Category Archives: Primary Education

Evolving approaches to STEM pedagogies in Australian Primary Schools: A review of current research

Post by Dr Maree Skillen

It has been identified that Australia needs a STEM capable workforce for the future, and that “the foundations of STEM competence are laid in early childhood” (Caplan, Baxendale & Le Feuvre, 2016, p.11). These same authors highlight the importance and need for “high quality primary school science and mathematics education” (2016, p.7), and a need to expand the skill-base of students to embrace technology and engineering. To support STEM in Australian schools, the Government has committed to improving the skills of young Australians to ensure they can live and work in a globalised world. Innovative programs have been funded with a focus on early learning and school STEM initiatives (Australian Government Department of Education, 2019). These initiatives have been extended to include support for a range of education projects to improve STEM outcomes for school-aged students. Teachers are embracing initiatives to partner with STEM professionals and for now the results indicate teachers are focused on enhancing their teaching practices to deliver engaging STEM education experiences in Australian schools.

Why the continued focus on STEM?

Declining enrolments across STEM subjects has attracted much attention within Australia in recent times. Wood (2017) confers with this decline by referring to the National Scientific Statement which found participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in Australian schools appear to be at the lowest level in 20-years. It is widely recognised that students’ early interest in science begins at primary school; and, the teaching of related subjects at this level is important for fostering skills and interest within students, ensuring they continue to engage with STEM subjects during their transition to senior secondary and tertiary education.

Despite the critical importance of early STEM instruction, findings from Australian research indicate that it has not previously been a strong focus in primary schools; even though the foundation of building STEM competence has been recognised as being best placed in early childhood situations (Caplan, Baxendale & Le Feuvre, 2016; Fitzgerald, Dawson & Hackling, 2013). Reasons for this include a lack of indicative curriculum time allocated to deliver subjects in Australian schools. Prinsley and Johnston (2015, p.7) identify that “Education authorities, industry, universities and others are developing their own approaches and resources for STEM education, in a vast array of disconnected, duplicating and competing programmes”. If managed strategically, STEM can be incorporated more deliberately into existing curriculum and timetabled to provide enriched learning opportunities for all Australian primary school students.

Primary Teachers and STEM Education

Many primary teachers have identified and willingly acknowledged their lack of expertise and confidence to teach STEM content well. Prinsley and Johnston (2015) state that “currently only a minority of Australia’s primary school teachers have an educational background in a STEM discipline”. Added to the apparent lack of STEM qualifications of primary teachers, some reports identify that pre-service and trained teachers did not study science or mathematics to Year 12, or an equivalent level. This was reaffirmed by Abraham, Smith & Skillen (2019) after surveying a group of Western Sydney University (WSU) pre-service teachers to better understand and identify the types of science learners completing the mandatory Primary Science and Technology unit, as part of their Master of Teaching (Primary) studies. A proposed remedy (Rosicka, 2016; Caplan, Baxendale & Le Feuvre, 2016) to this situation is to employ specialist teachers in each school or within a cluster of schools to provide much needed curriculum support in these areas. Other suggestions call for improvements in professional development programs to allow primary teachers greater access to digital or online STEM related resources (Tytler, Symington, Malcolm & Kirkwood, 2009).  There has also been some research into developing STEM skills of pre-service teachers through collaborations with schools, university, and industry professionals.

 Gaps and Opportunities

A number of gaps in current research about STEM pedagogies utilised in Australian primary schools have been identified. Surprisingly, few peer reviewed studies about STEM education were uncovered in this literature review. Furthermore, very few studies have been undertaken in the government education sector despite the high profile of STEM in the media.  It was noted that many studies report on pre-service teacher education programs as a positive step forward; however, follow-up research outlining the success of these programs once a pre-service teacher becomes an in-service teacher are not identified. Research from the period identified for this literature search (ie. from 2008 to 2018), generally focused on the application of a specific model or unit of work in a specific situation. Conversely, research into what is happening in schools has not been collated and peer reviewed. Many articles reported on the lack of competency and confidence of primary school teachers for the STEM disciplines. Steps to increase this confidence and competence have not been formally quantified on an Australia-wide basis.

