education, 22, 91–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. CST (Council for Science and Technology). (2000). Science teachers: A report on supporting and developing the profession of science teaching in primary and secondary schools. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.Google Scholar
  22. Danaia, L., Fitzgerald, M., & McKinnon, D. (2013). Students’ perceptions of high school science: what has changed over the last decade? Research in Science Education, 43(4), 1501–1515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Davis, E. A., & Krajcik, J. S. (2005). Designing educative curriculum materials to promote teacher learning. Educational Researcher, 34(3), 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dekkers, J., & de Laeter, J. (2001). Enrolment trends in school science education in Australia. International Journal of Science Education, 23(5), 487–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. DiGisi, L. L., & Willett, J. B. (1995). What high school biology teachers say about their textbook use: a descriptive study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(2), 123–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dunne, J., Mahdi, A. E., & O’Reilly, J. (2013). Investigating the potential of Irish primary school textbooks in supporting inquiry-based science education (IBSE). International Journal of Science Education, 35(9), 1513–1532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Elgar, A. G. (2004). Science textbooks for lower secondary schools in Brunei: issues of gender equity. International Journal of Science Education, 26(7), 875–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fang, Z. (2006). The language demands of science reading in middle school. International Journal of Science Education, 28(5), 491–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fang, Z., & Wei, Y. (2010). Improving middle school students’ science literacy through reading infusion. The Journal of Educational Research, 103, 262–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fensham, P. J. (1997). School science and its problems with scientific literacy. In R. Levinson & J. Thomas (Eds.), Science today: problem or crisis? London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Ford, D. J. (2004). Scaffolding preservice teachers’ evaluation of children’s science literature: attention to science-focused genres and use. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 15, 133–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Goodrum, D., Hackling, M., & Rennie, L. (2001). The status and quality of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.Google Scholar
  33. Goodrum, D., Druhan, A., & Abbs, J. (2012). The status and quality of year 11 and 12 science in Australian schools. Canberra: Report prepared for the Office of the Chief Scientist by the Australian Academy of Science.Google Scholar
  34. Groves, F. H. (1995). Science vocabulary load of selected secondary science textbooks. School Science and Mathematics, 95(5), 231–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Guthrie, J. T., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation in reading. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (pp. 403–422). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Hand, B., Alvermann, D., Gee, J., Guzzetti, B., Norris, S., Phillips, L., Prain, V., & Yore, L. (2003). Message from the “Island Group”: what is literacy in science literacy? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40, 607–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Holliday, W. G. (1991). Helping students learn effectively from science text. In C. M. Santa & D. E. Alvermann (Eds.), Science learning: processes and applications. Newark: International Reading Association.Google Scholar
  38. Hubisz, J. (2003). Middle-school texts don’t make the grade. Physics Today, 50–54.Google Scholar
  39. Irez, S. (2009). Nature of science as depicted in Turkish biology textbooks. Science Education, 93(3), 422–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Johnson, B. E., & Zabrucky, K. M. (2011). Improving middle and high school students’ comprehension of science texts. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(1), 19–31.Google Scholar
  41. Kahveci, A. (2010). Quantitative analysis of science and chemistry textbooks for indicators of reform: a complementary perspective. International Journal of Science Education, 32(11), 1495–1519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kenny, J., Lyons, T., & Quinn, F. (2014). The continuing decline of science and mathematics enrolments in Australian high schools. Teaching Science, 60(2), 34–46.Google Scholar
  43. Kesidou, S., & Roseman, J. E. (2002). How well do middle school science programs measure up? Findings from project 2061’s curriculum review. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 522–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Khine, M. S. (2013). Analysis of science textbooks for instructional effectiveness. In M. S. Khine (Ed.), Critical analysis of science textbooks: evaluating instructional effectiveness. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. King, C. J. H. (2010). An analysis of misconceptions in science textbooks: Earth Science in England and Wales. International Journal of Science Education, 32(5), 565–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lee, V. R. (2010). Adaptations and continuities in the use and design of visual representations in US middle school science textbooks. International Journal of Science Education, 32(8), 1099–1126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lee, O., Eichinger, D., Anderson, C. W., Berkheimer, G. D., & Blakeslee, T. D. (1993). Changing middle school students’ conceptions of matter and molecules. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30, 249–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lumpe, A. T., & Beck, J. (1996). A profile of high school biology textbooks using scientific literacy recommendations. The American Biology Teacher, 58(3), 147–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lyons, T., & Quinn, F. (2010). Choosing Science: Understanding the declines in senior high school science enrolments. Armidale: National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia, University of New England.Google Scholar
  50. Maykut, P., & Morehouse, R. (1994). Beginning qualitative research: a philosophic and practical guide. London: The Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  51. MCEECDYA (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (2004). Demand and Supply of Primary and Secondary Teachers in Australia.,11582.
