STEM growth: getting students interested in the sciences
14 July 2014
There is a growing need for staff who are trained and qualified in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A recent ABS study found that the number of STEM-related grew at one-and-a-half times that of other occupations over the years 2006-2011. At the same time, however, the proportion of secondary students studying STEM subjects is declining. Another cause for concern is the low number of females taking STEM subjects, at senior secondary level and beyond. Earlier this year the ACER ran focus groups involving 30 senior secondary students, as part of a wider study of the engineering workforce. Participants called for ‘hands-on, visible activities that place learning in real-world contexts’ as a means to make STEM more engaging at high school level. Students valued the opportunity to learn from their own failures, and to be exposed to role models working in the field; they placed less value on formal information sessions and booklets on careers advice. The focus groups highlighted students’ desire for learning that has real-world applications. Knowing how STEM jobs contribute to society helped students appreciate the usefulness of STEM subjects. The focus group feedback was consistent with earlier research on the value of active learning for engaging students with science, engineering and mathematics, summarised in a recent paper. In an attempt to address some of these issues, ACER has developed the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge. This tool is designed to raise interest in STEM subjects among upper primary and secondary students, especially females and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The tool reflects wide interest among educators in game-based learning. By tailoring this challenge to the student’s interests it is hoped that students will be inspired to learn STEM skills and concepts, as well as more general skills in reasoning, problem-solving, and scientific, creative and artistic thinking, preparing the ground for more STEM graduates in the workforce.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
School community collaborations: bringing authentic science into schools
Volume 60 Number 3, 2014; Pages 28–34
One way to improve school science is through collaborations between schools and practicing scientists, who offer knowledge of science in contemporary contexts, as called for in the Australian Curriculum. The collaborations include large, centrally administered programs: some are highly structured, while others, such as ASISTM, allow for flexibility at the local level. Alongside these large-scale programs are many local, community initiatives. Researchers have identified a range of ways in which schools have collaborated with scientists who are based in their local communities. However, relatively little research has been undertaken on the effectiveness of such collaborations; participants appear to rely on informal feedback from teachers and students, and some important indicators of success, such as increased take-up of science at university or careers, require long-term evaluation. While most research has considered the value of the collaborations from the student’s viewpoint, several studies have identified benefits for teachers and community participants. A number of factors have been found to influence the success of the collaborations. For community scientists, a key factor is the need is to establish the best contact person at a school, and the best procedures for ongoing liaison with them. Schools themselves may wish to consider appointing a 'champion' to manage these communications: ideally this broker should have knowledge of both the school and the scientific community. Schools may also find assistance from the higher levels of their own education systems, such as regional offices, or from science teachers’ subject associations. Another key issue for school-scientist collaborations is their relationship to the curriculum: significant discussions may be needed to align the interests and expertise of community scientists to the themes teachers will cover in the science classroom. This applies particularly to secondary schools, where there is less flexibility to adapt the curriculum. Schools may need to identify topics where local community scientists have the capacity to assist them.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
School and community
The Coding Club: exploring the teaching of programming to high school students
Volume 36 Number 3, 2014; Pages 76–78
This year McCarthy Catholic College has been running a Coding Club, which introduces participating students to coding and programming. This co-curricular activity reflects growing international interest in the teaching of these skills at school level: the National Curriculum in England, for example, refers to the need for students to engage with programming, and the issue is also being widely discussed in the USA. While commentators such as Larry Cuban and Lisi Gopin question the value of having wide numbers of children learn programming, proponents such as Eric Schmidt stress the benefits of learning to program as a way to develop students' analytical and exploratory thinking, and skills in problem solving. The Coding Club at McCarthy has drawn heavily on resources from Codecademy: through its website, this organisation offers training in programming languages. While its resources are targeted mainly to adult learning for the workplace, Codecademy also offers teachers resources to help adapt its learning program for school students. The author, who leads the operation of the Club, is from a non-technical background, teaching History and English; in relation to the Club, his own learning has been only a few steps ahead of the students’, but despite this limitation the Club has been a success. The author offers several tips for educators who are considering such initiatives at their own schools. Students should be encouraged to solve problems themselves, using internet resources, rather than relying on help from the teacher. Learning should proceed in small, manageable steps. The early stages of learning are demanding and potentially demoralising for students; to counter this, the teacher should ‘show them what they are working towards’. The article is accompanied by a small break-out piece from Neralie Chappell, Assistant Principal at Beverly Hills Public School. She discusses iPad apps suitable to help early primary school children learn programming: these apps include the relatively prescriptive Kodable, Light-bot and Tynker, and the more open-ended Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Australia in the Asian century: learning some lessons
