27 SES 05 C, Disciplinary Cultures, Learning Strategies and Communities of Inquiry
Engagement with science has been identified as a key priority to be addressed in Northern Ireland (DE and DEL, 2009), where engagement with science has been found to decline in the last years of primary schooling (Murphy and Beggs, 2003) and the first years of secondary schooling (Royal Society, 2008). This paper brings together the findings of two studies in science education in Northern Ireland that aim to address young people's engagement with science: the Forward Thinking project (funded by the Wellcome Trust), and Primary Communities of Scientific Enquiry project (funded by the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust). These projects were introduced at a time when the status of science in the curriculum was being challenged; indeed science is no longer a stand alone subject in the primary curriculum; nor is it compulsory beyond the age of 14.
The approach used in these studies (community of scientific enquiry) was based on an adaptation of Philsophy for Children (P4C), a practice that promotes a critical disposition and the questioning of so-called facts (Lipman et al., 1980) by exploring philosophical concepts and working towards the recognition of complexity and an appreciation of difference where it is not possible to reach a consensus (Williams, 2012). Research on P4C in science is limited, however one study based in the UK found gains in scientific reasoning (Sprod, 1998). P4C can be used to support teaching of the nature of science, ethical issues relating to scientific content, e.g. when considering aspects of contemporary science including, for example, advances in biotechnology and reproductive technologies, which raise uncertainties about what is possible, what is right, and appropriate ways to conduct scientific research. An exploration of questions such as these is consistent with a science education for scientific literacy (Millar and Osborne, 1998), which highlights the need for science education to develop not only knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts, but also of the consequences of science, and of the nature of science.
The studies presented here have a common aim to engage children in science by giving them the space to determine and explore the questions of interest to them through a community of enquiry (Lipman, 2003). This presents a departure from the authoritative teacher talk (Mortimer and Scott, 2003) or so-called ‘ritual discourse’ (Halstead and Pike, 2006) that prevails in many science classrooms, with children rarely asking the questions, far less challenging teachers’ explanations or interpretations (Mercer, 2002).
DE and DEL (Department of Education and the Department of Emplyment and Learning), 2009. Report of the STEM Review. Retrieved 30 May, 2014 from: http://www.delni.gov.uk/report_of_the_stem_review.pdf Dewey, J. (2007) Democracy in Education. Teddington: Echo Library. Halstead, J.M. and Pike, M.A. (2006). Citizenship and moral education. Values in Action. Abingdon: Routledge. Lemke, J. L. (1990) Talking Science Language, Lrarning and Values Westport: Ablex Lipman, M., Sharp, A.M. and Oscanyan, F.S. (1980) Philosophy in the Classroom 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Lipman, M. (2003) Thinking in Education (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Millar, R. and Osborne, J. (1998) Beyond 2000: Science Education for the Future. London: King’s College. Mercer, N. (2002). Developing Dialogues. In Wells, G. and Clacon, G. (2002) Lerning for life in the C21st: Sociocultural perspectives ont eh future of education. Oxford: Blackwell. pp 141 - 153 Mortimer, E.F. and Scott, P.H. (2003). Making meaning in secondary science classrooms. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Stark, R. and Gray, D. (1999). Gender preferences in learning science. International Journal of Science Education 21 (6) pp 633 - 643. Williams, S. (2012) Philosophy for Children through the Secondary Curriculum. London: Continuum.
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