  52. McKenzie, P., Kos, J., Walker, M., & Hong, J. (2008). Staff in Australia’s Schools 2007. Canberra: DEEWR.Google Scholar
  53. Millar, R., & Osborne, J. (1998). Beyond 2000: science education for the future. London: King’s College.Google Scholar
  54. Ninnes, P. (2000). Representations of indigenous knowledges in secondary school science textbooks in Australia and Canada. International Journal of Science Education, 22(6), 603–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Norris, S., & Phillips, L. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87, 224–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Office of the Chief Scientist. (2012). Health of Australian Science. Australian Government: Canberra.Google Scholar
  57. Ogan-Bekiroglu, F. (2007). To what degree do the currently used physics textbooks meet the expectations? Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 599–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD. (2013). PISA 2012 assessment and analytical framework: Mathematics, reading, science, problem solving and financial literacy. Paris: Author.Google Scholar
  59. Overman, M., Vermunt, J. D., Meijer, P. C., Bulte, A. M. W., & Brekelmans, M. (2013). Textbook questions in context-based and traditional chemistry curricula analysed from a content perspective and a learning activities perspective. International Journal of Science Education, 35(17), 2954–2978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Penney, K., Norris, S. P., Phillips, L. M., & Clark, G. (2003). The anatomy of high school science textbooks. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education, 3(4), 415–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reddy, V. (2005). State of Mathematics and Science Education: Schools are not equal. Perspectives in Education, 23(3), 125–138.Google Scholar
  62. Rennie, L. J., Goodrum, D., & Hackling, M. Science teaching and learning in Australian schools: Results of a national study. Research in Science Education, 31, 455–498.Google Scholar
  63. Roseman, J. E., Stern, L., & Koppal, M. (2010). A method for analysing the coherence of high school biology textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(1), 47–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Roth, W. M., Bowen, G. M., & McGinn, M. K. (1999). Differences in graph-related practices between high school biology textbooks and scientific ecology journals. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 977–1019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Schmidt, W., McKnight, C., & Raizen, S. (1997). A splintered vision: an investigation of U.S. science and mathematics education. Lansing: Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  66. Shamos, M. H. (1995). The myth of scientific literacy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Shepardson, D. P., & Pizzini, E. L. (1991). Questioning levels of junior high schools science textbooks and their implications for learning textual information. Science Education, 75(6), 673–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Slough, S. W., McTigue, E. M., Kim, S., & Jennings, S. K. (2010). Science textbooks’ use of graphical representation: a descriptive analysis of four sixth grade science texts. Reading Psychology, 31(3), 301–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Speering, W., & Rennie, L. (1996). Students’ perceptions about science: the impact of transition from primary to secondary school. Research in Science Education, 26, 283–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Stern, L., & Roseman, J. E. (2004). Can middle-school science textbooks help students learn important ideas? Findings from project 2061’s curriculum evaluation study: Life science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(6), 538–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sue, V. M., & Ritter, L. A. (2007). Conducting online surveys. Thousand Oaks: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Thomson, S., Hillman, K., Wernert, N., Schmid, M., Buckley, S., & Munene, A. (2012). Highlights from TIMSS & PIRLS 2011 from Australia’s perspective. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).Google Scholar
  73. Thomson, S., De Bortoli, L., & Buckley, S. (2013). PISA in brief—highlights from the full Australian report: PISA 2012: how Australia measures up. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd.Google Scholar
  74. Tulip, D., & Cook, A. (1993). Teacher and student usage of science textbooks. Research in Science Education, 23, 302–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tytler, R. (2007). Re-imagining science education: engaging students in science for Australia’s future. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.Google Scholar
  76. Tytler, R., & Osborne, J. (2012). Student attitudes and aspirations toward science. In B. J. Fraser, K. G. Tobin, & C. J. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 597–626). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tytler, R., Osborne, J., Williams, G., Tytler, K., & Cripps Clark, J. (2008). Engagement in STEM across the primary-secondary school transition: opening up pathways. Canberra: DEEWR.Google Scholar
  78. Unsworth, L. (1997). Some practicalities of a language-based theory of learning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 20(1), 36–52.Google Scholar
  79. Venville, G., Rennie, L., Hanbury, C., & Longnecker, N. (2013). Scientists reflect on why they chose to study science. Research in Science Education, 43(6), 2207–2233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Weis, A. M. (2013). 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education: status of middle school science. Chapel Hill: Horizon Research, Inc.Google Scholar
  81. Wilkinson, J. (1999). A quantitative analysis of physics textbooks for scientific literacy themes. Research in Science Education, 29(3), 385–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education and Professional StudiesGriffith UniversityMt GravattAustralia

Personalised recommendations