25 May 2016


 Robert’s musings #3


STEM: Transforming the Institution of Education and Australia’s Future


IF I reshape the statement “Science teachers are not scientists” (James Davis and Mike McGarry discussion thread 14 March 2016) by asking the question: Is school science the same as scientists' science? I may be able to tease out some contrasts that suggest new ways of teaching and new ways of working with students.


Transitioning from scientist to science teacher 

I began this journey of discovery with the Office of the Chief Scientist which in 2012, released a paper: STEM Education and the Workplace (http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/OPS4-STEMEducationAndTheWorkplace-web.pdf) arguing that “A scientific education provides knowledge and skills that are valuable in many careers. … The paper also considers how Australian universities can best prepare STEM graduates to take up roles in the wider economy, as well as in academic research”. The ‘wider economy’ can be interpreted as including school education.


In June 2014, The Conversation- a news and analysis site where journalists work with university academics - held a maths and science Education symposium in Canberra. Speakers, in considering ways to improve Australia’s provision of Maths and Science Education, discussed possibilities for PhD graduates and other science researchers (bachelor/Masters) to go into teaching: a proposal of the Australian Academy of Science. (http://theconversation.com/inspiring-science-fast-track-phd-graduates-into-teaching-14993)



The symposium afforded academics, scientists and journalists a platform in which to engage as ‘knowledgeable’ persons in the public discourse on STEM Education and the Workplace: offering possibilities addressing the ‘crisis’ in school science education. I suspect that politicians, policymakers, school education administrators, etc., will engage with the thrust of the sentiment as expressed:


More science teachers qualified in research will open a new career path beyond academia for PhD graduates and most importantly, give Australia’s students access to inspirational teachers who can share their research expertise. … There is a general consensus that a good teacher is passionate, knowledgeable and engages students with relevant and interesting material. Inspirational teachers can have a big influence on what students study. … Having school science teachers with a PhD ensures they are not only passionate about science, but can also draw on their unique research expertise to engage students in ‘learning by doing’ – an approach with demonstrated results (The Conversation, 2014).


While, I do not intend to discuss here in any detail the pros and cons of what I believe is a ‘romanticised’ view of the potential benefits of Having school science teachers with a PhD, I will for now simply refer to various commentaries already on the public record which collectively provide the setting from which the enterprises of ‘school science’ and ‘scientists’ science’ can be analysed.

In 2010, The Economist published an article entitled 'The Disposable Academic' http://www.economist.com/node/17723223). In 2014, Dr. Tim Nielsen, writing for the ABC’s Science Online, announced that PhD graduates were, ‘Hanging up their lab coats: Australia's new brain drain http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2014/01/16/3926579.htm).

And, in December 2014, RN’s The Science Show, “After the PhD’ (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/after-the-phd/5981004); Pod cast, http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2014/12/ssw_20141220_1231.mp3) discussed the challenges facing PhD graduates in transitioning from research to employment. Dr. Tim Nielsen, in his 2015 article, ‘Got a PhD in science? Now what?’ (http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/03/04/4189787.htm) offers advice based on his and other scientists experience in transitioning to another career path.


For now, I am putting to one side the discussion of politicians, academics, journalists and policymakers regarding the appropriateness or otherwise of scientists becoming science teachers. Having limited the scope of my discussion to ‘STEM education and science education in schools’ I now want to tease out what is meant or understood by the claim regarding the unique research expertise that scientists transitioning from research will bring to school science teaching. I wondered how this research expertise will shape the effectiveness of classroom teaching.


Howard Granok, in 2002 reflecting on his teaching experience, “Scientist to science teacher” (http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2002/07/scientist-science-teacher) provides an insight into the ‘world’ of the apprentice scientist/scientist. Howard describes his PhD graduate student lifestyle as “making my own hours, having intellectual discussions with colleagues I liked and respected and attending conferences”. He referred to his workplace as “my thesis laboratory”. His activity – study, apprenticeship, work - as “my thesis project”, in which he studied “chromatin structure and gene expression”.  And the measure of his success is determined by publication leading to employment/promotion. “My thesis project proceeded by fits and starts. … Eventually, most of my work was published and I found a postdoctoral position.”

In a 2014 Interview with High School science Teacher Kristin Hennessy who has a PhD in Cell Physiology (http://integrativeacademicsolutions.tumblr.com/post/74820905836/interview-high-school-teacher-kristin-hennessy-phd), in response to the question, “Do you think your PhD gives you unique advantages in teaching at the high school level, said:


First and foremost, I am unafraid to get up in front of a group of people and talk about science.  As a PhD, I have had a number of occasions to speak to a variety of people about my science, and this gave me the courage to lecture to my students. Second, my PhD mentor was very helpful in teaching me how to put together a presentation.  A presentation should be a story, and I have used that skill every time I put together a lecture for my students.  I make sure that the information flows, and that it is presented in digestible chunks of material, rather than throwing everything at them at once.


Howard Granok in offering advice to other PhD graduates, who are thinking of science teaching as an alternative to academic research and teaching, reminds them of the potential benefit of being a doctoral student:


Don't think that high school teaching is a poor use of your Ph.D. training. You are not overqualified for that teaching job! Good teachers exhibit a passion for their field, and a doctoral degree demonstrates your knowledge and commitment to science. … Don't forget about your graduate school connections, either; these people are great contacts for sponsoring student-based research projects, serving as guest speakers, coming up with supplies in a pinch, and providing sound advice on scientific topics beyond your own area of expertise.


I was hoping to read about how scientists, Howard or Kristin,  now science teachers  had transformed a classroom of disinterested students into a community of enthusiastic young scientists by  pursuing a curriculum Based on the very questions that kids – the young scientists -  are interested in. I was wondering how Kristin or Howard had used classroom data to make iterative changes to their teaching or of the learning of students. Unfortunately, this aspect was not pursued in their accounts.  I felt that instead of the ‘research culture of science’ reshaping teacher practice, the ‘institutionalized culture of teaching’ is shaping the practice of the scientist, which I believe  may soon become indistinguishable from that of veteran science teachers unless there is systemic change. I am wondering how ‘institutionalized cultures’ can be transformed such that new practices and new outcomes emerge and survive long enough to establish new institutionalized cultures. Again I find the ‘road’ to understanding leads back to the office of the Chief Scientist. On this occasion I am looking for conversations, events and happenings that have the potential to re-shape the enterprise of school education. 


The STEM Enterprise and Australia’s Future


The Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, AC, in 2013, when launching the position paper ‘STEM in the national interest: A strategic approach’ asked: What sort of Australia do we want? (http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2013/07/speech-launch-of-the-position-paper-stem-in-the-national-interest-a-strategic-approach/). In response he sketched a possible Australian future in which the STEM enterprise affords solutions to societal challenges. At the societal level the STEM enterprise encompasses education, research and innovation.   


By 2025 we should have reached a point where Australians will better understand and value the science they use in everyday life, and where the STEM enterprise will be widely accepted as a central and visible source of solutions to societal challenges.

The education system will provide all Australians with the capacity and confidence to make informed choices on complex matters where STEM offers options that have ethical, economic or environmental dimensions. …Australia by then will have a well-qualified and diverse STEM workforce; and we will be well served by effective STEM linkages between the research and innovation sectors. … And we will know that, no matter how good we are, for the full benefits to flow to our community, we need to have the confidence and the trust of that community. (Professor Chubb, 2013)


The question posed by Professor Chubb, “What sort of Australia do we want”, I suspect, has underpinned the public discourse on the STEM enterprise: in education, in research and in innovation.


These conversations, in the higher education sector, were encouraged by the Office for Learning and Teaching) OLT), Department of Education and Training, through the Enhancing the Training of Mathematics and Science Teachers Programme (http://www.olt.gov.au/maths-and-science-teachers), which is designed to drive:


a major improvement in the quality of mathematics and science teachers by supporting new pre-service programs in which faculties, schools or departments of science, mathematics and education collaborate on course design and delivery, combining content and pedagogy so that mathematics and science are taught as dynamic, forward-looking and collaborative human endeavours (italics, my emphasis).


The Office for Learning and teaching made available $12 million over three calendar years 2014 to 2016, to fund five multi-institution projects involving 25 higher education institutions as well as research organisations and state governments. I have sketch below the intention of each project to give shape to the context   in which the Australian Government’s ‘STEM enterprise reform agenda’ is structured, and in what ‘capacity’ do school science teachers participate in the public discourse on the STEM Enterprise and Australia’s Future.



Inspiring mathematics and science in teacher education

Website: http://www.imsite.edu.au/

The project, in fostering genuine and sustained collaboration between mathematics, science, and education scholars, in institutionalising new ways to integrate their collective content and pedagogical expertise,  will promote strategic change in the Australian higher education sector by developing and disseminating new interdisciplinary approaches to mathematics and science pre-service teacher education. (http://www.olt.gov.au/project-inspiring-mathematics-and-science-teacher-education-2013)


It's part of my life: engaging university and community to enhance science and mathematics education

Website: http://itspartofmylife.scu.edu.au/

The project, in drawing together the strengths of university mathematicians, scientists and specialist educators is designed to improve mathematics and science teaching in Australian schools by engaging pre-service teachers with the mathematics and science that underpins everyday life in Australian regional communities.(http://www.olt.gov.au/project-itaposs-part-my-life-engaging-university-and-community-enhance-science-and-mathematics-educa)


Opening real science: authentic mathematics and science education for Australia

Website: (http://www.educ.mq.edu.au/education_research/opening_real_science/)
Opening Real Science is a unique national collaboration between leading teacher educators, scientists, mathematicians and ICT experts to bring real, relevant science into Australia's classrooms. The project, by engaging pre- and in-service teachers, will enable them to teach mathematics and science as they are practised: as dynamic, forward-looking and collaborative human endeavours.


Reconceptualising mathematics and science teacher education programs (ReMSTEPs) through collaborative partnerships between scientists and educators

Website: http://remstep.org.au/conference/

ReMSTEPs project activities are centred around developing new teacher education practices that align contemporary approaches to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) with engaging teaching and learning. ReMSTEPs in building collaborative relationships across faculties, universities and specialist science and maths centres will drive major improvements in the quality of mathematics and science learning and teaching by creating programs where undergraduate STEM students and pre-service teachers work collaboratively across faculties and specialist centres to create new materials, units of study and expertise in inquiry-based classroom practices. (http://remstep.org.au/about-the-project/)


Step Up! Transforming mathematics and science pre-service secondary teacher education in Queensland

Website: http://www.stepup.edu.au/scientific-inquiry/

This project will deliver a learning experience that helps pre-service teachers to understand and teach science in the same way that scientists undertake research.

The Step Up!  Project will transform mathematics and science teacher education in Queensland through   research initiatives (the STEM Studio; TeachConnect; Scientific Inquiry in the Classroom; the STEAM Room; and the Integrated STEM Teaching Pathways) in secondary mathematics and science pre-service teacher education. (http://www.olt.gov.au/project-step-transforming-mathematics-and-science-pre-service-secondary-teacher-education-queensland)


These five multi-institution projects required collaboration  between higher education institutions and research organisations, and in some instances extending the partnership to include state governments and professional associations (e.g., Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL); Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA)).


Professor John Hattie, AITSL Chair, speaks about the report of the 2015 Teacher Education Advisory Group (TEMAG), the Government’s response and the challenges facing AITSL and the education profession. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUweHuWElIE)

The Step Up CONASTA Awards are a fully funded sponsorship provided by the Step Up project, enabling six outstanding pre-service teachers from Queensland to attend CONASTA – the leading conference for science teachers across Australia.

Each of these emerging science education leaders will act as Step Up ambassadors at CONASTA. They will have the opportunity to network with practising science teachers and scientists taking part in the conference, to exchange current knowledge and advocate for pre-service science teacher education. Leading up to the 2016 conference, the Step Up Ambassadors will work in partnership with ASTA and the Science Teachers’ Association of Queensland (STAQ) to develop an associated CONASTA program that is specifically geared to meet the needs and aspirations of pre-service science teachers. (http://www.stepup.edu.au/step-up-conasta-awards/)


Transforming the Institutions of Higher Education and School Education

I think that these projects, in fostering genuine and sustained collaboration between university scientists, Mathematicians and specialist educators in developing new teacher education practices, in aligning contemporary approaches to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), in institutionalising the integration of their collective content and pedagogical expertise, has the potential to transform the Australian higher education sector through the adoption of new interdisciplinary approaches to mathematics and science pre-service teacher education.


I feel, however, that the extent to which the social and cultural transformation takes place in schools will also depend on ‘fostering genuine and sustained collaboration’ between the members of the school community: E.g., administration, classroom teacher, students, parents, etc. I suspect, however, that the new teacher education practices shaping the learning experiences that support the pre-service teacher’s understanding and teaching of science in the same way that scientists undertake research, may have little to offer the ‘beginning teacher’  when told by others: We don’t do it that way in this school. Again, I do not wish to explore this matter beyond suggesting that curriculum reform based on  following the ‘prescriptions’ of others )’experts’, knowledgeable persons’ over time, may have little to offer as the mantra or daily reminder, ‘We do it this way in this school’ gradually shapes the beginning teacher’s practice.


I am not arguing that the next generation of science teachers – the beneficiaries of the Enhancing the Training of Mathematics and Science Teachers Programme - will not be able to participate in the process of transforming learning and teaching in school science. Rather, I am wondering about the probability of school education being able to deliver on Professor Chubb’s 2025 vision, in which all Australians are able “to make informed choices on complex matters where STEM offers options that have ethical, economic or environmental dimensions”. I suspect that the task of reforming institutionalised teacher practice in school settings may also need to foster genuine and sustained collaboration. A collaboration in which the ‘teacher perspective’ has an equal ‘voice’ in the public discourse on institutional reform.

I began my third musing of the general theme “STEM: Transforming the Institution of Education and Australia’s Future” by asking the question: Is school science the same as scientists' science? I was attempting to understand how having school science teachers with a PhD could transform school science education inline with people’s aspirations of Australia’s Future.

While the STEM education enterprise has focused on transforming higher education with an ‘assumption’ that the ‘trickle down’ effect will transform school education, I suspect that fostering   and sustaining genuine collaboration by communities of teachers may prove to be more significant in the process of institutional reform.