Teaching and learning with ICT within the subject culture of secondary school science
Volume 25 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 339–349
The InterActive Education project was a subject design initiative in England during 2001–04. Teachers, supported by teacher educators and university researchers, developed subject design initiatives (SDI), designed to incorporate ICT into lessons, which were videotaped and reviewed. The author reports findings from the project related to school science. Six specialist science teachers in secondary schools took part. The project demonstrated key advantages that simulations have over traditional practicals. Simulations not only free students from laborious repetitive procedures, but also let them experiment, eg by changing variables. Uniting play and study, simulations call on students to make decisions, and allow them moment by moment control over much of their learning. Immediate feedback allows students to explore topics deeply. However, several issues surrounding simulations were also considered. Students’ simulation-based experiments cannot break new ground as scientists’ experiments can. This limitation can itself be discussed in class to deepen students’ understanding of science. A larger issue is that ‘reality is much much more than simulation’. Simulations are ‘built upon invisible, unquestionable, often simplified models of scientific process that give the students the impression that every variable is easily controlled’. Students need to grasp these limitations. The teachers recommended that simulations be used primarily to consolidate students’ understanding of a topic already taught. The role of ICT in school science and the validity of virtual practical work is one of the major questions confronting school science. Other topics include whether science should be seen to include only the core areas of physics, chemistry and biology, or also embrace fields such as geology or psychology; whether the teaching of different scientific topics should be integrated or separated; the balance between content and process; and the place of social values in science.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Web 2.0: creating a classroom without walls
Volume 54 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 46–48
The author is a high school science teacher who has developed ways of using the World Wide Web to engage and motivate his students. A first attempt at launching a weblog (blog) in early 2007 was unsuccessful, with ‘no discussion, no learning and no interest’ from the students. He then created an online unit of work for Year 9 science students, called Life Long Learning. This unit gave students a choice of large umbrella topics such as nuclear war, sports psychology and space travel, allowing them to expand their learning beyond the standard Year 9 curriculum. After the success of this unit, the goal became to arouse student interest in science even when there was no assessment involved. To meet this aim, the author started regularly updating his blog, Mr. Barlow’s Weblog: A Bunch of Interesting Stuff. The blog contains daily snippets of new or currently relevant scientific information that is accessible and interesting for students. Information and graphics usually come from websites such as Nature, New Scientist and National Geographic. Students are never forced to view the site and any viewing they do takes place outside class time; however the blog is becoming increasingly popular. Individual students also often come up to their teacher to discuss things they have learnt from the site. His experiments with podcasting science content for students to download to their ipods have also been successful. Both blogs and podcasts are easy and cheap to set up, with the free blog sites Wordpress and Blogger and the podcasting software Audacity (for Windows) and Garageband (for Mac OS). The author’s achievements with both blog and podcasts powerfully suggests that students enthusiastically take up learning outside the classroom if they have the opportunity to apply their knowledge of the technology they use every day.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 65 Number 5, February 2008; Pages 14–19
‘Disciplinary thinking’ directs students to interpret the world in ways specific to a given subject discipline, and in doing so to obtain a deep understanding of what they study. The discipline of history, for example, involves close analysis of sources, a recognition that claims are provisional and contestable and stem ‘from deliberate ways to partition the past’ which must be evaluated and compared. The approach moves beyond the tradition of simply learning subject matter such as facts and formulae. Disciplinary thinking therefore aligns with current demands that education prepare young people to apply knowledge and skills flexibly to frequently changing situations. Students taught through the traditional ‘subject matter’ approach often fail to apply learning to new contexts. The traditional approach also inhibits later learning because it does not challenge deep-seated but mistaken intuitions usually found in children, eg in terms of history to attribute present-day values to people in earlier historical periods. Teachers in any discipline should aim to develop four key capacities in their students. Firstly, students need to learn how disciplines such as history, biology or economics help them to grasp the world they live in and to make informed choices. Secondly, students should develop the capacity and expectation of applying the core knowledge base of a discipline to varied, changing contexts. Thirdly, students need to understand effective methods of inquiry involving the nature of evidence and how it can be validated. To a large extent these methods are specific to each discipline. Fourthly, students must grasp the ‘preferred forms and genres’ for their discipline, understanding their origins and rationales, and using the disciplinary symbol systems to communicate effectively with peers. To develop students’ disciplinary competencies, teachers should identify essential topics in the discipline, covering the core knowledge base, methods, purposes and forms of communication specific to it. These core topics should be covered in depth and from a range of perspectives. Students also should be called on to demonstrate their ability to apply their disciplinary knowledge.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Thought and thinking
International league: Australia's standing in international tests
13 February 2008; Pages 40–43
