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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The changing face of science coordination: from contrivance to passion

Rod Fawns
Science coordinators

The Science Coordinator in the local moral order


Lynden Fielding is a former science coordinator at Princes Hill Secondary College and is now the principal at Edenhope Secondary College. This week Curriculum Leadership publishes an interview with Lynden held in April 2006. The interviewer is Rod Fawns, Senior Lecturer, Science and Mathematics, at the University of Melbourne, who also provided the introductory article below. The interview and article originally appeared in Labtalk, Volume 52 Number 1, 2008.

 

Science has changed our lives. It has changed our material conditions, our work and recreation, our power and the limits of that power as individuals and communities, the means and instruments as well as the substance of our learning, and the form in which decisions of right and wrong come before us. It has altered the communities in which we live and belong, learn and act. It has brought an acute and pervasive sense of change itself into our own lifespan. The ideas of science have changed the way we think of ourselves and of the world. The description of these changes is not simple; it is rich in possibilities for error. To minimise these risks we need communities of practice among science educators.

Subject departments as social and organisational units

Subject departments are the most important social and organisational units in most secondary schools. Subject departments are where teachers work and the work of students is organised, delivered and assessed. In the distribution of duties and responsibilities, means and ends are expected to come together in subject departments. Here stories and resources come together as models of good practice. In science departments, these ideals are often shaped by shared university training that contributes to professional identity and status.

But subject departments in a school differ at a cultural and often social level. Disciplinary distinctions and socialisations become shared beliefs and norms that can be characterised as subcultures. They are a powerful feature of secondary teachers’ lives, and school leaders may see subject departments balkanising the school, preventing broad alliances for school reform. Vertical curriculum and departmental structures tend to be stronger in ‘academic’ schools, making middle school and other whole-school initiatives that rely on horizontal or interdisciplinary integration more difficult. Successful middle school initiatives have generally been achieved through moving staff out of subject departments into mission-focused team spaces.

Each school subject has a different character that must be appreciated. Some disciplines such as science and maths form strong boundaries around their subject matter and offer fewer electives than others. School subjects also differ in their degree of status within the school and larger community. Higher-status subjects, such as maths and science, may be able to claim greater resources and power within the school. Subjects also differ with regard to social expectations and public accountability in state, national and international mandated testing programs. Science and mathematics are subject to repeated public enquiries and reporting – more than other subject areas – and receive more equipment and incidental funding. School subjects also differ with regard to their inherent sequence, scope and coherence. Subjects such as English and social studies include a number of different disciplinary areas, resulting in a broad scope with less coherence.

On the other hand, teachers of physics, biology and chemistry feel they have less individual freedom to interpret their subject matter than English teachers. Science is, however, less coherent than French or mathematics, and science departments may experience some difficulties finding consensus because of diverse disciplinary backgrounds of staff. Because of this broadness and less well-defined curriculum, science teachers may feel greater individual autonomy than mathematics teachers, who may be able to collaborate more effectively on teaching strategies in particular areas.

As science is often a core subject and a disciplinary strand in VELS, the subject coordinator often must respond to stronger external accountabilities of her or his department to school and external policies or missions while at the same time supporting organisational capacity in the faculty to meet local interests, needs and contingencies.

Curricular coordination and control, instructional practices and policies may also be affected by subject subcultures in areas such as tracking and streaming. This being said, science departments in schools can vary widely. Their local character is likely to be significantly influenced by the practical arts and skills of the science coordinator, as curriculum leader in each school.

What do science coordinators do as curriculum leaders?

Science coordinators need to be able to support and lead thoughtful deliberation about the curriculum. Science coordinators also have management and chairing functions which include:

  • putting the special knowledge and ways of knowing of all science teachers into greater service and providing recognition of such contributions
  • establishing challenging decision-making and collaborative functions as part of the role of science teachers in the school
  • attracting a greater number of daring, experimental and intellectually active persons to teaching science at the school
  • providing a basis for science teachers to develop professionally as part of an intellectual community via meetings and visits with other professional communities and encounters with other resources
  • enhancing occasions for the principal to participate in the development of science teaching in the school
  • making students party to planning of coursework
  • most of all, transforming the mere delivery of curriculum into an approach that stimulates teachers to devise and institute their own approaches to teaching, in a rapidly changing world.

Training science coordinators

The ‘position’ description of the science coordinator in schools can no longer be restricted to a ‘role’ concerned with staff allocation, equipment stocktaking and laboratory and budget management. It is time to recognise that science coordination is not just a bundle of behaviours of this sort. This position calls for personal deliberative skills in curriculum decision making of the most technical and culturally sensitive kind. It calls upon ‘neglected virtues’ of humility and courage, ‘vital attitudes’ of impartiality and open-mindedness, the ‘potent forces’ of empathy and enthusiasm, and ‘crucial talents’ of judgement and imagination. It is time to recognise that no renewal of science teaching can be imposed in a school; it has to be constructed. The organisational capacity for such reconstruction requires middle management skills, such as those found in professional associations of science educators.

See interview with Lynden Fielding in this edition.

 

References

Grossman, P & Stodolsky 1995, 'Content as context: The role of school subjects in secondary school teaching', Educational Researcher 24, 8.

Hare, W 1993, What Makes a Good Teacher: Reflections on Some Characteristics Central to the Educational Enterprise, The Althouse Press, London, Ontario.

Hargreaves, D 1990, Teachers’ work and the politics of time and space, Qualitative Studies in Education, 3, 4.

Little, J 1990, The Persistence of Privacy: Autonomy and Initiative in Teachers’ Professional Relations, Teachers College Record.

Roberts, D 1996, 'Epistemic authority for teacher knowledge: The potential role of teacher communities', Curriculum Inquiry, 26, 4.

Roe, R 2004, 'How do teachers respond when information and communications technology is introduced across the curriculum?', Post-Script, vol 5, no 1, August.

Schwab, J 1983, 'The practical 4: Something for curriculum professors to do', Curriculum Inquiry, 13, 3.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Science teaching
Secondary education
Curriculum planning
School leadership