Caplan, Baxendale & Le Feuvre (2016, p.29) refer to Australia as being “at an inflexion point” in regard to STEM education; and, whilst Australian primary schools and teachers may face challenges there are many exciting opportunities to create a “buzz” about STEM teaching and learning. Some current Australian Government (2019) STEM initiatives to support teaching and learning for students, teachers and schools include: Digital Technologies Hub; reSolve: Mathematics by Inquiry; Primary Connections; Science by Doing; Curious Minds; digIT; STEM Professionals in Schools; and, Pathways in Technology (P-TECH), a pilot program involving the establishment of long-term partnerships between industry, schools and tertiary education providers. These initiatives align with goals outlined in the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026 (Education Council, 2015); and, promote collaboration between educators and industry to ensure students and teachers “keep up with the rapid pace of change in STEM disciplines” (ISA, 2017, p.33). These initiatives and programs also focus towards preparing young people for the jobs of the future.

About the Author

Dr Maree A. Skillen coordinates and lectures in Primary Mathematics education at Western Sydney University.

References

Abraham, J., Smith, P. & Skillen, M. (2019). Types of science learners: What kind are you? Retrieved from https://educationunlimitedwsu.com/2019/08/

Australian Government Department of Education (DoE). (2019). Support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Retrieved from https://www.education.gov.au/support-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics

Caplan, S., Baxendale, H. & Le Feuvre, P. (2016). Making STEM a primary priority. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Education Council. (2015). National STEM School Education Strategy: A comprehensive plan for science technology, engineering and mathematics education in Australia. Retrieved from http://www.educationcouncil.edu.au/site/DefaultSite/filesystem/documents/National%20STEM%20School%20Education%20Strategy.pdf

Fitzgerald, A., Dawson, V., & Hackling, M. (2013). Examining the beliefs and practices of four effective Australian primary science teachers. Research in Science Education, 43, 981–1003. doi:10.1007/s11165-012-9297-y

Innovation and Science Australia (ISA). (2017). Australia 2030: prosperity through innovation. Canberra: Australian Government. Retrieved from https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/g/files/net3906/f/May%202018/document/pdf/australia-2030-prosperity-through-innovation-full-report.pdf

Prinsley, R. & Johnston, E. (2015). Position Paper: Transforming STEM teaching in Australian Primary Schools. Australian Government Office of the Chief Scientist. Retrieved from https://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/Transforming-STEM-teaching_FINAL.pdf

Rosicka, C. (2016). From concept to classroom: Translating STEM education research into practice. Camberwell, Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research. Retrieved from www.acer.edu.au

Tytler, R., Symington, D., Malcolm, C. & Kirkwood, V. (2009). Assuming responsibility: Teachers taking charge of their professional development. Teaching Science 55(2) 9 – 13.

Wood, P. (2017). STEM enrolments hit 20-year low, but scientists have an idea to stop the slide. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-30/science-maths-enrolments-hit-20y-low-but-scientists-have-a-plan/8395798

 

Types of science learners: What kind are you?

Post By Jessy Abraham, Philip Smith and Maree Skillen

To engage children with science at primary level, we need teachers who are confident and enthusiastic about teaching science. However, research shows that in general, Australian primary school teachers are not comfortable with teaching science. They often lack content knowledge and their low sense of teaching self-efficacy is well documented in international primary science education literature science (e.g. Fitzgerald, Dawson & Hackling, 2013).  The decline in confidence and interest in science is also evident when students enter primary pre-service teacher education courses.  Pre-service teachers (PSTs) acknowledge a lack of understanding of content essential to teach primary science effectively (Stephenson, 2018).

Students’ early interest in science begins at primary schools and therefore, poor science teaching at this level can lead them to losing interest in science and eventual discontinuation from the subject during their transition to senior secondary and tertiary studies. This decline in science enrolment has attracted much attention in Australia in recent times.

