Examining the curriculum and assessment framework of the Australian Curriculum: Science
Volume 33 Number 1, 2013; Pages 15–30
Many experts now call for science curricula that help students acquire the capabilities of gathering and using scientific evidence. They also call for science curricula to embrace big ideas in science, and key ideas about the role of science in society. This approach recognises that such ideas of science play an important role in students' conceptual development. It gives students the opportunity to relate what they learn to these key concepts in a manner relevant to their lives. Countries whose students perform best in TIMSS school science tests make use of this approach: they have 'spiral' curricula in which students revisit key ideas several times, at progressively greater depth, as they progress through year levels. The learning pathways set out in these curricula are more than a scope and sequence of topics: they promote knowledge of important concepts by connecting content knowledge to inquiry reasoning. The paper evaluates how well the Australian Curriculum: Science (ACS) adopts this approach. The ACS is divided into three strands. The Scientific Understanding (SU) strand covers traditional disciplinary areas such as chemical sciences. Science as a Human Endeavour (SHE) deals with the nature and development of science and also the use and influence of science. Science Inquiry Skills (SIS) contains 'process' substrands such as questioning and predicting. The ACS clearly articulates big ideas about science, and scientific capabilities, in its SIS and SHE strands. The SU strand, however, contains no explicit reference to big ideas or scientific capabilities in its year-level content descriptions, which are arranged under discipline-specific headings without cross-referencing to the relevant key concepts. It therefore has no meaningful vertical cohesion. For example, the key concepts of force and motion have no content descriptions set out in years 5 and 6 or years 8 and 9, so teachers are not guided to offer students a year-by-year progression towards a more complex understanding of these concepts. Teachers with less expertise in science may fail to cover these gaps and therefore fail to make adequate connections to the big ideas of science. As a result, these teachers are less likely to sense the extent to which particular students are ready for more demanding treatment of subject matter. Faced with the need to re-cover a lot of material, teachers will feel pressure to revert to expository teaching to get through specified content in required time frames. The paper sets out a model of curriculum and assessment that 'shows how teachers can transform the current ACS into coherent school programs with explicitly defined assessment criteria and standards'. Within this model all SU statements are aligned explicitly with key concepts of the ACS, and revisited at least once per year. SU statements are applied to two-year bands rather than for each year, with assessment criteria defined for each of these bands. This arrangement works to reinforce the links between assessment and learning.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Literacy in the disciplines
Volume 21 Number 1, February 2013; Pages 25–33
The authors identify five principles of disciplinary literacy, consider challenges to their adoption, and look at ways to help students acquire the forms of literacy needed in different disciplines. Their main focus is on the discipline of science. The first principle is that literacy should be learnt in relation to subject knowledge: 'something of substantive value about how the world works'. This principle applies throughout the K–12 years and also to lessons explicitly dedicated to literacy instruction. The second principle, applying to younger children, is that the pursuit of disciplinary literacy should draw on children's existing capacity for reasoning and their existing knowledge of the natural world. The way they learn language should then dovetail with the further development of their logical thinking, communication and early inquiry skills. Thirdly, literacy should be presented as a set of tools, not a goal in itself. Students should be 'reading to learn' even in the early primary years. Children should develop the sense that literacy helps them pursue their personal interests and satisfy their curiosity about the world. Fourthly, text should complement rather than contest with other forms of disiplinary learning, such as direct experience through inquiry. These complementary roles of text include describing the context of a topic being taught, eg why the topic is significant. It also includes biographical and historical narratives concerning that area of science and the description of scientific processes used during inquiry. The fifth principle is to facilitate participation in a disciplinary community; for example, by teaching how to engage that discipline's distinctive discourse. However, there are several important challenges when trying to apply these principles. It is a challenge to connect school-based literacy, in children's minds, to the practical literacy they need to pursue their own interests. A second, related challenge is to overcome students' misconceptions that literacy learning is an end in itself, detached from their interests – a misunderstanding fostered by 'overdoses on the enabling skills of word and sub-word level processes'. A third challenge is for students to develop the different forms of literacy required for different disciplines. There are potential solutions to these problems. One is to acknowledge and draw on what children already know, eg prioritising the knowledge that children bring to school, showing them strategies to 'connect to the unknown', and offering them open-ended tasks that allow them to draw on what they know. Another solution is to provide opportunities to think or act like scientists, and gain experience of how scientists work with other scientists and also with non-scientists.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Policy learning or policy ammunition: three national responses to Shanghai's performance on PISA 2009
Volume 12 Number 2; Pages 8–14
Education policymakers internationally have been strongly influenced by Shanghai's top-level performance on the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. The authors consider the implications of this 'PISA shock'. PISA tests sample populations of 15-year-old students from a wide and growing range of countries. PISA measures students' knowledge in problem-solving contexts, rather than testing students' knowledge of their own country's curriculum. It covers the subject areas of reading and mathematical and scientific literacy. Questionnaires to participating students allow test results to be matched to SES and to students' attitudes towards learning. Shanghai first participated in PISA in 2009, when it immediately out-performed all OECD countries in mathematics, science and reading. In formal terms its results also show relatively high levels of performance for low-SES students; however, most of the poor students from the city's internal migrant families were excluded from participation in the tests. A city of 20 million, Shanghai is now the business centre of China. It is the only part of China to participate publicly in PISA. It also leads the country in education reform, focused on learning and instruction, research evidence, professional learning, school partnerships, teacher transfers, and 'a strong accountability and transparency agenda'. Policymakers worldwide use the Shanghai results as ammunition to support similar reform agendas in their own countries. However, Shanghai's strong performance results not only from reforms but from historical and contextual factors, including a long-standing and deep cultural valuation of education, parental pressure on students, high levels of external tuition, China's one-child policy and intense competition for places in Shanghai universities. These contributing factors 'tend to be played down by the OECD, even neglected to some extent', in favour of the role of Shanghai's policy reforms, when explaining the city's educational successes. The same imbalance is evident in two key reports on Australian education: the Nous Group report on the national review of funding for schooling, and the Grattan Institute report. The article describes the policy impact of Shanghai's performance on Australia, the USA and England. Rather than using Shanghai's success 'as ammunition for strengthening national reform agendas of a neo-liberal kind', it should be used as a learning opportunity to inform future policy development.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
