How Not to Save Science Education
I am one of many people who believe that science education, both at primary and secondary level, needs saving. There is an over focus on examinations, rote learning is common place and there is a deficiency of enquiry based teaching strategies. I work in an education system that rewards regurgitation not critical thinking and I am expected to conform to science curricula which do their best to murder the wonder of science. So when I trawled through the ESOF programme a few weeks back and saw a session entitled "Saving Science Education" I knew I had to attend. Sadly, I left disappointed.
It didn't start well. John Meadows, the principal speaker, said they weren't actually going to save science education during this session and he was right. What followed was not the interactive workshop depicted in the blurb, but an outline of a research project, entitled KIDS INN SCIENCE (the double N is deliberate - it stands for innovative apparently). The KIDS INN SCIENCE project aims to highlight successful innovative science teaching strategies from around the world, both formal and informal, that enhance young peoples interest in science and technology. The innovative practices need to be adaptable to other countries and cultures. During their research, the team identified 82 innovative practices, from Europe and Latin America, which focused on three key learning areas: gender issues in science; cultural diversity and inquiry based learning. They then worked with each partner schools (whose selection criteria seemed rather "unscientific") to implement the innovative practices.
The practices needed to work within normal school time frames, must not require additional resources or specialist equipment and be adaptable to different countries and cultures. However, the researchers did let it slip that they did, in fact, supply the schools with additional resources, specialist equipment and funding to develop the learning strategies. I was disappointed to see that the examples of innovative practices the researchers gave were not that innovative either - the red cabbage indicator experiment (done in every primary and secondary school in the country) was held high as a prime example. A bit odd.
KIDS INN SCIENCE sounds like a lovely project, and I admire the researchers objectives, but in reality nothing new and innovative was brought to the table here. The project lacked a structured approach, I had issues with their evaluation of teaching strategies, they were over focused on the cultural diversity and gender equity learning areas and they didn't seem to foresee issues in senior cycle science where the pressures of examinations is most evident. The project is still under way with results still being collated. The final stage, dissemination and sharing of the resources, is also in development. I will be interested in seeing how the researchers present the innovative practices so that other teachers can adapt them.
Overall, I was disappointed that the real issues in science education were not discussed during the session. There was nothing on curriculum development, developing effective assessment, engaging with scientists, researchers & universities, developing students' critical thinking skills, teacher training or on improving science literacy in young people. What I did learn, however, was that in Ireland we are incredibly lucky to have organisations like Discover Science & Engineering or Discover Primary Science sharing good practice amongst Irish science educators. We are even luckier to have projects like SciFest and the Young Scientists & Technology Exhibition which bring out the best in our science teachers and students. There is far more innovation amongst Irish science educators than I might give them credit for and, for that matter, what I give myself credit for too.