Australian Curriculum teaching and learning

Australian Curriculum teaching and learning - Education Matters Magazine Presented by Prime Creative Media Wed, 10 Jul 2019 00:37:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1

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Intervention demonstrates dramatic PAT Maths growth Sun, 04 Aug 2019 03:15:05 +0000 Startling new peer-reviewed research published by the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia shows student gains of 27-29 months beyond …

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]]> Startling new peer-reviewed research published by the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia shows student gains of 27-29 months beyond the 24-month department expectations as measured by performance on PAT Maths for the lowest 20 per cent of students across six primary schools in South Australia.

Throughout the two-year project, all teachers across all six schools were required to implement one lesson each week that paired a challenging mathematics task with a unique sequence of linked questions designed to target underlying misconceptions. Mathematics Consultant, Tierney Kennedy, provided in-person professional learning for leaders from each school, who were in turn responsible for training their own staff. Teachers were provided with lesson plans from the series Interventions in Mathematics and webinars with the consultant.

“It was a game changer for many teachers. Teachers talked about how much they learned and the impact it had on their classrooms. As an Education Director, I witnessed changes in classroom practice as I visited schools,” says Gerri Walker, Executive Director for Torrens Valley Partnership (2015-2017).

While the Conceptual Change Approaches are new in Australian mathematics research, similar methods have been well-researched in science with an effect size of 0.99 putting them in the top ten in the Hattie Ranking (2017). Ms Kennedy’s research showed an effect size of 0.7 over and above the annual 12-month expectations of the department for each year of the project. In fact, every group of students caught up to the education department expectations for Progressive Achievement Tests in Mathematics within 12 months, with no additional time or withdrawal provided.

So how does it work? Ms Kennedy says it takes a simple mind-shift for teachers to approach problem-solving in maths as experimenting rather than as applying. Students begin by making conjectures as to what the answer might be, then work to prove or disprove their ideas. The teacher’s job is to, “Ask questions to draw attention to any disparities (evidence that disprove an idea), enabling a student to disprove their own idea and then try out a new one.”

Teacher questioning focuses on helping students to evaluate their own ideas rather than on pointing them towards the correct answer, which according to Ms Kennedy, encourages students to change their own minds.

It is this unique approach to questioning that principals have attributed their high growth to, with 87 per cent of the schools exceeding Australian NAPLAN cohort gain throughout the project. And the results are not limited to just low achieving students – according to Ms Kennedy her next paper explores the causes of the exceptionally high growth made by the highest 20 per cent of students in the same project (0.62).

The original research paper, as well as free resources to support teachers and leaders can be found by clicking here.

The Fixing Misconceptions book bundle contains all the programs in the Highly Commended Intervention in Mathematics series. It can be found by visiting the website below. For a 10 per cent discount, please enter the code isfmset-save10.

Buyer’s Guide

Kennedy Press

Ph: 07 3040 1177

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]]> More than just grammar Fri, 19 Jul 2019 02:12:16 +0000 The lifelong work of a teacher fascinated by language, learning, linguistics, neuroscience and assessment, Gramatica aims to reverse the age-old …

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]]> The lifelong work of a teacher fascinated by language, learning, linguistics, neuroscience and assessment, Gramatica aims to reverse the age-old dislike of grammar and instead re-makes it into something altogether innovative, simple, relevant and fun.

Imagine a school where both teachers and students are empowered, decisive and knowledgeable writers, where everyone speaks the same grammar and writing language, and everyone knows how to assess grammar and writing, their own and others’.

How does it work?
Gramatica combines writing and grammar into a single, holistic area. It trains students to focus their attention firstly onto the writing task. What do they need or want to write about? Do they want to write an action story or a persuasive text, a fantasy epic or a list of instructions? This first part is easy.

Having established this, they then consider what grammar tools they need, and Gramatica provides this grammatical knowledge with clear, visual structure and simple language that everyone understands, from the youngest pre-primary student to senior students.

Writing has always had a reason, but grammar has tended to be taught in isolation and viewed as rather unnecessary and boring. In linking the two, Gramatica gives grammar a reason. Now it becomes the road to achievement and success, both at school and for life.

What does it include?
Gramatica includes the entire learning journey from teacher training to student assessment. It sets the end learning goal and shows students how to reach it. Along the way, it shows students how to formatively assess their own work using reliable, visual learning cards, and gives both teachers and students the metalanguage they need to do so.

