Category Archives: Uncategorized

Year 12 exams in the time of COVID: 5 ways to support your child to stress less and do better

Erin Mackenzie, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Western Sydney University
Shutterstock

Year 12 exams can be stressful at the best of times; this is particularly true for the Class of 2020.

Here are five ways parents and carers of Year 12 students preparing for their final exams can support them.

1. Check in and listen

It is important to remember teenagers are often more resilient than we think. In most cases, they can cope well with challenges. But some students find exams more stressful than others, and some may also be worried about the influence of COVID on their future.

Research consistently shows parental monitoring that supports the autonomy of the young people is linked with their better psychological adjustment and performance during difficult times. This means checking-in with your teen, seeing how they are going and empowering them to use whatever coping skills they need.

Unfortunately, in times of stress, many parents use a high-monitoring low-autonomy style. Parents may still monitor their teen’s coping but also take over, hurry to suggest solutions, and criticise the strategies their child is trying.

This is a low-autonomy style, which may signal to the young person their parent doesn’t believe in their ability to cope.

So, to not come across as controlling or undermining their autonomy:

  • ask your teen, “How are you coping?”
  • listen to their answers
  • check you have understood and ask if they need your support.
  • Let your actions be guided by their response. If they say “I’m very stressed”, ask if there is something you can do. You could say: “Tell me what you need to do and we’ll work it out together”.

If they do the famous “I dunno”, say something like “OK, think about it, I’ll come back in a bit, and we can chat”. Follow through and let them know you will check in more regularly over the coming weeks.

2. Encourage them to take care of their physical and mental health

Support your teen to get exercise, downtime and sleep. Exercise helps produce endorphins — a feel-good chemical that can improve concentration and mental health.

Downtime that is relaxing and enjoyable such as reading, sport, hanging out with friends or video games, can also help young people recharge physically and mentally. If you see your Year 12 child studying for numerous hours without a break, encourage them to do something more fun for a while.

A change of scene can help avoid burnout and helps students maintain focus over longer periods of time.


Read more: 3 things to help improve your exam results (besides studying)


Good sleep is important for alertness, and teenagers should aim for eight to ten hours per day. Sleep also helps memory consolidation: a neural process in which the brain beds down what has been learnt that day.

Even short-term sleep deprivation, such as five hours across a week of study, can have a negative impact on teens’ mood, attention and memory.

To ensure your child priorises self-care, help them put together a routine. This may involve scheduling specific times for exercise, meals and downtime each day, and breaking up blocks of study time with short breaks.

Also negotiate a nominated time for them to turn their phone off at night. Stopping phone use one hour before bedtime can increase sleep.

3. Help them maintain connections

Connections with friends are critical for young people, especially during times of stress. Teens regularly talk about academic concerns online, and may use online support more when stressed. Research shows seeking support in person is more effective than doing so online, so try to encourage your teen to connect with friends in person if possible.

But also be aware of the risks. Talking with friends over and over about problems can actually make young people feel worse. Your son or daughter may find their friends are increasingly leaning on them for support too, which can exhaust their own emotional reserves.

Two girls sitting on swings and chatting.
Connections with friends are important for stress. Unsplash, CC BY

Encourage your child to use time with friends as time away from studying. It’s OK to seek support from friends, but help your child think about when might be too much — and to have a balance of happy and serious conversations when they are together.

Encourage your child to continue talking to you and to ask their teachers for help with academic concerns.

4. Help your child understand their own brain

When asked, most young people report frequently using rehearsal — which involves simply going over textbooks, notes or other material — as a study technique. This is one of the least efficient memory strategies.

The more active the brain is when studying — by moving information around, connecting different types of information and making decisions — the more likely that information will be remembered. Active study sometimes feels harder, but this is great for memory.


Read more: Studying for exams? Here’s how to make your memory work for you


Encourage your child to study actively by making their own test questions, reorganising information into concept maps, or explaining the topics to you. It can also help to “intersperse” different study topics: the brain grows more connections that way. It also gets more practice reactivating the original material from memory.

5. Look out for warning signs

While most teens are resilient, some may more frequently report negative mood, uncertainties about the future or a loss of control. This is particularly true in 2020. You might hear evidence of “catastrophic thinking” (“what’s the point?” or “this is the worst thing ever”).

You can help by modelling hopeful attitudes and coping strategies. Reactive coping strategies are things like taking a break, selectively using distractions and going for a run to clear your head.


