- Beyond the school gate
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- Curriculum for the 21st century
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- Teachers and Teaching
Professor Cludd and the E-buddies
Collaboration between primary and secondary schools, an interactive website, professional development for teachers, a travelling science show—all play a role in the Middle Years Science Program funded by the Catholic Education Office. BRETT BARBER describes how the program is helping raise the profile of science in schools in Frankston, Victoria.
FOR MANY TEACHERS, primary science has been a difficult and sometimes overlooked area of the curriculum. Conversely, primary science students experience excitement, engagement and wonder about the world they inhabit. So how can we promote science in primary schools with limited resources and staff that often lack confidence or expertise in the area?
One notable initiative introduced at John Paul College in Frankston, Victoria is the Middle Years Science Program—a project funded by the Catholic Education Office to strengthen the profile of science education for primary and secondary students. The program aims to develop a network with partner schools to assist unit development; to enable the sharing of ideas; and to gain access to resources not readily available at primary schools.
The experience and success of the project is manifested through a genuine enthusiasm for science teaching and learning in primary and secondary staff and students.
Planning for success
The early planning stage in 2001 was critical in establishing a common aim and purpose for this cluster approach. A whole day conference involving all teachers in the neighbouring eight schools was convened. This provided the forum for all voices to be heard and all reservations and expectations to be documented. The conference offered workshops that dealt with the use of science and technology in the world around us and related directly to the skills and understandings of the Middle Years Science Program.
One specific aim of the project was to improve teacher competencies by helping staff teach science in a more practical, achievable and relevant way. Skills and confidence in teaching science were of prime importance. Training included extending knowledge of CSF II Science levels, and the introduction and use of new resources.
A variety of resources were made available to primary teachers. This included science equipment purchased for each school; the development of a comprehensive science website; a central register for borrowing equipment and resources (including human resources); and student access to science facilities.
The implementation of the Middle Years Science Program made a considerable contribution to the transition from primary to secondary school; strengthened the relationship between John Paul College and partner primary schools; and enabled the introduction of a ‘buddy’ system between primary and secondary students. These developments in the science curriculum provided students with a continuum, making the adjustment to a new environment more comfortable. The addition of three new partner secondary schools has broadened the focus.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is central to the success of the program. The John Paul College website (www.jpc.vic.edu.au/smp/smpindex. html) features information about the College’s science program and curriculum information from partner schools. Over 100 practical activities for P–8 appear on the site with detailed explanations of scientific concepts and equipment. The site also contains assessment and class management ideas, themes, worksheets and fact files; games and Science Show information; and links to other science websites.
Developments on the website extend the program to include P–12 support. A new VCE page includes access to VCAA examinations and solutions, class notes and assignments. The year 7–10 science page includes online testing; research projects used by science staff; topic outlines; and interactive simulations.
Communication between John Paul College students and a partner primary school class has been made possible through the introduction of ‘E-Buddies’. Students are encouraged to work together on a science project based around the same theme; teaming up in science classes with pairs of students from a partner primary class. Primary students prepare focus questions on their topic and forward them to their secondary E-Buddies. The secondary students then research these questions and forward them to their E-Buddies via the teacher. This allows for vetting of responses and correction of any scientific errors. The secondary teacher assesses the secondary students on the accuracy and simplicity of their responses to their primary E-Buddies. The form of communication is largely email but students come together at the end to do a combined experiment at John Paul College. The primary E-Buddies use the information gained to prepare an oral presentation or a poster.
Questions and answers
All students have a further opportunity to email ‘Professor Cludd’ with science questions about a specific topic. The answers to these are placed on separate web pages for the students to view. This feature is available to both teachers and students of all levels at any time.
A Science Extended Professional Development Program has been developed to stimulate and support primary teachers in extending and improving the ways in which they teach science.
Effective professional development delivery provides scientific content, and raises issues associated with delivering science PD programs within schools.
Extensive visits by Professor Cludd to primary schools provide students with hands-on experience. Professor Cludd heads out to schools with a car packed full of science equipment, complete with skeletons strapped in the front seat and Van Der Graaf generator in the boot. He is dressed in a laboratory coat and carries a large furry bunny called Ralph as his assistant. Professor Cludd Science Shows are presented on request from classroom teachers to large year level or class groups as an introduction or continuation of a particular science topic. The pantomime-like science show is always a hit.
Learning is fun
To add an element of fun and entertainment to science, students are encouraged to dress as mad scientists as they experience the Science Shows of Professor Cludd.
The Science Shows include all equipment and detailed instructions and are delivered to staff as well as students. Working in pairs, teachers conduct lessons themselves based on the background information supplied on the day.
The Science Show includes topics such as flight; viscosity with Oobleck; Van Der Graaf electricity; chemical reactions; electric circuits; microscopes; weather; and energy. A number of staff sessions deal with experimental method, approaches to assessment and the use of the Middle Years Science Program website. Aspects of the Extended Science Professional Development Program are covered, as well as skills in research and curriculum preparation.
Teachers involved in this project believe that the approach to the science curriculum, with its diverse range of interests, practical activities, excursions and incursions, caters for all students and forms a basis for developing excellent learning skills. With these experiences, students gain the academic achievement necessary for further studies at the VCE level as well as beyond.
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