On what research and evidence is it based?
A great deal: the combined knowledge of many years of lecturing undergraduate and postgraduate B.Ed students at ECU, teaching ESL to adults, writing a novel and getting it published, and reading extensively about language, alphabets and linguistics. Gramatica is based on the neuroscience of Zadina, Zull and others, the pedagogy and assessment of Hattie, Wiliam, Timperley, Allen and Readman and others, and the far-reaching implications of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Who benefits?
Everyone. Students become empowered, confident, decisive writers, teachers gain the knowledge of grammar they have often lacked, and the whole school gains a common, simple language for both teaching and assessing grammar and writing.

Buyer’s Guide

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]]> Confidence is key in STEAM learning Wed, 19 Jun 2019 01:19:35 +0000 Lifelong learning starts with confidence and hands-on lessons support student success, according to the results of a recent global survey …

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]]> Lifelong learning starts with confidence and hands-on lessons support student success, according to the results of a recent global survey commissioned by LEGO Education which aims to provide insight on how children are learning in the 21st century.

The Confidence in Learning Poll, fielded by Harris Insights & Analytics, was conducted online from 6 to 28 February 2019, with findings released in early April. A total of 5002 students, 5001 parents and 1152 teachers from around the world took part in the research.

Each of the parties agreed that hands-on learning was highly beneficial to learning; with 99 per cent of teachers stating that they believe hands-on learning builds student confidence, 89 per cent of students saying hands-on learning helps them remember topics longer, and 93 per cent of parents saying they believe hands-on learning helps children retain knowledge for the future.

In addition, more than half of students also said that hands-on learning made them more confident in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). Students who are confident in learning STEAM subjects are two times more likely to say they are confident at school. However, less than one fifth of students surveyed say they are “very confident” in learning STEAM subjects.

Modern Teaching Aids, thought leaders in the digital technology space agree that the best way to build confidence in STEAM is to enable students to work on a hands-on project with others.

Understanding the important role hands-on learning plays in the modern classroom, LEGO Education has developed SPIKE Prime, the newest product to join its STEAM learning portfolio.

“The Confidence Poll data shows that most students say if they failed at something once, they don’t want to try again. With SPIKE Prime and the lessons featured in the SPIKE app, these children will be inspired to experiment with different solutions, try new things and ultimately become more confident learners. And for teachers, time is the ultimate barrier.”

LEGO Education produces hands-on, cross-curricular STEAM solutions for early learning, primary and secondary education, competitions and after-school programs.

Designed as a learning tool for students in Years 5-8, LEGO Education’s SPIKE Prime combines colourful LEGO building elements, easy-to-use hardware and intuitive drag-and-drop coding language based on the Scratch Coding Platform.

Through engaging students in playful learning, SPIKE Prime was specifically designed to encourage students to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.

From easy-entry projects to limitless creative design possibilities, SPIKE Prime uses fun ways to assist students to learn the essential STEAM and 21st century skills needed to become the innovative minds of tomorrow.

SPIKE Prime offers four unit plans, each with a specific theme and focus. All units are designed to develop critical thinking skills through complex, engaging and personally relevant STEAM challenges. Each unit focuses on a specific STEAM strand, whether this is engineering, technology, mathematics or competitions. It is powered by the SPIKE app and includes lessons that are designed to be completed within a 45-minute class. This also includes teacher support, introduction videos, links to curriculum standards, hints, extension ideas, assessment tools and technical support to help create confident teachers from the moment they open the box.

Each SPIKE Prime set has 523 pieces which can be used to build many different creations including corresponding STEAM lesson plans that were created by and for educators to help them bring more hands-on STEAM learning into their curriculum and get students more engaged and excited about STEAM subjects.

LEGO Education and the LEGO Group have also created 11 new innovative elements, which have been debuted with SPIKE Prime. These new elements include an innovative integrator brick, which allows for building together with both the LEGO Technic and the LEGO system platforms, further expanding systematic creativity and the building possibilities.

As well as bringing STEAM creativity and engagement into the classroom, SPIKE Prime also brings this into robotics clubs, coding programs and maker spaces.

The SPIKE Prime Expansion set in combination with the Competition Ready Unit – one of the four units included in the software, will prepare both teachers and students for robotics competitions. It can help empower students and teachers who are new to robotics and in need of more formalised training.

