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‘Primary Science Innovations 2004’ – A Quest to provide quality Professional Development for Primary Science teachers


The 'Primary Science Innovations' conference had its origins within the halls of Ironside State School's Centre of Excellence for Science and Technology.

 

Ironside State School was chosen to become one of Queensland's eight 'Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology' in May 2001.  Its close proximity and links to the University of Queensland made Ironside an ideal choice, with many members of the parent body either working or studying in Science/Technology related fields.  Extra federal funding has been allocated to each of the Centres of Excellence over a three year period to allow them to explore and improve the teaching and learning of Science and Technology.  For each of the Centres, their mission, in its simplest form, is two-fold -

 

  1. On site -  Improve teaching and learning of science and technology
  2. Off campus - Inspire others by promoting excellent pedagogy and a love of science and technology in the primary sector

 

The improvement of Science teaching and learning at Ironside is another story in itself, but suffice to say that teacher confidence and student outcomes in the areas of Science and Technology have improved markedly over Ironside's years as a Centre of Excellence.  A carefully implemented change management process has overseen planned professional development opportunities for Ironside staff, who in turn are:

    • implementing a whole school approach to Science teaching
    • exploring and refining 'best practice' in terms of Science pedagogy
    • sharing their learning with other primary teachers by delivering PD through various forums:- workshops, demonstrations, conferences and cluster/district programs.

 

During 2003, the challenge set before the Ironside administration team was how to spread the 'good news' about science in primary schools beyond our four walls.  The release of the 'Science State, Smart State - Spotlight on Science 2003-2006' document further raised the profile of Science teaching and learning within Queensland.  The action plan contained within this document outlined the need for 70% of teachers to have undergone some form of Science PD by 2005.

 

 Initially, the Centre ran various promotional activities such as District Science Challenges, Scientist Hall of Fame evenings and Science Week community activities, which served to raise the profile of Science within the local educational District.  As the program expanded, teachers from our own and neighbouring districts began attending one day practicums at Ironside, based on the various strands of science, as well as a variety of after school workshops.

 

These PD opportunities were designed to meet teacher needs as identified in surveys compiled during 2001 and 2002.  The surveys were conducted by an independent academic and change management consultant, Bette Blanche, from Griffith University, and focused on identifying the learning needs of Primary teachers with respect to Science and Technology. 

 

 The  surveys found the needs of Primary Science teachers to be quite consistent:-

·        Teachers lacked confidence in teaching Science overall compared to other Key Learning Areas, being unsure how to approach the teaching of Scientific principles.  To meet this need, one of the workshops run regularly by Ironside staff during 2003/2004 is 'Working Scientifically', which offers teachers a framework for teaching Science, regardless of content. (Note:-  This workshop is being offered at 'Primary Science Innovations 2004')

·        Primary teachers were reasonably confident teaching 'Life and Living' concepts, but lacked expertise in 'Natural and Processed Materials' and 'Energy and Change'.  Therefore, the initial practicums offered during 2002-2003 were based on these strands of the syllabus. 

·        Teachers raised concerns about limited resources within most primary settings.  For this reason, all PD from the Centre of Excellence has been designed to enable teachers to teach Science using quite basic equipment and materials.  Also, much of the Professional Development is delivered by Ironside's own teaching staff, who are keen to demonstrate how much can be achieved in lower, middle and upper primary science with few resources.

 

Feedback from Ironside's PD sessions has been exceptionally positive, however, during 2002, the concern was raised that most of these opportunities reached only 20-40 teachers each time and places were limited by space and human resource issues.

 

Whilst mulling over the problem, Ironside's energetic and visionary principal, Patricia Neate, together with an incredibly committed Science Committee, decided that a conference would be the best way to reach the masses of primary teachers with quality and practical science Professional Development.  'Primary Science Innovations 2003' was born!

 

The Administration team, along with the Science Committee, set about planning the type of professional development they believed would most benefit primary teachers.  They decided that all of the professional development at the conference needed to be practical, with a strong focus on what could be achieved with limited resources.  Several Ironside teachers volunteered to share their work in the form of workshops at the conference.

 

The inaugural conference, opened by The Honorable Anna Bligh MP (Minister for Education), was a resounding success, with several positive outcomes:

 

  • 130 participants from SE Queensland were exposed to inspiring and quality science PD, specifically aimed at the primary level of education
  • Participants gained a greater understanding of the assistance available to primary science teachers - from the Centres of Excellence, as well as outside sources such as the Queensland Museum, Sciencecentre and local universities
  • Ironside staff were affirmed, with workshop presenters receiving favourable feedback about their presentations and the Science Committee receiving similar feedback about the organization of the conference

 

So successful was the first conference that planning for 'Primary Science Innovations 2004' began immediately. For 2004, the organizing committee has chosen to focus on four key areas: ICT in Science, Assessment and Reporting, Middle Schooling and Inquiry Learning.  These areas are particularly pertinent in 2004. 

 

Assessment and Reporting in Queensland schools, for example, is a key issue in 2004, with many schools exploring the reporting of the outcomes based syllabus, in Key Learning Areas of Science, HPE and LOTE.  Several presenters will be discussing issues related to assessment and reporting in Science at the 2004 conference, including renowned Science educator, John Hunt from Central Queensland University.

 

Inquiry Learning is also gaining popularity as a means of delivering Science, with its emphasis on the development of higher thinking skills, problem solving and its alignment with the ideals of 'Working Scientifically'.  Presenters from both Ironside SS and the Independent Schools sector will be presenting workshops looking at implementing Inquiry Learning within individual classrooms and across whole schools.

 

The workshop presenters are even more diverse than in 2003, with many classroom teachers from across Brisbane presenting their work, as well as representatives from the Queensland Museum, Central Queensland University, University of Queensland and the Association of Independent Schools. Responding to feedback from 2003's participants, organizers are offering an extra round of workshops at the 2004 conference, bringing to 20 the number of practical sessions on offer. 

 

Keynote speaker, Dr Jeffrey Stilwell , from Monash University, will be sharing highlights of his career and outlining the importance of his early education with respect to his success as a scientist.

 

With the commitment that the organizers and presenters show towards promoting a love of the teaching of science, 'Primary Science innovations 2004' is sure to be another outstanding success!

 

For more information regarding the conference, please contact Leanne Stewart at stewartb@gil.com.au or visit the Ironside SS website at http:/www.ironsideschool.qld.edu.au/deliver/content.asp?pid=693

 

KLA

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