Need for a national program of science teacher professional development
Research indicates that many Australian secondary students are disappointed with their science learning. Traditional chalk-and-talk teaching, copying notes, and 'cookbook' practical lessons offer little challenge or excitement for students.
While many secondary teachers have a good grasp of traditional discipline knowledge, it seems that they often cannot make meaningful links between discipline knowledge and its application to an ever-changing world outside the classroom. Many teachers need to refine their pedagogical skills.
Large changes are required in teaching, learning and assessment strategies to achieve scientific literacy outcomes in our secondary schools. A substantial professional development initiative is needed.
Developing quality curriculum resources and professional development programs is an expensive process. Through national collaboration, better quality resources can be produced by drawing upon the best expertise in the country to develop resources that are sufficiently flexible to support the curriculum frameworks in different jurisdictions.
National collaboration in the development of the CASSP model
The Collaborative Australian Secondary Science Program (CASSP) has been developed as a result of a series of meetings of science curriculum officers from all States and Territories and representatives from the Australian Science Teachers' Association, Australian Academy of Science, Curriculum Corporation and universities. The purpose of the project is to assist teachers provide secondary science students with a more meaningful, engaging and challenging experience of science.
The first phase of the project, this trial which focuses on Energy and change at the Year 9 level, was funded by the Commonwealth Government through the Department of Education, Science and Technology (DEST) and was trialled in all States.
The Collaborative Australian Secondary Science Program (CASSP) has been designed to improve student learning in science through focusing on strengthening teacher knowledge and skills.
The CASSP model integrates:
- professional development by offering it face-to-face and providing materials
- curriculum resources that exemplify best practice and support teachers as they begin to implement new approaches to teaching science
- participative inquiry to help teachers to monitor, analyse and reflect on their classroom practices.
The relationship between the three elements of CASSP and teacher change is illustrated below.
The role of professional development, curriculum resources and
participative inquiry in teacher change
CASSP recognises that teachers are professionals who initiate and manage change appropriate to the requirements of educational systems, the context of the school and the community it serves and the needs of the students. Therefore the CASSP resources produced do not represent a prescribed curriculum, but are a set of resources from which teachers can select to support them and their science colleagues as they set a path for reforming their curriculum and classroom practices.
Importance of scientific literacy
The purpose of the program of teacher change is to help develop the scientific literacy of students so that they can better cope with the demands of an ever-increasing scientific and technological society.
Considerable effort has been made to develop learning experiences around a real-world context. The priority is to ensure that the science taught to students is relevant to the experience of the students, rather than being abstract and foreign.
Scientifically literate people:
- are interested in and understand the world about them
- are able to engage in discussions of and about science matters
- are sceptical and questioning of claims made by others
- can identify and investigate questions and draw evidence-based conclusions
- can make informed decisions about the environment and their own health and well-being.
Changes to teaching and learning strategies in our classrooms are needed. These changes should not be seen in terms of what is right and what is wrong but rather in terms of emphasis.
Changes in emphasis required to teach for scientific literacy.
Less emphasis on
More emphasis on
|science being interesting for only some students
||science being interesting for all students
|covering many science topics
||studying a few fundamental concepts
|theoretical, abstract topics
||content that is meaningful to the student's experience and interest
|presenting science by talk, text and demonstration
||guiding students in active and extended student inquiry
|asking for recitation of acquired knowledge
||providing opportunities for scientific discussion among students
|individuals completing routine assignments
||groups working cooperatively to investigate problems or issues
|activities that demonstrate and verify science content
||open-ended activities that investigate relevant science questions
|memorising the name and definitions of scientific terms
||learning broader concepts than can be applied in new situations
|learning science mainly from textbooks provided to students
||learning science actively by seeking understanding from multiple sources of information, including books, Internet, media reports, discussion and hands-on investigations
|assessing what is easily measured
||assessing learning outcomes that are most valued
|assessing recall of scientific terms and facts
||assessing understanding and its application to new situations, and skills of investigation, data analysis and communication
|end-of-topic multiple choice tests for grading and reporting
||ongoing assessment of work and the provision of feedback that assists learning
From Goodrum, D, Hackling, M, and Rennie, L 2001 The Status and Quality of Teaching and Learning of Science in Australian Schools, Canberra Department of Education and Youth Affairs (p 168).