Effective science education for innovation Robin Millar Department of Education

Department of Education
Effective science education for innovation
Robin Millar
Centre for Innovation and Research in Science Education
• Based in a University Department of Education
• Involved in pre-service and in-service education of
science teachers (for secondary school)
• Developing new approaches to science teaching
and learning
• To address perceived problems of current practice
• Informed by research and scholarship in science
• In collaboration with practising teachers and with
scientists working in research and industry
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A brief history
• Development of a series of ‘context-led’ science courses
• 1983: a 1-year chemistry course for 14 year olds
to increase interest, and influence subject choices at age 14
• 1985: a two-year GCSE Chemistry course for 15-16 year olds
• 1988: a GCSE Science course (B,C,P) with the same approach
• 1991ff: A-level courses (for 17-18 year olds), first in Chemistry, then
Physics, then Biology
• From 2002: Development of an inter-related set of GCSE
courses (Twenty First Century Science) designed to
address the diversity of students’ interests and aspirations
• Centred on a core GCSE Science course with a ‘scientific literacy’
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Textbooks for some CIRSE curriculum projects
• Available to schools
• Schools choose from
a list of officially
accredited courses
• Courses taken
annually by:
2500 - 8250 students
(A-level sciences)
• ~150 000 students
(GCSE Science)
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‘Context-led’ science courses
• Start from contexts in which students are (or might
become) interested
• Introduce abstract ideas only where they can be seen to
be useful
• Link science to students’ everyday lives
• To questions students ask (or could be stimulated to
ask) about the material world
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Why ‘context-led’ science courses?
• To improve student engagement with science
• All learning depends on getting – and holding –
students’ interest
• To improve learning by making science ideas
seem more ‘worth knowing’
• To help students learn to apply scientific ideas to
real situations
• To give students a better informed and more
accurate image of modern science
• How and where science is being used, and developed,
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From ‘context-based science’ to ‘scientific literacy’
• ‘Context-based science’
• Increasing students’ motivation to learn science as
‘traditionally’ conceived
• A ‘scientific literacy’ emphasis
• Asks that we review the role of science in the school
What is the contribution of science to a general education?
What sort of understanding of science would we like
everyone to have?
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The primary goal of science education
“A central fact about science is that it is actually done by a
very small fraction of the population. The total of all
scientists and engineers with graduate level qualifications
is only a few percent of the whole population of an
industrialised country. Thus the primary goal of a general
science education cannot be to train this minority who will
actually do science.”
Ogborn, J. (2004). Science and Technology: What to teach? In M. Michelini (ed.) Quality
Development in Teacher Education and Training (pp. 69-84). Udine: Forum.
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Beyond 2000 report
• “The science curriculum from
5 to 16 should be seen
primarily as a course to
enhance general ‘scientific
Millar, R. & Osborne, J. (eds.) (1998).
Beyond 2000. Science Education for the Future.
London: The Nuffield Foundation.
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Scientific literacy
“Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of
scientific concepts and processes required for personal
decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs,
and economic productivity.
Scientific literacy entails being able to read with
understanding articles about science in the popular press
and to engage in social conversation about the validity of
the conclusions.
A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of
scientific information on the basis of its source and the
methods used to generate it.”
National Research Council (1996). National Science Education Standards, p. 22.
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Beyond 2000 report
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“The science curriculum from
5 to 16 should be seen
primarily as a course to
enhance general ‘scientific
How can we achieve this,
whilst also catering for the
needs of future
The ‘dual mandate’
• The school science curriculum has two purposes:
to develop the
scientific literacy
of all students
to provide the first stages
of a training in science
for some students
• These require distinctively different approaches
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Previous curriculum model for 15-16 year olds
Double Award GCSE Science
20% of curriculum time
Counts as 2 GCSE subjects
Taken by >80% of students
- with <10% doing less (1 GCSE) and <10% doing more (3 GCSEs)
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Proposed new curriculum model
GCSE Science
10% curriculum time
GCSE Additional
10% curriculum time
Emphasis on
scientific literacy
(the science everyone
needs to know)
GCSE Additional
Applied Science
10% curriculum time
for all students
for many students
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Twenty First Century Science
Core: for all
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for some
Twenty First Century Science
GCSE Science
Core course
for all students
With an emphasis
on developing
students’ scientific
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GCSE Science: The central aim
• To provide students with a
‘toolkit’ of ideas and skills
that help them to access,
interpret and respond to
science, as they
encounter it in everyday
• To give students
opportunities to practice
using these ideas and
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So what science do we meet everyday?
• An emphasis on
health, medicine,
• Risk and risk factors
• Claims about
correlations and
• Issues that involve
science and
technology, but also
go beyond these
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What do you need to deal thoughtfully with this?
