A roadmap for history's future
10 September 2007
The subject History has often been seen by curriculum designers and teacher educators as ‘an uncritical study of great events and great people’, lacking value, contemporary relevance or specific disciplinary attributes. In reality, History is a distinctive discipline that applies ‘speculative, imaginative, vicarious (and) persuasive’ approaches to the study of specific events. During the 1970s, the subject began to move on from the approach of ‘learning about one damned thing after another’ under the influence of a new generation of history educators. They included participants in the Schools History Project in the Britain, who emphasised ‘the use of evidence, explanatory open-endedness and in-depth studies’, as well as North American educators who raised theoretical issues such as the nature of historical thinking and historical consciousness and the relation of history education to national identity. Currently a range of measures are needed to make Australian History effective as a core subject within the curriculum. The subject needs to incorporate gender and Indigenous perspectives and to allow for the contribution of locally relevant material by each State and Territory education system. Primary school teachers should have ‘authentic and effective’ national professional learning programs in the subject, and Australian History should be covered in at least one unit within primary teacher education courses. Primary and secondary curricula should be coordinated to avoid the repetition of topics. Secondary school History should allow for topics to be studied in depth. The subject should rest on and teach the principles of historical literacy, such as careful use of evidence and major historical concepts such as causation. It should address public and professional debates about History. Informed teachers should be involved in curriculum development.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Teaching and learning
Transitions in schooling
Professional development for principals: a way forward
Volume 3, 2007; Pages 34–37
Effective provision of professional development to school principals is a prerequisite to meaningful school improvement. Professional development for principals has been found to have measurable effects upon teacher development, school culture, systematic educational reform and student learning. However, Australia’s provision of professional development currently tends to be ad hoc and of varying quality, and is often inaccessible. Principals’ professional development should be organised nationally to avoid the duplication of programs between systems. Professional development should accommodate principals at different career stages. It should have a long-term focus, and be relevant to principals’ everyday work. Standards and competency frameworks should be developed to inform the planning of professional development programs, and to serve as benchmarks against which principals could be compared. Nationally coordinated professional development should build upon principles of adult learning, applying the life experiences of principals and acknowledging their capacity for self-directed learning and problem solving. Principals’ professional development must be individually relevant and contextualised. It should also incorporate practical measures such as school visits. A variety of methods should be utilised, including group work, mentoring, on-line communities and follow-up sessions. A centre-periphery model for professional development, where the training of mentors and facilitators is controlled centrally but programs are delivered locally, would achieve a desirable balance of coherence and local relevance. Australian centre-periphery models could use the National College for School Leadership in England as a model. Teaching Australia is already a major provider of principals’ professional development, and could assume overall responsibility for delivery given sufficient federal funding. Various professional development authorities should work together to develop an organisation with extensive on-line resources, links to international programs and research, and the capacity to coordinate a diverse range of programs around Australia.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
The nature of science education for enhancing scientific literacy
Volume 29 Number 11, September 2007; Pages 1347–1362
Traditional models of science education tend to emphasise content knowledge and the observation of phenomena. Students, however, tend to be more personally engaged with science, and to grasp the nature of science more effectively, when they are immersed in socio-scientific debate and inquiry. Primary science education as it stands is generally effective in engaging young students through investigation involving concrete activity. The more abstract approach needed in secondary science, however, usually takes inappropriate forms. Current science education presents science in terms of a cycle of observation of phenomena, theoretical generalisation and further observation, applied to known examples that confirm existing knowledge. To interest students, other aspects of science should be emphasised: the fact that scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional; the fact that empirical method is itself theory-dependent; the roles of inference, creativity and imagination, and the socially embedded nature of science. Science education should no longer treat any particular content as essential. Rather, specific content should be introduced as needed. Schools science should emphasise the inter-relationships between all subject areas. School science should move beyond the traditional domains of cognitive, affective and psycho-motor learning to recognise modern education’s emphasis on the social, moral, and communicative elements of learning. School science should be understood fundamentally as one particular means of promoting a general body of learning. The changes required of school science cannot be brought about simply by the inclusion of personal and social topics in courses. The changes require a solid theoretical grounding, which is best provided by activity theory. This approach links scientific knowledge to social practice that is seen as relevant to students. Scientific literacy should not be understood primarily in relation to a body of specific scientific ideas that distinguish science from other elements of society, but rather as a means to equip students to contribute as current and future citizens through the application of scientific knowledge and ideas. Curricula promoting relevance and holistic education are unlikely to be promoted by the ‘high stake, pencil and paper, summative examinations’ which currently dominate science assessment. These means of assessment marginalise personal and social learning and prevent their implementation in the classroom.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSocial education
Teacher practices and middle-school science achievements
Volume 29 Number 11, September 2007; Pages 1329–1346
