Becoming Explorers of our World: The Purpose of Science Education, M Westwell, D Panizzon

Tags: science education, understanding, conceptual understanding, scientific method, critical thinking, the nature of science, incoming students, junior secondary school, Mark Hodgson, scientific debate, scientific exploration, scientific literacy, scientific instrumentation, personal component, uncertainty, human endeavour, teaching philosophy, scientific concepts, scientific research, Robyn Gregson, Oxford University Press, Additional Science, Additional Applied Science, Liberty Hyde Bailey, pure science focus, Flinders Centre for Science Education, Flinders University, teaching and learning, primary school teacher, future students, Martin Westwell, Debra Panizzon, science class
Content: Westwell, M. & Panizzon, D. (2012). Becoming explorers of our world: The purpose of science Education. In R. Gregson (Eds.). Connecting with science education (pp. 2-20). Victoria: Oxford University Press. Becoming Explorers of our World: The Purpose of Science Education Martin Westwell and Debra Panizzon, Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century, Flinders University Debra's story When I was young, all I ever wanted to do was to become a teacher. At first, this was about becoming a primary school teacher but over time, as my love of science grew, my focus changed. Suddenly I could think of nothing more exciting than being able to teach others the subject that ruled my life--science. While I could have pursued a career in science and continued with a PhD, I just wanted to teach. Within a few months of teaching, it dawned on me that not all of my Year 8 and 9 students were as enthusiastic about science as I was. How could they not think like I did? How could they possibly find it boring? So there was the challenge--to focus on teaching in such a way that students enjoyed what they were learning. Developing my own way of teaching science actually took many years of experience and much reflection about what worked, what I was comfortable doing, and what the students actually learnt. But underpinning all this was identifying my philosophical stance about what science education was all about and marrying this with my views about teaching and learning. For me it was about students developing a conceptual understanding of their science--not learning things off by heart. I wanted to ask questions and for them to enjoy thinking and be prepared to take a risk even though they might not have the `correct' answer. Understanding this about myself was fundamental because it impacted the relationships I established with my students, the culture established in my classroom, how I engaged with my students, and my expectations of students. Underpinning my story is the idea of focusing upon knowing (as a verb) in contrast to attaining knowledge (a thing). Knowing involves building relationships and connections by concentrating on the process of understanding. It is not about merely reaching an end point. Appreciating this distinction as teachers is fundamental because it is easy to think about our students as being immersed in learning, but it is equally critical to recognise that as teachers we too must be learners for life. This is especially the case in science, where it is impossible to `know' every fact and scientific detail but where an understanding of the underlying concepts improves and enhances our quality of life. This story exemplifies the importance of knowing your own values and views about teaching and learning because it is these aspects that impact you as a teacher of science. Importantly, it is not about knowing the subject discipline knowledge or pedagogy but about knowing how to teach science so that students develop an understanding and appreciation of the nature of science. A key component of schooling is to provide individuals with a breadth and depth of knowledge, a range of skills and values, interests and motivation to pursue life-long learning, which may also be useful in the pursuit of careers. This breadth is necessary because, as alluded to in Debra's story, education is not about preparing our students for one career but to 1
provide them with the learning potential and cognitive readiness to engage in a number of careers over their working lives (Resnick, 2010). As such the inclusion of science in primary and secondary education is critical in that it encourages students to build a conceptual understanding of their world and a way of reasoning that is different from that used in other subjects--not better, not worse, but different. In chapter 4, Mitch O'Toole discusses the important contributions of science as a way of knowing and understanding our world. Rather than a one-size-fits-all model, Mitch explores the various approaches evident in the historical scientific literature, thereby highlighting science as a human endeavour involving many trials and tribulations. We emerge from that chapter with a view that scientific knowledge is socially constructed by scientists as a community of thinkers, and is dynamic in nature. Given this background, who could imagine students not engrossed and enthralled by science? Yet, the research evidence indicates that for many Western countries there has been a steady decline in the numbers of students participating in the sciences after the compulsory years of schooling so that severe shortages of engineers, physicists and mathematicians, to name just a few, already exist (Department of Education, Training and the Arts [DETA], 2007; OECD Global Science Forum, 2006). While there is considerable evidence as to the factors contributing to this trend, as discussed by Robyn Gregson in chapter 5, it is often school science and the way that it is presented that is a major deterrent for many students (Tytler, 2007). Hence, the particular focus of our chapter. Think about it 1 Before reading any further, what do you consider to be the purpose of science education given the context in which you are likely to be teaching? 