SPIKE Prime will be available to pre-order from Modern Teaching Aids from 4 June 2019.

Buyer’s Guide
Modern Teaching Aids
Ph: 1800 251 497

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]]> Inspiring creativity with Picasso Cows Thu, 06 Jun 2019 02:54:45 +0000 Dairy Australia is calling on primary schools to register for the Term 3 intake of curriculum-based learning program, Picasso Cows, …

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]]> Dairy Australia is calling on primary schools to register for the Term 3 intake of curriculum-based learning program, Picasso Cows, giving students the opportunity to unleash their inner artist.

Developed in consultation with teachers and education consultants, the program’s resources are part of the curriculum units, Farm to Plate and Health and Nutrition, and aim to inspire learning through student creativity.

The program has been challenging primary school students to find their inner Picasso and decorate their cow, for over than a decade.

“Every school receives their very own life-like cow to paint and decorate, which supports student-centred, interactive learning in addition to an exciting digital educational resource, Discover Dairy, which teachers can easily find materials that best fit within the lessons they are planning,” said Vanessa Forrest, Dairy Australia’s School Communications Manager.

“The fact that the program has been taken up so enthusiastically by schools for over ten years is a testament to the benefits of the program and how much both students and teachers get out of it.”

South Coogee Public School in Sydney recently participated in the program, with teacher Maria Stathis revealing it was an absolute hit with Year 1 and 2, and Year 5 and 6 students.

“The students named our cow Madam Milkalot (pictured), and spent the entire term exploring farming practices and the processes involved in producing familiar food products, which culminated in a beautifully painted and educational Madam Milkalot who will be on display in the school garden for years to come.”

According to Dairy Australia Dietitian, Glenys Zucco, Picasso Cows provides an opportunity for students to learn the health benefits of dairy at a young age, promoting a nutritionally balanced diet.

“Scientific evidence supports the health benefits of eating dairy, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, and the Australian Dietary Guidelines indicate dairy lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and type 2 diabetes,” Ms Zucco said.

“It’s important children know that milk is a rich source of protein and calcium, essential to growing strong bones and healthy muscles.”

For schools that follow the Farm to Plate curriculum, students gain knowledge about the $13 billion Australian dairy industry and the story of how milk goes from the farm to our fridge.

“With many children increasingly growing up in urban areas, they often don’t know where their food comes from and Picasso Cows is a great opportunity to educate the next generation,” Ms Forrest said.

Teachers can register for the Picasso Cows program by clicking here.

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]]> Civics and citizenship education brought to life Tue, 04 Jun 2019 21:13:28 +0000 With the Victorian Curriculum now effective in primary and secondary schools across Australia, Civics and Citizenship Education is mandated for …

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]]> With the Victorian Curriculum now effective in primary and secondary schools across Australia, Civics and Citizenship Education is mandated for delivery in all government schools throughout Victoria. The Victorian Electoral Commission explains how its tailored, free and flexible resources are helping teachers promote students’ participation in Australia’s democracy.

Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) promotes students’ participation in Australia’s democracy by equipping them with the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions of active and informed citizenship. It helps students familiarise themselves with Australia’s democratic heritage and traditions, political and legal institutions and the shared values of freedom, tolerance, respect, responsibility and inclusion.

So in what ways can we support our teachers to ensure that the CCE curriculum is adequately addressed? How can we ensure that students are at the centre of engaging, inquiry-based and practical units of CCE study?

James Fiford, Education and Electoral Inclusion Officer at the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC), notes that teachers are often time poor, which can affect their ability to plan comprehensive units of work. Furthermore, teachers are sometimes asked to work outside the areas of their specific curriculum knowledge and financial limitations can preclude expensive external consultancy or commercial solutions. This is why the VEC has developed a series of tailored, free and highly flexible CCE resources.

As an independent and impartial statutory body, part of the VEC’s role is to run education programs to ensure that young people in Victoria understand democracy and the electoral process. Mr Fiford notes that for young people, while they often engage strongly on issues of social justice, elections may not be a particularly exciting subject. This is why the VEC has taken an issues-based, student-driven approach in its Passport to Democracy program.

The VEC regularly works with schools from Years 3 to 6 (as well as offering a comprehensive secondary school program). The active civics and citizenship concepts underpinning Passport to Democracy aim to develop critical thinking skills in students. It prompts them to consider how they can make an impact on issues they care about and, ultimately, how they can engage with the community and participate meaningfully in the democratic process. The AEC’s research tells us that providing young people with a positive experience of democracy in a school setting can set them up for a lifetime of civic participation.

