Chalk and talk, together with rote learning still dominate science teaching, science content is often disconnected apart from linkage to examples after the concepts are taught in isolation. Science assessment is often decontextualised, with little relevance to what is learned. Often Science is more thematic than contextual.Again, as pointed out in current research and by a number of authors students are reacting to this way of teaching by losing interest in school science as a subject relevant to their futures and are selecting other future pathways.
The concern that I hear most often is that science is content based, and it is important to formally teach the concepts, leaving little time for contextual exploration
My interest is in the use of computers as a connectivist device that can bring a context into the classroom, effectively removing barriers of time and place. One of Thomas Friedman’s flatteners in his book The World is Flat, which has underpinned the new globalisation of the twenty first century.
Pedagogy which often was not easily supported in a traditional multi-ability classroom of 26 or more students, suddenly becomes transformed with the affordance of ICT. Constructivism as a philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge and learning has been around for a long time, since the time of Socrates. The modern origin of constructivism was Piaget in his 1954 theory. But in recent times, particularly with the emergence of ICT for teaching and learning, constructivism has re-emerged as a highly effective way of learning for the 21st Century.
The class I worked with in this evaluation was a Year 9 laptop class. A portion of them nominated themselves for the class because they were computer geeks, but by far the most of them were there because their parents believed they would be better prepared for the workplace or would learn better. Effectively, their education had been no different using laptops than traditional classes, they were being used as typewriters, and to access the internet when research was required.
The approach was, at all times, student centric. They were faced with a problem which was simply to build a scale model house that simulated real processes. Beyond this information, with some help and suggestions, they were to work out what the processes were themselves. At no stage was the building process “dumbed down” at risk of losing the context and the authenticity. In addition, traditional lessons were not taught unless students approached me with a request because they needed to understand a certain concept to continue with the job at hand.
With the exception of certain fixed timelines, students could approach the problem in any way they chose, although the suggestion was that collaboration would be essential since there was too much to be done by the “drivers” in each group. I thought it was important to demonstrate my committment to the sharing of control by reducing my active management of classroom behaviour. Students were guided gently where needed by suggestion, never by ultimatum – the ultimatum was the closing date for council planning submissions.
The process looks quite simple, in fact it was pretty complex. When housing lots were considered by the group, they had to negotiate blocks based on price, size, but also aspect. They had to discover council guidelines for energy efficiency considerations, house aspect etc. In addition, the task of creating a scale site diagram when the sites were generally not exactly square, with curved edges at the roadside posed a significant challenge. So every aspect of the problem had built in complexity as students probed further. This complexity is easy to lose when working on paper – students just stop working at the 80% mark. In this case, the problem had to be overcome to move to the next stage of the project.
Every step had to be justified in some way – students were not able to be reliant on brochures and research – so their choice of materials, insulation, circuits, water tanks etc had to be fully justified, either by experimentation or by calculation. For example, the effect of reflective and bulk insulation, together with the effect of window area on energy efficiency had to be justified by experimentation, but also by integrating the results of the experiment into an understanding of heat transfer mechanisms. Circuit components and wiring had to be tested before incorporation into the house.
The content was readily accessible and well organised in Blackboard. Students had leave to consult any of the content pages together with their associated links at any time.
Links were provided to scaffold student activity, in this case a link to the real estate agency handling the subdivision. Adaptive release was used to provide greater scaffolding to students who were demonstrating some difficulty – generally modelling the process they were struggling with.
Students came up with answers to each of the parameters they had to address in their council applications.
Council contacted each group of students with official approval for the building of their house – a day of ecstatic celebration. The context made a significant difference to the way they viewed the project, certainly after very tight timelines, the reward made the effort worthwhile.
I saw no need for formal assessment – Students tested themselves on Blackboard (see next slide)when they felt they had come to a suitable juncture in the project.All students had their scale diagrams passed by Council, it would not have passed if there had been any errors.Student execution of their plans in their houses, the way each wrote-up the experiments they performed in their learning logs, all of this demonstrated to me the way in which they were able to apply the basic knowledge they had acquired.
I was not at all concerned about the content-based focus of the testing – the purpose was to ensure that the vocabulary and basic concepts were sufficiently in place to support the balance of the work to be done on each topic.
This slide shows the ways in which the project linked to the Productive Pedagogies, indicating the strength of the pedagogy in the unit at every stage.
Permissions were obtained from stakeholders prior to commencement, and the project was evaluated using a number of qualitative and quantitative strategies from start to finish. In addition, I was interested to see if there was any lasting benefit to students and interviewed their teachers six months after the end of year 9, and conducted focus group sessions with the students in mid-Year 11.
Students negotiated information with a range of experts on Blackboard discussion forums. This included wholesalers and retailers, and builders and council officials.