United States of America (USA)
Towards Asia literacy: the Australian Curriculum and Asian-Australian children's literature
Volume 33 Number 1, 2013; Pages 42–50
The Australian Curriculum includes Asia literacy as one of its cross-curriculum priorities. One way that teachers can address this priority area is by using material made available by the Asian-Australian Literature and Publishing Project (AACLAP). This resource may also help teachers address two of the general capabilities called for in the Australian Curriculum: the capability for skilled use of ICT, and intercultural understanding. The AACLAP collection contains approximately 750 texts, including a critical anthology, research and learning trails for students and peer-reviewed essays on Asian-Australian children's literature. There are learning trails for illustrators, translators, translated works, and graphic novels, as well as for festivals, folktales and foods. Intercultural understanding means moving beyond the view of Asia as 'a homogenous region populated by stereotypes'. The conventions of oral storytelling do make use of stereotypes and caricatures; the Introduction to the 'Folktales from Asia' alerts the reader to this. The collection illustrates the diversity of the region. It takes up the nature of culture as something learned and passed on, also noting that culture is constantly changing with shifts in people's belief systems. The skilled use of ICT is developed as users search AACLAP as an online bibliographic resource, as well as databases connected to it. On the AACLAP site, students can also create, analyse and transform information. For example, students can link to Google Maps to acquire geographic information about the setting of one of the stories they are reading. Students can also create book trailers and, copyright permitting, remixes and mash-ups.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Preservice teachers use e-learning technologies to enhance their learning
Volume 12, 2013; Pages 121 – 140
A study in the USA has examined the value of using video recordings to capture the classroom practice of preservice teachers (PSTs) during practicum, as a means to improve their teaching and facilitate collaboration with other educators. The study involved 27 primary school preservice teachers, all female. Also participating were two university academics, five public school classroom teachers, and 100 grade 2 students. The preservice teachers were enrolled in a beginning methods course, combining courses in general methods and language arts. The PSTs were required to design, prepare and teach three lessons. They also spent time assisting or observing the classroom teacher, tutoring or mentoring individual students. Evidence to evaluate their teaching was collected from a number of sources. Flip cameras were used to videotape each PST's classroom teaching. The video clips were then posted on a secure website. Other evidence was obtained from the feedback of classroom teachers and PST peers, evaluations of university instructors, and a survey of participants. The PSTs reported finding the video-based learning 'beneficial, yet cumbersome and difficult'. Over half (56 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed that e-learning via the video clips had improved their teaching. On the other hand, they felt overworked and frustrated by the time and technical difficulties involved in transferring video material from flip camera to computer and then to a DVD, and finally transferring the material to a technologist who uploaded it to the secure website. One suggestion for future implementation is to provide technical support throughout the process rather than relying on limited initial training of participants. Another suggestion is to practice the entire process several times before moving to actual practicum situations.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Video recordings in education
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Physical education teachers' continuing professional development in health-related exercise: a figurational analysis
Volume 18 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 361–379
Physical Education (PE) teachers are expected to promote young people's health and, in particular, counteract the alleged obesity epidemic. A key way to achieve this goal is to encourage lifelong patterns of health-related exercise (HRE). In school PE, however, HRE is usually pursued only in limited ways, chiefly through sport, circuit training and fitness testing, that does not successfully engage all students. The authors argue that PE teachers' priorities can be explained in terms of their personal and sporting biographies and the contexts in which they work. They discuss this explanation with reference to the 'figurational sociology' developed by Norbert Elias. The article then describes how this theory informed a study in Britain, which looked at how PE teachers' backgrounds and professional contexts and networks have influenced their approach to HRE. The study involved a survey of 124 secondary school PE teachers and interviews with 12 of them. It found that only one respondent had taught HRE broadly, through dance and fit-ball exercise. The participants' lack of engagement with HRE may be partly explained by limited opportunities for professional learning; however, they had not responded to the offer of free training in this area. The study found that participants' backgrounds and professional contexts did lead them to ignore or diminish the importance of HRE, or to cover it only in narrow ways. Over half of the teachers had had very limited experience of HRE before being expected to teach it. A majority had not been taught HRE at school, or exposed to it during their initial teacher training at university. Since then most of their exposure to PE had come from more experienced teachers at their schools, who tended to perpetuate existing methods and values. What exposure to HRE they did have came from their wider lives and personal interests, eg through magazines. Such incidental knowledge is unlikely to be entirely accurate, reliable or systematic. PE teachers can be encouraged to increase and broaden their use of HRE through tertiary education, including initial teacher education. At present many tertiary courses focus too narrowly on sport and on fitness procedures such as warm-ups and cool-downs and measurement of heart rates. Moves to introduce HRE will have to overcome the pressures of teachers' limited time and pressure to keep up-to-date with new educational policies and initiatives.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
What needs to be done to position Australian students for this Asian century?