2 What factors or components do you think have influenced your views? What is science education really for? It goes without saying that as individuals with our own sets of values and priorities we see all kinds of meanings and purposes for science education. For scientists, science education may be considered the foundation upon which future scientific development is built, while for industrialists or economists it is the means for providing the nascent skills of a future workforce, which ties in with the political desire for economic development. Civil society, including the parents of current and future students, finds a range of meaning in science and science education, often influenced one way or another by their own school science experiences. In turn, the significant adults in our students' lives help shape what science education could and ultimately does mean to them. Subsequently, it is unlikely that there will ever be a unanimous view of the meaning of science education, and even if there were it would be short-lived as, like science itself, science education is necessarily dynamic and evolving. Any conception of science education and its purpose is a necessary product of a point in time and context, as is explored in the following section. A moving feast Historically, science education was about identifying, motivating and initially preparing students interested in pursuing professional careers in the science and technology fields (Fensham, 2009). The result was that in the compulsory years, school science focused on the transmission of knowledge from the teacher or textbook to the students, with little regard for the personal opinions or engagement of students. Not surprisingly, the focus of the science curriculum and individual lessons was around content that was often irrelevant and boring to 2
the majority of students as it was removed from the reality of their everyday lives. Quite simply the goal was to produce our future scientists (Aikenhead, 2009; Fensham, 2006). Yet, the irony (as alluded to by Cohen, 1952) of this endeavour was that most science courses set out to make students memorise dry facts that no practising scientist bothered to memorise (for example the density of various substances; the atomic weight of different chemical elements). While students who are already motivated and driven towards science-related studies may not be turned off by these experiences, the real dilemma is what of the many other students with little or no intention of furthering their studies in the sciences beyond the compulsory years? To address this issue the next phase of science education to emerge embraced a science for all or science for the citizen agenda as a way of connecting students with science regardless of whether they wanted to pursue it as a career or just up to the compulsory years of schooling. The focus of curriculum developed during this period was around scientific information related to personal, societal and vocational problems, thereby providing contexts that were real and meaningful to the students. This resulted in a range of innovative projects including LORST in Canada, SATIS and Salters' Science and Chemistry in England and Wales, and PLON Physics in The Netherlands (Fensham, 2009). Unfortunately, these programs based around science, technology and society (STS) lost momentum in the 1990s with the emergence of national curricula in many of these countries that specified the scientific content that was to be learnt from the early to later years of schooling (Aikenhead, 2009). As we know, the result has been a gradual and continuing decline in student engagement with the sciences (Fensham, 2009). In recent years scientific literacy has evolved to meet the needs of these disengaged students. A range of definitions are available for this term; however, the following was used by the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) for their 2006 international study that focused particularly on science. Scientific literacy refers to an individual's: · Scientific knowledge and use of that knowledge to identify questions, acquire new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena and draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues · Understanding of the characteristic features of science as a form of human knowledge and enquiry · Awareness of how science and technology shape our material, intellectual, and cultural environments · Willingness to engage in science-related issues and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen (OECD, 2006, p. 21). Mary Hanrahan explores scientific literacy and the implications for teaching in greater detail in chapter 7. It is valuable though to point out here that there is little research evidence to suggest that teaching using a scientific literacy perspective has been widely adopted in the compulsory years of schooling (Aikenhead, 2003; Tytler, 2007) where the political imperative for students to acquire the scientific credentials necessary to navigate pathways across the school­university, school­TAFE, or school­work transitions is still a high priority. Importantly, there are examples of successful attempts to meet the political need for maximising student engagement in the sciences while ensuring that students completing postcompulsory schooling attain the scientific standards required for tertiary study. In England, Twenty First Century Science provides a suite of courses for 15­16-year-olds. § Science, the first course, is compulsory or core for all students to become responsible citizens in contemporary England. 3
§ The second course, Additional Science (General), is optional and aims to meet the needs of students who may wish to study the sciences in Years 12­13 with much more of a pure science focus. § The third course is Additional Applied Science, which is also optional, for students whose interests lie in how science is applied within society. An important component of Twenty First Century Science is that it encourages teachers to use a wide variety of teaching and learning approaches (e.g. teacher exposition, practical work, video resources, the internet, reading about science, discussing and debating science) to enable students to learn and practise their skills in locating and interpreting information, in evaluating evidence and constructing arguments of their own, and presenting their ideas orally and in writing while defending their conclusions (Ratcliffe & Millar, 2009). As evidenced here, science education has been altered to suit the needs of society at particular points in time. Stepping back from these various phases and looking more broadly, Osborne (2007) suggests that science education necessarily embraces four elements around: § a conceptual component as students build their understandings over time § the cognitive domain whereby students develop the ability to reason critically § ideas about science so that students develop an awareness of the nature and processes of