How does the program work?
Passport to Democracy is divided into four modules: Decide, Research, Activate and Vote. Each module has a lesson plan containing learning activities with detailed instructions, online content and activity sheets. It can be delivered over six to eight weeks, or a smaller version is available if required. VEC Education Officers support teachers through on-site professional development sessions. They also offer a mock election for students as part of the Vote module.

1. Decide
The lesson plans in Decide expand on students’ existing knowledge of community issues. In groups, students choose an issue they care about and an aspect stemming from this issue that they want to change. Before deciding, they are supported to understand the complex notions of issues, communities, power and influence, rights, government, responsibility and points of view.

Students should ideally be supported in selecting their own issues to enable genuine student-centred inquiry learning. If teachers are delivering course content in upper primary or lower secondary, focusing on school-based issues is a good starting point. Middle secondary schools can focus on Victorian state-based issues, and in senior classes on either national or global issues. Any combination of these can, of course, work at any level if well supported.

2. Research
The Research lesson plans guide students to understand the social context of their issue, to discover what others have done about it and to test their own assumptions and possible solutions. Student research into an issue can have multiple goals. The activities in this unit elevates students to complete the entire research process, and assists them to develop critical literacy skills, while considering how their local political representatives might help.

3. Activate
The aim of the Activate lesson plans is to support students to choose actions that are achievable, appropriate and that can have an impact upon their chosen issue. These lessons contain many examples of active citizenship for inspiration, and they guide students to delegate tasks and campaign for awareness and support. Students can then use their research findings to plan and carry out an effective action.

4. Vote
The Vote lesson plans allow students to evaluate the impact of their action and reflect upon any change it has sparked, as well as their own active citizenship learning. Students also experience the electoral process through a complete sequence of electoral activities including candidate nominations, party platforms, campaign speeches, how to vote cards, a mock-election (including printed ballot papers) and a preferential vote count. Teachers completing a Passport to Democracy unit can request a free mock-election incursion run by the VEC (state-wide, including metro and rural areas) to demonstrate and celebrate students’ democratic participation. Vote lesson plans can also be used independently of the Passport unit, if teachers wish to focus only on elections and campaigns.

All lesson plans that comprise the Passport to Democracy program are aligned to the Victorian Curriculum and the Australian Curriculum for the teaching of Civics and Citizenship content across Years 5 to 10. In addition, the Passport to Democracy website,, offers summative and formative assessment resources. It includes assignment instructions, a submission checklist and curriculum-aligned rubrics, plus a list of assessment for learning Passport activities.

New for 2019
Passport to Democracy will have two exciting additions in 2019. To celebrate the start of the school year, the website has been optimised to be mobile-friendly. This means that teachers can now utilise the student interactives on the website, and watch the embedded videos, with their students on either tablet or via smartphone. This will be useful to teachers operating one-to-one, or in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment, in their classrooms.

Another important addition to the Passport to Democracy online offer (available later in Term 1 of 2019) will be a suite of teacher professional learning materials. Consisting of small videos and information sheets, this advice will help teachers new to the resources, as well as assist regular users with extra ideas and tips.

How to book
By completing a booking form (available online at teachers can order voting resources (voting screens, ballot boxes) and/or book a VEC education officer who can deliver teacher professional learning, and/or a mock election session to their class. All of the resources, and school visits by a VIT registered education officer, are offered free of charge by the VEC.

Buyer’s Guide
Victorian Electoral Commission
Passport to Democracy
Ph: 03 8620 1184

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]]> STEAM grants for schools Tue, 21 May 2019 22:30:40 +0000 Aiming to inspire more students to explore the universe – from the depths of the ocean to the far reaches …

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]]> Aiming to inspire more students to explore the universe – from the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of space – a new STEAM grants competition will use a smart algorithm to provide funds to teachers to put towards more STEAM resources for their classrooms.

The OfficeMax and Winc Grant-Bot Program has been designed to give STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) in schools an extra boost by providing grants that will give schools the opportunity to secure extra funding for hands on classroom resources as well as accessing lesson plans and inquiry units on the Cool Australia website.

With many of the jobs of the future requiring problem solving skills, innovative and creative thinking and digital skills, improving STEAM education has generated a great deal of attention. This has brought significant demand for STEAM specialists in Australian primary and secondary schools.