Researchers in the USA have compared student-centred and teacher-centred science teaching, through a quantitative study of student attitudes and achievement under each approach. The main component of the study was an online survey of 611 Year 7 and 8 students from four school districts in the USA. The students also undertook a test of their science knowledge consisting of multiple choice, constructed response and practical items. The study found that more frequent student-centred practice was positively correlated with higher post-test achievement and more positive attitudes towards science, while more frequent teacher-centred practice had strong negative effects on both students’ achievement in science and attitudes towards the subject. The strongest single influence on student achievement related to group experiments conducted by students. Academic achievement was significantly higher for students participating in group experiments ‘more than once a week’ than for those ‘less than once a month’ and was highest for those participated ‘nearly daily’. Teacher-centred practices, where students participated in extensive note-copying and observation of teachers’ experiments, led to significantly lower post-test scores and student valuation of science. Student attitudes were also improved by student-centred practice, consistent with the literature. The survey also tested for the influence of factors external to classrooms such as parental and peer support, however these results were not statistically significant. Despite already substantial literature about the negative effects of teacher-centred practice, student surveys indicated that many teachers still use teacher-centred practices in the science classroom, and it is hoped that quantitative findings such as these will motivate such teachers to reform. Student-centred practices emphasise student activity, for example, by requiring students to give reasons and/or evidence for their answers, encouraging group work and collaboration, and asking open-ended questions.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Does the new biology syllabus encourage students to think differently about their biology knowledge?
Volume 53 Number 3, September 2007; Pages 23–26
The New South Wales high school biology syllabus recently shifted from a teacher-centred, content driven approach to one that is student-centred, investigative and concept driven. A recent study has measured the effects of these changes in the syllabus by surveying a small sample of first year university biology students who had received varied exposure to the new syllabus while at school. In 2001, 2002 and 2005, 150 randomly sampled first year biology students were given a test probing their understanding of the concept of adaptation within the Darwinian theory of evolution. The students entering university in 2001 had completed high school under the old syllabus, while those from 2002 had completed Stage 6 biology (Years 11 and 12) under the new syllabus. The third group, entering first year university in 2005, had studied under the new syllabus in stages 4, 5 and 6 (from Years 7-12). Students’ responses to this question were classified according to the sophistication of their answers, using the SOLO taxonomy. There were significantly fewer students in 2005 who were unable to answer the question at all, and significantly more students able to make a relevant but simple response. Fewer students in 2005 gave highly sophisticated responses, however the decrease was not statistically significant, and may have been due to the sample size. Overall, students who studied under the new biology syllabus demonstrated a better grasp of the role of adaptation in evolution than students who studied under the old syllabus. This was true even for first year university students who had not taken Stage 6 biology at school but had taken some other science subject, suggesting that changes to the Stage 4 and 5 syllabus may have improved and broadened students’ general scientific understanding. This unexpected finding will require further investigation.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Can you teach an old dog new tricks? A teacher's perspective on changing pedagogy using Primary Connections
Volume 53 Number 3, September 2007; Page 27
The Primary Connections project is a professional development initiative linking the teaching of science with the teaching of literacy in primary education. The professional learning program provides a novel approach to developing scientific literacy, and is supplemented by an array of curriculum resources. The pedagogy is inquiry-based, encouraging students to construct explanations supported by directed questions. The Primary Connections teaching model is based on the ‘5 Es’ (‘engage’, ‘explore’, ‘explain’, ‘elaborate’ and ‘evaluate’) and encourages teachers to structure learning experiences and assessment accordingly. A case study of a primary class undertaking a Primary Connections unit of work called ‘All sorts of stuff’ found that the program improved pedagogy, student understanding and lesson plans. ‘All sorts of stuff’ involves investigation of objects’ material properties and how these properties influence each object’s use. At the beginning of the unit, the class brainstormed words associated with a series of household objects, and these words were displayed on a ‘word wall’. New words describing the objects were added to the wall over time so that students could see how their vocabulary was developing. Words such as ‘hard’, ‘soft’ and ‘strong’ were supplemented with words such as ‘tensile strength’, ‘opaque’ and ‘transparent’. Children began to use the word wall words in their work. Children were then given a task relating to a topic being studied in language classes. The children were asked to design a rainforest home and an exploration team’s uniform, focusing on the materials they would use. Children demonstrated deep understanding of the science unit, applying their knowledge to a completely new situation. The Primary Connections program’s constructivist, investigation-based framework contributes to its capacity to develop cohesive, interconnected conceptual understandings.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
Primary and secondary teachers perceptions of salinity curriculum materials
Volume 53 Number 3, 5 September 2007; Pages 32–36
In 2002 the Western Australian Department of Agriculture developed and distributed a curriculum resource aimed at educating school staff and students about the impacts and management of dry-land salinity. The aim of this resource, ‘Salinity in the Classroom’, was to raise awareness about an issue of critical importance to the state. The Department of Agriculture later commissioned an evaluation study to investigate the extent of the salinity kit’s penetration in schools, and in doing so amassed a variety of information about Western Australian teachers’ preferred methods of resource distribution and formats. The study drew on data from written surveys completed by 63 teachers from primary and secondary schools in all sectors, as well as in-depth interviews with nine teachers who had used the kit. Of the 63 teachers surveyed, 33 had not seen the salinity kit, despite its free distribution to every school in