Read more: Year 12 can be stressful, but setting strong and healthy goals can help you thrive


Pair these with proactive coping strategies, which prevent or help manage stressful situations. These include helping the young person get organised and reminding them that if they don’t have life figured out right now, that’s OK. Help them see opportunities that come with challenges. These include self-development (learning what they like and don’t like), self-knowledge (knowing their limits and character strengths) and skill development (organisational and coping strategies).

Some teens may be struggling more than they let on. Look out for warning signs. These can include:

  • not participating in previously enjoyed activities
  • avoiding friends or partners
  • drastic changes in weight, eating or sleeping
  • irritability over minor things
  • preoccupation with death or expressing how difficult it is to be alive.

If these behaviours occur most of the time you are with them or seem out of character, consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. This is particularly so if your teen has a history of mental health concerns.

Some resources that may help if you are worried include Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 and Headspace

Your GP can also help to connect your teen with a suitably qualified professional.

Erin Mackenzie, Lecturer in Education, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Senior Lecturer In Adolescent Development, Behaviour, Well-Being & Paedagogical Studies, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Please, don’t push me that hard: it’s just my accent!’ Paulo Freire and the cosmopolitan teacher.

Post by Associate Professor Jorge Knijnik

“Who says this accent or this way of thinking is the cultivated one?”. Paulo Freire’s inspiring words came back to my thoughts a few months ago,  as I was approached by a very kind man just after my Conference paper presentation in Canberra, the Australian capital. His accent told me that he was not from an English speaking country. Next to the regular introductory conversation, he went straight to his point and asked: “Do your students pick on you about your accent?”. When I smiled, he felt comfortable enough to tell me his experience, which was somewhat similar to my own one: he was a fresh migrant who had come at the end of last year to Australia from a Middle-East country to take up a position as a lecturer in an Australian university. After his first semester, he received the students’ feedback on his course. He said the evaluations were sound; however he was really worried as a few students criticized his “strong accent”.

The Conference was great. In addition to presenting my paper, I had listened to very thought-provoking academic sections, where I had learnt loads of new things within one of my research fields – physical education and sports history. As the Conference was held in different locations along the week, I was able to visit different parts of the Capital city, such as the Australian Institute of Sport and the War Memorial. However, I have no-doubt that the most insightful moment during the Conference was my short talk with this extraordinary man. That small conversation has opened my eyes – and my ears – to a definitely central topic in today’s education: the need for those of us involved in teaching and learning to keep our minds open and aware of the role that local cultural identities play in contemporary society and in our lives (i).

I remember one of my favourites John Le Carre’s novels, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. In his 1963 acclaimed book, the master of espionage literature tells about a British spy who spends several months in a hidden ‘just-for-spies’ language school to polish his even now perfect German. As secret agents could not have any accent the secret service expected him to speak as a native German, and he sets about making every effort to refine his already high-level language skills. The time passes by and fifty years later, the same writer tells us a different history: in A Delicate Truth, launched in 2013, John le Carre accounts for a top-secret overseas mission where the protagonist, a British public employee elevated to a secret agent condition, amuses himself by picking up his undercover partners’ nationalities  according their accents: there are British spies involved in the clandestine operation, but there are also South-African and Welsh spies, Scottish and even Australians secret agents – and of course he cannot understand a word that these last ones pronounce! 

Le Carre has seen the obvious. In the 21st century world, nobody lives inside their bubble anymore. There is a need for everyone to build tools to further communication with people from different realms and backgrounds. That comprises a more realistic and contemporary approach to language-skills, which includes verbal conversation. The good thing for me is that I have chosen to be an educator, not a spy. Educators, unlike spies, are to enlighten people. They are to open venues for knowledge and understanding. They are to set up fire in their students’ bodies and brains – and bodies and brains travel everywhere in today’s world, including inside schools and classrooms. As has been pointed out by Reid, Collin and Singh in their recent book[ii], having a teaching degree is currently a passport for an international career: Australia already faces an intensification of international teachers inside its schools, providing us with new exciting challenges for the way we deal with a range of different cultural identities – including the charming new accents that we listen to every day.

Youngsters and grown-ups have the right to use their linguistic configurations. It is undoubtedly important to teach, learn and be fluent in the prevailing form (Freire – cultivated pattern) and at the same time, to be democratic and accepting, to make clear that the way individuals speak can be as beautiful as the form we have come to accept as the cultivated pattern.