The use of the discussion board meant that Steve Curran was not asked the same questions repeatedly, all students had access to the forum. In addition, students had the opportunity to read through and discover problems they had not thought of themselves. Some of the questions were thought provoking, even if they were not directly related to the context. This question originated from one of the other students who was amazed, coming form acreage, at the size of
Students were aware that their work was going to be assessed
The real nature of the context was brought home to me when one group wished to change their house. They approached Mr Curran, and were pulled up short, because when they discussed this response they realised that their R-rating would have to be recalculated.
Not a sophisticated model, but to scale, and demonstrates all of the planning – the correct eave overhang, the roof pitch is accurate as applied for, the window location is correct, the interior walls are placed according to the plan, and the wiring diagram, together with two-way switches works to plan.
Students presented their scale models, together with an electronic presentation of the process they had followed in constructing their model from start to finish. A range of invited guests attended, which ensured that every student was expected to justify the project individually, even with sections they had not worked on themselves. They were aware of this from the start.
Students were surveyed about aspects of the building industry that were not explicity taught or addressed, both before and after they completed the unit.The gains were as expected.
Building A House
Building a House<br />An authentic, constructivist Student unit<br />
What the Research tells us<br />Rote learning and chalk and talk still dominate Science classrooms<br />Science has not risen to the challenge to change<br />Students perceive science as overly transmissive, stifling creativity<br />Science is perceived as irrelevant and not linked to everyday life<br />
Real Science<br />It is a sad indictment of school science that it is not considered to relate sufficiently to the ‘real world, technology and the future’, preserves that ought to be its own. (Lyons, 2005, p. 599)<br />Lyons 2005: Lyons, T. (2005). Different countries, same science classes: Students’ experiences of school science in their own words. International Journal of Science Education, 28(6), 591–614.<br />
Ict and transformation of pedagogy<br />Computers have “transformative implications for how we form community, how we work and how we learn”. <br />Harasim, L. (nd) Shift Happens: Online Education as a new Paradigm in Learning<br />
ICT supporting good pedagogy<br />Flexibility and learner centeredness<br />Supporting the development of higher order thinking skills and metacognition<br />Collaborative learning<br />Authentic problem solving<br />Support of lifelong learning skills<br />Individualised instruction<br />Motivational context<br />
The student context<br />Year 9 students in a laptop class<br />Previous use of ICT limited to note-taking, internet searches and PowerPoint presentations<br />School is a regional, highly traditional state high school<br />Mixed ability, two identified behaviour problems, four bored girls (technophobic), one ASD student, one student with visual impairment. <br />
Science and maths outcomes covered<br />Maths:<br />Scale, measurement, trigonometry and budgeting<br />Science:<br />Energy and change (heat transfer, electrical circuits<br />Sustainability – energy efficient building practice<br />
Teaching and learning approach 1<br />Students presented with problem and suggested avenues for solution (builders, local government, real estate agents, web links and Blackboard content)<br />Science and Maths only explicitly taught if identified by students as being necessary to address aspects of the problem<br />Collaborative groups with mixed ability and skills created<br />No “dumbing down” of the processes, although adapted to Year 9 level.<br />
Teaching and learning approach 2<br />Approach was non-linear, although timelines were explicit for lodgement of plans and building inspections<br />Overt discipline and teacher direction was held to a minimum (unless in teacher-directed mode)<br />Overviews of suggested activity and timelines were available on Blackboard<br />Use of ICT was entirely at the discretion of the students<br />
Task description 1<br />Land purchased from plan through Real Estate Agent<br />Site plans created<br />Guidelines for building approval accessed<br />House plan created with wiring diagrams. <br />Three forms completed: Form A (details); Form B (building specifications); Form C (Energy Efficiency compliance)<br />
Task description 2<br />After building approval scale model built (including pre-calculated roof panel sizes to achieve required roof pitch)<br />Costing of fix-out calculated – tiling, carpeting, painting<br />Calculation of rainwater tank capacity from average rainfall for district, and roof dimensions<br />Final Building inspection of completed house by Building inspector – matching specifications with model.<br />
Where is the science?<br />Experimentation with reflective and bulk insulation – justifying insulation choices<br />Research and experimentation with building materials (walls and roof) and heat transfer<br />Research into aspect of house, window glazing, energy efficiency<br />Electrical circuits, switches, circuit diagrams and functional circuits (including two-way switches and dimmer switches)<br />Water use and sustainability<br />
Where is the maths?<br />Scale calculations, scale diagrams, dilation and symmetry<br />Perimeter, area, volume and capacity<br />Cost estimates<br />Trigonometry to calculate fall of rainwater pipes, roof angle and size<br />
