Saturday, 18 October 2008

Quotes from the NCB Science advice paper

These quotes have been selected from the National Curriculum Board's Initial Advice Paper on Science (PDF, 62kB). I am not nearly so impressed with this Science advice paper as I was with the History paper. I'm quite disappointed, actually. I think I might have to write a submission in response to this one.

"... a science curriculum could be well based on three key elements:
1. Science as a way of knowing through inquiry...
2. Science as a human endeavour...
3. Scientific knowledge"
[So far, so good, except why didn't they put point (3) first? As I read further I realised it was because they thought this was the least important part of any science curriculum.]

"Australia is a scientifically and technologically advanced nation. It is imperative that its future citizens have an understanding of science so that personal and societal decisions can be made on the basis of evidence and reason."

"The purpose of school science is to develop science competencies by which students can:
• understand more about science and its processes
• recognise its place in our culture and society
• use it in their daily lives.
It could be argued that developing these science competencies is a basic need for effective citizenship. ... school science not only prepares students for citizenship, but provides a solid platform for more specific science pathways."

"By the end of the compulsory years of science study it is expected that students would be able to demonstrate the following attributes of scientifically knowledgeable people:
• they are interested in and understand the natural world around them
• they engage in discussions of and about science
• they are sceptical and questioning of the claims made by others
• they can identify and investigate questions and draw evidence-based conclusions
• they can make informed decisions about the environment and their own health and well being.
Essentially the focus is on what one could describe as ‘science for life’."

"Science education should acknowledge the interaction between science and social values in the many debates about the applications of science."

"There is a consistent criticism that many of the problems and issues in science education arise from the structure of science curricula which tend to be knowledge-heavy and alienating to a significant number of students. ... The challenge is to identify the science concepts that are important and can be realistically understood by students in the learning time available."

"... scientific knowledge is rapidly increasing... add[ing] to the pressure on the science curriculum. There is a reluctance to replace the old with the new. Rather, there is a tendency to simply add the new science ideas to the traditional ones. ... Obviously such a situation is not sustainable."

"This paper argues that developing science competencies is important, understanding the big ideas of science is important, exposure to a range of science experiences relevant to everyday life is important and understanding of the major concepts from the different sciences is important. It is also acknowledged that there is a core body of knowledge and understanding that is fundamental to the understanding of major ideas."

"... it is possible to provide flexibility and choice about the content of local science curriculum. ... In managing this choice, there is a need to be conscious of the potential danger of repetition of knowledge through a student’s school life and ensure repetition is minimised and that a balanced science curriculum is provided for every student."
[I am assuming (and hoping) by this the authors are referring to repetition of the same task or localised issue to the level of boredom, rather than repetition of the same concept to the level of mastery.]

"Instead of simply emphasising what has been described as ‘canonical science concepts’, there is a need to provide a meaningful context to which students can relate ... students will be better placed to understand the concepts if they can be applied to everyday experiences." [Hmm...]

"To increase the relevance of science to students there is a strong case to include more contemporary (and possibly controversial) issues in the science curriculum." [Well, not necessarily. We could just increase the amount of exploration and play-based science activities we do with students in the primary grades, and make experiments more relevant to everyday life in the secondary grades.]

"The school science curriculum should provide opportunities to explore these complex issues to enable students to understand that the application of science and technology to the real world is often concerned with risk and debate." [Not at the primary level they shouldn't, IMO. Kids of this age are not able to grasp the idea of bias and how it affects the interpretation of statistical evidence, nor can they fully understand the idea that there may be no "right" answer.]

"When a curriculum document is prepared there is an expectation that what is written will be what is taught and what is assessed. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a considerable gap between intended curriculum, the taught curriculum and the assessed curriculum; what can be assessed often determines what is taught."

"It is unfortunate that the summative end-of-topic tests seem to dominate as the main tool of assessment. ... To improve the quality of science learning there is a need to introduce more diagnostic and formative assessment practices. These assessment tools help teachers to understand what students know and do not know and hence plan relevant learning experiences that will be beneficial."
[I do not agree with this at all. The introduction of new "diagnostic assessment tools" will not make the plight of a teacher easier of more effective in any way. Rather, it will do the reverse. A science test can be easily designed to determine if a student "knows or does not know" any given fact, and tests can also be designed to determine if a student understands that same concept and its application. Especially if one takes into account the common use by teachers of summative experiments (that is, experiments done to test the student's knowledge and skill), assessment in schools is done with efficiency and effectiveness at present.]