Volume 13 Number 4, August 2014; Pages 8–9
Australia’s relations with Asia, in education and other areas, would benefit from deeper links at both the individual and institutional levels. One promising move in this direction is the New Colombo Plan, which encourages Australian students to study abroad. The growth of individual and institutional links may also help to break down the narrowness of Australia’s interest in Asia, as a supplier of trade opportunities, international students, and tourist destinations. This focus has led Australian leaders to neglect the potential offered by Asian communities within Australia as a bridge to deeper relations with Asia itself. Australia's Vietnamese and Cambodian communities, for example, have the potential to supply additional language teachers for Australian schools, if policy makers broaden the focus of Asian language education beyond the languages of major trading partners. To draw on this potential pool of language teachers, Australia must also let go of 'structural and regulatory barriers' which reflect outdated assumptions that both teachers and students come from monolingual English-speaking backgrounds. Overseas teachers from non-English speaking backgrounds who wish to teach in Australia must attain high scores on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). By contrast, candidates from English speaking countries do not have to take the IELTS test, as it is simply assumed that their English skills 'will always meet the IELTS standard'.
Language and languages
Social life and customs
A way forward - Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
Volume 13 Number 4, August 2014; Pages 16–18
For some years, the number of people studying languages has been declining across the English-speaking world. However, one model of intensive language learning has been establishing itself in both primary and secondary schools in Australia, across all three school sectors. The model, once referred to as ‘second language immersion’, is now usually termed Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Under this model, Australian Curriculum subjects such as mathematics or history are delivered via the medium of a second language; this language is used for all communications between students and teachers, within and outside the classroom, and for all teaching materials. CLIL provides an authentic reason to use the second language, and addresses the problem of curriculum crowding. Some students are motived to take part in CLIL programs simply to study alongside high-achieving peers; others do so for reasons of future travel or work. CLIL programs work well with transnational language communities online, and can help to develop digital literacies and awareness of global issues. There are about 30 CLIL programs in Australia, spanning a range of languages. The programs are based at either primary or secondary schools, with no current plans for continuity from primary to secondary levels. Government agencies from some target countries, including the Goethe Institute and Confucius Institute, sometimes provide free teaching materials and professional development opportunities in Australia or overseas. CLIL is attracting support from language teaching associations in Queensland and Victoria. A report on CLIL, commissioned by the Victorian Government, was released in 2013.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Language and languages
Superheroes and Transformers: rethinking Teach for America's leadership models
Volume 95 Number 8, May 2014; Pages 57–61
The Teach for America (TFA) program appeals to the idea of the hero – a concept with a powerful cultural resonance. This idea, which finds its extreme form in fantasy superheroes, sees problems dramatically resolved by virtuous, charismatic, and exceptional individuals. The TFA commenced in 1990 as an alternative pathway for teacher training and placement; it has since become a movement to eliminate educational inequity through the selection and preparation of leaders. Its alumni now occupy a wide range of positions in charter schools, education authorities, and corporate-funded education reform agencies. A three-year study of TFA alumni and current members is currently being undertaken, focusing on their beliefs concerning educational inequity, and on the role of leadership in overcoming it. The article reports on interview data from 117 alumni and 47 current members of the TFA corps. Most respondents explained the source of poor school performance in ‘technical or managerial terms’, eg poor financial management or ineffective use of existing resources; low expectations; lack of accountability; lack of flexibility in terms of hiring, firing and pay; and inability of school leaders to inspire apathetic or complacent teachers. Only a minority of interviewees referred to the need for high-quality teaching. Some, however, noted the tension between the pursuit of excellence and the risk of burnout. Their role models tended to be leaders such as Joel Klein, 'known primarily for their support of controversial policies backed by the corporate community'. While TFA corps and alumni are dedicated and well-intentioned, research evidence does not support managerialist approaches to school reform, finding that they are ineffective and costly. The most effective solution to inequality is sustained investment in disadvantaged schools and communities.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Theory of knowledge or knowledge of the child? Challenging the epistemological assumptions of the curriculum debate on geography from an alternative viewpoint