The Program for International School Assessment (PISA) is an international evaluation of school education conducted among 15-year-old students every three years by the OECD within member countries. PISA aims to measure student learning, and schools’ contribution to that learning, in terms of reading, mathematics and science and technology. One of these areas becomes the major focus each three years, and the focus for PISA 2006 was on science. The PISA tests calls on students to apply their knowledge and skills to real life contexts. Students are also asked for demographic details and in 2006 were also surveyed about their attitudes towards both learning and science. The PISA 2006 results covered 57 countries. The results showed that Australian students scored well overall in each subject. In science Australia was significantly outperformed only by Finland, China/Hong Kong, and Canada. Australia was significantly outperformed by eight countries in mathematical literacy and by five countries in reading. As well as providing country rankings PISA assigns students to six proficiency levels. The proportion of Australian students in the top two levels was as high as any other country apart from Finland. However, China/Hong Kong and Canada were more successful than Australia in lifting students above the minimum proficiency levels. Australian results thus revealed ‘areas of real inequity’. About 40 per cent of Indigenous students are not performing at the OECD’s minimum performance level. There was a similar large gap between high and low-SES students, and students in remote areas also performed relatively poorly. Australia’s country ranking for PISA 2006 was lower in all areas examined than it was in the first PISA assessment in 2000. In most cases Australian students’ performance over these years has remained stable while other countries have improved. However, the performance of Australian students has fallen in terms of the mathematical literacy of girls and the reading performance of students at the highest proficiency levels.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Contesting the curriculum: an examination of professionalism as defined and enacted by Australian history teachers
Volume 37 Number 3, 2007; Pages 239–261
The author has investigated teacher professionalism through a study of the History Teachers’ Association of New South Wales (HTANSW) in 2000–2001. Much of the literature on professionalism defines the topic in terms of the quality and character of teachers’ work. The current study departs from this approach in two ways. Firstly, the study examined professionalism as ‘an enacted discourse’ during a period when the HTANSW executive had been attempting to influence the State curriculum. Secondly, the topic was studied ‘through the lens of a subject subculture’. The history subject subculture in New South Wales is characterised by high-level commitments to extra-curricular activity, further study, participation by teachers in their professional association, and commitment to a social justice values. For the study the author observed HTANSW executive meetings, conferences, professional development seminars and other events, and interviewed members of the executive committee. She also interviewed policymakers from the New South Wales Board of Studies (BoS) and the State Department of Education (DET). The research evidence shows HTANSW executive members’ action around a number of issues that illustrated their views of professionalism. They felt their professional roles had been eroded when, in 1998, the HTANSW lost ‘a significant degree of discretionary power in the development of syllabi’ as the BoS Syllabus Advisory Committees were abolished and syllabus writing became solely the responsibility of BoS staff. They resisted the introduction of more standardised terminology in assessment, and of plans to absorb History into a broader subject. Policymakers for the BoS and the Department expressed a desire that the HTANSW limit its role to professional development of teachers, but the Association’s executive members believed its professional status called for it to play a wider role and they did not wish DET to rely solely on the HTANSW for this service. The issues raised in the study reflect a sharp divergence between ‘managerial’ and ‘democratic’ concepts of teacher professionalism. The study was part of a doctoral project which also examined teacher professionalism in a science teaching association in Australia.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
New South Wales (NSW)
History in the making
Volume 16, March 2008; Pages 15–16
Aboriginal elders have become a valued presence at
Subject HeadingsAboriginal peoples
New South Wales (NSW)
Who's afraid of the polygraph? An interdisciplinary unit
Volume 54 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 24–30
Interdisciplinary approaches to teaching are growing in popularity. STS (science, technology and society) is one such approach in which scientific knowledge is integrated with its technological applications and the broader social context. One example of a series of lessons that use this approach involves the polygraph (lie detector). This instrument measures and charts physiological changes in heart rate, breathing rate and electrical skin conductance over time. This information, which is known to be influenced by the stress of lying, is collected while a subject is asked Yes/No questions. Graphical representations are collated and presented in a chart, which is then interpreted by an expert. Understanding how this works requires integrated input from a number of different disciplines. Knowledge of the aspects of human physiology involved in respiration, heartbeat and perspiration provides the base. An understanding of the sensors that measure these responses and transform them into interpretable data is also needed. The place of this technology in society, including any ethical and legal implications it raises, is deeply bound up in the technology itself. Polygraph-based lessons have been used as a means to link science, technology and society for participants in a teacher’s certificate program. Student teachers who took part in the laboratory-based demonstration were extremely positive about it, with all 18 participants responding that they now intended to use the STS approach in their teaching. It would be fairly straightforward to integrate the polygraph material into an existing human physiology course. Teachers who are not confident with the cross-disciplinary material are advised to use co-teaching with expert teachers in those areas. The article is published with the summary of a recent court case in Western Australia, in which polygraph tests played a role in gathering publicity to overturn a wrongful conviction. Also referenced is a discussion of the admissibility of polygraph test results in Australian courts.