• Some understanding of
major scientific ideas and
• Some understanding of
science itself:
• The methods of scientific
• The nature of scientific
• The interplay between
science and society
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What do you need to deal thoughtfully with this?
• Some understanding of
major scientific ideas and
• Some understanding of
science itself:
• The methods of scientific
• The nature of scientific
• The interplay between
science and society
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How is it different?
• More obvious links to the science you hear or read
about, out of school
• Some new content, for example:
• risk
• evaluating claims about correlations and risk factors
• the clinical trial
• More emphasis on understanding science as a form of
knowledge and enquiry
• in the context of evaluating scientific knowledge claims
• More opportunities to talk, discuss, analyse, and develop
• about science
• about the applications and implications of science
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What have we learned?
• It is possible to make a course with these design features
• which teachers find workable, and many find attractive
• A ‘scientific literacy’ emphasis leads to higher levels of
student engagement with science
• as reported by teachers (with supporting evidence)
• on the evidence of students’ post-GCSE subject choices (~30%
increase in numbers starting AS-level courses in the sciences
• Understanding of science ideas not significantly different
from students following more ‘traditional’ courses
• despite greater emphasis (and time) on ‘ideas about science’ and
discussion of issues
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What have we learned? (contd.)
• Teachers need considerable support to take on new
teaching approaches and methods, such as:
• analysis and evaluation of evidence and argument
• discussion of issues and implications
• We need to develop better ways of assessing ‘scientific
literacy’, that encourage good teaching
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Research  Curriculum development
• Research-informed curriculum development
• Drawing on the best-available research evidence, and insights
arising from research, when developing new teaching materials and
• Integrating this with practitioner knowledge
• Curriculum development as ‘knowledge
• “Curriculum development is the process of discovering the detailed
aims and objectives rather than starting with them.”
(Campbell et al., 1994: 420)
• Research evaluation of innovative courses and
teaching approaches
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Research to inform curriculum development
Some examples of recent research in CIRSE:
• Primary research:
Students’ attitudes to science and to school science (Bennett)
The impact of diagnostic assessment on classroom practice,
and student learning (Millar)
• Research synthesis (Bennett, Lubben and others):
The effects of context-based approaches to the teaching of
science on understanding and attitudes
The nature, use and effects of small-group discussions in
The effects of the use of ICT in science on understanding
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Judith Bennett (2006):
Systematic review of the
effects of context-based
approaches to the teaching
of science on
understanding and
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Teaching science in context: main findings
• Attitudes to school science almost always improved (7 of 9
• Attitudes to science also improved, but not as much as to
school science (7 of 9 studies)
• Both boys and girls demonstrated more positive attitudes,
with the biggest change being for girls (4 of 4 studies)
• Some evidence of improved conceptual understanding (4
of 13 studies); no significant difference (7 of 13 studies)
• Some slight increases in numbers taking science subjects
(2 of 3 studies)
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Small-group discussions: main findings
• Students often struggle to formulate and express coherent
• Explicit teaching about the structure of a good argument, and
how to engage in a discussion, lead to more effective learning.
• Groups function more purposefully when the stimulus used to
promote discussion involves both internal and external conflict,
i.e. where a diversity of views and/or understanding are
represented within a group (internal conflict) and where an
external stimulus presents a group with conflicting views
(external conflict).
• Single sex groups function more purposefully than mixed sex
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The central challenge for school science education
“Science is a demanding activity. Adjusting it to a
curriculum appropriate to the population as a whole is a
formidable task. Scientific knowledge offers a materialistic
worldview which, in its substance, is devoid of humane
reference, whatever might be said of its practices and its
implications. Science is profoundly successful, on its own
terms, and scientific knowledge profoundly authoritative.
In consequence, creating scope for the individuality of
pupils to come into play is difficult. … these characteristics
of science challenge pupils affectively and cognitively. They
challenge curriculum developers. It might even be said that
they are somewhat at odds with the tenor of modern
cultural life.”
(Donnelly, 2003: 19)
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The central challenge for school science education
• To help students develop, and see the personal
value of, an understanding of some key elements
of a large body of consensually accepted
• which uses a framework of abstract concepts and ideas
• which do not ‘emerge’ from experience, but need to be
communicated by teachers and texts
• and which demand sustained engagement, attention to
detail, careful reasoning and precise use of language
• whilst keeping open a ‘space’ for students’ ideas,
questions, creativity, imagination ….
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Difficult , but not impossible
• To move towards improvement, we need:
• Greater clarity, leading to greater consensus, about
intended learning outcomes
which requires that these be operationalised
in terms of questions and tasks that we would like students
to be able to accomplish
and which will therefore provide evidence of successful
• Support for teachers in implementing teaching
programmes that maximise the active mental
engagement of students
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