Teaching science through story
Volume 59 Number 3, September 2013; Pages 38–41
Scientific information has often been delivered in dry, abstract terms. In pre-scientific times, by contrast, knowledge about the natural world was communicated via myth, fairytale and folklore. This storytelling tradition has much to offer primary science students today. The familiarity of the story form is accessible and helps students retain the information they learn, due to narratives’ concreteness and strong emotional appeal. For example, the damage to cells caused by viruses becomes vivid and meaningful to students if told through the story of the effects of smallpox throughout history. By giving an historical context to a discovery, stories can develop students’ language and more general knowledge. Storytelling also allows primary science to be integrated with history and reading, helping to reduce overload in the curriculum. Stories give students a sense of structure and logic. Stories can be used to humanise remote authority figures. For instance, learning about Isaac Newton’s failures and personal faults and limitations is likely to make him more accessible to students. In this way it becomes easier to identify with scientists, even great ones. Similarly, students should learn about prominent female scientists such as Rachel Carson, and female inventors, as well as scientists and inventors from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsStory telling
Teaching and learning
Staying connected with troubled students
September 2013; Pages 34–38
Some students have experienced neglect, abuse, extreme poverty, or separation from primary carers. Stress, trauma or loss in a student’s personal life creates serious challenges for the classroom, their teacher, and their own learning. In response the student tends to be angry and disruptive, or withdrawn. They may be unduly suspicious, and resistant to gestures of goodwill. They may experience even small changes to routine as a threatening loss of control, or struggle to adapt to different teachers’ styles. Teachers need ways to help these students, and deal with their impact on the classroom, in the context of teachers’ own heavy workloads, time pressures, and accountabilities. Building positive individual relationships with these students is paramount. The first steps are ‘empathic listening’ and being attuned the student. These are skills that can be developed over time. The teacher may learn to identify ‘subtle cues’, such as an agitated expression, that precede disruptive behaviour. The teacher should match their own tone and intensity to that of the student: a gentle approach to the withdrawn student and a firm approach to the angry student gives each of them a sense that the teacher recognises their feelings. The teacher needs to forewarn the student of any alterations to routine, such as seating changes. Getting to know the student at a personal level can help to build a good working relationship, softening the impact of any future confrontations. The curriculum should allow students opportunities to describe themselves and their feelings, eg during writing exercises. Troubled students may be draining and demoralising for teachers, especially when the teacher does not feel able to resolve the student’s behavioural problems. School leaders need to support teachers in dealing with challenging students, particularly if the teacher feels threatened or upset. Teachers need to know that it is acceptable to discuss these issues and that having such issues in class is not seen as failure on their part. Leaders should also recognise any successes teachers have with troubled students. The article suggests a number of issues for teachers to consider when trying to repair damaged relationships with troubled students.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Designing advisories for resilience
September 2013; Pages 50–55
Advisory groups, or ‘advisories’, are small groups of students who meet periodically to support one another socially and emotionally as they progress through school. The groups, which continue over several years, are overseen by a teacher whose role relates to youth development and community building rather than academic support. This is an unfamiliar role for many teachers, who may therefore wish to reject it, or try to make it conform to classroom protocols. However, the best way to deal with these challenges is through quality professional development for the teacher-advisors. For example, they are likely to need training in the communication and coaching skills needed by an advisor. The article examines ways in which advisories might be used to develop resilience among students. This is a key issue as many students face varied stresses. Not all are driven by socio-economic disadvantage: in wealthy areas, for example, students often face unhealthy levels of competition, and internalise unrealistic demands for perfection. The groups can develop student resilience in various ways. There should be ‘a ritual of conversations’ on issues important to the students. The formality of sessions is likely to lessen over time, but may provide helpful structure at the start. The advisor might lead a discussion about resilience, or have it role-played. Skills for student autonomy can be developed by discussions on careers or how to make healthy life decisions. Over time, students should practice listening carefully and respectfully, problem-solving, and self-assertion. Groups should be reasonably small, and may be either grade-level or mixed-grade. Group membership should be maintained for as long as possible. The groups cannot substitute for the overall school culture. The team coordinating advisory groups should monitor their effectiveness, scheduling and other organisational aspects. The groups should be assessed through varied measures such as walk-throughs and surveys.
