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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.

 

Conceptual analysis for decolonising Australia’s learning futures: Implications for education

Professor Michael (מיכאל) Singh (ਸਿੰਘ)

Bionote

A postmonolingual teacher-researcher, Professor Singh’s work focuses on extending and deepening teacher education students’ literacy skills through using their full repertoire of languages-and-knowledge; equipping them to meet the demands of teaching Australia’s multilingual students, and increasing their confidence in the added value postmonolingual skills provide graduating teachers. He enjoys watching movies that make postmonolingual practices visible, such Bastille Day and The Great Wall (长城), and the xenolinguistics of Arrived. Having an interest in polyglot programming he is able to write, incorrectly in 11 languages, “I am not a terrorist.”

Re: Conceptualising learning futures

The concepts we use in education are important. Concepts express educational values, assign status to the students with whom we work, and provide the basis for rules for governing the moral enterprise that is education.

Now and then, it is important to pause in our busy working-life to think critically about the concepts we use in education. Against the technologically driven speeding up of education, it is desirable to slow down, to contemplate if some concepts have accumulated unwarranted baggage that poses risks we might have overlooked.

Currently, I am using the method of concept analysis (Walker & Avant, 2005) in a project that is exploring ways of making better use multilingual students’ repertoire of languages-and-knowledge (Singh, 2019).

Concept analysis provides a framework that educators can use to analyse existing labels related to our working-life so as to develop guidelines for leading students’ learning futures. Findings from my research employing this method are presented below (Singh, 2017; 2018).

The aim of this conceptual analysis was to determine how the concept of ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ (CALD) was constructed and is interpreted in education.

In determining the defining attributes of CALD, the intellectual roots for this concept can be located in the sociological theory of labelling. Where diversity is framed as a social pathology it is equated with deviance, and standing as against the stability of the prevailing cultural-linguistic order in education.

Adusei-Asante and Adibi (2018) indicate that CALD is attributed to students who are framed as problems. They ‘fail’ to meet the requirements of the cultural-linguistic order because they have limited proficiency in a particular version of English.

A historical antecedent for CALD is Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act 1901 which prohibited the educational use of languages from beyond Europe in Australia’s colleges, schools and universities. The dictation test in Section 3(a) of the Act was designed to be failed by persons who spoke languages originating outside Europe and thereby to exclude them and their languages from Australia.

In the 1970s the concept ‘Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) was applied to persons in Australia who spoke languages originating from elsewhere than Europe. However, this concept proved inappropriate for measuring linguistic diversity, overly simplistic in its approach to providing educational services, neglectful of the intellectual value of students’ linguistic diversity, and loaded with negative connotations. In its Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity (McLennan, 1999) the Australian Bureau of Statistics stated that this concept and related terms should be avoided.

Consequently, CALD began to be used. CALD drew attention to students’ cultural-linguistic characteristics, did not label them based on what they are not, and enhanced professionalisation of those working in this field.

However, CALD is now a borderline concept because it has taken on the negative connotations of NESB (Adusei-Asante & Adibi, 2018).

CALD is now associated with the negative portrayal of students as learning problems. Further, CALD marks students as having the inability to relate to the prevailing cultural-linguistic expectations of Australian educational institutions. Specifically, CALD is the category for students having difficulty with writing in English; some are said to have no hope of learning English outside academic English literacy programs.

What are the implications of this conceptual analysis for decolonising Australia’s learning futures?

First, Australian educators who speak languages from multilingual Ghana and Iran (e.g. Adusei-Asante & Adibi, 2018), are contributing to the transformational leadership required for decolonising Australia’s learning futures.

Second, from time-to-time it is necessary to question our taken-for-granted use of concepts to explore the challenges they present, rather than treat them uncritically.

Third, to provide more precision in educational terminology there is a need for multiple concepts, rather than looking for a single concept to replace NESB or CALD.

Fourth, the century-old prohibition on the using languages from outside Europe for knowledge production and dissemination in Australia’s colleges, schools and universities must be reversed.

To illustrate the possibilities for postmonolingual education and research let us briefly consider concepts related to International Women’s Day (8th March 2019). To add educational value to the capabilities of students who speak English and Zhōngwén (中文) they could make meaning of issues relating to ‘thinking equal, building smart, innovating for change by:

  1. thinking marriage equality through Li Tingting (李婷婷) and Li Maizi (李麦子).
  2. using the cross-sociolinguistic sound similarities of Mǐ Tù (米兔) to explore what it means for sexual harassment regulations.
  3. building knowledge in METALS — mathematics, engineering, technologies, arts, language and science — through using the concept chìjiǎo lǜshī (赤脚律师) for critical thinking
  4. building research smarts through theorising population policy using the concept of shèngnǚ (剩女)

Slowing down to decolonise Australia’s learning futures reminds us that a source of educational knowledge is internal to student-teacher themselves and is to be found in their repertoire of languages-and-knowledge.