Key Learning AreasScience
Studies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
High-impact teaching for science
Volume 53 Number 4, December 2007; Pages 18–22
Experiences in primary school science often impact on how science is perceived in adult life. To explore in detail what makes science classes interesting and memorable, 167 pre-service teachers were asked about their memories of primary school science education. Participants were all undertaking a Bachelor of Education degree at the same metropolitan university in
Key Learning AreasScience
Using representations for teaching and learning in science
Volume 54 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 18–53
Research suggests that primary and secondary students learning science show more motivation and better performance if they are allowed to construct their own representations of the material. ‘Representational competence’ is a student’s ability to construct their own symbolic representations of a concept, encompassing scientific three-dimensional models, graphs and reports as well as generic classroom projects and discussions. Constructing representations is something that the better students tend to do for themselves automatically, re-representing the concepts they learn in other forms that are meaningful to them. Developing symbolic representations can also be explicitly taught. To do this, teachers need to be clear at all stages, especially the planning stage, about the key ideas that students are expected to learn. An ‘IF-SO’ framework can help to guide teachers through this process. First, they need to Identify the key concepts. Then they need to Focus on form and function and how these are interrelated. There must be a Sequence of representational challenges in order to show students that different types of representations reveal and highlight different aspects of a concept. Finally, there must be Ongoing assessment by teachers of the student representations, as they provide a clear indication of the student’s conceptual understanding. Rather than the teacher acting as a mediator between student and domain of study, a ‘trialogue’ should be emphasised between the student, teacher and domain that uses both teachers’ and students’ symbolic representations as scaffolding for building better understandings.
Key Learning AreasScience
Problem-based learning in an eleventh grade chemistry class: 'factors affecting cell potential'
Volume 25 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 351–369
A three-session trial of problem-based learning (PBL) in a Year 11 chemistry class has enhanced student motivation and understanding. The trial took place in a Turkish high school and in the context of a unit on oxidation-reduction reactions. Two groups of 20 students attended lessons on the subtopic ‘factors affecting cell potential’. Both groups were coached so that they had comparable levels of understanding of relevant concepts from previous lessons. One group served as the control group and was taught in the traditional way – listening to the teacher as she explained the concepts. The other group was taught by the same teacher and for the same period of time, but the classes were structured according to principles of PBL. In problem-based learning, students are presented with a problem before any of the material is taught. They work in groups to define the knowledge they need to learn in order to solve the problem. The teacher does not present material but facilitates and asks questions designed to lead students towards developing a solution to the problem. The problem in this case described a hypothetical accident in the laboratory. A beaker of pure water had been spilled into an ongoing redox reaction that was powering a light bulb. The light bulb was observed to dim. After a first session that comprised a 15-minute introduction to the problem, students in the PBL class went home and searched for the information they needed at the library or on the Internet. The two subsequent sessions were 45 minutes long and involved work in small groups, with the teacher walking around and facilitating group discussions. Results indicated that compared with the students taught traditionally, those attending the PBL classes had significantly higher levels of understanding and far fewer misconceptions about the concepts involved. They also found the lessons much more interesting and enjoyable. While the PBL approach has clear beneficial effects on students’ learning, it can be difficult to put into practice. It is often time-consuming and requires training for staff and relatively small class sizes.
Key Learning AreasScience
Inquiry based learning
Senior secondary education
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