science, and § social and affective aspects of learning to encourage, engage, and motivate students. Having considered the approaches described above and the common elements of these, we challenge you to consider a different framework that embraces these components but from an alternative perspective. Being an explorer of the world Whether science is likely to play a significant role in a student's life or make the occasional cameo appearance, a central purpose of science education can be characterised as helping students become effective explorers of the world. The explorer metaphor emphasises science as a discipline of investigation, creativity, path finding, risk and opportunity, while implying a journey into the unknown. Indeed, celebrated horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey stated: `the very essence of science is to reason from the known to the unknown' (Bailey nd). Critically, the metaphor highlights the role of questioning and inquiry in science as a way of interrogating the world through observation and Critical Thinking. Inquiry relates to scientific processes (i.e. observation, hypothesising, predicting, measuring, analysing data) but combines these processes with scientific knowledge, scientific reasoning and critical thinking. It recognises that a fixed set and sequence of steps, known as the scientific method, does not represent accurately the inquiry approach adopted by `real' scientists (Lederman & Lederman, 2004). Critical thinking embraces a complex combination of skills including rationality, openmindedness, self-awareness, discipline, and the ways in which we make judgments. In brief, critical thinkers consciously apply tactics and strategies to uncover meaning to ensure their understanding; they are open to new ideas and are willing to challenge their beliefs and investigate competing evidence. The idea of exploration as central to science applies equally to the professional scientist or the scientifically literate citizen. A career involving any aspect of science, engineering, technology or mathematics (STEM) requires exploration both in terms of the science education that underpins proficiency in these areas, and in the day-to-day thinking, decisionmaking and problem-solving they encapsulate. More pertinently for school science education, using science to be an effective explorer of the world underpins the development of a more 4
scientifically literate society, in which individuals challenge the merely plausible and make more evidence-informed decisions. In considering science education as a way of helping young people become effective explorers, artist Keri Smith's book How to be an explorer of the world (2008) is a potential starting point. Keri notes that `artists and scientists analyze the world around them in surprisingly similar ways' (p. 6), through observing, collecting, analysing, comparing, and noticing patterns. She has identified thirteen ways in which a student can become an explorer, and her suggestions allow us to consider how science education fosters exploration, especially if we add a layer of critical thinking to the exploration. 1 Always be looking (notice the ground beneath your feet). 2 Consider everything to be alive and animate 3 Everything is interesting. Look more closely. 4 Alter your course often. 5 Observe long durations (and short ones). 6 Notice the stories going on around you. 7 Notice patterns: make connections. 8 Document your findings in a variety of ways. 9 Incorporate indeterminacy. 10 Observe movement. 11 Create a personal dialogue with your environment. Talk to it. 12 Trace things back to their origins. 13 Use all of the senses in your investigations. Always be looking transforms science from a classroom or laboratory-bound activity to an everyday way of seeing the world, and if the science is not immediately apparent, look more closely because everything is interesting. By always looking and then looking more closely, scientific explorers of the world can see beyond the immediate and obvious to investigate what lies beneath, whether this be in advertisements for cosmetics or the underlying chemical mechanisms for everyday processes (e.g. rusting). Accepting that everything is interesting and that the scientific explorer should always be looking opens up every experience as a potential opportunity for scientific learning, especially in primary education. Scientific explorers of the world might not consider everything to be alive and animate but, following the sentiment in this statement, they should consider the interconnected and dynamic nature of the observed processes. Unfortunately, all too often the reductionist approach in science disregards these interconnections and in so doing removes the potential connections within students' lives. To alter your course often is to change approach and develop alternative perspectives that, with some critical analysis, may offer some new insights. Creative insights in science have often been achieved through an alteration in course that allows individuals to find a new analogy, model or understanding. Examples are wave­particle duality (bridging the gap between Huygen's and Newton's ideas), Wegener's continental drift, and Pasteur's germ theory of disease. A fundamental aspect of science education is the ability it gives us to explore the world beyond the scale of our own immediate experience. In a scientific sense, observe long durations (and short ones) exhorts us to explore the world on the scale of geological time through to the picosecond switching of the fastest transistors. This can be extended to other dimensions, such as the distances and masses involved in galactic interactions and atomic reactions. The models and analogies that are used in developing the conceptions of small scale and large scale objects (or distances) give the scientific explorer access to the unseen, and consequently the opportunity to explore the seen in terms of the unseen. 5