Several factors influence a student’s science learning and teaching self-efficacy. Personal beliefs are one of them. Bleicher (2009) asserts that the science learner ‘typology’ of a PST would be shaped from their earlier experiences with science, and this can influence their teaching self-efficacy. His research classified PSTs into four types of science learners, based on disclosure of their prior science learning experiences. These types were: fearful of science; disinterested in learning science; successful in science, and enthusiastic about science. His study concluded that each ‘type’ has a distinct effect on science teaching self-efficacy and confidence to learn and teach science.  For example, fearful science learners perceived themselves as substantially less confident to learn science than all other types. Interestingly, disinterested science learners did not demonstrate a lack of confidence to learn science.  As an extension to this study, Norris, Morris and Lummis (2018) identified a new type of science learner (not clearly identifiable), located in the middle of the other four categories.

At Western Sydney University (WSU) in the Primary Science & Technology program, we wanted to identify the type of science learners our PSTs are. The purpose of this being to optimise their science learning during the methods unit. Our expectation was that WSU PSTs would display a range of dispositions towards science as primary teachers are generalists, not specialists like their secondary counterparts.  The guidelines of Bleicher’s study (2009) were followed in classifying the types.  Pre-service teachers were informed that the types are not mutually exclusive categories and, although there might be overlap between the descriptions of categories, they were to identify the category that best describes them.

Our survey attracted 91 PSTs (82 females and 9 males) and revealed interesting results. The majority of the PSTs discontinued formal study of science either at Year 12 (39%) or at Year 10 (37%). Only 19% of the students who responded had studied some science subjects to a Degree level while 6% discontinued at Year 11.

Out of the 91 respondents, 13% identified themselves as disinterested in learning science (e.g. dislike or disinterest for science during secondary education/felt bored/not engaged during class/not interested in teaching the subject), while 26% identified themselves as fearful of science (e.g. afraid or have apprehension towards science/the subject content felt foreign and did not make sense/ ‘scared’ about teaching due to a lack of conceptual understanding). It was pleasing to note that 41% are enthusiastic science learners (e.g. highly interested in science/enjoyed or enjoy science classes/attended extra-curricular science type of activities or hobbies/not necessarily achieving highest grades in classes but looking forward to teaching science). Only 6% reported that they are the successful in science type (e.g. high achievers in the area of science/ have science hobby or hobbies/specific interest outside of school science/feel confident to learn and understand science concepts/ confident in teaching science). Interestingly, 14% of students were categorised into not clearly identifiable type (e.g. like some parts of science/ like one branch of science but not some other branches/does not like school science but like science fiction or movies/ will avoid teaching science if possible).

Further, PSTs were asked about the branch of science that they prefer with more than one option being possible to select. Biology was the most popular option (50%), followed by Earth Sciences/Geology (40%), Chemistry (20%), Physics (12%), and Astrophysics (10%). It was notable that 26% of PSTs did not like any branch of science. While a fearful science learner admitted “science is boring and I just can’t retain the information”, not clearly identifiable type felt “science is exciting but challenging at the same time”. Interestingly, enthusiastic science learners disclosed that they “love science, but nervous about teaching the subject”. A successful in science learner described that they “deeply madly fall in love with science”. In general, PSTs felt they lack confidence in certain areas such as Chemistry and Physics than Biology and Geology. Yet, they are all expected to teach a key learning area incorporating all these branches, namely Primary Science, once they qualified as a teacher.

Findings of our survey indicate that a science classroom can include various types of learners. For us this means that our PSTs need more time and learning experiences to reduce their nervousness about science learning and teaching. Furthermore, the areas in which they are less confident about teaching need to be more strongly scaffolded. Thus a knowledge of science learner types can transform the design of a methods unit and assist teacher education providers in building confidence and capacity of future science teachers. Likewise, while designing programs for in-service teachers’ professional development, the typology of science learners needs to be considered.

A knowledge of learner types in school science and integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classrooms can assist school teachers as well. Science programs can include learning experiences that inspire and engage various types of science learners. Engaged and inspired learners will be actively involved in higher-level discussions, critical thinking and problem solving (Tyler & Pain, The Conversation, March 15, 2017).  Focusing on building the various types of learners’ identity in relation to ‘Working Scientifically’ (Science and Technology K–6 Syllabus, 2017) can boost the longer-term success of STEM education which is at the core of the government’s science agenda.

