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Subject:

Re: Reading recommendations for studies/surveys into barriers to teaching STEM

From:

Paul McCrory <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

psci-com: on public engagement with science

Date:

Fri, 12 Jul 2019 12:17:20 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Hi Natasha

I don't have easy access to my references library at the moment, but, if you're interested in anecdotal self-report, these are some of the barriers to using hands-on science investigations that teachers express at my training courses (* indicates barriers from secondary teachers):

- shortage of time to invest in researching, preparing and managing extended science investigations;

- lack of suitable equipment and consumables/ budget for practicals - especially for larger classes;

- extent to which practicals are an important part of the specification being taught, and crucially, how significant are they in how students are *assessed* - usually, not very;

- lack of confidence to deal with the diversity of questions that can arise from practicals, especially when working outside your "comfort subject(s)" in science;  

- concerns over certain "experiments" not being reliable enough to "work" [sic] ie to support the scientific principle they have just taught the class ; 

- issues over possible behaviour problems with some classes during practicals;

- worries about the risks posed by some practicals;

- difficulties getting students to record and write-up their procedures, results and conclusions; 

- lack of detailed advice on carrying out specific practicals - frustratingly, most write-ups omit the critical details you need to know cope with potential problems and *thorough* how to videos are still rare; 

- hard to find engaging practicals for specific topics; 

- shortage of sources of open-ended investigations which empower students by giving them more control over different stages of the experimental design; 
 
- lack of time / structures to share their practical ideas and experiences within their school/department;

- lack of time/ rind-fenced money to attend relevant CPD;

- *emphasis and support given to practical activity within department/ school policies;  

- *dissatisfaction with leading students through an unappealing standard menu of "recipe practicals", where students try to "prove" a hypothesis / law / theory that they have just been taught;

- *incompatible timetable for science classes - not enough double periods to properly manage a practical activity; 

- *lack of experienced support from technicians to advise them and to help set-up and to clean-up after practicals;

- *some students lacking the mathematical skills and/or confidence to meaningfully interpret the results;

- *(on gentle prompting) many teachers accept that they often use practicals as a form of student "pacification" and crowd control. It's an unwritten contract with their students - in science classes, students have come to expect frequent lessons where they get to do a practical and they don't have to "work" (ie write or think hard) in exchange for tolerating the other "less appealing" forms of science education. Over time, this motivation for practicals becomes demotivating for teachers.


Of course, such consultations will always produce a list of barriers which are a mixture of real and perceived challenges depending on each teacher's precise context. Sensitively unpicking these difficulties is an important first step in changing their day-to-day practice. In doing so, however, some perceived barriers should not be minimised - they can be psychologically over-powering. 


[if anyone is still reading by this point and hasn't lost all hope about the power of practicals, here are my main messages about their effectiveness :-)]

In my training work on practicals, my main objectives are to help teachers to:

1) reflect on the different purposes they can use practicals for best effect and to get an intentional balance across these outcomes in their schemes of work (that would take a different, more positive email :-) ). 

2) use more *open-ended* practicals - by letting students take genuine responsibility for different stages of the experimental design so that they can develop their appreciation of how science works and grow their critical and creative thinking skills. For me, these are the most important outcomes of science education which help students for the rest of their lives. To give teachers an organising framework, I employ an adapted version of the Gradual Release of Responsibility model eg this is an adaptation used by the EU-funded TEMI project:
https://www.slideshare.net/colivotto/temi-and-gradual-release-of-responsibility/11  


I hope some of this is helpful Natasha - please feel free to contact me off list if you want to chat more about practicals.

All the best

Paul

-- 
Dr Paul McCrory

learn differently ltd

t 028 9446 3439
e [log in to unmask]
w http://www.learn-differently.com

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