Empiricism [in which knowledge comes through sensory experience] is inadequate because scientific theories explain the seen in terms of the unseen. And the unseen, you have to admit, doesn't come to us through the senses. We don't see those nuclear reactions in stars. We don't see the origin of species. We don't see the curvature of space-time, and other universes. But we know about those things (David Deutsch, 2009). Always be looking to notice the stories going on around you requires an appreciation of the processes of science and the ways in which they are embedded into our daily lives (as opposed to abstract, stand-alone laboratory exhibits). This perspective encourages the explorer to take a step beyond simple `looking' and into the realm of `noticing', as these are different skills. For example, students may be adept at capturing details when they are directed to make observations, but as an explorer of the world they need to notice what is going on around them actively, decide what is interesting and what is not, and then apply their observation skills. Currently, observation skills (looking) are often over-emphasised in science education at the expense of noticing skills. Isaac Asimov captured this critical distinction when he said `The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka" but "that's funny".' Whether as professional scientists or engineers, scientifically literate citizens, or effective learners in science, explorers of the world need to be able to discern what is funny. Actively noticing that an observation or consequence of a model or theory is new, interesting or different allows science explorers to investigate beyond what they are simply directed towards. A student might observe a double rainbow but not notice that the spectrums of colour in each arc are actually reversed. Therefore, noticing that this is funny creates new opportunities for inquiry. In science, noticing what is funny requires the explorer to notice patterns and make connections. Without recognising this connectivity, science education can be seen by young people as a collection of unrelated facts to be memorised and seemingly irrelevant algorithms to be applied. A scientific exploration of the world draws out the generalisations indicated by common patterns but remains open to noticing the exceptions or a breakdown in a pattern. Seeing what is funny includes picking out the patterns and similarities as well as the outliers and differences. Perceived in this light, any inconsistencies that challenge a particular model or idea provide a prompt for further exploration. It is often stated that science graduates are in demand because of their high-level numeracy and analytical skills. However, in order to wield these skills effectively scientists need to document findings in a variety of ways to bring clarity of thought and so facilitate the communication of their ideas to their colleagues and broader audiences. A common way of achieving this is through the accumulation of data, which can actually be represented in many different ways including images. Importantly, though, each representation communicates different perspectives. For example, organic chemists may represent the same molecule (see Figure 1.1) in two dimensions as a structural formula, or as a stick structure that includes or excludes representations of stereochemistry. Similarly, three-dimensional structures can also be represented in a number of ways, such as ball-and-stick or space-filling models as shown with electrostatic surfaces. Each different way of summarising, describing and communicating the nature of the molecule being considered has advantages and disadvantages for the viewer and the way in which they construct the information being shared. Students often see science as being focused on content despite the fact that, at least in the preamble, many curriculum documents emphasise the importance of students' understandings and investigative skills (e.g. Fensham, 2006; Tytler et al., 2008). School science can seem to prioritise and value the right answers, whereas in scientific practice and exploration of the world a correct answer is a rare and elusive conclusion. Being able to incorporate indeterminacy and function in a situation, particularly in an unfamiliar context where there is no one correct answer in the back of the book, can seem contrary to the 6
traditional values in science education. However, being able to work in this manner is crucial for a practitioner of science and an explorer of the world. When scientists seek to understand structures in the natural world, especially those beyond the scale of direct observation (e.g. an atom, DNA, the changing nature of the Earth's atmosphere, the internal structure of the sun) they can only generate a model to test whether it is consistent with the evidence available to them or allows predictions to be made and tested. As such they can never definitively prove that they are right, just that their theory or model remains standing after being challenged repeatedly. Not surprisingly, for the citizen-explorer this degree of uncertainty creates confusion and doubt, which has been evident recently in fears around the vaccination of young children. It is clear from the debate about vaccination that the level and utility of scientific literacy in many countries has been found wanting. Children have died because their parents were ill-equipped to be scientific explorers of the world and deal with a relatively small amount of indeterminacy and uncertainty (albeit magnified by the media), often turning to comforting fairy tales of folk wisdom and alternative therapies. Similarly, the so-called `climate-change debate' only exists not because there is an authentic scientific debate but because of a lack of our exploring skills: `we see scientific uncertainty, the legitimate, real, normal uncertainty that's part of all scientific research, being turned into a political tool' (Naomi Oreskes, 2011). To observe movement is to recognise change. A great many, if not the majority, of scientific concepts have a change or a process at their heart. Some of the movement and change is observable directly (e.g. projectile motion), while others are less so (e.g. change in physicochemical properties and biological activity when protein folding occurs). Trace things back to their origins also emphasises the need to follow change while asking some fundamental questions of inquiry, such as how did this get here? or how did it get to be like this? These are the questions that have driven explorers like Darwin and Lyell, both of whom managed to undertake explorations about origins, movement and change (in organisms and geology respectively) without directly observing the processes in action. Clearly, any scientific exploration of our world may be limited by our natural senses and so the call to use all of your senses in your investigations must also include scientific instrumentation that allows us to extend our senses and overcome the limits of empiricism. However, this