'Primary Science Innovations 2004' - a quest to provide quality professional development for primary science teachers
The learning needs of primary teachers
In recent years considerable attention has been paid to the teaching of science and technology in schools. There have been widespread calls within school education and the wider community to stimulate students' take up of these subjects, and to improve professional development opportunities for science teachers.
In Queensland, primary science teachers indicated a need for more professional development in their responses to surveys conducted in 2001 for Ironside State School (Blance, 2001). Teachers indicated that they generally lacked confidence in teaching science compared to other Key Learning Areas, and were unsure how to approach the teaching of scientific principles. Within the curriculum strands, they were reasonably confident to teach 'Life and Living' concepts, but felt that they lacked expertise in strands such as 'Natural and Processed Materials' and 'Energy and Change'. Teachers also raised concerns about limited resources for teaching Science and Technology within most primary settings.
Governments and education systems have taken a range of steps to provide further professional development. Last year, the Queensland Government released the Science State, Smart State - Spotlight on Science 2003-2006 initiative. Under this plan, 70% of Queensland public school teachers will be expected to have undergone some form of Science PD by 2005.
The Centre of Excellence at Ironside State School
In 2001 Education Queensland, with Commonwealth Government funding assistance, set up eight Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology. The Centres' mission is to promote excellent pedagogy by improving teachers' access to professional development and training; to enhance and broaden student learning outcomes; and to develop links between schools, parents, tertiary institutions, industry and businesses. Ironside State School was chosen to become one of the Centres. Ironside's close proximity and links to the University of Queensland made it an ideal choice, with many members of the parent body either working or studying in fields related to science and technology.
Teacher confidence and student outcomes in the areas of Science and Technology have improved markedly over the school's years as a Centre of Excellence. A carefully implemented change management process has overseen professional development for Ironside staff, who in turn are:
These activities focused on curriculum strands about which teachers had indicated low levels of confidence in teaching. Given teachers' concerns about limited resources, all professional development from the Centre of Excellence has been designed to enable teachers to run science classes at lower, middle and upper primary levels using quite basic equipment and materials.
Feedback from Ironside's professional development sessions has been very positive. However, the concern was raised that most of these activities reached only 20-40 teachers each time, as places were limited by the available space and human resource issues. While the Centre continues to run individual practicums and workshops throughout the year, Ironside's principal, Patricia Neate, and the school's Science Committee decided that a conference would reach many more primary teachers with quality and practical science professional development: Primary Science Innovations 2003 was born.
The Primary Science Innovations conferences
Primary Science Innovations 2003 had 130 participants from across southeast Queensland. Participants gained a greater understanding of the assistance available to primary science teachers from the Centres of Excellence, as well as from outside sources such as the Queensland Museum, Sciencecentre and local universities. Workshop presenters and organisers at Ironside received affirming feedback. The success of the 2003 conference meant that planning for Primary Science Innovations 2004 began immediately.
The 2004 conference will focus on four key areas: ICT in Science, Assessment and Reporting, Middle Schooling and Inquiry Learning. These areas are particularly pertinent in 2004. Assessment and reporting in Queensland schools, for example, is a key issue in 2004, with many schools exploring the reporting of the outcomes based syllabus in the Key Learning Areas of Science, HPE and LOTE. Three Conference workshops have been developed to address this area: 'Trialling Teacher Generated Assessment Tasks'; 'Ideas for Assessing within an Inquiry Approach'; and 'Mapping Student Assessment'.
Teachers wanting advice on teaching scientific principles have benefited from the 'Working Scientifically' workshops, which were run regularly by Ironside staff during 2003, and will continue in 2004. The workshop will be one of the sessions offered at Primary Science Innovations 2004.
Inquiry Learning is also gaining popularity as a means of delivering science teaching, with its emphasis on the development of higher thinking skills and problem solving, and its alignment with the ideals of 'Working Scientifically'. Presenters from both Ironside State School and the independent schools sector will be presenting workshops looking at implementing Inquiry Learning within individual classrooms and across whole schools.
For more information regarding the conference see online details. Details are also available from Leanne Stewart at the email address given above, and from Ironside State School.
Blance, Bette, Professional Development Needs, May 2001. Unpublished report prepared for Ironside State School.
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