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEnvironmental Education
Conceptual learning in the primary and middle years: the interplay of heads, hearts and hands-on science
Volume 53 Number 3, September 2007; Pages 18–22
‘Hands-on’ science refers to students’ first hand interactions with concrete materials in science. It is often considered exemplary practice in science teaching and students may enjoy the practical work it offers. Hands-on work may genuinely promote scientific literacy if it is specifically used to provide students with opportunities to experience phenomena for themselves, test predictions about matter or practice open-ended investigation. However, hands-on activities are ‘useless’ if students are not also engaging in ‘hearts-on’ and ‘heads-on’ science. A ‘hearts-on’ approach to science attempts to sustain students’ interest by focusing on themes and topics considered relevant to students. Strategies include encouraging questioning and hypothesising, and promoting multi-modal expression of ideas. Within the syllabus, teachers' informed choice of science topics is integral to cultivating students' interest. Often, teachers neglect the more interesting science topics due to a lack of confidence in their ability to teach them. However, although teachers' specific content knowledge may be slight, studies have shown that teachers underestimate their own conceptual understanding of science, and inandequate content knowledge can be addressed by professional learning. Teachers’ confidence might also be improved by prescribed syllabi which map intended concepts. ‘Heads-on’ science refers to students' level of conceptual understanding. When primary students are not exposed to scientific ideas and scientific investigation processes, they are in danger of developing misconceptions of natural phenomena which may obstruct later learning. Researchers have found that primary students’ scientific reasoning capabilities are grossly underestimated by primary curricula, and that heads-on science must be reintroduced in early years so as to support later conceptual development. Teachers must therefore plan lessons which promote heads-on learning through hearts-on and hands-on activities. This is best achieved where teachers are provided with concept statements in syllabi, so that lessons are directed at specific conceptual outcomes.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Developing a thinking community in a problem-based learning environment
Volume 19 Number 2, July 2007; Pages 4–9
Birkdale Intermediate School in Auckland, New Zealand has fundamentally redesigned its physical spaces, curriculum and pedagogy in order to support a problem-based learning environment. Birkdale suffered from a lack of student engagement, a perceived lack of relevance of curriculum to individuals’ lived experience, an absence of higher-order thinking skill development in the curriculum, and a 'restricted range' of learning styles. The schools’ transformation began with the action learning professional development course Infolink, as well as other professional learning programs on higher-order thinking, ICT use and critical thinking in the curriculum. The school moved to introduce problem-based approaches to pedagogy. However, this shift created resource problems. Previously, different classes would cover the same broad topic at different times, and their resource needs could be met through staggered use of the same set of resources on each general topic. The problem-based approach required much more targeted resources relevant to each scenario under investigation. Birkdale addressed this issue through the use of CDROM resources called 'Quests'. Video interviews, newspaper articles, letters and photographs are embedded within these resources, and accessible from any computer within the school. The Quests are expensive but with financial support Birkdale developed seven scenario-based resources. However, for these resources to be effectively utilised, Birkdale required efficient and reliable ICT solutions. Transportable pods of desktop computers were identified as the most efficient solution, and in line with educational research, 16 computers were purchased - a ratio of one computer for two students in a class. Classroom layouts were redesigned to support the pods, and a wireless network was established. Staff received ICT professional development training over a three-year period from New Zealand’s Ministry of Education. Shared classroom spaces (built during the schools’ renovation phase)contain mounted data projectors and sound systems and allow visual supervision from surrounding classrooms. These changes have helped bring about a marked difference in student achievement, and the school continues to seek expert feedback in the pursuit of ‘thinking-infused problem-based learning’.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Inquiry based learning
One stop hubs the new face of childhood
Volume 15 Number 15, 13 September 2007; Pages 12–13
In Victoria, the responsibility for early childhood development was recently moved from the Department of Human Services to the new Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). All States and Territories now delegate some responsibility for early childhood services to education departments, but few governments worldwide have gone as far as Victoria. In another reflection of this development, the Victorian Government has recently celebrated the opening of a new $2.7 million centre in Elwood offering maternal child health, childcare and kindergarten services, rooms for playgroups and access to the adjacent primary school. In total, 55 of these centres have been commissioned or are already operating in 2007, and another 40 are in planning stages. These ‘one-stop hubs’ are convenient for parents and are being developed in line with international research demonstrating the importance of early childhood programs. A 40-year study in the USA found that students who experienced quality pre-school education went on to earn on average four times as much as those who did not. Other studies show that a child’s exposure to early childhood education exerts a greater effect on their achievement than does their family background or their parent’s education. The Council of Australian Governments asserts that investment in early childhood services will lead to better health, improved education outcomes, higher participation in the workforce, lower rates of welfare dependency and lower crime rates. The Victorian Parliament was recently told that 13,000 Victorians are currently choosing not to work due to the cost, quality and accessibility of childcare. For 42% of Victorian parents, no such services are available, and parents are increasingly choosing to look after their young children at home. However, such informal childcare by relatives or home carers can negatively impact children’s development. The changes to Victoria’s early childhood system are expected to facilitate greater communication between pre-school education and schools. Victoria’s long-term plan for childcare is detailed in the DEECD's media release, Victoria’s Plan to Improve Outcomes in Early Childhood.
