03 SES 01 A, Curriculum Making and Subject Traditions
This paper explores the connections and disconnections between curriculum at the macro national level and curriculum at the micro and nano school level. Curriculum is complex, operates at levels (van den Akker, 2003) and is often contested. In Ireland and across Europe it is evident that there are multiple actors involved in policy development, often with conflicting ideas, philosophies and values, not least in relation to the purpose of schooling. This contestation is very evident in macro discourses around teaching practical elements of the disciplines in science (biology, chemistry and physics). Our policy documents on the one hand espouse that the study of disciplines is incomplete without the study and application of the scientific method, practical activity forms an essential and mandatory part of this course (Department of Education and Science, 2003, p.3). However, research informs us that much of the learning at school level is dominated by terminal written assessments that lead to rote learning of recipe style experiments, where students follow a set of instructions to generate a predetermined result (Smyth, Banks, & Calvert, 2011). Abrahams and Millar (2008) assert that this kind of learning leads to hands-on activities that neglects minds-on conceptual understanding of the ideas that underpin activities. The irony of policy documents at the macro level that promote scientific enquiry-based learning conflicting with a national examination system at the same level of curriculum that stifles enquiry learning is not lost on teachers who have to enact the curriculum at the micro level. Research Question What is teachers’ current understanding of the role of practical teaching in upper secondary education in Ireland? What is the experience of students of practical teaching in upper secondary education in Ireland? Methodology The research reports phase one of a design based research project involving 11 teachers in four schools. This phase of the research is exploratory in nature, observing and reporting on how the curriculum for practical work is enacted in biology classrooms at upper secondary level in Ireland. The theoretical framework used in analysis is that of a community of practice where we look at learning as belonging, becoming, experience and as doing (Wenger, 1998).
Abrahams, I., & Millar, R. (2008). Does practical work really work? A study of the effectiveness of practical work as a teaching and learning method in school science. International Journal of Science Education, 30(14), 1945-1969. Department of Education and Science (2003). Biology Support Materials Laboratory Handbook For Teachers. Government Publications: Dublin. Smyth, E., Banks, J., & Calvert, E. (2011). From Leaving Certificate to leaving school: A longitudinal study of sixth year students. Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) Research Series. Van den Akker, J. (2003). ‘Curriculum perspectives: an introduction.’ In van den Akker, J., Kuiper, W. and Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning as a social system. Systems thinker, 9(5), 2-3.
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