 

Acknowledgement

Thanks to the Decolonising Learning Futures: Postmonolingual Education and Research Research Cohort for their feedback on this post.

References

Adusei-Asante, K., & Adibi, H. (2018). The ‘Culturally and Linguistically Diverse’ (CALD) label: A critique using African migrants as exemplar. The Australasian Review of African Studies, 39(2), 74-94.

McLennan, W. (1999). Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity. Canberra, Australia: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Singh, M. (2017). Post-monolingual research methodology: Multilingual researchers democratizing theorizing and doctoral education. Education Sciences, 7(1), 28.

Walker, L. & Avant, K. (2005). The Strategies of Theory Construction in Nursing. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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.

Marriage equality, the ‘Vote No’ case, and the teaching of ‘thinking well’

By Steve Wilson

I have been an educator and teacher, in many forms, working with people of all ages, for many years. I have often reflected on what my core values as a teacher are, because teaching often appears to be a complex and opaque activity, and one can lose sight of what lies at its heart.

Yet when you strip away the complexities: the technical and managerial aspects of teaching, the curriculum requirements and the many accountabilities the teacher has, and when you examine what lies at the core, it suddenly becomes very simple – at least, to me it does, much to my surprise.

And I think it comes down to this. I want the people whom I am teaching to firstly, respect and value themselves and others; and secondly, to think for themselves and while doing so, to think well.

What do I mean by, “to think well”?  Well, it is about the method and rigour they apply to their thinking, not about the views they ultimately adopt. I want my learners to be able to:

  • use evidence, logic and empathy to arrive at informed conclusions they can have confidence in;
  • self-reflect, and identify and correct any weak points, misconceptions or biases they find in their thinking;
  • take fair and careful account of the conclusions of others, and
  • explain their conclusions to, and test them with, other people, and modify their conclusions where they feel they should.

Children of school age, I have found over many years, are surprisingly good at developing and maintaining the habits and techniques which enable them to think well. We should, and do through our teaching in schools, continue to build the capacity of our young people to think well. And this brings me to my current concern, and to the point of writing this particular piece.

I have been thinking about this now, at this particular time, while observing the current discourse in Australia about marriage equality and the related postal survey voting process that has been promulgated by our government. This is because this discourse, and particularly many of the propositions mounted by the ‘Vote No’ (against marriage equality) case, are examples of thinking at its worst, not its best.

The demonstration of poor thinking underpinning the ‘Vote No’ campaign is essentially because, I have realised, the ‘No’ case is running a political campaign on the issue of marriage equality. Rather than engaging in thinking well, the ‘No’ case appears to be attempting to simply misinform or scare the public, mounting spurious or irrelevant propositions, rather than presenting an evidenced-based, logical and accountable case about why marriage equality should not be supported.

Unfortunately, political thinking is not usually an exemplar of thinking well. On most occasions political thinking, evidenced by what politicians say and the way they present arguments, is the opposite to thinking well. Political thinking is designed to highlight and privilege one case, to not present or consider alternative cases, and to obfuscate and misinform about relevant arguments, issues and facts. It is to win people over to your side by whatever means it takes, not by the reasonable and transparent means which underpin thinking well.

While much of the contemporary general discourse about social issues is politicised, the politicised thinking around them often goes unnoticed by school aged children because it is primarily confined to the parliament. The issue of marriage equality is now not confined to the parliament.

Because of the national postal survey and its related campaign, the matter of marriage equality is now public property. It is front and centre in all of our media, and on our devices, on a daily basis. It will continue to be this way for many weeks to come due to the length of the voting process. Our children are watching all of this. And I am appalled by what they might be learning, or un-learning, about thinking well as they observe the current, politicised ‘No’ campaign.

Back in the classroom we would call out and challenge the paucity of thinking evident in claims such as:  marriage equality should not be supported because it will limit religious freedom; it will lead to more radical forms of personal development curriculum in schools; families need two parents, and parents of different genders, if children are to be brought up well; marriage equality will impede freedom of speech; vote ‘No’ if you don’t like political correctness; vote ‘No’ if you don’t like the way the world is going.

These are some of the actual, key arguments currently being advanced by the ‘No’ case in the public domain in relation to marriage equality in Australia. None of these arguments addresses the substantive question being asked of the public. Each one is a red herring, designed to create fear and confusion, and distract from and obscure the simple nature of the substantive matter at hand. Each one is an example of poor argumentation and poor thinking.

We would challenge such approaches to thinking and argumentation in the classroom, and we should challenge them now in the public arena. The ‘No’ case, as currently contrived, represents quality of thinking at its very worst. It represents the worst type of role-modelling for our children about how to think well. And because of this, it only helps to undermine the very best of the teaching and learning that occurs in our schools.

 

Steve Wilson is Emeritus Professor at Western Sydney University and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at Western. With one short pause he has been editor of this blog,  21st Century Learning, since its creation in 2010, but will step down from this role at the end of 2017.