According to Australian Council for Educational Research (Melbourne 2012), only 16 per cent of Year 4 students were taught science by a teacher who specialised or majored in science, and only 20 per cent had a teacher who specialised in mathematics. Further to this, the State of Our Schools 2016 Report revealed that 51 per cent of principals have maths and science classes taught by teachers who are not fully qualified in those specialist areas.

Grant, the smart algorithm behind the OfficeMax and Winc STEAM Grant-Bot Program will select the grant finalists alongside a panel with the program’s ambassadors, Swinburne University astrophysicist Associate Professor Alan Duffy and marine biologist Dr Vanessa Pirotta (pictured) selecting the winners.

“I was fascinated by the world around me growing up, especially the night sky. But it was at school that I learned how to actually understand it all by performing experiments. Ensuring the generation in school today have access to exciting experiments is key for me, as it will teach them not just how to ask questions of the world, but also to gain answers from it,” said Professor Duffy.

Dr Vanessa Pirotta added, “As a young girl I was drawn to the animal section of the library, and by Year 4, science class became my favourite lesson. I loved to explore and ask questions and ultimately this led me to follow my passion and become a scientist. It’s important for young minds to see people in my role, especially for girls. I am thrilled to help teachers navigate STEAM in today’s classroom.”

The STEAM grants competition is now live, with entries closing 12 July 2019. It is open to all Australian school teachers, who can enter by clicking here and explaining why they and their school deserve to win a STEAM grant in 250 words or less.

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]]> Breaking down the research around school curriculum Thu, 09 May 2019 10:53:58 +0000 The Australian Curriculum can be an unwieldy document to read, much less implement. But a team of education specialists from …

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]]> The Australian Curriculum can be an unwieldy document to read, much less implement. But a team of education specialists from Monash aims to support teachers and school leaders with their new online initiative called TeachSpace.

TeachSpace is full of easy-to-read articles and how-to videos that draw on Monash’s latest research. Here, we look at a selection of what’s available.

How to use Minecraft in the classroom
In this two-part series, education technology experts Roland Gesthuizen and Gillian Kidman look at how Minecraft can enable learning in the classroom. The pair break down the actions required in the school curriculum and use Blooms Taxonomy as well as their ongoing research to show how Minecraft can be used to build integrated STEM lessons.

Tackling cultural education
Cultural education is a mandatory part of the school curriculum. In a series of three articles, cultural education expert Niranjan Casinader breaks down the key concepts of the curriculum, the pitfalls to avoid and ways to build modern understandings without resorting to stereotypes. Growing teacher expertise, he writes, can yield big results in the classroom.

The five propositions in health and physical education
In this five-part video series, HPE lecturers Karen Lambert and Justen O’Conner look at each of the key ideas in the curriculum. They provide options, ideas and case studies to show how each of these propositions can be explored in the classroom.

At the heart of each of these pieces is the question: How can HPE teachers create lessons that last a lifetime?

Critical and creative thinking in primary mathematics
Critical and creative thinking is a cross-curriculum priority in Australian schools, and features in each subject area. Drawing on her research, Colleen Vale shows how and why mathematical reasoning tasks can be used to provoke these 21st century skills. Teachers can also see short videos of how this works in practice in Australian classrooms.

A play-based model for early years and STEM concepts
From Marilyn Fleer, the woman who wrote the text books for early childhood, comes a new play-based model called Land of Learning. Designed to be used in the early years of primary school, it encourages students to take the lead and solve STEM problems in their imaginary world. Step-by-step videos are available outlining each stage of the process.

How to choose the best YouTube videos for your classroom
Combining cognitive science and real-world practice, Matt Fyfield draws on his research to break down the steps for teachers to pick the gold from the garbage on YouTube. What is the ideal length? Do the bells and whistles help understanding? Do students learn best from individual screens or a communal teacher-controlled screen?

Buyer’s Guide
Monash Education

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]]> STEM-savvy students Wed, 01 May 2019 06:55:24 +0000

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Dr Jane Hunter of the STEM Education Futures Research Centre discusses how an increased focus on STEM in the early years of schooling is preparing a generation of switched on students ready to tackle the STEM subjects in their secondary years.

While it is fair to say that the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) conversation has mostly revolved around secondary school education in Australia, there has been increasing recognition that activating interest in the STEM disciplines needs to start from the early years of schooling. Primary school students recognise that the STEM subjects they are taught using student-centred pedagogies provide them with opportunities to develop team working, problem solving and mastery skills. Principals, teachers and primary school communities are crucial for activating their students’ enthusiasm and academic interest in the STEM disciplines.

The Australian Government’s Office of the Chief Scientist has been relentless in creating a sense of urgency to advance societal knowledge in STEM since 2012. Central to these calls to action are beliefs that too few students are taking high levels of Mathematics and Science in secondary schools; too many STEM teachers are either unqualified to teach the disciplines well or are in an ageing cohort; and that efforts to maximise end-of-school results by taking STEM subjects may come at the expense of higher Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) scores.

New research
Two studies conducted in NSW public schools over the past three years have demonstrated that when primary school teachers integrate the STEM disciplines using the High Possibility Classrooms pedagogical framework they foster inquiry, project-based approaches and design thinking. These studies were part of several large-scale research projects designed to build teacher capacity and confidence in the STEM disciplines. Thirty-seven teachers and 1000 students from eight primary schools in diverse communities in Western and South Western Sydney participated in a series of focus groups across a 10-week period.

STEM was viewed by these primary school students as preparation for secondary school and broader career choices. There was recognition that their teachers were building their knowledge for possible future career options. And, for the majority of girls, seeing how STEM linked across the disciplines facilitated more autonomy and self-direction.

Findings from the studies demonstrate that students aged 5 to 12 years old develop more enthusiasm for content knowledge in STEM subjects, have a greater willingness to experiment and engage in hands-on learning, and are more readily able to see the benefits of being part of an effective team to solve complex problems when their teachers actively integrate the four disciplines. In particular, as primary school students come closer to attending secondary school they have strong beliefs about what they like and don’t like about STEM, and what they regard as their favourite STEM experiences.

What do primary school students like about STEM?
Students’ responses fell into four distinct areas: the most common theme was teamwork; this was followed by the opportunities that STEM provided for making and building using hands-on approaches; next, it increased their opportunities to make friends with other students in the same year group; and last, they liked using the real equipment of STEM (e.g. digital thermometers, water-testing kits, microscopes and circuitry boards). When questioned more about hands-on approaches, students explained that it gave them a sense of the scale of things, and they liked using recycled materials as this was a way of being resourceful, and building or creating something that wasn’t there before. The social aspect afforded by STEM learning and working in larger class groups was significant; this comment was typical:

“I like that we get to make friends during the process of making the machines – being in a new group that we have not worked in before. Making new friends when we focus on STEM is great,” says Kikki, aged 11.

What don’t they like about STEM?
Although the older primary students were generally much more vocal about what they liked about STEM, when asked about less-positive aspects they would describe frustrations in what they were doing or trying to ‘master’, rather than the nature of the subject matter itself. Typically, they said there was never enough time do STEM: “I didn’t like packing up. We only just got started… teachers don’t make enough time for us to do this kind of work.”

Favourite STEM experiences
These primary students offered varied responses when asked what were their top STEM lessons. There was the repeated liking of building chain reactions and constructing the Farmbot style devices and simple circuits. One student described the simple video she made of a circuit; another created a page-turner, while others referred to the tooth brusher device. Expressions of joy and creativity were common responses, for example: “Working with the circuits – complex but great fun. Being able to see how electricity was created and being able to fix things to make them work.”

Final remarks
In most Australian primary schools, teachers are deemed generalists in that they are required to teach at least six key curriculum areas. The integration of STEM subjects is therefore not reflected comprehensively in school reporting.

Its relegation to weeklong sessions, small projects, or a series of single lessons acts as a major impediment.

What is clear from this recent research on STEM in NSW primary schools is that there is a whole wave of enthusiastic, capable and independent students who are STEM-keen as they anticipate high school. It’s now up to secondary schools to carry that motivation and engagement forward. Our STEM-savvy primary school students are expecting it.

“When we go on to high school and when we do group activities or engineering activities, we know how it will work and how to work together and how to do research… that gives us a head start,” says Sandra, aged 12.

