Authentic scientific inquiry and school science
Volume 55 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 35–41
Practising scientists commonly face ill-defined, open-ended problems about which no existing body of research evidence is available. To resolve them they have to apply prior knowledge and skills, and intuition built from experience, in order to define questions for investigation, obtain and interpret evidence, and communicate results. School science students too need to develop skills in authentic scientific inquiry. For this reason they should be given open-ended problems, supported by suitable scaffolding. Problems that challenge strongly held misconceptions of science may be especially useful. Currently, however, studies by the author and other researchers indicate that most science teaching remains focused on 'recipe-style' laboratory exercises based on closed problems, focusing on controlled variables, and developed through didactic teaching of content knowledge and skills. The author canvassed the opinions of 16 Australian science teachers as to the nature of authentic scientific inquiry. In pairs, the participants submitted written responses to a variety of statements about the nature of authentic scientific inquiry and then discussed the comments of other contributors. The participants’ responses aligned closely with current educational literature on some aspects of authentic scientific inquiry. In other ways, however, they diverged from current thinking. For example, many retained a notion of a single 'scientific method' applicable to all scientific inquiry, without recognising that varied scientific approaches exist for different types of problem solving. Participants did not appear to understand that scientific inquiry sometimes commences without the benefit of any existing data from previous research. To some extent such teachers could benefit from more exposure to historical examples of scientific discoveries that do not fit these assumptions, such as the discovery of penicillin or the theory of plate tectonics. Of most value, however, would be exposure to the practice of existing scientists exploring current problems. Science teachers also need professional development in ways to explain the nature of science to students, through discussion and reflection. A range of resources are available for these purposes, including the Science Stage 6 Support Document for Years 7–10 in New South Wales, and the Primary Connections program.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Inquiry based learning
Assuming responsibility: teachers taking charge of their professional development
Volume 55 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 9–15
The article describes the professional development needs and experiences of 50 staff at seven government schools in regional or rural towns in Victoria, in relation to maths, science and technology. The schools, three primary, three secondary and one P–12, were identified by DEECD regional project officers as providing effective PD, with individual participants selected by each principal. Participants indicated that scope for subject-specific PD was unduly constrained by cross-curricular PD generated by government initiatives. This finding is supported by previous research. However, the participants also described a range of ways in which they or colleagues in maths, science or technology were successfully generating their own, informal types of PD. One important form of PD was mentoring, outside the State Government’s formal mentoring program. Another form was the establishment of connections with staff at nearby schools, with informed members of the local community, or with more dispersed individuals online. Two of the participants were involved in ASISTM projects and regarded them as a form of PD. Further study, on the other hand, was not mentioned as a form of PD, perhaps due to the isolation of the schools. Attending annual conferences of subject associations was often mentioned, however the value found in them varied between individual respondents and conferences. The participants referred to a number of obstacles to PD. One was the difficulty of obtaining relief teachers. Attendance at conferences and seminars was impeded by problems with travel and accommodation, including time away from family. Teachers had mixed perceptions of the impact of the small size of the schools on their work: on one hand teachers were obliged to take classes outside their specialisation, but on the other they were developed by responsibilities such as subject coordination earlier in their careers than city teachers. The value of ICT for delivery of PD was reduced by a lack of support staff, with too much of the technology budget spent on equipment instead of technical support. PD for these educators could be improved by more funding for conference attendance, greater opportunity to use ICT for networking, and increased links between school and community.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
May 2009; Pages 10–11
Australia’s State, Territory and Federal governments are seeking to increase the number of young people with tertiary qualifications, and also to lift the proportion of low-SES students completing higher education. The recent Bradley review of higher education articulated these goals, calling for an increase from 32 to 40 per cent in the number of young people with a Bachelors degree, and for an additional 5 per cent of low-SES students to be enrolled in university courses. Collaboration between universities and schools is essential to achieve these improvements. However, changes are needed to allow schools to facilitate this process more effectively. Schools currently tend to focus on maximising their students’ Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) score, yet research indicates that the highest academic achievers at university are not necessarily the those with best scores at secondary level, but rather those who have developed into independent and self-disciplined learners. There is an argument for schools to devote more attention to developing their students’ capacities in life- and study skills, but schools are already struggling to meet the needs of students from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. If schools are to prepare the whole student body more effectively for tertiarty study, they need to be supported by better social infrastructure and improved community networks. As the school completion rate rises, a trend that is likely to continue, new layers of potential university students are being drawn from social categories traditionally under-represented in higher education. These students will require more input of effort if they are to become successful at tertiary level. A start has been made in this direction through initiatives from some universities to demystify tertiary education for secondary students. Some universities have begun to send representatives to talk to school students. For example, the ASPIRE program is connecting the University of New South Wales with 10 secondary schools, informing low-SES students about university life and options for study. The article also describes measures to undertaken by universities to assist low-SES and rural students complete their tertiary studies.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Transitions in schooling
Volume 23 Number 3, Spring 2009
The professional growth of young teachers, and their willingness to remain in the profession, both depend largely on the character of their school. The author, a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, recounts her experiences since the 1960s in establishing and leading a number of small, independently run primary or secondary schools within the public system, serving mainly African-American and Latino students. Despite a sustained high workload, various strategies were successfully used amongst the schools to prevent staff burnout and maintain high levels of enthusiasm. One important element was empowerment of teachers and the wider school community. The professional staff collectively decided the curriculum, graduation requirements, school layout, hiring of staff, and more general school planning. Through these processes staff developed skills in the sensitive area of peer evaluation. Students were evaluated by former as well as current teachers, and also by peers and other members of the school community. A community service program for students allowed the staff time away from teaching pressures: teachers had five hours of adult-only time each week, and breaks from classroom teaching during the school year. Social support, combined with flexible work arrangements, was also important. For example, when one staff member’s husband died unexpectedly teaching was reorganised so that she co-taught with a colleague in the adjoining room, with support from a third adult, for several years. Another teacher was allowed a year’s leave to explore work as a playwright. A further success factor was networking at school, city and nationwide levels. Staff retention will 'take care of itself' with a supportive school atmosphere.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Engaging secondary school students in extended and open learning supported by online technologies
Volume 41 Number 3, Spring 2009; Pages 305–328
The internet offers students who are seeking ways to extend their learning, new opportunities to engage in self-directed, research-based study. Sixteen high-ability middle-grade learners who had attended a four-day science camp took part in a six-month online learning community designed to extend learning achieved during the camp. The authors sought to examine students' motivation, collaboration, and interaction in a virtual, student-centred environment, and to determine the impact of the online environment on students' learning. The research was conducted from a social constructivist viewpoint that highlighted the importance of socially immersed learning environments, characterised by high degrees of social presence and interaction, to learning. The learning community was centred around an e-learning platform called Moodle, which comprised forums, chat rooms, and private message facilities. Learning was open-ended, with students given only general guidelines pertaining to learning approaches and an optional final project based on topics raised at the camp. It was hoped that students would undertake their own learning and contribute to discussions. However, while a number of students logged in to Moodle and posted frequently, many students were less inclined to participate. Students later noted that they were instead using instant messaging programs and email to communicate with other students, as these methods were more convenient and efficient than the forums. While the forum threads around research topics did encourage thoughtful, helpful postings, they often became off-topic without moderator intervention. The relatively low levels of posting was perhaps due to the large number of topics in comparison with numbers of participants. While students' learning was evident in their forum discussions and in chat room transcripts, only eight students completed a draft or final draft of their research projects. Lack of explicit direction had been a barrier to completion for some students, who felt overwhelmed by the task. Computer access issues, perceived inflexibility of the Moodle system, and school and extracurricular commitments also posed a challenge. To encourage participation and task completion, students suggested incorporating some face-to-face meetings or increasing the structure and support offered by the learning environment. Schools could also set aside curriculum time to facilitate students' extended learning.
Bases of preservice art teachers' reflective art judgments
Volume 50 Number 2, 2009; Pages 184–200
The types of judgements art teachers make about art affect both their decisions regarding artwork introduced in their classrooms, and also their perspectives regarding their students' work. As these judgements will in turn likely influence students' subsequent perceptions of quality in art, teachers must have the skills and knowledge to make reflective and informed judgements about diverse types of artwork. A study of 26 pre-service art teachers examined teachers' value judgements around artwork by having participants select a 'good' artwork and then providing three reasons to justify their selection. Their responses were measured against a framework of types of viewpoints, ranging from naïve to sophisticated. This framework comprised five judgement types: Non-reflective judgement, an immediate response based on obvious qualities without deeper consideration; Beauty, Realism and Skill judgement, based on assumptions that good art demonstrates beauty and skill, and informed by simplistic notions of these elements; Expression of Feeling and Ideas judgement, reflecting knowledge of art as communicative and meaningful; Modernistic Artworld judgement, applying specialised, thoughtful ideas and standards, such as use of line and colour; and Plural Artworld judgement, the consideration of multiple cultures when applying norms and ideas. Although participants had been asked to provide three bases of judgement for their selected artwork, most participants (61%) used only one. The most frequently applied viewpoint was that of Expression of Feeling and Ideas, with 23 respondents using this mode. The vast majority (88%) of responses used the Non-reflective viewpoint, or fell within the Beauty, Realism and Skill, or Expression of Feeling and Ideas clusters. Only 15% of participants used the Modernistic Artworld viewpoint, and only one respondent used the sophisticated Plural Artworld viewpoint as a basis for judgement. Teacher educators must ensure that pre-service art teachers have the skills to make informed, critical decisions about work, and teachers should be aware of the bases of their art judgements in order to thoughtfully select artwork and plan activities around critical issues and ideas in art, as well as having adequate background with which to judge students' work.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsVisual arts
Teaching and learning
Arts in education
Volume 30 Number 1, May 2009; Pages 23–45
With online courses becoming more prevalent at both primary and secondary levels, it is important to address student expectations of virtual education teachers. Results from a survey completed voluntarily by 1648 secondary students enrolled in various classes at the North Carolina Virtual Public School in the USA were examined to identify students' expectations of teachers in virtual school environments. Overall, students were satisfied with teachers' handling of online classes in terms of teachers' knowledge, preparation, course conduct, use of tools, feedback and encouragement. Students, most of whom were new to online education, outlined a range of expectations regarding content dissemination and teaching methods. They expected virtual teachers, much like face-to-face teachers, to take an active, leading role in instruction, lecturing and explaining material rather than simply acting as moderators. Teachers were expected to supplement course materials with examples, exercises, and sample tests; students also desired increased incorporation of real-world content, suggesting the use of technology, such as virtual tours and field trips, to achieve this. They also expected to have access to diverse, interactive content, such as project tasks, games and simulations. Students felt that collaborative assignments and communication with other students, such as speaking classes for language learners or content discussion on online forums, would improve their learning. Some also suggested having the opportunity to collaborate with professionals working in their relevant fields of study, such as journalists and psychologists. Students expected to receive useful and timely feedback to questions and assignments; as some course designs included very large numbers of assignments, this could become difficult to achieve. Students indicated they would prefer to receive fewer, but more meaningful tasks; this would facilitate authentic learning, and make detailed feedback possible. Individualised attention was an expectation of students; however, they often turned to teachers at their home schools or worked with peers to overcome challenges to learning. Dissemination of virtual teaching guidelines or pre-course expectation questionnaires would help determine students' expectations of teachers. Increased facility for communication, and implementation of home-school mentors or tutors could support secondary students in online learning environments.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
An interpretive scheme for analysing the identities that students develop in mathematics classes
Volume 40 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 40–67
The ways that students relate to mathematics can affect their interest and persistence in mathematics learning. Analysis of the identities that students develop in mathematics classrooms can therefore help inform class design and pedagogical approaches. The article reports on a study that has used an identify framework to analyse the classroom-based mathematics identities of middle-school students enrolled in both a regular algebra class and a collaborative, inquiry-based class, designed for this research. Students’ identities were measured in terms of normative identity, indicating how well they met class-wide norms of mathematical competence; and personal identity, the extent to which students identify with these classroom norms, for example whether they are actively engaged, merely cooperate, or openly resist the teacher. In the algebra class, authority was distributed to the teacher, who determined the methods students could use to solve tasks and was the judge of the legitimacy of their responses. Mathematical competence was constituted as the ability to use set processes to reach appropriate solutions. Interviews with students confirmed that they saw that their role was to take notes, ask clarifying questions, and demonstrate knowledge using processes legitimised by the teacher. Students’ responses indicated that they were merely cooperating with the classroom obligations, and were not developing a sense of affiliation with mathematics in this classroom: their sense of obligation remained directed toward the teacher rather than toward themselves. In contrast, authority in the inquiry-based class was distributed, as students and the teacher jointly determined the legitimacy of responses. Students had agency to select their own methods for developing and explaining analyses, and to challenge those of other students. Mathematical competence was demonstrated by students’ ability to justify their solutions. Students believed that their role was to justify and explain their reasoning, ask clarifying questions, and to explain reasons for disagreement with others’ results. Their positive evaluations of their obligations indicated that they were developing a sense of affiliation with mathematics in this classroom. Different approaches to mathematics teaching foster different learning identities, perceptions of competence, and affiliation with mathematics.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
Volume 36 Number 2, December 2008; Pages 153–166
By comparing language learners' oral fluency with that of native speakers, key elements affecting second language (L2) proficiency can be identified. The authors analysed the speech of 30 language learners against native speaker benchmarks to determine areas of deficit in language learners' fluency, and the reasons behind these deficits. The language learners were categorised as fluent or disfluent dependent on whether their oral production skills approached native-speaker levels. Native-like speech is generally characterised by output of between 130 and 200 words per minute, with approximately one-third of production time spent pausing. These pauses tend to be organisational in nature, and usually occur at clause or utterance boundaries. Examination of learners’ production indicated that all measures of spoken productivity, including speech rate, utterance lengths, hesitation frequency and length, and error, correlated significantly with vocabulary knowledge. Disfluent learners had very small vocabularies, with an average of 2800 words, compared with up to 12 000 for the fluent learners, and produced on average just over 50 words per minute. They spent half of all production time in frequent and extended hesitation, pausing approximately every two words. Analysis of pause distribution indicated that while the fluent speakers' pauses occurred at clause or utterance boundaries, more than half of the pauses of disfluent speakers occurred within clauses. Almost 80% of extended hesitations were related to lexical error and retrieval. This contrasted with morphological (grammatical) errors, which were more smoothly incorporated into the speech flow. Exceptions were errors related to irregular verbs or words, which are retrieved lexically rather than generated analytically, like other grammatical forms. While learners are often told to try to gloss over gaps in their vocabulary by rephrasing or using synonyms, the disfluent learners lacked both strategies and sufficient vocabulary to compensate for missing lexical items, and their attempts to 'talk around' lexical gaps severely interrupted the flow of speech. To develop elements critical to oral fluency, learners must develop knowledge of collocations (commonly occurring phrases) in order to promote automaticity, and focus on lexical acquisition.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Philosophical Intelligence: What is it and how do we develop it?
Volume 19 Number 1, 2009; Pages 12–19
One of nine aptitudes described by Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, existential, or philosophical intelligence is the sensitivity to and ability to engage with questions of human existence. It is engaged when an individual exercises creative thinking, such as posing or engaging with conceptual problems and concepts, and uses reason, logic, and evidence to express meanings, pose hypotheses and arguments, judge beliefs, or seek solutions. To encourage this intelligence in students, they should be encouraged to think and act like philosophers. One effective way of doing this is by taking a dialogic approach known as a 'community of inquiry'. This approach teaches students to ask questions and raise issues; explore, develop and explain their own ideas and points of view; and engage in discussion, listening to and considering the ideas of others. In a community of inquiry setting, an item such as a story or object is used as a stimulus to generate topics of thought and questioning. Students sit in a circle to pose their questions and engage in a discussion around the stimulus item. A range of stimuli catering to the eight other Multiple Intelligences can be incorporated into discussions to help students develop their philosophical skills across different areas. Over time, students' questions will become more philosophical and, as they develop skills in logic and reasoning, their discussion will demonstrate greater depth of focus, evidence of structured and sustained thinking, and improved conceptual engagement. Inquiry-based discussion is a helpful strategy for teaching students to apply reasoning to texts, and helps them to move from the concrete 'what' to the abstract 'why'. Extending students' thinking can be challenging, but can be promoted by ensuring that the selected objects of inquiry are worthy of serious thought, that students' thinking and reasoning is valued, and that sufficient time is allowed for thinking, discussion, and building on ideas. Teachers can model desired questioning processes by asking students philosophical questions, and can extend discussion by having students write their thoughts in 'Think Books' or writing journals.
Subject HeadingsMultiple intelligences
Thought and thinking
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