The emerging Australian science education curriculum and the nature of science: comments and concerns
Volume 30 Number 1; Pages 65–67
Scientific literacy is linked to an understanding of the nature of science (NOS), which therefore deserves attention in Australia's national science curriculum. While there are disagreements within the science community on some issues, such as the 'existence of an objective reality as opposed to phenomenal realities', there is broad agreement about the NOS at the level covered by K–12 instruction. The NOS at this level has several important characteristics. Firstly, it is tentative, not in the sense of being unsupported by evidence but in the sense of being subject to change in the event of new or reinterpreted data. Secondly, it is empirically based. It derives at least partially from reference to the natural world, rather than purely from logic. Thirdly, while 'objectivity is an idea of science', scientific inquiry is mediated by the ideas, backgrounds and interests of the human beings conducting it. A fourth characteristic is the human creativity applied to the interpretation of evidence, meaning that evidence can be validly interpreted in different ways. Fifthly, science is socially and culturally embedded. Sixthly, scientific knowledge is a combination of observation and inference; the need for inference recognises that only some evidence is observed. The final characteristic to note is the distinction in science between laws and theories: laws 'identify relationships among observed phenomena' and theories are 'inferred explanations for what has been observed'. The NOS means that scientists tend to disagree as a result of subjective influences on them, the need for creative interpretation of data, and the need to infer from inevitably incomplete evidence. A grasp of the NOS is required to dispense with popular misconceptions of scientific issues: for example, the notion that evolution is not a scientific theory because it cannot be tested using the scientific method, or that atoms or genes are physically observable objects rather than constructs developed to explain experimental results.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Composition across secondary and post-secondary contexts: cognitive, textual and social dimensions
Volume 39 Number 3, September 2009; Pages 311–327
The act of composition has cognitive, textual and social dimensions. The cognitive dimension involves thought processes including memory and reflection, and the capacity to take apart and rework texts – identifying cause and effect, for example. The cognitive dimension also involves thinking about the act of writing, through strategies for planning, developing arguments, and revision. These strategies should be raised explicitly with students. The textual dimension of composition includes grammatical structure, and distinctive characteristics of different genres, eg personal recounts and narratives, factual reports and procedural statements, and analytical accounts, expositions and explanations. Students' growing powers of abstraction are sometimes evident in their adoption of new textual forms, such as the nominalisation of verbs. However, students are unlikely to understand textual forms well until they have a solid grounding in the cognitive dimension of composition. The social dimension of composition focuses on the relationship between the writer and the receiver of meaning: the good writer is aware of the needs and interests of readers. The social dimension also focuses on the social context within which writing occurs. For example, on a broad scale the western writing tradition has emphasised an 'impersonal, authoritative stance', with judgements 'usually given only through implication' and certain textual forms used to imply objectivity. Students' SES and home language will affect how accessible academic language is to them. Particular academic disciplines impose particular models of writing: to avoid confusing students, educators need to bring out these expectations and explain how students can meet them. Social interaction between students in the classroom, including ESL students, can develop the cognitive skills they apply to writing. Composition calls on students to grasp and apply conventional forms of representation and expression. It also calls for original thinking and the creation of new meanings. The cognitive, textual and social dimensions of composition apply to multimodal as much as traditional forms of text.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Thought and thinking
English language teaching
Survey: educators aren't discussing STEM careers with students
25 February 2010
In a recent US survey, students in Years 3–12 presented a positive picture of their science teachers' skills and ability to engage them in the subject, but rated their teachers poorly in terms of the information they offered about science careers. The proportion of students who believed that skills in maths and science were needed to obtain a high-paying job fell from 80% in the primary years to 66% at secondary level. A number of factors seem to have constrained the teaching of career information for STEM-related jobs. One factor is time constraints, particularly in view of the need to cover the subject matter assessed in high-stakes tests. This barrier is likely to remain unless such tests begin to include items on the topic of science careers. In addition, school budgets probably do not provide adequately for site visits and access to high-quality lab equipment that would bring to life the experience of many STEM-related jobs. Teachers' lack of knowledge about STEM careers is also likely to contribute. Science teachers are trained mainly as educators rather than scientists. Their teaching roles do not expose them to the wide range of STEM careers available; they are unlikely, for example, to have experienced research work in academic or industrial laboratories. This problem is aggravated by the rapidity of change in STEM technology and processes. Teachers may wish to make use of programs to help them remain up to date in their career knowledge, such as the USA's Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education (IISME). To try to overcome these problems STEM education should introduce potential careers to students when discussing topics relevant to those careers. Career information should also be introduced to students at Grade 4 or 5 level, when they are beginning to develop ideas of their own strengths and weaknesses.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCareer education
United States of America (USA)
Programming for the generalization of oral reading fluency: repeated readings of entire text versus multiple exemplars
Volume 19 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 30–46
Reading fluency and generalisation can be improved using interventions such as repeated readings and previewing of passages. Another approach designed to facilitate generalisation is multiple exemplar (ME) instruction, where skills are taught using selected 'exemplar' words taken from a sample text. The efficacy of ME instruction was examined in a study involving 111 Grade 1 students in the USA. Students were divided into three groups: a repeated readings group, an ME instruction group, and a control group. Students in the repeated readings group were given an intervention passage containing 16 sentences each featuring one of four keywords. Each sentence was read to them, with students chorally repeating each sentence three times. Students in the ME group, on the other hand, participated in repeated readings of only four of the 16 sentences, each of which contained one of the four keywords. No intervention was given for students in the control group. Assessment of students' fluency and generalisation gains after the intervention indicated that both intervention groups improved significantly over the control group, with levels of improvement roughly the same between both intervention groups. This indicates that there may not be a need to practise an entire passage in order to see significant improvement in student achievement; it may also indicate that the additional practise opportunities afforded by the repeated readings approach added no benefit. In addition, the time required to undertake the ME intervention was a quarter of that spent on the repeated readings intervention. While both interventions resulted in similar gains, ME represents a more time-efficient instructional approach than the repeated readings of whole texts.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Performing desires: the dilemma of aspirations and educational attainment