assessment<br />Council application forms were checked in Council for accuracy<br />House electrical circuits had to be working and match the circuit diagrams approved<br />Each student was responsible individually for presenting the entire project at the final display.<br />Formal Science and Maths tests at the end of the term for comparability<br />Formative concept testing was created in Blackboard, self-paced and flexible when students felt they understood the concepts<br />Reflective learning log in Blackboard (a Blog) <br />
Evaluation of project<br />Students surveyed across unit<br />Focus group discussions at junctures<br />Blackboard statistics<br />Teacher interviews<br />Council interviews<br />Teacher interviews the following year<br />Student focus group discussions in mid-Year 11<br />
Results - Blackboard use <br />Discussions with experts demonstrated that students were capable problem-finders (Dede, 2008) as well as problem solvers.<br />They gained not only answers and solutions, but also metalanguage.<br />Dede, C. (2008) Reinventing the role of ict in education. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Blackwell Synergy<br />
Individual points of interest<br />Usefulness of online environment to solve problem: 4.14<br />Computers make science more interesting: 4.14<br />Task enjoyment rating: 4.29<br />Interesting course content pages: 3.86<br />Usefulness of course content pages: 4.05<br />Usefulness of links and tools: 4.05 to 4.3 (individual tools and links)<br />Value of collaboration: 4.0<br />Metacognitive skills: 4.19<br />
1. Collaboration and Group work<br /> “I have never been a group person, I need individualised work, yes, when I do things individually, they may not get done as fast, but they get done to the standards that I want them done to. It also allows my ideas to be expressed more freely.” <br />But the same student later said “Group work showed me that if I didn’t get in and help my group it wouldn’t get done properly. As it showed with the walls, my group did it twice and it was unsuccessful, but when I helped it was done.” <br />
1. Collaboration and Group work (2)<br />“Group work is easier – we are talking to each other all the time.” “I like the discussions and chat rooms, you can interact with your classmates without interacting with them –I talk to people I don’t usually talk to, and I am work with people that I don’t usually sit with without having to worry about it. Communicating gets better because most people can speak without getting shy. Most of the people in the group I don’t usually talk to, but when we’re online we talk heaps”.<br />
1. Collaboration and Group work (3)<br />“Once we found out our groups I was going to kill you. I had never worked with M1 before and M13 sometimes doesn’t do any work at all. And M7 (visually impaired) I knew could not contribute to some of the work. It takes a lot of work to motivate the group. I learnt that people do need some time off work. And some people just don't want to work.” But later: “I have gained respect for M13, M7 and especially M7. This would have been a disaster if not for them…”<br />
1. Collaboration and Group work (4)<br />“Boys are unpredictable, they are often deaf, unresponsive, and not easy to talk to. But M2 and M12 were more agreeable towards the end of the project. By the end we were all talking and laughing. I liked the group I was put in!”<br />
2. Personal confidence and leadership<br />“I have become more relaxed and cooperative. My group members helped me with that, whenever I got stressed they would calm me down, tell me that everything will work out alright. I think I have gained confidence because before I started the unit I would have probably always be asking for help. When I got more into the unit I could do it without help and with confidence.” <br />
Science and motivation<br />“I see the point of Maths and science more. I’m doing stuff that I enjoy doing, I’m learning a few things like roof pitches and your overhangs, and foundations and whatever else. I enjoy doing what I’m good at” “I like it much better than working in a book” but “This is still heavy on Science – I don’t like Science. But I liked planning the house”<br />
authenticity<br />“You can’t have that block of land, it’s ours” “We’ve got the best block” “No you haven’t look at ours – it is 835m2 it is the biggest” “But ours runs from east to west, which means that we can build north/south. It is much better that way” “Show me!” “I have to phone Mum and ask her to bring the camera – we can go to the estate on the way home. I just have to get a photo of our block and bring it in to our group”… Silence …“What if it has a sold sign on it? That would be so disappointing. It has a 20m driveway you know, so the side fence is 40m long. We can put trees all the way down the fence.”<br />
Valuing difference<br />The project allowed all students to participate fully at their own level.<br />Visually impaired<br />Behavioural problems<br />Lower ability students<br />High ability students<br />
Discussion points of interest<br />Reduced behaviour management<br />Motivational<br />Authentic assessment<br />Higher achievement in traditional testing<br />Boys more engaged than girls<br />Lifelong learning <br />
The follow up – longitudinal observations<br />6 students lost to apprenticeships, traineeships and other schools through Year 10<br />4 students did not select science in year 10<br />12 students continued to science in year 11<br />4 selected Multistrand Science<br />Four selected more than one enabling Science + Maths B<br />Two selected Maths, Science and Biology as senior subjects.<br />
Year 10 teacher feedback<br /> Highly independent learners<br />Adept problem-solvers and problem-finders<br />Motivated with highly developed learning skills<br />Leaders in collaborative work, with others looking to them for leadership<br />Capable of advance organisation for lessons and activities<br />Capable of using collaborative discussion to make meaning of concepts<br />
Year 11 follow up discussions<br />Collaborative skills<br />Problem-seeking and problem-solving skills<br />Confidence about capacity in Science<br />Persistent retention of science and maths facts<br />Affected choices of Science for senior school<br />