About the authors

Jessy Abraham coordinates and lectures in Primary Science and Technology at Western Sydney University.

Philip Smith is a casual academic specialising in science education at Western Sydney University.

Maree Skillen coordinates and lectures in Primary Mathematics education at Western Sydney University.

 

References

Bleicher, R. (2009). Variable relationships among different science learners in elementary science methods courses. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 7(2), 293–313. doi:10.1007/s10763-007-9121-8

Fitzgerald, A., Dawson, V., & Hackling, M. (2013). Examining the beliefs and practices of foureffective Australian primary science teachers. Research in Science Education, 43, 981–1003. doi:10.1007/s11165-012-9297-y

Hackling, M., Peers, S. & Prain, V. (2007). Primary Connections: Reforming science teaching in Australian primary schools. Teaching Science, 53(3), 12-16.

Stephenson, J. (2018). A Systematic Review of the Research on the Knowledge and Skills of Australian Preservice Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2018v43n4.7

Norris, C. M., Morris, J. E., & Lummis, G. W. (2018). Preservice teachers’ self-efficacy to teach primary science based on ‘science learner’ typology. International Journal of Science Education, 40(18), 2292-2308.

Tytler,R  & Pain, V.  (2015). Science curriculum needs to do more to engage primary school students. The Conversation, March 15, 2015. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/science-curriculum-needs-to-do-more-to-engage-primary-school-students-74523

Science and Technology K–6 Syllabus.  (2017). NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). Retrieved from https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/learning-areas/science/science-and-technology-k-6-new-syllabus

 

 

 

Learning and thinking about languages in super-diverse classrooms

Post by Dr Jacqueline D’Warte

In 2019, cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a broad international commitment to multilingualism and linguistic diversity are at the centre of global educational policy and practice (UNESCO 2018). In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, global educators are working in classrooms that commonly comprise young people who speak multiple languages and dialects. These young people connect to and interact with diverse cultures and traditions across time and space, and they make meaning in multiple languages, multiple modes and media.

If people know my language they will know my personality (Ahmed Age 10).

I got to understand more about myself, my language and about the languages of my friends (Maura Age 11).

The above comments from Ahmed and Maura are representative of those shared by many multilingual young people involved in a recent Australian research project undertaken in Western Sydney classrooms (D’warte, 2014; 2016; 2018). This research conducted over four years, engaged young people and their teachers in Years 1 through 8 as researchers of ways they were reading writing, talking, listening and viewing in one or more languages, inside and outside of school.

This research was undertaken as part of regular classroom lessons; students learned to be researchers, observing and collecting information about the languages heard and seen within the school and surrounding neighbourhood. They also interviewed each other, collecting information about their language and literacy practices, for example, the languages they spoke and when, where, and with whom they were spoken or learned. They collected information about translating for family and friends and ways they were communicating, reading, and viewing in online environments. Students also created visual representations of their individual practices and experiences. Teachers created lessons that supported students to collate and present their collected data and they used the students’ information for ongoing learning. This included a range of lessons across subject areas: for example, working with data in math, facilitating writing tasks and comparing words, sound systems and grammar in English, mapping and research work in geography and history

What has been learned?

Teachers’ and students’ understandings and awareness of the ways young people were navigating their multilingual worlds were enhanced.  As the student quotes above suggest, there is a powerful relationship between language and identity. This relationship was illuminated as home languages were validated and students became knowledge producers. Very few students involved in this research saw any relationship between the language and literacy practices and experiences of home and school as the research began. Most often they did not view their foundational linguistic knowledge as fundamental to learning and did not view their linguistic capacity as a strength.

Over the course of the classroom work, student confidence increased as many students began to consider what they knew and could do and began to discover ways to apply their knowledge and skill to English tasks. For many English as an Additional Language or Dialect Learners, learning moved away from typically focusing on what was limited or lacking to using students’ knowledge and skill as a starting point for learning. Evidence suggests this work promoted intercultural understanding for all students, and had a significant influence on self-esteem, and belonging for many young people who were struggling with English learning.

