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TIMSS Report – Maths And Science, Teaching Science

TIMSS Report – Maths And Science

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

The TIMSS Report for 2011 states:

“…there are serious concerns with respect to primary school teachers’ level of science and mathematics training, and some teachers’ confidence and capacity to deliver lessons in these areas.”  It refers to Australian primary school teachers.

The overall scores are not significantly different in the 2015 TIMSS Report.

In respect of Australian teachers in both primary and secondary schools, Government reviews have acknowledged the decline in student involvement and results in science and maths. These reviews have consistently called for policy interventions that include:

  1. improving science literacy,
  2. partnerships between schools and industry,
  3. new science equipment, and
  4. careers education.


In 2011, 55% of Year 4 students like science and 25% say so in Year 8.

In 2011, 45% of Year 4 students like maths and 16% say so in Year 8.

While international averages also decline, Australia’s students like science and maths a lot less by Year 8. In 2018, progress has been made in regard to No 2 and 4 above. No 3 depends on government funding. (But I can speak to No 1 and do so below.)


Enquiry learning features large in the recommendations of the Report. Australia’s teachers have been at the forefront internationally, in promoting enquiry learning for students.  And yet, the TIMSS Report states schools and teachers are bogged down by their continuation of “traditional teaching approaches”. The Report also claims that

  • traditional methods of system-wide assessments underpin older teaching methods; and
  • the continued use of teachers not trained to teach maths is holding back student performance.

So, while spearheading change in Australia and on the international teaching scene, Australian teachers are simultaneously responsible for holding back progress. Mmmm!

A notable cause for concern in the Report is the standard of Science teaching in Australian primary schools. When less than 9% of teaching time (some states of Australia) is allocated to science, it smacks of a bit more teacher bashing to me. Increase the time allocation and teachers will meet the requirement.


The purpose of learning to read and write is to get to the heart of learning quickly. Enquiry learning is very important but also time-consuming. Why re-invent the wheel!

For my part, science literacy is addressed in my lesson packs. Yet, they are largely pen and paper activities with a practical activity where possible.

Items on my website that can help lay down basic knowledge before, or in conjunction with, enquiry tasks. Here are some links to Cloud Spotting and Three States of Matter:




Primary school teachers can follow this simple model. It takes into account the shortage of allocated time and negotiates a workable arrangement with literacy activities and enquiry tasks. Parents can follow these simple principles when teaching their own children in the home setting.

  • A set reading piece on a science topic provides children with basic information and concepts, and educates them in science literacy.
  • Writing reinforces the information and concepts; and
  • Experiments, demonstrations and practical tasks could follow to confirm and extend learning in many instances.

The Report states that current testing methods maintain “a focus … on testing comprehensive coverage of concepts at a relatively low level of reasoning and problem solving”.

  • One purpose of testing is to elicit responses that confirm transfer of content and development of concepts and skills taught.
  • The second purpose is to inform future teaching by finding out where the weaknesses in performance lie.

I do wonder whether the writers have taught in classrooms with the many constraints they put forward for classroom teachers.


Assertions are made through the media in 2018 that leads one to believe that the situation has not changed much since 2011. There are easy and less dramatic modifications that primary schools can make:

  • Adopt a modified combination of enquiry learning and pen and paper learning; and
  • Avoid giving enquiry tasks for children to do at home when we all know that the parents are doing the work.

Borrow Literacy Lessons

  • Increase science content in literacy classes.
  • Encourage primary school teachers to recognise that literacy learning is skills-based, not content-based. Learning writing conventions is the only content-based component of Literacy lessons, and therefore a lot more content can be science based. Indeed, it can be history-based and still satisfy the requirements of language-learning curricula.

Discussion of the Report can be found at: http://www.acola.org.au


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