"...formative assessment is more useful in promoting learning." [For those who are not familiar with the term, formative assessment is assessment done purely to give feedback to the teacher and student about their progress, not to give a final assessment of their achievement at the end of a course/topic. In other words, they are saying the teacher should be aware of how well each of the students is dealing with the material at hand, so they can direct students to further study or interaction with the material as required to achieve mastery and seeing them pass or fail the final test should come as no surprise. Well, whoop-de-doo! In my experience, differentiating between "formative assessment" and "watching and listening to the students as they work" only results in more paper work for the teacher and less time for them to interact with the students in a one-to-one fashion - as is evidenced by the next quote. "Detailed diagnostic information" never (in my experience) means "listen to their explanation of a concept, and talk to them about how they are right and wrong in their understanding. Rather, it means paperwork and more paperwork.]

"Assessment should enable the provision of detailed diagnostic information to students. It should show what they know, understand and can demonstrate. It should also show what they need to do to improve."

"[E]arly science experiences should relate to self awareness and the natural world. During the primary years, the science curriculum should develop the skills of investigation, using experiences which provide opportunities to practice language literacy and numeracy. In secondary school, some differentiation of the sub-disciplines of science may be appropriate, but as local and community issues are interdisciplinary, an integrated science may be the best approach. Senior secondary science curricula should be differentiated, to provide for students who wish to pursue career-related science specializations, as well those who prefer a more general, integrated science for citizenship."

"During the primary years ... A broad range of topics is suitable including weather, sound, light, plants, animals, the night sky, materials, soil, water and movement. Within these topics the science ideas of order, change, patterns and systems should be developed."

"In the early years of primary school, students will tend to use a trial and error approach to their science investigations."
[How does one perform "trial and error" investigations upon the weather? Does one try to make it rain and find out one cannot? Does one try to guess if it is raining and find that this is a meaningless exercise? Perhaps a better model would be to use a "look, listen, feel, do and learn approach" and actually make a child's experience an important factor in their developing knowledge: Thus one looks at many different types of clouds and watches lightning, listens to thunder and the pounding of rain on a hot iron roof, feels the rain in their hair and on their hands, feels the heat of the sunlight on their bare arms and notices the way the heat dries the sprinkling of water applied thereto, uses a watering can to make "rain" over a soil and grass "habitat" in a plastic box, reads Robert Louis Stevenson's poems "Rain" and "When the sun comes after rain", waters plants in their garden and eventually gets to smell the flowers or eat the vegetables, and in all these things comes to a greater understanding of rain and sunshine and what weather really is.]

"[During the Junior Secondary years] it is important to exercise restraint and to avoid overcrowding the curriculum and providing space for the development of students’ science competencies alongside their knowledge and understanding of science content. Topics could include states of matter, substances and reactions, energy forms, forces and motion, the human body, diversity of life, ecosystems, the changing earth and our place in space. The big science ideas of energy, sustainability, equilibrium and interdependence..."

"[During the Senior Secondary years] There should be at least three common courses across the country: physics, chemistry and biology. There could also be one broader-based course..."

And just for the record, I disagree with pretty much everything in this appendix:


Mrs. Edwards said...

I confess to skimming the excerpts on science, except for the appendix (I need to fix my kids their Sat. morning pancakes). But, the appendix is just the sort of thing that sticks in my craw! So post-modern.

It reminds me of the article I just read in yesterday's paper telling about the current trends in scholastic debate. Rather than debating the topic at hand, debaters are allowed to question the technique of their opponent. As in, "What makes you ask a question like that?" etc. Actually poking holes in the arguments based on factual knowledge is out of vogue.

What have we come to?

Alison L said...

After reading your blog I went and checked out the science paper. I'm horrified.
The appendix in particular gets up my goat. How are students meant to cope in the "real" world (not everything is done in a team!!) or even at university if they desire to follow a science based course. HOw do you assess the knowledge of each individual within a team ensuring that they all have the same knowledge & understanding of the topic. Sorry not very clear but am very frustrated.

Sharon said...

(For those who don't know - that's all this blog's readers except my mum - Alison L is my cousin. She's been working as an agricultural scientist for a decade or more.)

Prue said...

I have come via Nicole's 168 Hours.

I lecture in botany in an Australian university. Looking at the appendix: There are some good points there - I agree that multiple choice assessment isn't necessarily as good as other types of assessment (it just makes the marking quicker, but they are harder to write).

But you can't learn botany without memorising the names of plants - it's just something you have to do.

The whole teamwork thing always gets up my nose - usually someone doesn't pull their weight, and everyone suffers. A group assignment I am marking at the moment is full of plagiarism. I don't know if all three students wrote the paper together, but all three are going to have to be disciplined, even if they would never themselves individually plagiarise.

How on earth does guiding students in active and extended student inquiry work in practice, compared to presenting it by talk, text and demonstration?

That's just a few comments.

Sharon said...

Thanks for your comment (and visit), Prue. You have a very good point about team work - my experience as a high school teacher bears it out as well, and my cousin agrees from the perspective of a practising scientist.

Can I encourage you to consider making a submission to the NCB? Your experience as a lecturer in a scientific discipline makes you well placed to give experienced criticism.

~ Sharon