Dr Jane Hunter is a former primary and high school teacher. She is currently conducting a series of funded research studies to build teacher capacity in STEM and STEAM in NSW, ACT and Victorian schools. Her work reinforces the importance of teacher professional learning and building teacher capacity through ongoing school-university partnerships. The pedagogical framework featured in her recent book Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK is leading change in schools and was developed through deep studies of practice in Australian teachers’ classrooms. Dr Hunter also teaches pre-service teachers in the School of Education at the University of Technology Sydney. In March 2019 she received the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Social Impact in Teaching and Learning. She is a requested academic partner to schools and a regular keynote speaker at national and international education conferences.

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]]> Phonics-first test not the answer Mon, 08 Apr 2019 04:39:11 +0000

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]]> Acknowledging and respecting that children are capable and confident learners, Professor of English Curriculum and Literacies Education at Griffith University and experienced classroom teacher, Beryl Exley, says we don’t need a phonics-first and nationally mandated synthetic phonics check in the early years.

These young people have interests, familial language experiences which may or may not be English, and by and large, some prior interactions with print, albeit to varying degrees. These children have already started their apprenticeship in learning to read, they have listened and learnt, discovered and experimented, and amassed an incredible repertoire of understandings about language-in-use across the modes of communication in a handful of years.

The world is full of parents who have marvelled at their child’s capacity to fathom the language of communication in their first few years of life, and to continue that journey into breaking the code of written text in the early years of school alongside sharpening their skills with making meaning, using the texts that they read, and being critical consumers. It is important to recognise that children’s uptake of reading occurs at different rates, depending on their capacity, experiences, and the relationship between their learning and self-efficacy.

I am critical of approaches that insist on ‘phonics-first-and-only’ for all children. I recall the experiences of a young child by the name of Alicia who was drilled with the ‘Ants on the Apple’ ditty in her formative years and was taught that the letter ‘a’ says /a/ (as in ‘at’) and that the letter ‘c’ says /k/ (as in ‘cat’). With real life experiences of learning that ‘a’ can also say /u/ (as in ‘up’) and ‘ci’ says /sh/ (as in ‘ship’), it’s no wonder that the version of phonics Alicia was receiving was confusing. The current push from the Birmingham appointed Panel of Experts to implement a nationally mandated synthetic phonic check will do more damage than good. Any practices that disregard the young people as individuals with histories and different starting points when they commence school, as having a myriad of experiences with language-in-use, including its peculiar sounds, forms and functions, is to do these young people a disservice. Instead, I advocate for practices that take as their starting point the whole child, and from there plan learning and teaching experiences that build their competence and confidence with learning to read and reading to learn.

Explicit instruction in phonics must be a part of these learning and teaching experiences, but phonics does not need to be ‘first-and-only’ and instituting a national mandated synthetic phonics check means that that the fuller repertoire of learning to read skills are not given the required attention.

Professor Margaret M Clark OBE (2018) from Newman University in the United Kingdom identified that 89 per cent of head teachers and 94 per cent of teachers who took part in a large scale independent national survey reported that the national synthetics phonics check didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know. On the matter of using synthetic words such as ‘braits’, ‘zued’ and ‘splue’, these same cohorts each recorded an 80 per cent negative response. Similarly, Associate Professor Misty Adoniou from the University of Canberra provided a detailed account of the issues with the proposed test items and implications for implementation in the EduResearch Matters blog hosted by the Australian Association of Research in Education. Both documents make for riveting reading.

Some media commentators have mispresented the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association’s (ALEA) advocacy for a balanced approach to the teaching of reading. To be clear, the ALEA Literacy Declaration sets out the following: “There is a need for explicit instruction in letter sound connections (phonics) and word analysis skills; this should always occur within genuine literacy events and in contexts meaningful to the student.” This is also the approach supported in the Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum: English. To do otherwise will be to undo the philosophical position inherent in these foundational documents.

Beryl Exley has taught in schools for 11 years, and in teacher education for 17 years. She is a Professor of English Curriculum and Literacies Education at Griffith University. She is the National President of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association and immediate past Chair of the International Development in Oceania Committee.

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]]> The challenge of STEM Wed, 20 Mar 2019 03:28:21 +0000

The post The challenge of STEM appeared first on Education Matters Magazine.

]]> STEM education is capturing policy attention at the moment as a key curriculum focus, writes Russell Tytler of Deakin University. He talks to Education Matters about some of the recent innovations in the teaching and learning of STEM in the primary school years.

