Thursday, 18 February 2016

The ideas that matter

"In their seminal work from 1995 Confidence and Understanding in Teaching Science and Technology in Primary Schools, Harlen, Holroyd and Byrne reported "this research shows that in Scotland, primary teachers’ confidence about teaching science and technology is less than for almost all other curriculum aspects’’ and ‘‘we have concluded that the proportion of primary teachers who do not themselves understand the concepts they have to teach must be seen as a problem’’. Little in the literature would suggest this situation has changed for the better in the subsequent 16 years. In 1997 Harlen and Holroyd reported that teachers lacking confidence tended to rely on ‘safe’’ teaching methods such as work books, and underplaying questioning and discussion. "
Studies show that teachers are the most important factor in determining the quality of primary science and mathematics education. Overall, the best performing education systems attract the best teachers who are recruited from amongst the best university graduates.

For instance: "In the teaching of physics at GCSE and A-level, teacher qualifications on entering ITE are found to be the second most important explanatory variable influencing pupil performance after pupil ability."

Teachers need to know their subjects in order to inspire pupils in the classroom. But because they have so many other options, there has been difficulty across the UK in attracting science and mathematics graduates into the teaching profession.

Now if you were an education provider who wanted to drive up standards in science and mathematics in schools there is a gap here which needs to be filled.

Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)
Here is what I find extraordinary:
"CfE creates a framework for improving science teaching and learning and provides rich contexts and opportunities for interdisciplinary and crosscurricular learning across the sciences and engineering. In doing so it encourages teachers as subject specialists to teach beyond the confines of their specialist knowledge in order to point out the connections between the science disciplines and across into other curricular areas, highlighting the real world relevance of science. This in turn generates an expectation that teachers will work with colleagues in other subjects, and challenges the capacity of teachers to respond to these opportunities. These changes will require a cultural change in the profession, particularly in the secondary sector, that must be recognised, articulated and supported."
So teachers, some of whom are not confident in the sciences and mathematics, must deal with that as well as teach beyond their specialist knowledge which is already on shaky ground. All of that will provide rich contexts and opportunities for interdisciplinary and crosscurricular learning !

I don`t think so.

Robin Eubanks has pointed out that there is a global push for what she calls concept driven education. Ideas are presented to children in place of facts. Using these ideas children are expected to study themes across the disciplines which are relevant in today`s world. For instance: climate change is a popular crosscurriclar topic. Children might be expected to study the effect of climate change on the refugee crises, for example. Armed with the topic, the class will go googling and find themselves at the WWF website and similar green sites. They will discuss the topic, reach a consensus - because that is how to do project work - and maybe do a poster to demonstrate their commitment to changing the world.

But will the children have learned anything about the carbon cycle or heat transfer or greenhouse gases or the hydrological cycle or the myriad other facts that have to be taken into account in order to determine the effects of climate change on a rotating earth over time ? Will they be aware that the earth is open to influences from the solar system and the cosmos? Will they learn that current climate models have so far failed to predict temperature?  NO. And many teachers are unlikely to be able to help.

All that the project will do is reinforce the original idea that the planet is in peril and terrible things are happening due to climate change. 

This is education for sustainable development and it isn`t education at all.

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