A few times I have overheard academic colleagues complaining how exhausting lecturing is. I agree: standing in front of 400 students week after week for 2 hours and trying to make your content clear and attractive is a hard and tiring task. Can you imagine doing this in a language that is not your native one? That is why I am appalled when confronted with the following situation: a migrant (like me) making all efforts to talk in a second (or a third or even a fourth) language, and the listener making zero efforts to understand the one who is speaking – the worst scenario is when someone reacts to you with an unpleasant and arrogant response: “this is not English”.  I always keep calm as I think of Crocodile Dundee walking on New York streets without understanding anyone, and grouching that everyone there had a weird accent!

In my first language, the word “push” (“puxe”) means “pull. There are countless opportunities when I got stuck in front of a door, just pulling it as its written push on that door. Every time I see someone stuck in front of a door, pulling it when she or he should be pushing it, I laugh and say: “There is a Brazilian”. We can’t do anything. It’s just an automatic reaction. Like our accent, this is embedded in ourselves. Of course there is always room for improvement. We always have something to share and to learn – but we learn in the social experience. We learn from other people’s cultural identities. The possibilities of teaching do exist because of the learning generated in rich social experiences – as Freire says, it was learning in the social space that made human beings realize that they could teach. Social experiences include a variety of accents that challenge our listening every time we are provoked by them.

That was my conversation with my immigrant colleague in that Conference. I said to him that we need to learn to have fun with our own mistakes – including linguistic ones. However, our own presence in the lecture theatres will certainly expose our students to different ways to seeing and being in the world, perhaps inspiring them to better appreciate a diverse cultural identity – isn’t that  one of the most valuable lessons that a teacher can aspire to teach?[iii]


[i] Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity. The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

[ii] Reid, Carol; Collins, Jock; Singh, Michael.  Global Teachers, Australian Perspectives: Goodbye Mr Chips, Hello Ms Banerjee, 2013.

[iii] With special thanks to Dr. Jacquie D’Warte for providing insightful ideas to this article

About the author

Associate Professor Jorge Knijnik is the Deputy Director (Development) of the Centre for Educational Research in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, where he is also a researcher in the Institute for Culture & Society. He has recently launched The World cup Chronicles: 31 Days that Rocked Brazil.

Mathematics education in Australia: New decade, new opportunities?

Post by Associate Professor Catherine Attard

As we prepare for a new school year in a new decade, it is an apt time to reflect on the last ten years of mathematics education and consider the next ten. What, if anything, will change in our classrooms and school systems? Or will it be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Current challenges in mathematics education

Consider the current context of mathematics education in Australia and beyond. Over the past decade we have seen an apparent decline in senior secondary students’ enrolments in high level mathematics courses. We have also had continued challenges with students disengaging with mathematics and failing to see the relevance of mathematics. The last decade has also experienced a significant increase in the number of out of field teachers in secondary mathematics classrooms and we do not fully understand the potential impact of this on student learning.

According to media reporting of the 2018 Programme for International Asssessment (PISA) results , Australian students’ mathematical literacy results have declined and we are being outperformed by countries such as China, Singapore, Estonia, and others. Yet, take a closer look at the results and you will notice that there are no significant differences or trends since the last PISA testing. Nothing has really changed, but is that good enough?

Students in Australia and internationally continue to experience disengagement with mathematics as early as the primary school years. Mathematics is still viewed by many as a subject reserved for the ‘smart’ kids, and it still remains socially acceptable to openly claim to be “just not good at maths” or “not a maths person”. Despite research into student engagement identifying the elements required to address these issues, along with an abundance of fine-grained research into how students best learn specific aspects of mathematics and ways to harness the affordances of digital technologies, it appears we still face challenges. These challenges relating to student attitudes, their engagement, and a reduced desire to continue the study of mathematics beyond the compulsory years, often result in lower academic achievement. What can we, as leaders and teachers, do differently in this new decade to ensure positive change? Can we make changes that will ultimately result in an upward trend and with engaged students who value mathematics?

The tensions for teachers

Leaders and teachers experience tensions in their day to day teaching of mathematics. Should we teach to a test, or should we teach according to the specific and unique needs of our students? The levels of accountability due to high stakes testing such as NAPLAN and PISA have, in many cases, informed teaching practice due to the linking of results with school reviews. While NAPLAN was originally intended to be a diagnostic test, it has, according to Reid (2019), “moved from being a mechanism to check the pulse of one part of the education system, to being the reason that schools exist” (p.41). A further effect of standardised testing is the use of text books and other resources designed to prepare students for those tests rather than developing conceptual understanding using a broad range of pedagogies and rich tasks.

Standardisation vs. Future-focused education

In his recent publication Changing Australian Education, Reid points out that on the flip side of this educational debate is what is often referred to as ‘21st-century learning’. This future-focused approach includes strategies that appear to conflict with the standardisation approach that often results from high stakes testing. Student-centred strategies such as inquiry and project-based learning, flexible student groupings and the inclusion of general capabilities all espouse future-focused education, requiring students to be flexible, adaptable, agile and collaborative (Reid, 2019). All of these strategies are already embedded within our current mathematics curriculum, so while we may be conflicted in terms of teaching to the test or taking a more student-centred approach, we have, through our mandated curriculum, license to plan and teach in ways that are more meaningful for our students, and in time, change the landscape of mathematics education in this country.

What does this mean for mathematics for schools and classrooms?

One of the effects of a standardised approach is the ‘silo effect’ on how the mathematics curriculum is delivered in classrooms. Topics taught in isolation for the purpose of reporting and testing often result in students struggling to apply mathematics in novel situations and difficulties in making connections within and across mathematics topics. This then leads to disengaged students and a perception that mathematics is a practice that is restricted to the classroom rather than mathematics as a way of understanding and making sense of the world we live in.

The following is a brief list of suggestions for leaders and teachers that may help combat the issues discussed above, and more importantly, lead to positive changes to student perceptions and performance in mathematics:

Scope and Sequence

A school’s scope and sequence document should reflect the big ideas in mathematics as well as the relationships across and within the curriculum strands. It should also be flexible to allow teachers the opportunity to spend more or less time on content in alignment with the needs of their particular students. The scope and sequence should also feature the processes of mathematics concurrently with the content. That is, the Australian Curriculum Proficiencies or the Working Mathematically strand in NSW.

Teachers should be also be given the opportunity to exercise their professional judgement. If schools subscribe to commercial programs that remove this judgement, individual student needs cannot be met. No program can replace the pedagogical relationships between a teacher and his or her students. These relationships are an essential element of teaching that directly influences student engagement and learning (Attard, 2014).

Pedagogy

Our curriculum consists of two distinct areas: mathematical content and mathematical processes. We need to teach content via the processes. That is, we should be teaching through a problem-solving approach rather than teaching content in isolation. This reflects a ‘just in time’ approach as opposed to a ‘just in case’ approach. Teaching via problem-solving provides a context and a need to learn specific content in a way that has meaning for students. Teaching through a ‘just in case’ approach (teaching content in isolation) separates the mathematics from the numeracy and does not promote thinking and reasoning.

Using a range of resources include concrete and digital through primary and secondary schooling is also important if we are to improve students’ conceptual understanding in mathematics. Consider resources that can be used flexibly and also consider how the use of digital technology can not only enhance mathematical understanding by providing alternate and dynamic representations, it can also improve the teacher/student relationship by providing alternate avenues of communication, assessment and feedback.

Consider emphasising the ‘M’ in STEM and highlighting numeracy across the broader curriculum. While funds are still being heavily invested into STEM initiatives we must take the opportunity to ensure mathematics, which is the language of STEM, is prioritised. Opportunities for students to use mathematics in a range of contexts are critical if we want them to understand the relevance and make connections.

It takes a village

The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” applies to mathematics education and improving future mathematics outcomes. Mathematics and numeracy is everyone’s business. Whether you are a primary teacher, a secondary teacher (of a discipline other than mathematics), a parent or carer, a politician, a celebrity, or anyone else with influence on children, we are all responsible for improving mathematics education. So let’s pause, take a deep breath, and think about what we can do differently to improve mathematics for our students as we begin this new decade.

About the author

Catherine Attard is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Deputy Director of the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University. Her research interests include student engagement with mathematics, mathematics pedagogy, financial literacy education and the use of digital technologies in mathematics classrooms.

Contact:                                                                                              c.attard@westernsydney.edu.au                                                                              https://engagingmaths.com

References

Attard, C. (2014). “I don’t like it, I don’t love it, but I do it and I don’t mind”: Introducing a framework for engagement with mathematics. Curriculum Perspectives, 34(3), 1-14.

Reid, A. (2019). Changing Australian Education. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

 

 

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