While many teachers knew their students spoke languages other than English, they were surprised by the variety and frequency of students’ language use and the complex multimodal, multilingual tasks they were engaged in outside of school. Teachers across classrooms reported the discovery of previously unknown information about their students. This classroom work enabled students and their teachers to make explicit connections between home and school, with teachers reporting an increase not only in students’ confidence but also in learning. They also reported an increase in their own ability to build on home language learning and reimagine curriculum that was cognitively challenging and engaging for their students. This work offered new opportunities for building relationships with parents and community members and this resulted in increased parent participation in classrooms and in student learning more generally.

            Language is not just about culture it is about who you are (Mona, Age 11)

It is well established that capacities in one language can support or advance the development of another (Baker & Wright, 2017; Cummins, 2015). However, recent national and international research also identifies strong links between the recognition and use of first language and student identity and wellbeing and the ways this can improve education outcomes (García & Kleifgen, 2018; Rymes, 2014; Wright, Cruikshank, & Black, 2018; Yunkaporta & McGinty, 2009)

Australia’s 120 surviving Indigenous languages (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 2018) are joined by more than 300 languages spoken by 21% of Australians who speak a language other than English at home (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Australian classroom are culturally and linguistically dynamic spaces that offer exciting teaching and learning opportunities. What we do know is that the future is multilingual and multicultural and perpetuating and fostering a pluralist present and future (Alim & Paris, 2017) is a crucial and important educational endeavour.

About Dr Jacqueline D’Warte

Jacqueline is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University. She has 15 years of K-12 teaching experience in Australia, the United Kingdom, and India. She began her career as an elementary school teacher teaching a range of grades and specialising in ESL and literacy development. Jacqueline’s research interests include exploring connections between language and learning and how these influence educational equity, teacher and student expectations and teacher practice in culturally and linguistically diverse educational settings. Jacqueline’s most recent research involves students in primary and high school in being ethnographers of their own language and literacy practices. This research builds on the linguistic and cultural diversity that exists in 21st century classrooms by engaging young people in exploring how they use, change, invent and reinvent language and literacy practices in new and interesting ways.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census: Multicultural – Census reveals a fast changing, culturally diverse nation. March, viewed 28th January, 2017, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/lookup/media%20release3

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 2018. Indigenous Australian Languages: Celebrating 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, viewed 10 November, 2017 https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/indigenous-australianlanguages

Paris, D., & Alim, S. (2017). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies. Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World. New York: Teachers College Press.

Baker, C., & Wright, W. E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. (6th ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Wright, J. Cruickshank, K., & Black, S. (2018) Languages discourses in Australian middle-class schools: parent and student perspectives, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 39(1), 98-112

Cummins, J. (2015). Intercultural education and academic achievement: A framework for school-based policies in multilingual schools. Intercultural Education, 26(6), 455–468.

García, O., & Kleifgen, J. (2018). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs and practices for English learners (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Rymes, B. (2014). Communicative repertoire’ in C Leung & BV Street (Eds.). The Routledge companion to English studies, Routledge: London, pp. 287-301.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (2017). International mother language day: Towards sustainable futures through multilingual education. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/international-mother-language-day/UNESCO, 2018.

Vertovec, S. (2010). Towards post‐multiculturalism. Changing communities, conditions and contexts of diversity. International Social Science Journal 61(199), 83-95.

Yunkaporta., & McGinty, S. (2009) Reclaiming Aboriginal Knowledge at the Cultural Interface. The Australian Educational Researcher 36(2), 55-72.

 

Science Focused Makerspaces: Transforming Learning in Teacher Education

By Jessy Abraham and Philip Smith

“Now I feel like a man!” exclaimed a female pre-service teacher. For the first time in her life she had used an electric drill, when she was constructing an artefact for an assessment task in the Primary Science & Technology unit (PS&T). Although unwittingly entrenching the prevailing stereotypical gendered expectations about the use of physical technology tools, this comment flags one of the major challenges that these teachers – especially female teachers- face: namely, the lack of technological self-efficacy. The lack of teacher confidence in using physical technology tools and integrating the use of such tools in classroom teaching are recurring themes in science teacher education literature and may have future negative impact on students in classrooms.

