The first phase of the S-TEAM project at the University of Strathclyde - evaluating the state of the art of inquiry-based science teaching and education in teacher education institutions and schools in Scotland - is now well advanced. Phase one identifies the opportunities for and the constraints facing either the implementation or increase of inquiry-based science teaching activity in schools, in the process investigating impressions from current practice in classrooms, from teacher education courses, the policymaking context, as well as the implications for the S-TEAM project itself. All teacher education institutions within Scotland were invited to take part in a one-day workshop at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow; 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, giving a total of 19 participants.
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 - exciting, good fun, etc. 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. The efficacy of investigative activity in the classroom, however, is unlikely to be fully caught by the strictly quantitative. A further consideration is that S-TEAM could develop indicators that go beyond an immediate research function to operate in such a way as to contribute to the learning of teachers in the classroom through the capacity for practitioner self-evaluation. For example, the critical evaluation of investigative activity that a cohort of initial science-teacher education students have already completed for the project, as part of their professional portfolios, has since been commended by teacher educators as being an effective intervention in its own right.
The early results from this indicator confirm the existence of a number of implicit components of developing confidence in undertaking investigative activity - for example, knowledge of the subject curriculum, class, resources, and so on - and teaching methods, from structured additions to the more opportunistic and ad hoc, that practitioners employ. 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.
1. Promote inquiry in teaching by using examples of existing good practice and by working with experienced teachers in order to take lessons back from them to beginners.
2. Develop purpose specific indicators of inquiry and reflection that go beyond an immediate research function to contribute to the learning of (new) teachers through a capacity for the self-evaluation of the use of innovative methods in the classroom.
3. Collate video examples of inquiry as it happens in the classrooms of student and practising teachers, as well as stories and reflective discussion about how it happened, so as to learn how teachers solve the problems of introducing more investigative approaches into lessons.
4. For the development of teachers' knowledge base in science, create a typology of investigative knowledge and experience, upon which the project's activities might draw, of the following levels of scientific perspective:
The socio-historical nature of science.
Contemporary research activity in science.
Initial teacher education in science.
Experienced teaching of science.
Beginning teaching of science.
The child's classroom experience of science.
5. For the ongoing practical application of inquiry-based research, S-TEAM will continue to pursue, interrogate and engage with existing examples of inquiry and resources in the months ahead.
|Publication status||Published - Jan 2010|
- science education
- teacher education