Volume 39 Number 2, 2013; Pages 193–210
The Steiner-Waldorf curriculum follows the path of children’s intellectual development, and the gradual emergence of their sense of self. It emphasises the contributions that imagination and a sense of wonder play in student engagement and learning. The curriculum operates ‘outside normal scientific and rational paradigms’: Steiner ‘draws explicitly on an inner realm of “soul” and “spirit”’. Thinking and feeling are intimately related, and imagination forms a ‘metaphysical bridge’ between the physical, sensory world and the spirit-world. At the same time, thought and feeling are closely related to the body, and physical movement is an important stimulant for cognitive development. The Steiner approach to geography follows this broad framework. Children to the age of six grow into their spatial surroundings primarily through their ‘limbs and movement’ and then, between the ages 7–14, primarily through feelings and imaginative thinking. The teacher cultivates a sense of wonder and mystery, and ‘an aesthetic awareness of landscapes and cultures’. At the same time they nurture empathy and respect for other people. For children aged nine 'a pictorial map is constructed' covering the student’s neighbourhood. The teacher vividly depicts the locality through story-telling, the imaginative power of the narrative being more important than the accuracy of the spatial representation. At the ages 11–12, the curriculum expands to cover the home nation and continent. Over the same period, the child’s developing sense of self means that they increasingly understand the world as something distinct from themselves, something to reflect upon. The teacher introduces simple concepts of causality, and of how the environment acts upon human society. Heading towards puberty, the curriculum expands to consider more complex features of particular cultures, and how they interact with the environment. Ideas of individual human agency are also introduced. After the age of 14 students relate to their surroundings mainly through rational thought and judgement. At every stage, the Steiner approach ‘adapts geographical knowledge to suit pupils’ evolving consciousness and relationship to the world’. This conception of learning ‘has relevance for the wider debate on more flexible, post-industrial forms of learning’.
Teaching and learning
Designing individualised leadership development programmes
Volume 33 Number 5, 2013; Pages 440–456
Alternative headship preparation programs have been trialled in Scotland, as a means to tailor leadership development to particular individuals and their contexts and learning styles. The article reports on an evaluation of one of these programs, the National Flexible Routes to Headship (NFRH), and draws on its findings to inform individualised development of school leaders. The NFRH focused on coaching and other ‘experiential methodologies’ to cultivate the skills of educators aspiring to school leadership. A key feature of the NFRH is its holistic nature. It is not simply a checklist of tasks to demonstrate specific accomplishments. Rather, it recognises the need for participants to combines various forms of learning to make progress: forms of learning that are practice-based, conceptual, and reflective. While coaching assists many forms of learning, other forms involve peers and cohorts. Similarly, self-evaluation does not break down into a study of one’s separate strengths and weaknesses; rather it is ‘an autobiographical process of inquiry into identity, values and practice’. Another finding from the evaluation was the inherent tension between an individual’s developmental needs, and the need to contextualise development within the school setting.
Young children's engagement with ebooks at school: does device matter?
January 2014; Pages 1–9
A study has examined 24 preschool children’s engagement with different devices for ebook reading. The children, spread across eight US states, were considered average or better than average in their learning levels, and self-regulated, independent learners. The research examined the impact of the devices during two types of reading activities. The first activity involved the students, in groups of three, in shared reading using a stationary desktop touchscreen computer. The teacher and students listened to a narration, which the teacher paused periodically 'to discuss screen pages of the story'. The second setting was book browsing. The teacher assisted the same students—this time individually or in pairs—to use iPads or iPods to read or re-read ebooks. The teacher also periodically discussed the ebook content with the students. Evidence was obtained from video recordings of the children, coded for different types of behaviour at one-minute intervals. Taken as a whole, the devices were found to have a significant influence on four student behaviours: looking, moving, touching, and gesturing. The two mobile devices—the iPad and iPod—were found to support 'more looking and touching but less moving and gesturing' than the touchscreen computer. The mobile devices' greater support for touching merits further research, given the increasing significance attached to touch in studies of digital reading.
Early childhood education
There are no Conferences available in this issue.