Confronting and overcoming such fears cannot be dismissed as a ‘female problem’. However, gender has been shown to be one of the determining factors of technological self-efficacy. Although the overall findings regarding gender differences in technological self-efficacy are inconclusive, males tend to score higher than females on specific scales. This could be related to the gendered norms and expectations created by society which in turn enhance attitudes and eventually expertise in using such tools.

The science teaching team conducted an informal survey in 2017 among 106 pre serve teachers (90 females and 16 males) regarding their perceived expertise and confidence in using physical technological tools like power drills or soldering irons. The results showed that while females displayed a low rating of 2.9 on average; the males’ rating was 3.5 (scale mean 3). While 50 percent of the females were extremely negative or negative about using such physical technology tools in their classrooms, only 19% males were negative. Only 33% females reported that they were either positive or extremely positive in using physical technology tools, in comparison to 56% of the male cohort.

Bandura (1977) identifies four general sources of self-efficacy: performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. Studies suggest that there are differences in the way these sources influence both genders. For example, the most influential source of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) self-efficacy for men has been identified as the mastery experience, while for women vicarious experiences and social persuasion were the prominent influences (e.g., Zeldin & Pajares, 2000). This prompted the WSU science team to establish Makerspaces focusing on improving students’ self-efficacy through vicarious experiences and social persuasion.

Makerspaces are becoming more common in Australian universities (Wong & Partridge, 2016). They are defined as a creative physical space where students can explore, play, design, invent and build new projects and technologies (Blackley et al., 2017). In such an informal space, students have the opportunity to become involved with collaborative hands-on projects that promote experiential learning. Maker movements can also develop a mentality among participants leading them to realise that they could be a creator rather than just a consumer. By easily incorporating a variety of STEM topics, Makerspaces are a great means to engage students in STEM. For example, E-textiles and soft circuitry, (circuits that are sewn using conductive thread or fabric), have shown to be an engaging way to teach electronics and programming (Thomas, 2012).

The key purpose of PS&T unit’s Makerspaces are to create space for pre-service teachers to learn, play, make and explore in the teaching areas of science and technology in a flexible and supportive setting. The preferred way of learning is underpinned by a social constructivist perspective, where new knowledge was developed through collaboration, social interactions, and the use of shared classroom communication (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Our Makerspaces focus on Exploratory Fabrication Technologies (EFT): technologies centred on fabrication (activities oriented towards invention, construction and design) and those centred on exploration (activities oriented towards expression, tinkering, learning, and discovery) (Blikstein, Kabayadondo, Martin, & Fields, 2017). The EFT tools include hot glue guns, heat guns, soldering irons, wire solders, and power tools such as drills, sanders and saws.

Science teaching staff are on hand in our Makerspaces to facilitate learning, making and exploring. They assist participants with specific skills: training, investigation of materials and resources, and use of tools. Staff help participants to develop a product for use in their primary classrooms. These include solar ovens, slime, battery-operated cars, wax wraps, kites, magnetic circuits, crystal snowflakes and a cloth number-counting resource. Participants also investigate classroom resources such as science kits, a seed germination observation kit, and other botanical displays; and use common tools such as power drills, soldering irons, cutters and saws and 3D printers. For some, this is their first chance to learn how to use a soldering iron or a drill. Students also get involved in skill development of their peers. For example, those who had already learnt how to use the soldering iron teach other students how to solder. Participants are given resources related to the development of Makerspaces within educational settings and a small collection useful websites.

Students appreciate the opportunity to experience hands-on activities they can use in their own teaching. They acknowledge the importance of the trial and error approach, importance of peer-to-peer discussions and the relaxed environment while they acquire new skills.   A number of students said the event built their confidence to use tools, to experiment, and to do science. Some appreciate seeing what teaching and learning resources are available for teaching science and technology and some learn how to organise MS at their school.

The overwhelming student support for Makerspaces has implications for schools. ‘Making’ can happen in a variety of places other than STEM-related concepts and technology-based activities. Makerspaces can promote a ‘community of practitioners’ and transform the way students can collaborate and learn.