statement remains important in scientific exploration in that the intention is to exhort us not to be limited by a particular way of exploring the world that relies upon a single sense or an unimaginative set of scientific approaches (or instrumentation). Finally, Keri Smith's instruction to create a personal dialogue with your environment and to talk to it seems at first glance to be at odds with the stereotypical dispassionate, rational and analytic scientist or the so-called scientific method (a term often used narrowly to describe a hypothetico-deductive approach). Of course, as in any human endeavour, the practice of science and science education has a personal component (i.e., science as human endeavour). However, it is important to discern personalised learning from individualised learning. In the latter, a learning experience is tailored to meet the needs of the individual student but in the former the student actually takes the learning experience personally and derives meaning from it. Hence, effective explorers of the world are equipped to derive their own meaning, find their own path, and make evidence-informed decisions along the way. Science as human endeavour encapsulates the critical premise that science is created through the activities and thinking of people so that ideas change over time, resulting in a growth of scientific knowledge and understanding. Hence, science is not a fixed body of knowledge but dynamic in nature. Unfortunately, it is often this component that is lacking when the teaching scientific facts and figures becomes the focus with school science. 7
In summarising, perhaps unintentionally in considering How to be an explorer of the world, Keri Smith has captured one of the answers to the question: `What is science education for?' As effective explorers of the world, students of science are required to construct conceptual models that encompass the information they have received, or sought out, as well as their experiences and observations (having noticed something worth observing). This conceptual model building is far removed from that out-dated perception that science education is about knowing or finding the answers. Science education helps individuals to find ways of exploring, understanding, and predicting the world around them. Supporting young explorers in our classrooms Embracing the science framework described above complements the innate curiosity of young students about the wonder and excitement that surrounds all facets of their lives. Equally important though, thinking about science in this manner removes much of the pressure and anxiety experienced by primary teachers who often lack depth in relation to scientific discipline knowledge (Goodrum, Hackling & Rennie, 2001; Tytler, 2007). Surely the purpose of science education in primary school is about engaging, motivating and nurturing students so that they acquire an appreciation for their world while developing foundational skills that can be developed further in the secondary environment? To explore this notion further, we invited Marianne Nicholas to describe her own experiences around teaching science to her primary students. Teaching context I became interested in teaching science early in my career partly because there was little accountability required for student learning in primary science. For some teachers this meant science was a low priority, but for me it meant formal teaching approaches could be loosened so that students could be encouraged to make discoveries through hands-on exploration. Without the culture of rigorous testing we could just try things out with students, following their areas of interest. Critically, at this time I noticed that students were more highly engaged in science than in my other lessons, with behaviour management (despite the potential chaos of an activity) being much less of an issue. In fact, even the most difficult students were totally engaged! Being appointed as a specialist science teacher to a junior primary school opened up a welcome opportunity to focus on this particular area of the curriculum. So, I challenged myself through professional learning and networks to become the expert that my title of science specialist demanded. As this role involved teaching three year-levels (i.e. Foundation­Year 2), I was able to deliver a similar lesson up to ten times consecutively. However, rather than finding this tedious, it provided the perfect mechanism for refining my pedagogy through trial, reflection and modification. As a result I became aware of the common alternative conceptions held by students along with the best ways to organise equipment and to sequence activities in the classroom to support their learning. Not surprisingly, as my confidence and expertise increased, I became more passionate about my work. Fuelling this further was that the students loved to do science! It was not unusual for students to ask to stay in at recess and lunch to complete work or to take the equipment outside to continue the exploration. Parents were dragged into the science room after school to be shown growing seedlings or crystals, or nagged to buy batteries and torch globes to do the electricity activities at home. I even had a child arrive straight from hospital after breaking his broken arm because he did not want to miss his science lesson. Developing personal views of science 8
In terms of my own perceptions of science, Questacon's Hands on minds on workshops provided outstanding background because it was from these experiences that I came to realise that science is less about knowing the right answers and more about knowing the right questions. It was at this point that I developed skills around socratic questioning, which helped challenge students' conceptual understandings of science. Questions like: Why do you think that? Does that always happen? How could you change your result? Is that always the answer? What would happen if ... ? What are you thinking now that you have noticed this? Using this process with my students consistently challenged my assumptions about what my students understood and how they viewed their world. I learnt to assume nothing and their thoughts often surprised me. For example, the following explanation was provided by a Year 3 student: `On Monday our shadows were small, and today is Tuesday and they are big and point the other way. I wonder what Wednesday's shadows will be like?' Combining socratic questioning with hands-on activities facilitated enhancement of student learning by creating cognitive conflict between what they believed and what they actually noticed through their exploration with materials. For example: `If magnets stick to metal, why don't they stick to my keys?' Since returning to normal classroom teaching, I have taught Reception to Year 6. Luckily there is much greater flexibility for lesson delivery in the primary environment, with a science investigation taking half an hour or continuing for half a term. Additionally, subject areas can be integrated holistically with science, thereby contextualising art, mathematics, literacy and ICT, while providing interest to history, design and technology, environmental studies, and health. Hence, the possibility for weaving a science topic throughout the curriculum to enrich and be enriched by multiple perspectives is endless. On the other hand, it also becomes easier to lose the essence of science in this subject integration, particularly if the scientific skills and knowledge outcomes are not clearly defined and articulated. In doing science as an integrated topic there is a risk that lots of activities will be completed but that scientific concepts may be either overlooked or become blurred. This was really brought home to me when students complained that they never did science. I was shocked given all the things we had explored--chickens, magnets, rocks, seeds ... It seemed to me that all our topics were science and everything else was integrated within that context. `Well,' my students retorted, `we've done chickens, magnets, rocks, and seeds. But we haven't done any science'. Despite the recent increased accountability for student learning in science, I still believe that the main purpose of primary school science is to nurture a lifelong predisposition towards being curious and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Science education should embody critical thinking and the creation of authentic science learning around noticing, wondering, questioning and seeking explanations while engaged in hands-on explorations. Accountability and expertise of the scientific process should never be at the expense of the joy of learning--to prioritise the former in my view is actually counterproductive to the big picture goals of science education. In summary, as a teacher I have a personal responsibility to model receptiveness to new ideas and understandings and not to be afraid to explore and challenge the depth of my own scientific understanding continually. For example: What made that work? Why do you think that? What else do you think you could try? Why do you think it did not work every time? So, in the words of US librarian John Cotton Dana `Who dares to teach must never cease to learn'. Focus upon meaning in secondary science 9
Few would disagree that the kinds of scientific understandings, insights and foundational skills discussed by Marianne provide a seamless transition for students entering the secondary environment where science becomes a discrete subject. To explore this next educational phase, we invited Mark Hodgson to discuss his views and perceptions about the purpose of science education and its relationship to teaching in the junior secondary school. Context and personal philosophy of science education Over the course of my career I have taught students from many walks of life including those who were gifted, had extreme behaviour issues, were from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, or were severely affected by factors outside the school that limited both personal and academic progress. Currently, I am the science coordinator in a comprehensive high school. Our clientele comprises mixed-ability groups of students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds who demonstrate different attitudes towards learning and achievement in science. Most of our incoming students have received a limited introduction to science in primary school, with the majority perceiving science as being `one of the subjects for the nerds'. While this is challenging, it is also exciting because once motivated these students can achieve great things! As a teacher and learner of science, I am constantly amazed at how things work, why they work, and how we know they work. For me, teaching science is about exposing students to the nature of science, equipping them with the skills to look at their world in different ways, providing opportunities to transfer their skills to other discipline areas, and allowing them to understand the human experience of science. So what underpins my own teaching? Interestingly, my teaching philosophy is constantly changing with my own life experiences, which I believe reflects the nature of science and science education. Our understanding of science changes and evolves over time, so why should science education and the way in which our students are taught remain static? As a beginning teacher it was easy to apply a lock-step approach to teaching science in my classroom with the premise that science is logical, based upon facts, and a process that mimics the way in which scientists work. But, once I discovered more about the underlying nature of science and the multitude of ways in which different scientists work, I dramatically changed my teaching pedagogies. For me, teaching science is a journey of discovery, where teachers interact with students and share their investigative journey rather than telling students what their journeys could or should look like. However, I am aware that my views differ from those of my peers who consider that in order to teach science it is important to start with the facts while explicitly teaching the content to students. Over the years I have observed classes of students memorising facts and figures, regurgitating information by completing closed questions from textbooks, and conducting recipe-style practicals. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed many students opt out of science in the senior years due to these less effective pedagogical practices that if used consistently lead to boredom with school science. Given this experience, it is not surprising that in my role as a faculty leader I have deliberately set out to challenge my colleagues by encouraging them to reflect upon their practices (e.g. what works with students? what does not work?) and move away from content-based learning using a textbook to being prepared to incorporate innovative methodologies that allow students to investigate and connect with science, link their learning to the local community, and research `cutting edge' science. Within our own school these changes have resulted in large increases in the number of students participating in senior science courses and, more importantly, dramatic improvements in student motivation and engagement. Underpinning this change has been the creation of more positive relationships between teachers and their students and recognition by teachers that they too are life-long learners of science. From ideas to implementation 10
It is all very well to have a utopian view that every science class will be one of scientific discovery and self-guided investigation around which all learning can be constructed. In reality we have to deal with adolescent students who are experiencing massive neurological and physiological changes and who (in most cases) would prefer to be doing other things. Not surprisingly, most of my students find reading pages 54­57 from a textbook then answering the review exercises provided unappealing, unscientific, and uninteresting. So how do we motivate and engage students so that they want to be in class and learning? For me it is about making the science meaningful to these students. For example, there is very little point in giving my Year 8 students an article about a polluted waterway in the south of France, yet a visit by a scientist working on a polluted water way in the local area is potentially very engaging--especially when it impacts the immediate life of these students! Of course, once students have developed an understanding of the ideas then the example in France has greater relevance. So, within my science classes I attempt initially to link concepts to local examples and create learning experiences that are community focused; these often involve inquiry-based practical investigations around issues seen on TV, through the net, or in the newspapers. Of course, this is not easy. When planning inquiry-based investigations, I have developed many types of scaffolds to support students with varying abilities and levels of understanding. A key to the scaffold is for students to recognise the scientific research underpinning the investigation. With this foundation established, students can develop a conceptual basis for the investigation and can easily recognise patterns in data to draw relevant conclusions. Equally important, they can then link their investigations to everyday examples within their own community. An example of this is the development of our Clipsal 500 (an annual racing car event in South Australia) excursion for Year 10 students. As part of the work, students attend the event and speak to race engineers to explore how everyday physics and chemistry is applied to the development of racing cars. The underlying principle is in getting students to become aware of the broader applications of science around us at a range of levels. In preparation for talking to the engineers, students must develop an understanding of the fundamental scientific concepts so that they can construct high quality questions for their interviews. Overall, it is my view that the introduction of relevant and community-based examples of science in our teaching has led to increased engagement, participation, and learning for our students, along with a dramatic improvement in their levels of achievement. Personally, I have noticed this impact not only with senior chemistry classes but also with junior science classes. Furthermore, these changes have generated higher motivation among our teachers as they recognise their own need to continue learning science while challenging their own views about the role of science education for our students. Linking theory to practice in science education By embracing a framework of students as explorers of the world we overcome the fear of teaching science experienced by many primary teachers and the emphasis on scientific facts. For secondary science teachers, it encourages greater focus on the human endeavour aspects of science, ensuring that students recognise the applicability of science to their everyday lives. These views are exemplified in the vignettes provided by Marianne and Mark, who openly acknowledge their changing role as science educators in relation to their teaching and life experiences. While both began teaching with a fairly traditional view about the purpose of science education, they now recognise the imperative to make science meaningful for their students. Interestingly, even though Marianne and Mark represent two different teaching contexts, there are a number of key elements regarding science education that are consistent in their reflections. First, neither focuses attention on the content of science, with the doing and understanding of science being paramount. Second, both perceive themselves as life-long 11
learners of science and enjoy the notion that they still question their own scientific conceptions of their world. Similarly, they consider that there is much to learn about educating students around science, that is, application of teaching pedagogies. Third, in being able to step back from the immediacy of their own classrooms so as to see the bigger picture, they appear to value and place high priority around the following three components of science education. 1 The nature of science, which embraces what science is, how it works, its epistemological and ontological foundations, how scientists operate as a social group, and how society itself both influences and reacts to scientific endeavours. As such, scientific knowledge is conceived as tentative; empirically based (or derived from observations of natural world); subjective (theory laden); necessarily involving human inference, imagination and creativity; while being socially and culturally embedded (Lederman & Lederman, 2004; McComas & Olson, 1998). 2 Scientific inquiry and investigation approaches that encompass the scientific processes (i.e. observation, hypothesising, classifying, predicting, measuring, analysing data) but combine these with scientific knowledge, reasoning, and critical thinking. As a result, students understand the rationale of an investigation and are able to analyse the data collected. Such approaches recognise that a fixed set and sequence of steps, known as the scientific method, does not represent accurately the inquiry approach adopted by real scientists (Tytler, 2007). Importantly, research evidence suggests that these approaches produce more higher-order learning outcomes for students than recipe-style experiments (Berg, Bergendahl & Lundberg, 2003; Watson, 2000). 