20 May 2013
The value of learning Asian languages is often posed in terms of economic benefits, for Australia and individual learners. It is true that China and other Asian countries are rising swiftly in importance as centres of innovation and knowledge generation, and Australians need to be able to engage with Asia for this reason. However, the economic rationale for language learning has failed to inspire many students to pursue this area of study. Moreover, the nature of this engagement with Asia also requires attention. The need to learn about Asian cultures is frequently posed in terms of avoiding 'pitfalls' during economic or security negotiations. This is essentially a patronising attitude that does not consider what Asian countries may offer Australia intellectually. Chinese-Australian teachers and students are now playing an important role in developing authentic engagement with Asian countries. One particularly promising initiative is being trialled in a group of schools in Western Sydney: volunteer tertiary graduates from China are helping Australian students learn Chinese while they are studying to become teacher-researchers. The initiative is part of a ten-year partnership between the Ningbo Municipal Education Bureau in China, the University of Western Sydney and the NSW Department of Education and Communities. More generally, further work is needed to promote language education. One important step forward would be to provide formal academic recognition to the linguistic knowledge and skills of multilingual tertiary students in Australia, whether local or international. Educational institutions should make systematic use of translations to 'highlight similarities and/or differences in the meanings or concepts, metaphors and images' between languages; for example, by juxtaposing different styles and genres of multilingual texts with similiar informational content to show how the similarities and differences in meanings are conveyed. More effective languages education requires greater collaboration between levels of government, universities, local education authorities and schools. School clusters should be encouraged to offer coordinated languages programs covering the 12 years of schooling. There should also be systematic support for teacher-researchers involved in languages education.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Language and languages
Using assistive technology
Volume 18 Number 1, February 2013; Pages 37–39, 41
Assistive technology refers to tools and equipment that help learners overcome the barriers created by disability. Assistive technology can be used for communication, storytelling, singing activities, building social skills, and supporting routines for the students, particularly those who are autistic. SETT is a framework designed to help educators choose the right assistive technology for each learner. SETT refers to the student, the environment, the task and the tool itself. Individual students each have their own particular needs. These needs are usually established through consultation with the students themselves, family members, special educators and therapists. The teacher contributes knowledge about the learning goals they have set for the student, observations of their behaviour and how the curriculum will be implemented over the year. The environment in which the technology will be used will determine whether the technology needs to be tough enough to handle mobility and rough contact. It is important to be mindful of the task for which the technology will be used, to avoid focusing on the tool as an end in itself. Finally, the qualities of the tool itself are important, to establish, for example, how much training will be needed to use it.
Subject HeadingsSchool equipment
How Elena learned to love reading
May 2013; Pages 62–65
Low-SES students tend to fall behind in reading achievement over the summer months. A meta-analysis of 39 studies estimated that such students lose on average three or more months of reading achievement, while economically advantaged students gain on reading achievement over the same period. To encourage low-SES students to keep reading over the long school break, they must want to read. The first step towards this, for primary school children, is to build positive and warm relations between teacher and student. Once this foundation is established, five techniques may be used to encourage holiday reading. One is to explain to students why reading matters: for example, how correct punctuation helps those who read the students' work. The second technique is to offer students choices of what to read, within the context of their reading level and the genre being studied. Thirdly, the student should have opportunities to confer one-to-one with the teacher about what they are reading and writing; for disadvantaged children, the teacher may be the main or only adult available to discuss these topics with them. Fourthly, students should be encouraged to read books at their actual reading level, not the formal grade level. Finally, the teacher needs to provide time and space for the student to read and write within the school day, since these opportunities may not exist in their home environments. It is also important to 'leverage teacher and student talk'. For example, during one-to-one discussions the teacher might develop the student's confidence as a reader or writer by focusing on what they are good at, such as capturing sensory images. It is also important to encourage students to discuss books with each other: this helps to develop their vocabulary and gives more scope for them to comment than they have during whole-class discussions.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
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