Much of this focus is driven by concerns about wealth creation and global competitiveness. This is somewhat at odds, one might think, with the broader education agenda of personal growth in skills and dispositions, and citizenship, emphasized by the Melbourne Declaration. This concern to engage students in STEM pathways and improve the learning of STEM has increasingly extended into the primary school years, given growing evidence that orientations towards the STEM subjects and to STEM thinking working are largely established in the primary and early secondary school years.

Alongside this largely economic agenda, there are some interesting developments in thinking about STEM, associated with growing advocacy of interdisciplinarity as reflecting how these disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) interrelate in the real world. With this, there are calls for a focus in the curriculum on STEM skills which include problem solving and design thinking, critical and creative thinking, and quantitative skills. Increasingly STEM has come to be associated with calls for integration of these subjects around projects based on authentic problems. In this, engineering design is often a driving force, with projects based on such things as design of structures, optimisation of cart or boat design, clothing or personal artefact design, etc, with science and mathematics being developed as needed in the design process. For other schools, STEM is centred around the incorporation of digital technologies into the curriculum. In truth, there are many types of interpretation of this call for interdisciplinary STEM, and a preferred curriculum model has thus far not been established.

A large US review study of integrated STEM – titled ‘STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research’, by Margaret Honey, Greg Pearson and Heidi Schweingruber (2014) – found that while there was evidence of greater student engagement in the STEM subjects, there was little evidence of enhanced learning, especially in mathematics. It has been argued that while STEM project-based activities can be engaging and can develop skills such as design and collaborative problem solving, they often lack coherence in the way that knowledge in the individual subjects is represented. For science and for mathematics in particular, the learning can be disjointed or trivialised unless carefully planned, and there is not generally a program of progression in knowledge and skills that can be associated with STEM that is distinct from disciplinary knowledge. Thus, while STEM encompasses four disciplines, the real challenge for the school curriculum concerns how science and mathematics knowledge can be developed through interdisciplinary challenges.

In an Australian Research Council funded project, ‘Enriching Maths and Science Learning: An Interdisciplinary Approach’, a Deakin led international team is collaborating with schools in Australia and the US to investigate how science and mathematics can be productively combined to deepen student learning in each. Underpinning the approach is a guided inquiry pedagogy where students are challenged and supported to invent, evaluate and refine representations (such as annotated drawings, maps, graphs) in a process that reflects the core knowledge building practices of the disciplines. In combining the subjects, we look for concepts that lie at the intersection of the two disciplines but that are dealt with differently in the two subjects. Thus, in a Grade 1 ecology study involving the charting of living things in sample plots in the school ground, students discussed the need for equal size plots, searching and counting processes, and how to tabulate and map their living things. They produced maps of the plot, and tallies which they transformed into graphs that were compared and discussed such that their graphing processes were refined. Sharing of class data allowed the representation of variation in numbers of the same animal (e.g. worms, spiders) across habitats and discussion of why this might be the case.
Thus, the science investigation opened up a need for mathematical representational work, and the mathematics led back into questions of the science.

The representational and modeling work was core to these inquiry processes. Teachers developed their pedagogies around refined questioning strategies to draw on student work to develop understanding. They were very surprised, for instance, at the development of Grade 1 students’ graphical skills well beyond expectations. This was related to the purposeful nature of the task and students’ appreciation of the measurements underpinning the numbers. Discussion centred around sampling, data handling and variation in mathematics, and habitat and adaptation in science.

One of the challenges for this work has been fitting the sequences into the curriculum in ways that teachers understand. The mathematics for instance grows out of the investigation as a need for quantification, or articulation of spatial thinking. We argue that this is a natural and powerful way for mathematics to be developed, but to the teachers it looks very different compared to traditions of mathematics teaching. Over the next two years we plan to extend the number of activity sequences we develop, and work with teachers to refine the pedagogy. We are tracking the development of understandings and also ‘representational competence’ of a set of case study students over the three years, anticipating that this way of working yields cumulative benefits.

Our intention is to pioneer new ways of thinking about the interdisciplinary interactions between science and mathematics in ways that preserve the integrity of these core subjects through innovative approaches to their teaching and learning. In this way we see our work as contributing to the challenge of STEM.

Russell Tytler is Alfred Deakin Professor and Chair in Science Education at Deakin University. His research covers student learning and reasoning in Science, and extends to pedagogy and teacher and school change. He researches and writes on student engagement with Science and Mathematics, school-community partnerships and STEM curriculum policy.

The post The challenge of STEM appeared first on Education Matters Magazine.

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