10 SES 06 C, Teacher engagement, assessment practices and strategic partnership
Modern life is increasingly characterised as complex, interconnected and messy, where society is faced by pressing issues such as climate change and global warming, population growth, poverty and political inequities (Baptista, Freire and Freire, 2013). In addition, issues such as population growth and the exploitation of natural resources has created downstream environmental problems such as the need to increase food production in terms of supply and demand leading to intensive use of land and deforestation and issues of waste management, all of which begs the question of how sustainability is such growth in economic, environmental and human terms. It is internationally recognised that there has never been a greater need for citizens to interrogate both individual and cultural behaviours, attitudes and beliefs that arguably underpin these issues. To this end, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 57/254 declaring the time period between 2005 and 2014 as the UN decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) in order to emphasise the critical role that education (at all levels) has to play in advancing young peoples understanding of the need for sustainability and to stimulate positive action towards tackling these issues.
Arguably, higher education has a responsibility to critique the values and knowledge claims inherent within contemporary socio-scientific-environmental issues. As part of the professional education of teachers, initial teacher education (ITE) can meet this responsibility by supporting ITE students to engage with a diverse range of learning context, which exposes them to pedagogies that open critical, democratic spaces. One such approach that has gained traction across European education systems is Learning for Sustainability (LfS). Sustainability has been described as a complex, ill-defined concept that has been mired in debate over the last two decades (Wals and Jickling, 2002). However, the ill-defined nature of sustainability manifests itself (especially within science education) in how students engage with socio-scientific issues, where conflicting reality constructions; values; norms; and interests interact.
Learning for Sustainability typically involves students’ active participation in the practical application of critical thinking (Sipos et al. 2008). When ITE students engage with socio-scientific issues (such as climate change and global warming, embryonic stem cell research etc.) they are required to engage with the inherent complexity of such issues. By exploring the main arguments that underpin the multiple and often conflicting perspectives which impinge upon such issues, ITE tutors expose their students to views that may challenge their own thinking, particularly if these challenges are political, social, moral or ethical in nature.
From an educational perspective, an important aspect of socio-scientific discussion (in the context of LfS) is that such activities allow ITE tutors to scaffold students’ learning in terms of the development of critical skills such as the application of academic ‘habits of the mind’ i.e. open-mindedness, rational scepticism, self-reflection and metacognitive processing, while also providing opportunities for tutors to apply pedagogical approaches such as cooperative learning, role-play and problem-based learning that facilitate students’ communication, argumentation and social skill development.
This paper aims to explore how a group of thirty primary education students engage with socio-scientific discussion within an optional module entitled Science in Society as part of their initial teacher education. In particular, the nature of their engagement and the reasoning patterns are characterised.
This study forms part of an on-going action research project focused on developing blended learning as an approach for the development of primary education students’ scientific literacy as part of initial teacher education. The research methodology chosen for this study was a case study approach due to the small-scale nature of the sample. All participants (n=30) within this case study were studying for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) honours degree in Primary Education within one ITE Institution within Scotland. All participants in the study gave written consent for their class work during module teaching sessions, discussion forum and wiki posts on the Science in Society module virtual learning site on Moodle™ to be analysed. The Science in Society module is an optional module, taken between January and April each year, halfway through the second year of the BA (Hon) Primary Education programme and after a core module in Sustainable Development. The module was taught using a blended learning approach that consisted of eight, four-hour workshops with twelve interactive online reflective tasks that focus on how students’ reasoned through and negotiated each socio-scientific issue over an twelve-week period [with 8 weeks of focused teaching sessions supported by engagement with the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)]. The main goals for this module are (a) to support primary education students’ to develop their personal knowledge and understanding of how science impacts on, and at time conflicts with, modern society; and (b) to develop primary education students’ scientific literacy and socio-scientific reasoning skills by undertaking inquiry tasks that focus on how socio-scientific issues arise, why they are often controversial and how the general public might interact with such issues to make informed democratic decision about how best to resolve such issues. The data for this research draws upon students’ work and discussions focused on the issue of climate change and global warming. Data was analysed using thematic analysis to identify students’ value positions, understanding of the concepts involved, and their understandings of the arguments posed within opposing views. The main themes drawn upon in the analysis are theoretically derived from Sadler, Barab and Scott (2007) and Morin et al (2014) - Scepticism, Complexity, Perspectives, Need for on-going inquiry, Knowledges, Interaction, Values, Governance, Problematisation, Dealing with Uncertainty and risk.
All thirty students indicated that the complexity of the Climate change as an issue was challenging with nineteen suggesting that they found it difficult to think beyond their own initial perspective. Twelve students explicitly mentioned that the climate change debate was especially challenging in comparison to the other two issues. All students indicated that prior to the climate change discussion they had a limited knowledge of the issue. Nine students exhibited a range of misconceptions regarding the role of the ozone layer in global warming. Interestingly, none of the students expressed a clear understanding of climate change as an interconnected problem with most suggesting that humans were the cause of global warming with most students struggling to express their understanding of the natural greenhouse effect. Twelve students also mentioned in their discussion forum posts that they now realised they had previously been unaware of the bias within some of the information presented by the media and in the school curriculum, which indicates that students may lack appropriate scepticism. These findings suggest that students’ prior educational experience together with their disposition towards open-mindedness impacts heavily upon the way they interact during discussions. Particularly with respect to the issue of Climate Change and Global Warming, students need to examine their prior knowledge, unpack and make explicit potential biases and be prepared to examine the values, prerogatives and motives of those in positions of authority. In terms of supporting students learning, the online teacher-mediated discussion fora are useful for supporting primary education students’ ability to cope with the inherent complexity and the differing values imbued within the multiple perspectives emergent within socio-scientific discussion.
Baptista, M., Freire, S., & Freire, A. (2013). Teaching Science. Learning for Sustainability. Saarbrücken: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing. Morin, O., Simonneaux, L., Simonneaux, J., Tytler, R., & Barraza, L. (2014). Developing and Using an S3R Model to Analyze Reasoning in Web‐Based Cross‐National Exchanges on Sustainability. Science Education, 98 (3), 517-542. Sadler, T., Barab S. A., & Scott, B. (2007). What do students gain by engaging in socio-scientific inquiry? Research in Science Education, 37, 371–391. Sipos, Y., Battisti, B., & Grimm, K. (2008). Achieving transformative sustainability learning: Engaging head, hands and heart. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9 (1), 68–86. Wals, A. E., & Jickling, B. (2002). “Sustainability” in higher education: From doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3 (3), 221-232.
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