Activity: Participating in or organising an event types › Participation in workshop, seminar, course
The purpose of the workshop was to begin the process of identifying areas of opportunity and constraint regarding inquiry-based teaching of Science, for beginning Science teachers in particular. The workshop brought together key stakeholders and knowledgeable experts in the policy and practice of Science teaching and teacher education. All teacher education institutions within Scotland were invited to take part; representatives from the Scottish Government, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of education, a leading science centre, the Early Professional Learning project, and of course the teaching profession itself were also in attendance. Their task was to consider the current position and also what potential innovations might be required for beginning teachers, for teacher educators, and for the S-TEAM project itself, if inquiry in Science is to become an integral component of practice in schools.
The curriculum and assessment background to promoting advanced methods in science education in Scotland comprises the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) initiative. The conference participants generally framed their contributions with this in mind. The findings suggested that the CfE, while still in its infancy, is generally supportive and encouraging of investigative science lessons, the range of possible activities that could count as investigative, and in the diversity of the ways in which scientists work. There was however some concern about the relationship between the CfE and Scotland's portfolio of upper-secondary school examinations, as yet unspecified in policy, and thus leaving open to question the degree to which the new curriculum will continue to support investigations as it currently is. Over emphasis on summative assessment through grading and examinations tend to work against the spirit of investigative activity in the science classroom, a practice that depends on a more sophisticated formative approach. There is the associated danger that schools may continue to garner exam success with more traditional teaching methods with the consequence that CfE, though clear enough in its intention to promote investigation / inquiry and creativity, could 'crystallise' into typical assessment styles. Teaching would then be guided by this and genuine investigative activity would be unlikely to develop in the face of the relative certainty (for teachers) of more 'direct' methods.
The experience of the workshop delegates suggests that there are current examples of investigative science work in schools, and that these tend to be enjoyable for learners. This affective dimension of learning is important and points to the need for S-TEAM to develop indicators that can accommodate affective engagement. Other 'harder' indicators could also be developed as discussion revealed that examination results and pupil uptake of science (girls in this case, helping to change possible preconceptions) could benefit from inquiry based activity. While arguing that teachers could and ought to accommodate a degree of inquiry in their teaching, a critical caveat is that beginners benefit from protected exploratory practice prior to their full teaching post and need space themselves to investigate and explore; it is reasonable for them to exercise restraint in their first year until their confidence is fairly secure.