About the authors:

Jessy Abraham received her PhD in Education from the University of Western Sydney in 2013. She lectures in Primary Science and Technology.  Before joining UWS she worked as a science teacher in NSW schools.  Her research interests are in the area of student motivation, engagement and retention in sciences. Her research employs sophisticated quantitative analyses. Currently her research is focused on pre-service science teachers and practices that enhance their self-efficacy in teaching science in primary school settings.

Philip Smith is a casual academic specialising in science education at Western Sydney University.

References

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215

Blikstein, P., Kabayadondo, Z., Martin, A. and Fields, D. (2017), An Assessment Instrument of Technological Literacies in Makerspaces and FabLabs. J. Eng. Educ., 106: 149–175. doi:10.1002/jee.20156

Blackley, S., Sheffield, R., Maynard, N., Koul, R., & Walker, R. (2017). Makerspace and Reflective Practice: Advancing Pre-service Teachers in STEM Education. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 42(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2017v42n3.2

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing modern knowledge press.

Thomas, A. ( 2012) Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making” https://www.edutopia.org/blog/stem-engagement-maker-movement-annmarie-thomas, Retrieved on 13 Feb,2018.

Wong, A., & Partridge, H. (2016) Making as Learning: Makerspaces in Universities, Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 47:3, 143-159, DOI: 10.1080/00048623.2016.1228163

Zeldin, A.L., & Pajares, F. (2000). Against the odds: Self-efficacy beliefs of women in mathematical, scientific, and technological careers. American Educational Research Journal, 37, 215-246.

Who benefits from online marking of NAPLAN writing?

By Susanne Gannon

In 2018 most students in most schools will move to an online environment for NAPLAN. This means that students will complete all test sections on a computer or tablet. Test data that is entirely digital can be turned around more rapidly so that results will be available for schools, systems and families much faster.

The implication is that the results can be put to use to assist students with their learning, and teachers with their planning. While this appears to address one of the persistent criticisms of NAPLAN – the lag between testing and results – other questions still need to be asked about NAPLAN. Continuing concerns include high stakes contexts and perverse effects (Lingard, Thompson & Sellar, 2016), the marketization of schooling (Ragusa & Bousfueld, 2017), the hijacking of curriculum (Polesel, Rice & Dulfer, 2014) and the questionable value of NAPLAN for deep learning (beyond test performance).

Almost ten years after its introduction, NAPLAN has been normalised in Australian schooling. Despite some tweaking around the edges, the original assessment architecture remains intact. However, the move to online delivery and automated marking represents a seismic shift that demands urgent attention.

Most student responses in NAPLAN are closed questions. In the new online format these include multiple choice, checkbox, drag and drop, reordering of lists, hot text, lines that can be drawn with a cursor and short answer text boxes. These types of answers are easily scored by optical recognition software, and have been since NAPLAN was introduced.

However the NAPLAN writing task, requiring students to produce an extended original essay in response to an unseen prompt, has always been marked by trained human markers. Markers apply a detailed 10 point rubric addressing: audience, text structure, ideas, persuasive devices, vocabulary, cohesion, paragraphing, sentence structure, punctuation and spelling. In years when narrative writing is allocated, the first four criteria differ however the remaining six remain the same. Scores are allocated for each criterion, using an analytic marking approach which assumes that writing can be effectively evaluated in terms of its separate components.

It is important to stress that online marking by trained and highly experienced teachers is already a feature of high stakes assessment in Australia. In NSW, for example, HSC exams are marked by teachers via an online secure portal according to HSC rubrics. The professional learning that teachers experience through their involvement in such processes is highly valued, with the capacity to enhance their teaching of HSC writing in their own schools.

Moving to online marking (called AES or Automated Essay Scoring by ACARA, also called machine-marking, computer marking or robo-marking) as NAPLAN proposes is completely different from online marking by teachers. While the rubric will remain the same, judgement of all these criteria will be determined by algorithms, pre-programmed into software developed by Pearson, the vendor who was granted the contract. Algorithms cannot “read” for sense, style, context or overall effectiveness in the ways that human experts can. All they can do is count, match patterns, and apply proxy measures to estimate writing complexity.