Volume 19 Number 2, June 2013; Pages 165–182
A study in Ireland has examined the impact of digital video and assessment for learning (AfL) methods on primary physical education students. The study focused on the children’s own experiences and perspectives. The advance of digital technology means that video images are now far cheaper for schools to record, edit and store. The technology is now simple enough for primary students to use, so they can record and observe their own movements during PE, and assess their progress. The use of such an approach is supported by some earlier research evidence that ongoing self-assessment by students helps them regulate their performance and become more active in the learning process. However, there is debate among researchers as to how well students are able to judge their own performances. The 10-week intervention involved 12 boys and 10 girls aged nine or ten, and the use of digital videos to improve their basketball skills. The work area and video cameras were set up and prepared before the intervention began, to minimise delays. The students practised three sets of skills five times, with results recorded by peers. The students were then able to view their performances on laptops, frame by frame, and were able to zoom in when desired. The children completed simple self-assessment rubrics after each of their performances. Further evidence was obtained via interviews and focus groups with the students. The study found that the videos and self-assessment process improved the children’s engagement, motivation and performance. The children’s self-assessments ‘were consistently aligned with the teacher assessment scores'. The students rated the quality of the video feedback far higher than that obtained by oral feedback from the teacher. Some students were frustrated at having to complete the assessments during the lesson and thus cut into practice time, so this aspect of the program should be explained to students in future.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Video recordings in education
Volume 28 Number 4, 2013; Page 481–500
Knowledge management systems increasingly shape people’s approaches to research. The article considers this issue in relation to the Google and Google Scholar search engines. Today there is ‘an unprecedented degree of dependence’ on these two services, among both academics and tertiary students, to identify and rank articles, books, and other sources. Search engines have sent traditional abstracting and indexing services into ‘a death spiral’ and have significantly reduced the number of questions asked at reference desks. Google Scholar in particular offers access to a wide range of material, including non-traditional resources such as ebooks, seminar presentations, and pre-prints. Google Scholar’s ‘cited by’ feature helps to establish interconnections between authors and their writings. However, the information it retrieves ‘does not undergo robust quality assurance procedures’ and is deemed to be ‘less accurate than other search tools’. Effective searching requires knowledge of sophisticated search techniques. One of Google Scholar’s key features is its ranking of results, which replaces traditional thematic classifications. The ranking criteria are not explicit, but include the number of citations a document has already received. The system has been gamed to some extent, so that result lists often include false documents or the same documents in slightly altered versions. Ranking also relates to the concept of ‘relevance’, established by Google’s algorithm. This algorithm factors in the activity of multitudes of searchers. However, unlike collaborative tagging and social bookmarking, it does not make users’ search preferences visible to each other. A third quality of Google Scholar is personalisation. The default option for Google is to respond to users’ previous searches, ‘both personal and by those with similar profiles, based on systematic user monitoring’. This in turn is linked to Google’s web advertisement platform. The effect is to narrow the range of material, particularly unfamiliar material, made available to users. The overall effect of the Google Scholar search system is to concentrate rather than diversify the materials actually seen by users, even as the amount of material potentially available continues to expand. Academically, risks arise that students select assignment questions only according to how easily they can find ready answers on the internet. A related risk is that students will read selectively by keyword within documents to locate only the most immediately relevant material, missing valuable contextual information. Google Scholar is increasingly used as a ‘surrogate expert’, but one ‘much more standardised’ than the sources it has replaced.
Subject HeadingsSearch engines
Evaluating Math Recovery: assessing the causal impact of a diagnostic tutoring program on student achievement
Volume 50 Number 2, April 2013; Page 397–428
Mathematics Recovery (MR) is a program to identify first grade students struggling with maths, and to provide them with intensive one-to-one assistance from a certified tutor. The article reports on a two-year evaluation of the program in 20 primary schools across two states in the USA. The program provides a sequence of instructional activities and assessment benchmarks matched to students’ developmental levels. The tutors are teachers who had received professional development specific to the program. They worked with between six and nine students at each school. All the tutors remained in the program over the two years of the evaluation. The evaluation supported the value of programs that are diagnostic rather than scripted, but has ‘little to say about the efficacy of either one-on-one tutoring or interventions or inquiry-oriented approaches in general’. The evaluation found that MR produced positive academic results for the students by the end of first grade. However, it also found that these advances had faded by the end of second grade. The authors note that this problem is also evident in Reading Recovery: ‘a program with a broadly similar protocol’.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsLearning problems
United States of America (USA)
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