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
The role of syllable awareness and syllable-controlled text in the development of finger-point reading
Volume 31 Number 2, March 2010; Pages 176–201
'Concept of word' is a key literacy development that is demonstrated when learners can accurately point to the written version of a word as it is being spoken. Research has suggested that it is facilitated by skills such as alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, and understanding of syllables. A study was undertaken to see whether texts comprising words with a set number of syllables could improve finger-point reading skills, and whether syllable awareness predicted finger-point reading. The participants were 24 kindergarten-aged students in the USA. In two groups, the students took part in a four-week intervention involving four 20-minute sessions. The sessions involved reading oversized books while pointing to the words being read, and asking the children to do the same. Corrective feedback was provided. The books read to one group contained syllable-controlled words: all words were initially monosyllabic, with disyllabic and multisyllabic words gradually introduced. The books read by the other group were not syllable-controlled. Testing indicated that all students from both groups significantly improved their finger-point reading skills. This suggests that the opportunities provided to observe and practise finger-point reading of words were more influential than the use of syllable-controlled texts, and helped the children become more aware of syllables and word units. Improved syllable awareness, including the ability to segment words into syllables, in addition to letter knowledge, facilitated concept of word skills. These skills were found to reciprocally affect each other. In addition, the results showed that very young children were able to attend to the printed word. Modelling and encouraging finger-point reading with very young children can help them make sense of letters. Integrating letter awareness, phonological awareness and finger-point reading into preschool classrooms may be a valuable approach that takes into account the relationship between and reciprocal nature of literacy skills.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsWord recognition
Early childhood education
Adaptations and continuities in the use and design of visual representations in US middle school science textbooks
Volume 32 Number 8, May 2010; Pages 1099–1026
Visual representations in science textbooks play an important role in illustrating and supporting students' understanding of scientific ideas. However, science textbooks have recently been criticised for including large numbers of iconic visual representations that sacrifice scientific accuracy or completeness in their efforts to illustrate real-world contexts. The author examined the number and role of visual representations in 34 middle years science textbooks published in the USA between 1943 and 2005. The number of images found in the textbooks increased significantly over time, with new textbooks containing almost double the amount of images of older textbooks, indicating a trend towards 'iconicity and concreteness'. Photographs represented the greatest increase in terms of the type of image included, and were frequently used to illustrate rather than explain science. Attempts to link science with students' lived realities frequently resulted in a loss of information and a less clear articulation of scientific ideas when compared with the approaches of the older textbooks. A coherent set of guidelines for publishers of science textbooks may result in the provision of graphics that can better support students in their learning.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Physical activity and sports team participation: associations with academic outcomes in middle school and high school students
Volume 8 Number 1, January 2010; Pages 31–37
Research has linked high levels of physical activity with academic achievement, but has not established the respective contributions to academic achievement made by physical activity in itself and participation in organised sporting teams. The activity levels, sports participation and academic achievement of 4,746 middle- and high-school students in Minnesota have been examined using self-reported data. Middle-school boys participating in sports teams achieved higher marks than those who did not, and for both male and female high-school students team participation was associated with higher academic achievement. Further analysis indicated that the number of teams in which students participated also influenced their grades, with grades increasing with the number of teams to which a student belonged. General physical activity was also associated with improved academic achievement, with greater levels of physical activity linked with higher achievement. The results are in line with prior research that has suggested that involvement in school sports teams fosters greater student engagement and identification with both a school and school-related values. However, a causal link between team participation and academic achievement has not been established. It is possible that team norms emphasise academic achievement. It is also possible that students require a certain grade average before they are allowed to participate in team sports, or that extracurricular activities other than sport have had a positive influence on the academic achievement of students in sporting teams.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
'I know how to read longer novels' - developing pupils' success criteria in the classroom
Volume 38 Number 1, February 2010; Pages 87–100
Assessment for Learning is a learning and teaching strategy that encourages the use of explicit learning objectives and assessment to inform planning. The authors examined how Assessment for Learning could be adapted for use by students in order to help them guide and plan their learning by constructing goals and success criteria. This model, the Continuum, provided a framework where students could reflect on their current state of learning, and anticipate what they wanted to achieve in terms of the learning, as well as develop strategies that may help to achieve this goal. The participants were a Year 5 class and their teacher in Britain. The model was applied in two contexts: general reading skills, and an archaeology topic being studied by the students. Students used constructions such as 'I can' and 'I know' to identify their current and desired levels of learning, and 'I need' to identify strategies to help them achieve these outcomes. The students were generally able to identify their current skills and levels of knowledge, and could identify success criteria such as being able to read longer novels or to be a confident reader. In addition, they were able to identify strategies perceived as useful to their learning, such as using a dictionary. However, students' responses in relation to reading tended to be more detailed than those related to archaeology, perhaps because of their greater familiarity with the concept of reading and what it involved. Students' responses to desired long-term archaeology outcomes included those such as 'wanting to know more', indicating a need for teachers to help students identify incremental steps in learning to which they might aspire, and to scaffold the achievement of this objective. While the students were capable of generating their own success criteria, the effectiveness of these goals could also be enhanced by revisiting them in order to refine them as learning progresses, and by scaffolding accordingly.
Subject HeadingsChild development
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