ACARA’s in-house research (ACARA NASOP Research Team, 2015) insists on the validity and reliability of the software. However, a recent external evaluation of ACARA’s Report is scathing. The evaluation (Perelman, 2017), commissioned by the NSW Teachers’ Federation from a prominent US expert, argues that ACARA’s research is poorly designed and executed. ACARA would not supply the data or software to Perelman for independent examination. However it is clear that AES cannot assess key aspects of writing including audience, ideas and logic. It is least effective for analytic marking (the NAPLAN approach). It may be biased against some linguistic groups. It can easily be distorted by rewarding “verbose high scoring gibberish” (Perelman, 2017, 6). The quality of data available to teachers is unlikely to improve and may lead to perverse effects as students learn to write for robots. The risk of ‘gaming’ the test is likely to be higher than ever, and ‘teaching to the test’ will take on a whole new dimension.

Human input has been used in ACARA’s testing of AES in order to train and calibrate the software and in the future will be limited to reviewing scripts that are ‘red-flagged’ by the software. In 2018 ACARA plans to use both human and auto-marking, and to eliminate humans almost entirely from the marking process by 2019. In effect, this means that evaluation of writing quality will be hidden in a ‘black box’ which is poorly understood and kept at a distance from educational stakeholders.

The major commercial beneficiary, Pearson, is the largest edu-business in the world. Educational assessment in the UK, US and now Australia is central to its core business. Details of the contract and increased profits that will flow from the Australian government to Pearson from the automated marking of writing are not publicly available. Pearson has already been involved in NAPLAN, as several states contracted Pearson to recruit and train NAPLAN markers. Pearson have been described as a “vector of privatisation” (Hogan, 2016, 96) in Australian education, an example of the blurring of social good and private profit, and the shifting of expertise from educators and researchers to corporations.

Writing is one of the most complex areas of learning in schools. NAPLAN results show that it is the most difficult domain for schools to improve. Despite the data that schools already have, writing results have flatlined through the NAPLAN decade. Negative effects and equity gaps have worsened in the secondary years. The pattern of “negative accelerating change” (Wyatt-Smith & Jackson, 2016, 233) in NAPLAN writing requires a sharper focus on writer standards and greater support for teacher professional learning. What will not be beneficial will be furthering narrowing the scope of what can be recognised as effective writing, artfully designed and shaped for real audiences and purposes in the real world.

NAPLAN writing criteria have been criticised as overly prescriptive, so that student narratives demonstrating creativity and originality (Caldwell & White, 2016) )are penalised, and English classrooms are awash with formulaic repetitions (Spina, 2016) of persuasive writing NAPLAN-style. Automated marking may generate data faster, but the quality and usefulness of the data cannot be assumed. Sustained teacher professional learning and capacity building in the teaching of writing – beyond NAPLAN – will be a better investment in the long term. Until then, the major beneficiaries of online marking may be the commercial interests invested in its delivery.

References

ACARA NASOP Research Team (2015). An evaluation of automated scoring of NAPLAN Persuasive Writing. Available at: http://nap.edu.au/_resources/20151130_ACARA_research_paper_on_online_automated_scoring.pdf

Caldwell, D. & White, P. (2017). That’s not a narrative; this is a narrative: NAPLAN and pedagogies of storytelling. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 40(1), 16-27.

Hogan, A. (2016). NAPLAN and the role of edu-business: New governance, new privatisations and new partnerships in Australian education policy. Australian Educational Researcher, 43(1), 93-110.

Lingard, B., Thompson, G. & Sellar, S. (2016). National Testing in schools: An Australian Assessment. London & New York: Routledge.

Polesel, J., Rice, S. & Dulfer, N. (2014). The impact of high-stakes testing on curriculum and pedagogy: a teacher perspective from Australia. Journal of Education Policy, 29(5), 640-657.

Ragusa, A. & Bousfield, K. (2017). ‘It’s not the test, it’s how it’s used!’ Critical analysis of public response to NAPLAN and MySchool Senate Inquiry. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(3), 265-286.

Wyatt-Smith, C. & Jackson, C. (2016). NAPLAN data on writing: A picture of accelerating negative change. The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 39(3), 233-244.

 

Associate Professor Susanne Gannon is a senior researcher in the School of Education and Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia.