Integrating computer-based learning tools in science curricula
Volume 41 Number 4, 12 August 2009; Pages 521–538
Several stages should be followed in the design of science curriculums. The first is to formulate learning objectives, which involves developing investigable questions, and suitably designed experiments that provide data allowing valid conclusions. Second, the objectives should integrate a number of features that reflect the nature of scientific knowledge: they should be aligned to students' capacities, year levels and the intellectual requirements of the task; to the acquisition of knowledge through experience, to the development of concepts, and their subsequent expression in clear, jargon-free forms; and to the epistemology of science in general. Third, they should draw on evidence about students' initial understandings, and the difficulties they are likely to face within the learning environment. The fourth stage is the development of activity sequences that provide multiple pathways by which students can overcome likely difficulties in their learning, and negotiate unfamiliar situations. The final stage is the thorough evaluation of instructional materials in real classroom settings. ICT should be applied to this work not through intuition but through a detailed and systematic analysis of the technology's ability to enhance learning. The article considers two types of software tools widely used for science learning. The first is computer-based modelling. The student can interact with models that explicitly correspond to physical phenomena, and adjust variables as they test hypotheses. The use of these models encourages systems thinking. Through modelling students learn to move between and compare algebraic, diagrammatic and pictorial representations. Modelling also spares students from certain complex calculations, turning their focus from quantitative to qualitative questions. This shift in emphasis helps to refute the common tendency to identify science excessively with quantitative forms of evidence. The second type of software considered is computer-based simulations. Unlike modelling tools, simulation models are predesigned and fixed, but still allow for students to alter certain variables and observe consequent changes to outcomes. These models allow students to conduct experiments that are otherwise difficult to perform, and to repeat and adapt the experiments as required. The article also considers the potential to apply ICT to other non-science disciplines. In general, 'too much emphasis is currently placed on the use of software tools' and too little on how to integrate them into the teaching process.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
How choosing science depends on students' individual fit to 'science culture'
Volume 31 Number 8, May 2009; Pages 1115–1132
Students' likelihood of choosing science classes may not only be due to achievement or motivation factors, but also to a perceived mismatch between their perception of science and their own self-image. Students prefer to belong to communities or cultures whose typical member is congruent with their own identity. However, research has indicated that the prototypical member of a science community tends to be incompatible with most students' self-image. The authors examined how perceptions of self and science influenced the decisions of 54 Year 9 students in the Netherlands in whether to select a science-based learning track for their senior years. Students completed questionnaires ranking their subjects in order of preference and listing their selected learning track. They were also asked to select from 65 trait adjectives to describe a prototypical student member of subjects such as physics or foreign languages, and used the same set of adjectives to describe themselves. Physics and chemistry were the least preferred subjects, with students preferring languages and humanities subjects. Students considered peers who favoured physics to be less physically and socially attractive, less socially competent, and less creative, but more intelligent and motivated than peers who favoured humanities subjects. Students' reported self-image perceptions were closer to the humanities student prototype than the science student prototype. Students' subject track selections could be predicted by students' perceived similarity between their own identities and the perceived prototypical identity of a student in a particular track. Significantly, whether students selected a science track was not due to the negative perceptions around the science student prototype, but on the perceived mismatch between their own identities and this prototype. In order to improve science education and attract students to these subjects, educators need to identify ways of making science culture more accessible, and more congruent with students' own identities.
Key Learning AreasScience
One step at a time
September 2009; Pages 40–42
The author went to a new school as Science Coordinator, where she initiated a number of reforms. She describes her early experiences of the process. Staff worked hard to implement changes she had introduced. Year level teams and faculty meetings were soon working productively. At the same time, however, she became increasingly aware of approaches among her staff that she considered inappropriate. Important among her concerns were excessive reliance on textbooks, over-use of summative assessment, and test questions making too little demand for higher order thinking. The need for further reform had to be balanced against the pressures imposed by reforms to date. One significant advance was the adoption of the Science Teaching and Learning (STAL) professional development program, developed by Monash University and sponsored by Melbourne's Catholic Education Office. The program allowed the school's science faculty to learn about 'big ideas mapping'. The participants identified which aspects of a topic were most relevant, which were most challenging, and why, helping to determine the most appropriate year level for each sub-topic. The author became aware of 'many hidden steps' in the reform process, and learned to be patient and value small steps forward.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Perceptions and pedagogy: exploring the beliefs and practices of an effective primary science teacher
Volume 55 Number 3, September 2009; Pages 19–22
The beliefs and practices of an effective primary science teacher, 'Deanne', are examined as part of a wider study into primary science teaching. At the time of the study Deanne had 25 years experience of primary science teaching in rural and urban schools in Western Australia, including 14 years at her current school. For the study she was observed during two 100-minute lessons with her final year primary class. She was also interviewed about science teaching and learning, and preliminary conclusions from the research were later checked with her. Several themes emerged. One was the need for a science-rich and science-friendly classroom environment, which stimulated interest in the subject through the display of projects that nurtured curiosity, and where she made herself accessible for informal chats about science. Variety was another consideration. Classroom activities varied between experiments, fieldwork, textual research and sometimes guest speakers, and the mode of instruction varied between hands-on activities, small group work, and some explicit instruction in skills such as drawing a diagram, undertaking scientific observation or group work, or recording data, and in explicit teaching to 'hammer home' scientific concepts involved in investigative work. Teaching in concrete ways was also important, for example when students were required as homework to cook a pizza to learn about yeast. A further theme was preparation for future science learning: introducing students to the more abstract concepts, and more demanding language and skills such as summarising data and more sophisticated records of observations. Finally, she stressed the need for ongoing development of content knowledge by the teacher, accessing sources such as Primary Connections while also adapting them to the teacher's own style. The article relates her reflections to the qualities of effective primary teaching identified in three key Australian reports, which include making links to the broader community, using ICT, and using assessment to enhance learning and contribute to scientific literacy.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
'What you risk reveals what you value': fostering creativity in primary physical education
Volume 37 Number 2, May 2009; Pages 121–130
While creativity in education is often promoted, it can also be derided by politicians and the media as 'woolly and associated with a fall in standards'. It is commonly subordinated to the pursuit of 'performativity' and academic outcomes. This subordination often leads to the trivialisation of physical education (PE) in schools. In this climate, children may not take up opportunities to develop their own games or dance steps in PE, instead reproducing '"safe", "taught" choices so as not to get it "wrong"'; or they may flounder for lack of guidance. The article explores Raymond Nickerson's seven point model for the development of creativity in education, and applies it to PE in England. The first point in the model is to support domain-specific knowledge as a basis from which students may develop their creativity. Such support is held back by a chronic failure to prepare primary and junior secondary teachers adequately to teach PE. The most promising way forward is to build up from the creativity successfully embedded in England's early years' curriculum. The second point is to reward curiosity and exploration. For this reason the process of learning must be acknowledged and valued, for example by asking the student to record and demonstrate movements tried, and how particular movements were selected. Educators need to resist a focus entirely on final results encouraged by an outcome-driven curriculum. Thirdly, educators need to build motivation, by allowing children greater control and ownership of their learning, by capitalising on 'a child's desire to move' and by relating physical activities to 'children's worlds and interests'. Educators should fourthly encourage risk-taking, including outdoor play, governed by reasonable risk management rather than extreme concerns about litigation. The fifth point is to set high expectations, challenging the low-level aims associated with teacher's weak knowledge of PE through which some teachers 'transmit their own insecurities'.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Unfulfilled hopes in education for equity: redesigning the mathematics curriculum in a US high school
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsAbility grouping in education
Youth engagement in high schools: developing a multidimensional, critical approach to improving engagement for all students
Volume 13 Number 2-3, May 2009; Pages 191–209
Although youth engagement is a key factor in academic success, students are rarely engaged directly in reform efforts aimed to improve engagement. Moreover, in the USA, such efforts have tended to focus on teacher improvement or academic outcomes rather than on curriculum, instruction and the needs of young people. The authors argue that this disconnect stems in part from simplistic and compartmentalised notions of 'engagement'. Early approaches to engagement treated it as a static concept comprising behavioural, cognitive and emotional components, and assumed that understanding of any one of these components would result in understanding of engagement as a whole. This resulted in conceptions of linear relationships between particular interventions and students' level of engagement. While recent research has begun to examine the relationships between the three dimensions of engagement, a wider and more critical characterisation of engagement is needed, with particular attention paid to the strongly interrelated components of setting, identity and critical youth voice. Settings, or contexts for learning, affect interactions, expectations and approaches; new settings may allow opportunities for students to reinvent themselves. For example, secondary students in the UK attending a subject on a university campus found that the new setting influenced their degree of interest and participation in the subject. Knowledge of effective and supportive settings can inform policy makers and educators in developing or redesigning student learning contexts. Learning settings are strongly related with youth identity, a key element of student engagement. Students' developing and changeable personal learning identities, rather than their cultural or linguistic backgrounds, which are often used as a proxy for identity, should be taken into account in research around engagement. For example, science education has increasingly focused on 'doing' science, reframing students as scientists and active participants rather than classroom observers. Finally, critical youth voice is an essential aspect of effective engagement research. Students can provide important perspectives about their learning experiences, and should be given genuine opportunities for active and critical involvement in their schools and their learning environments. To promote student engagement, educators and policy makers must re-orient learning settings to support and develop learners' individual identities, and allow critical input from students.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
United States of America (USA)
Promoting reasoned argumentation, problem-solving and learning during small-group work
Volume 39 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 7–27
Research indicates that children rarely engage in high-level discourse, argumentation or explanatory behaviour unless explicitly taught to do so. In addition, examination of teachers' questioning patterns has shown that teachers tend to elicit factual or closed responses, rather than encouraging students to think deeply about and justify their responses. The authors examined whether instructing teachers in specific questioning techniques influenced the language they used to challenge children's thinking, and whether these techniques affected students' reasoning and problem-solving performance. Participants were 28 Years 5–7 Brisbane primary teachers assigned to either an experimental group or a control group. Those in the experimental group received instruction in Collaborative Strategic Reasoning, designed to help students engage in dialogues around a text; in the Ask to Think-Tel Why Strategy, where students work together to ask questions of increasingly greater complexity; and in a cognitive tools approach used to help students critique class performances by predicting, summarising and providing feedback. These teachers were also instructed to reflect on their own questioning and discourse strategies. In contrast, teachers in the control group focused on cooperative learning approaches such as interpersonal and small-group skills. Teachers then embedded these strategies into two 4–6 week social science units where students worked in small cooperative groups. Teachers in the experimental condition used significantly more mediating behaviour, such as probing, clarifying and suggesting, to scaffold their students' thinking than those in the control group. Their students provided more elaborations, reasons and justifications for their conclusions than those in the control group, indicating increased awareness of the need to provide detailed responses when in a cooperative group context as a way to promote others' understanding. However, in completing an individual reasoning and problem-solving measure, experimental group students did not demonstrate significantly greater achievement than control group students. This may be because students had not yet learnt to transfer these skills to text-based tasks where they were required to work individually. When teaching questioning skills, teachers may need to provide students with opportunities to practice transferring the oral discourse skills developed in small groups to independent text-based tasks.
Principal succession and its impact on teacher morale
Volume 12 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 171–185
Issues around principal succession, as well as the leadership practices of new principals, can change school culture and affect staff and school morale. Drawing on interviews with teachers, the authors examined how principal succession affected morale at two demographically similar secondary schools with a history of high principal turnover in Great Britain. At 'Charring Cross', the new principal was a placeholder for a popular and respected principal who was on leave. The temporary nature of the principal's appointment, as well as the staff's loyalty to the absent principal, created a tense and uncertain situation between staff and the new principal. Teachers were reluctant to engage wholeheartedly with the new principal's practices and initiatives, as there was no guarantee that these changes would be continued upon the absent principal's return. The principal's authority was further undermined by a group of influential senior teachers who led the other staff in resisting change. The tentativeness of her position distanced her from staff, who focused instead on building their relationships with students and with each other while they 'waited her out'. In contrast, at 'Mussel Brook', the current principal, who had previously been a member of the teaching staff at the school, had reluctantly taken on the role to settle an administrative problem. This principal, who planned to retire after completion of the contract, made it clear that he would not implement any major reforms or initiatives other than some urgent building works. His 'caretaker' role meant that non-essential requests were largely ignored, and possibilities for board action were greatly reduced. In addition, while he was familiar with the school context, he faced the additional challenge of accommodating the expectations of staff who had been among his friends as a teacher. However, the staff at this school lacked the close relationships and informal leadership of those at Charring Cross, and these elements, combined with their resignation over the inevitable principalship succession, meant that they were unlikely to show a common front of resistance. To foster positive morale, new principals should seek to build a culture of communication, build trust through consistency of approach, ensure transparency in decision making, and consider the school context when implementing reforms.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
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