Early childhood education
The global connections program: a model of meaningful youth participation and action
May 2007; Pages 134–140
Civics and citizenship education is concerned with developing values and dispositions which support informed decision making, and (in Australia and New Zealand, especially) with encouraging the meaningful participation of young people in politics and society. The Global Connections program is an initiative which strives to facilitate such participation, specifically in relation to global youth issues. Plan Australia designed the program to facilitate communication and learning between young people in Australia and overseas. Young adult facilitators were assigned to facilitate communication between the groups in weekly or fortnightly sessions, and to help participants learn about their partner groups and the issues that affected their community and lives. A pilot Global Connections program was established in 2005 involving three groups of school students in Australia and three children’s groups in Indonesia. Australian and Indonesian partner groups prepared, sent and received up to three communication pieces relating to the broad areas of personal introduction, community issues and global concerns. However, implementing this participation-focussed program within a formal educational setting posed serious challenges. Although the program was designed to be flexible and encourage students to voice questions, select topics and contribute ideas about the project, facilitators found that students had not experienced such involvement in formal education settings and were uncomfortable participating on a higher level. Students sought structure and clear definition of their roles. Facilitators noticed, however, that over time students became more comfortable making decisions, especially when they realised they could incorporate personal interests into the project. The project was trialled in a number of different situations - as an extra curricular activity during lunch breaks, as part of a core curriculum class, and on a volunteer basis during class time. Students were most engaged when participation was voluntary and during class time, but evaluators noted that this tended to exclude students perceived as ‘troublemakers’. Evaluation of the program showed that although theoretical perspectives emphasise the need for representation, voluntary participation and choice in citizenship programs, these considerations must be balanced with students’ needs for boundaries, guidance, practical timing and equity.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsYoung adults
How much longer is left of this stupid lesson?
May 2007; Pages 118–125
Government policy often focuses on retaining students in formal schooling rather than on offering alternative options to students who find school problematic. About one in four young people leave school before Year 12, and these are disproportionately drawn from low socioeconomic communities, rural areas and Indigenous groups. Three projects in New South Wales aim to offer positive pathways for students who struggle in traditional schooling. An ARC linkage project, 'Changing schools in changing times: Stabilising and sustaining whole school change in communities experiencing adverse conditions', investigated four schools participating in the New South Wales Department of Education and Training ‘Priority Schools’ program. A project funded by the University of Technology Sydney, 'Alternative education for marginalised youth' investigated an independent alternative school. The author's PhD research project studied student attitudes at two public senior colleges. Research from these projects highlighted several trends. Relationships between students and teachers were found to be a central factor affecting student dissatisfaction. Dissatisfied students perceived a lack of respect and equality in relationships, and particularly resented being treated like ‘kids’. Students objected to seemingly arbitrary and disrespectful enforcement of discipline for what they considered minor transgressions (for example, non-compliance with dress codes). Teaching styles which emphasised a one-way transmission of knowledge from teacher to student, exemplified by over-reliance on the textbook or on note-taking, were widely disliked. Some early leavers noted that their ambitions did not necessitate attainment of a high-school certificate, and that an emphasis on retention merely delayed their entry into full-time employment. However, others claimed that the extra year of schooling yielded personal benefits, for example, by providing ‘confidence to succeed’ as well as improving employment prospects. Students from the alternative schools also observed that, despite difficulties in a traditional setting, they were able to adjust to and even enjoy learning in alternative settings. The alternative schools were largely populated by students who felt alienated in traditional schools, and students believed they were no longer judged in such a setting. Teachers were credited with making school relevant and enjoyable, focussing learning on individual students’ ambitions.
Vocational education and training
Retention rates in schools
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