3 Critical thinking involves the intellectually disciplined process of actively conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising and evaluating information collected from a range of sources. It incorporates the values of clarity, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence and reasoning that relate to all discipline areas. Activities involved in critical thinking include relating theory to practice, interpreting according to a framework, making a claim and supporting it with appropriate evidence, asking questions, and establishing cause and effect (Scriven & Paul, 2001). Summary To some extent, trying to articulate the purpose of science education is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, in that we are unlikely to find one explanation that will satisfy all interested parties. Importantly, we do know that this purpose will evolve and change in response to societal expectations and values. So, if we stop right here and now and consider science education in the 21st century, it is clear that we need a scientifically literate population more than ever. Linked to this we need a teaching profession that understands the way in which students learn science if they are to create the appropriate nurturing, engaging, and challenging opportunities in their classrooms to meet the needs of a diversity of students. No longer is it simply enough to cater for the top group of students who may become our future scientists. In this chapter we have attempted to move the microscope away from the traditional content focus of most science curricula to thinking about science education as a means of encouraging our students to become explorers of their world. By focusing more on the nature of science, the processes of science, and the way in which scientific understanding is constructed, we are more likely to motivate, engage and educate our students. Robyn Gregson and Maree Gruppetta will elaborate upon a number of these aspects in the next chapter. Finally, by utilising an explorer-of-the-world framework, we are more likely to enhance the curiosity of our teachers of science so that they too see themselves as life-long learners of science. 12
Further reading Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2004). How people learn: brain, mind, experience and school. Washington DC: National Academy Press. Pellegrino, J.W., Chudowsky, N. & Glaser, R. (Eds) (2001). Knowing what students know: the science and design of education assessment: executive summary. Retrieved 1 October 2010 from . References Aikenhead, G. (2003). Review of research on humanistic perspectives in science curricula. Paper presented at the European Science Education Research Association (ESERA) Conference. Noordwijkerhout, Netherlands, 19­23 August. Retrieved 17 April 2007 from . Aikenhead, G. (2009). Research into STC science education. Revista Brasileira de Pesquisa em Educaзгo em Ciкncias, 19(1), 384­397. Bailey, L.H. (nd). Liberty Hyde Bailey quotes. Retrieved 7 February 2011 from . Berg, C.A.R., Bergendahl, V.C.B., & Lundberg, B.K.S. (2003). Benefiting from an openended experiment? A comparison of attitude to, and outcome of, an expository versus an open-inquiry version of the same experiment. International Journal of Science Education, 25(3), 351­372. Cohen, I.B. (1952). The education of the public in science. Impact of Science on Society, 3, 67­101. Department of Education, Training and the Arts. (2007). Towards a 10-year plan for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and skills in Queensland. Retrieved 12 November 2007 from . Deutsch, D. (2009). A new way to explain explanation. Personal commentary on video. Retrieved 10 February 2011 from . Fensham, P. (2006). Research and boosting science learning: Diagnosis and potential solutions. Retrieved 12 January 2008 from . Fensham, P.J. (2009). Real world contexts in PISA science: implications for context-based science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(8), 884­896. Goodrum, D., Hackling, M., & Rennie, L. (2001). The status and quality of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools: A research report. Canberra, ACT: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA). Lederman, N.G. & Lederman, J.S. (2004). Understanding the art of teaching science. In G. Venville & V. Dawson (Eds), The art of teaching science (pp. 2­33). Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. McComas, W. & Olson, J. (1998). The nature of science in international science education standards documents. In W. McComas (Ed.). The nature of science in science 13
education: rationales and strategies (pp.41-52). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. OECD (2006). Assessing scientific, reading and mathematical literacy: A framework for PISA 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2006 from . OECD Global Science Forum. (2006). Evolution of student interest in science and technology studies: Policy report. Retrieved 3 September 2006 from . Oreskes, N. (2011). Merchants of doubt. Science Show. [video.] Retrieved 15 March 2011 from . Osborne, J. (2007). Science education for the twenty first century. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 3(3), 173­184. Ratcliffe, M. & Millar, R. (2009). Teaching for understanding of science in context: evidence from the pilot trials of the Twenty First Century Science courses. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(8), 945­959. Resnick, L.B. (2010). Nested learning systems for the thinking curriculum. Educational Researcher, 39(3), 183­197. Scriven, M. & Paul, R. (2001). Defining critical thinking: a draft statement for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. Retrieved 21 July 2010 from . Smith, K. (2008). How to be an explorer of the world. New York: Penguin. Tytler, R. (2007). Re-imagining science education: engaging students in science for Australian's future. Camberwell, Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research. Tytler, R., Osborne, J., Williams, G., Tytler, K., & Clark, J.C. (2008). Opening up pathways: Engagement in STEM across the primary-secondary school transition. Retrieved 4 July 2008 from . Watson, R. (2000). The role of practical work. In M. Monk & J. Osborne (Eds), Good practice in science teaching: What research has to say (pp. 57­71). Berkshire, UK: Open University Press. 14

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