The intensity and frequency of children's exposure to advertising, and the social messages it contains, is unprecedented. While concerns about this exposure typically focus on television, advertisers increasingly 'see magazines as the solution to communicating with children'. The numbers and readerships of these magazines are high and rising further. Publishers report that parents see children's magazines as trustworthy and educational; many parents and teachers 'prefer children to read magazines over nothing at all'; and some commentators argue that children can 'manipulate popular culture for their own purposes'. However, educators need to be aware of the subtle nature of commercial messages in these publications. The website of one commercial periodical describes the strategic embedding of advertising as 'the essence of our magazine'. The authors analysed advertising in single editions of two monthly magazines: Total Girl for females aged 8–11 and K-Zone for males 6–13. The publications were equal in cost, similar in circulation, and each had 116 pages. Each magazine averaged more than one advertisement per page. Advertising was interwoven with competitions, puzzles and other games, and also appeared as references within articles, as public service announcements accompanied by a corporate brand, and as images outside formal product promotion. The advertising proposed 'what it is to be cool' through recommendations about films, music, pop stars, personal appearance and related criteria. Sharp gender differences emerged when the material was categorised by type of product promoted, and by the type of advertisement. Fashion, personal grooming, charity endorsements and public service announcements featured significantly in Total Girl advertisements but were almost entirely absent from the K-Zone equivalents, which had far more references than Total Girl to toys. Total Girl contained more puzzles, and more references to food and to craftwork, while in K-Zone boys were positioned as more childlike and as 'having a preference for getting something for free or competing with others for a prize'. Examining such material in classrooms offers primary teachers an opportunity to develop children's skills in critical interpretation of texts, including the assignment of gender characteristics, and its implications for children who don't fit this typecasting.
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
Mass media study and teaching
Teaching the nation's story: comparing public debates and classroom perspectives on history education in Australia and Canada
Volume 41 Number 6, December 2009; Pages 745–762
The way in which national history is taught in schools is often contentious, with public and political debate and pressure for more stringent, fact-based history teaching in light of research indicating that the historical knowledge of Australian and Canadian students, among others, is generally poor. However, the 'national history' referred to in such debates generally represents a narrow and parochial understanding where factual knowledge is emphasised as a means toward effective 'nation building', while disciplinary approaches emphasising deep, critical engagement are seen to result in 'fragmented' understandings and factual deficits. Drawing on her own and others' research, the author argues that calls to return to fixed-narrative, fact-based approaches will not only result in students having a less complex understanding of history and lower historical literacy levels, but also in their further disengagement from historical study. Many educators and historians, she notes, while supporting an increased emphasis on history as a subject, have similarly expressed concerns that national history emphases will only distance students from history, and that narrative approaches can undermine the richness and complexity offered by more authentic disciplinary approaches. While content knowledge provides important historical context, students need to learn to negotiate different perspectives, analyse historical sources, and understand the problems that can arise from judging the past from present perspectives. Students, that is, need to learn historical literacy skills in order to 'do things' with their historical knowledge, a perspective that is corroborated by data drawn from the author's interviews with 182 high school history students and 43 teachers in Australia and Canada. Teachers argued that populist calls to teach 'core national knowledge' not only discouraged critical historical engagement, but would result in dull learning experiences. They preferred to encourage students to think critically and creatively about history, challenging them with complex ideas and contrasting perspectives; for this reason, appropriate training and professional development were seen as necessary to teach history well. Students likewise preferred the learning opportunities afforded by discussion and debate. While greater knowledge and understanding of history is needed among young Australians and Canadians, it should not be at the cost of students' engagement or of historical complexity.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Education and state
STELR: improving science retention rates in Australian secondary schools
Volume 55 Number 3, 23 September 2009; Pages 28–33
The STELR program for secondary school science aims to improve scientific literacy in the community, encourage current students to pursue careers in science and engineering, and improve the teaching of science in schools. An initiative of the ATSE, the inquiry-based program focuses on renewable energy technologies, an issue of high social relevance, which is likely to be engaging to students, and also facilitates the teaching of essential aspects of physics, chemistry, biology and maths. STELR consists of a 6–10 week unit for Years 9 and 10, and is designed to help students make informed decisions about senior year subjects and increase their awareness of career options in the renewable energy field. Proof-of-concept and pilot versions of the program were conducted this year and last. The 29 participating schools covered all sectors and rural and urban regions in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia. The content 'matched well with the new National Science and Mathematics Curricula' and STELR's ongoing development 'will align with the national curricula and complement their goals'. The first six lessons of the unit cover the 'big idea' of energy, including the concepts of transformation and efficiency. This phase also includes diagnostic tests. The program then focuses on wind and solar energy in turn. In groups, students discuss specific issues related to technology, human and environmental impact, and the science behind energy transformation. Each group presents its findings to a class forum. In the unit's final phase each group explores 'a broad-based energy problem'. Participating teachers receive professional learning that includes a two-day workshop, an introduction to the program website, and opportunities for peer discussion of the principles and pedagogies underlying STELR. Student feedback obtained via survey and focus group discussions indicated strong support for renewable energy as a topic, and for the opportunity for hands-on learning. Overall, teachers too saw significant benefits from the program. They particularly valued the two-day workshop, opportunities for discussion with other teachers, the chance to work as a team of science teachers, and the classroom environment created by students' high level of engagement with the unit. DEEWR has funded the rollout of STELR to 150 secondary schools in 2010.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Inquiry based learning
Using ICT to teach 'Hard to teach' topics in science
February 2009; Pages 20–21
The article reports on the outcomes of a conference on how ICT can assist in the delivery of 'hard to teach' topics in school science. The conference was related to a Becta-funded project on the use of ICT for hard to teach topics in school education. Participants were science teachers identified as innovative users of ICT. During the conference, participants selected challenging topics in science. The difficulties encountered when teaching these topics were conceptual, mathematical, temporal and practical. After the conference, participants wrote case studies of how they had used technology to assist in the teaching of demanding topics. The case studies were then loosely grouped according to the way in which ICT had been used to assist in their teaching and learning. ICT was used to improve communication practices, leading to more consistent teaching practices among teachers, improved dissemination of information to students, more efficient feedback to teachers, more support among students, and benefits derived from remote access to resources. Examples of ICT that can improve communication include Virtual Learning Environments, wiki spaces and iPods. ICT was also used to improve visualisation of phenomena using resources such as film clips and animations; these technologies also helped engage the attention of students, improving learning outcomes. ICT can also be used for assessment. For example, students may be asked to create electronic products to be assessed. Opportunities for the modelling of concepts and systems were also significantly enhanced by the use of multimedia programs, electronic games, and spreadsheet software. While simulations derived from modelling do not replace the need for hands-on practice, they can complement it. Finally, data logging can be facilitated by ICT. The use of data logging is often hindered by lack of equipment, or functioning equipment; lack of access to necessary software; and by 'systems too difficult for teachers to master'. However, data logging is potentially exciting for students and is widely used in science practice.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Improving preservice middle grades science teachers' understanding of the nature of science using three instructional approaches
Volume 20 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 157–177
Understanding of the nature of science (NOS) is an important part of science literacy, but is often not addressed explicitly in science classrooms in the USA. Reasons for this may include the lack of emphasis on NOS in teacher education programs, or the tendency to teach it only implicitly. The authors examined how using a variety of explicit approaches to NOS in a teacher education program could improve preservice teachers' understanding of the different elements of this approach. Ten preservice teachers took part in four different activities designed to develop their understanding of NOS. The first was a purely explicit approach where the participants were asked to hypothesise about the numbers on opposite sides of a cube. This activity helped students develop a more informed view of the empirical nature of science, as well as helping them realise that scientific knowledge can be both inferential and subjective. The second activity was explicit and context-based, and involved an inquiry project around the period of a pendulum. Participants found that the activity gave them an opportunity to participate in the scientific process, as well as helping improve their understanding of subjectivity in scientific interpretation, and the role of creativity in science. However, many found the content knowledge required for this task difficult, and struggled to take in both the content and NOS elements. The last two tasks were explicit and case-based, and involved reading and writing case studies about the history of science. Students found that these tasks helped them develop their understanding of the empirical and tentative nature of scientific knowledge, the development of scientific knowledge, and the influence of culture on scientific knowledge. In designing NOS tasks, teachers and teacher educators should ensure that tasks cover NOS in an explicit manner, are complementary, and help students make connections between the different NOS elements. Tasks that are both explicit and context- or case-based can help preservice teachers and their students see NOS as integral to science rather than supplementary, which has implications for the successful integration of NOS into classroom teaching.
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
United States of America (USA)
Volume 20 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 113–134
Transformative Professional Development (TPD) can be used to improve the quality of science instruction in disadvantaged schools, reducing achievement gaps. TPD contains three main components: whole-school efforts to develop culturally relevant practices; a focus on relationship-building among teachers, students and advisors; and the development of a positive school climate characterised by high participation and high expectations. Using interviews and observations, the authors examine how TPD was used to enhance the pedagogy of eight Grade 6–8 science teachers in two disadvantaged schools in the USA. When the program started, low staff morale and low expectations of students were pervasive features of both schools. Essential to the success of the TPD was the gradual development of a professional learning community among the teachers, who had previously worked largely individually. They began to meet monthly to solve problems and develop inquiry-based tasks, sharing expertise and ideas. Teachers also improved their relationships with students, visiting their homes and learning more about them as individuals. As many teachers had been relying on teacher-centred instruction and methods and heavy discipline as a means to manage students' behaviour, teachers received extensive training in student-centred and inquiry-based learning practices. Teachers participated in classroom visits to observe their colleagues' teaching practices, and engaged in book study on classroom management. The ongoing monthly meetings and cooperative teaching and learning approaches helped empower the teachers, and they collectively began implementing common expectations, standards and procedures. This was especially notable after the first year of the TPD program, when teachers' pedagogy became increasingly inquiry-based and student-centred, and their beliefs about their students' potential achievement became significantly more positive and enabling. Further efforts to make the curriculum more culturally relevant for students are currently underway. By being responsive to the needs of individual schools and teachers, and by being adaptable to meet a particular goal, TPD marks a move away from existing professional development frameworks. Working with teachers to develop their beliefs about students and instruction can take time, but can result in significant improvement in pedagogical approaches, beliefs about students' potential achievement, and in school climate.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
United States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
Inquiry-based learning: reconciling the personal with the public in a democratic and archaelogical pedagogy
Volume 20 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 73–92
Education policy in England has recently placed more emphasis on personalisation and choice, to empower young people as active agents in their own learning. Drawing on complementary research into alternative curriculums, problem-based learning, learning power theories, and the notion of learner competence, the author proposes an 'archaeological' approach to personalised learning that is tied to students' experiences and interests. Rather than content being determined by the curriculum, the learner is encouraged to select an object or place of particular personal interest to study. The learner then examines this object or place in terms of its objective nature, and the learner's reasons for selecting it; a workbook is used throughout the process to record thoughts and developing understandings. The learner then initiates a process of inquiry and investigation around the object, developing and exercising critical curiosity, and at all points reflecting on issues around motivation, reasoning and identity and how these influence learning. The inquiry process, which addresses past, present and future possibilities around the object, leads to a sense of narrative, which is then developed into new concepts, propositions and knowledge. At this point, a teacher, acting as a facilitator and mentor, can guide and support the learner to relate this new knowledge to existing scientific, historical, social or philosophical models, in so doing opening up possible 'avenues of learning'. The learner then arrives at a stage where personal inquiry meets the requirements of the curriculum or course, which may involve demonstrating this knowledge through developing a portfolio, presentation or an essay. This final step helps forge links between new knowledge and existing structures such as qualifications, employment and learning opportunities, or relationships. Learning approaches such as these require learners to be self-aware; learners must also be supported in their choices and in their process of making choices. Teachers, as mentors, must exhibit flexibility and responsiveness, and be outward-looking and able to engage with learners' learning choices, which may transcend mentors' particular disciplinary expertise.
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
Volume 44 Number 4, March 2009; Pages 223–228
Handwriting is linked closely to academic performance. Students who cannot handwrite automatically are held back by the need to keep switching attention between motor processes and communication of intended meanings. Research has found that students' spelling improves as they learn handwriting. Later research has linked direct handwriting instruction for Grade 1 students to improvement of their reading skills. The kinaesthetic process of writing letters has also been found to be favourable for the development of composition skills. While the spread of computer use may suggest a declining need to learn handwriting, recent research has identified a high correlation between typing speed and handwriting speed. Handwriting skills are best improved through an approach combining orthographic and motor training, according to research by Berninger et al. Special needs students are likely to require formal handwriting instruction. The article names a range of handwriting programs. Approaches to the development of handwriting include 'motor learning', which attributes the growth of handwriting proficiency to the interaction of intrinsic factors such as hand strength and body position, and extrinsic influences such as writing materials. The article offers teachers a table listing possible causes of and solutions to children's handwriting problems. Struggling handwriters require 'blocked practice' involving simple writing tasks that free students from concerns about grammar and content; such practice has been identified as more effective than journal writing for these students. Blocked practice may be embedded into routine daily activities, for example by writing headings, name and date in the same format across all their work. Students should also undertake 'constant practice': which provides writing conditions that are stable, familiar and previously identified as effective. Once basic skills are acquired students should be offered a 'challenge point', setting higher demands such as writing more quickly or using unlined paper. Only one such variable at a time should be altered. It is also helpful to supplement these tasks with handwriting activities likely to be more stimulating, such as writing birthday wish lists, or using a range of media such as markers, gel pens and slate boards.
Volume 8 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 92–116
Educational leaders are frequently required to draw on their moral judgement to make decisions around value-laden and ethical issues. An individual's moral judgements and subsequent actions are influenced by personal and professional value schemas and the context in which the decision is made. The Defining Issues Test, designed to examine the particular cognitive schemas used by respondents in making moral judgements, was used to examine the levels of moral judgement among 60 primary principals in the USA. The test examines respondents' use of three schemas when responding to ethical dilemmas. The personal interest schema is the most 'primal' form of moral thinking, and revolves around an individual's personal stake in a decision. The maintaining norms schema involves conforming to personal and social expectations. Use of the third, postconventional schema involves an effort to define values and principles that can be applied to wider contexts. Less than 40% of principals demonstrated use of the postconventional schema, and in general, they drew on the personal interest and maintaining norms schemas. The principals were slightly less likely than 'general adults' and more likely than senior high school students to employ the postconventional schema; older principals were slightly more likely to apply it than younger principals; females more likely than males; and political liberals more likely than conservatives. Leadership preparation programs should help leaders develop the capacity to act morally in the increasingly complex education environment by modelling new and comprehensive ways of thinking, as well as offering experiences or case studies to challenge core beliefs.
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