Summer 2009 Conference Reflections

Australian Teacher Education Association
28th June - 1st July: Albury-Woodonga, New South Wales, Australia
It was a long trek (4 flights and 2 days) to Albury-Woodonga, a small town on the Murray River. The conference was held at the local Entertainments Centre. The theme was 'crossing boundaries' but the programme content was broader than this. I presented on the theoretical background on my Euro History and Philosophy in Science Teaching project, focusing on the issue of subject knowledge and teacher change. Delegates were mainly from Australian Universities, with a few international visitors. A minor theme was that of devoting space to research in education, with attention to describing how difficult this is and some anecdotes about some successes. Australian Universities have teaching centres across Asia (a new form of imperialism?) and there were many sessions describing setting up new courses in Asian developing countries. Other papers touched on professionalism and strategies for teaching on education courses. I enjoyed meeting new colleagues and the discussions. I felt that the papers presented focused more on data analysis than implications for teaching and learning.

Australasian Science Education Research Association
1st July - 4th July: Geelong, Victoria, Australia
ASERA ranks as one of the three major science education research conferences alongside ESERA (European) and NARST (USA). Papers are not peer-reviewed. The conference now attracts delegates from all over Asia, especially China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Korea. These countries have stipulated that their Masters and Doctoral students must communicate their findings at an international conference and this gives rise to a few weak papers, both in presentation and in content. I presented on the pedagogical background on my Euro History and Philosophy in Science Teaching project, focusing on the issue of providing for a Nature of Science approach to teaching and learning in secondary science. I attended a variety of papers, especially on the use of student-generated animations for learning chemistry, subject knowledge, the Nature of Science, and innovations in science education. The format of 20 minutes for presentation and 20 minutes for discussion gives plenty of room for exploration of thinking from the audience. This conference attracts many senior researchers from Australia. The venue at the Deakin University Geelong campus was on the waterfront, rather windy and wet, but very welcoming.

Conference of Australian Science Teacher Association
4th July - 7th July: Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, followed by 3 day eco-tour to Cradle Mountain in Tasmania
Unlike the UK, regional science teacher associations in Australia are pre-eminent, often attracting larger numbers of delegates than the national conference, partly because of the cost and time for travel. The venue, in the island of Tasmania, meant that most delegates had to travel by air, and was spread out over Launceston, sometimes involving significant travel from one session to another. The programme started each day with one or more keynote speeches, largely designed to inspire delegates rather than provide detailed information. I attended a great session evaluating research from TIMMS that affects Australia's science education, but it was not strongly received by the audience. They were more impressed by the spectacular (a TV science presenter giving her life story, an Australian astronaut with a USA accent) or by leaders of Australia's science/technology industry (including the CEO of an alternative energy company who gave us lists of all the companies in Oz involved in alternative energy). I attended part of a workshop on zero-carbon that was run by the Oz coal industry, and decided to take a rain check on the second half by taking an afternoon walk along a beautiful gorge with friends. In a second afternoon workshop that turned out to be a company selling their sensors (!), I discovered that my neighbour on the bench had done similar chemical research 20 years ago in biological radiation processes to mine 40 years ago, and knew of my work! After the conference, I attended a three-day eco-field trip in Cradle Mountain, observing Tasmanian Devils devouring a (dead) wallaby, cave walking, and examining local wild-life turds to investigate the animals that had produced them! It was cold, with snow on the ground, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Workshops in Penang, Malaysia
13th July - 20th July: RECSAM (Regional Education Centre for Science and Mathematics), Penang, Malaysia
I visited my colleague, Dr Leong Lai Mei, who works at University Sains Malaysia in Penang, enjoying visiting local restaurants and a trip round the hot and steamy island. My other colleague, Dr Ng Khar Thoe, had arranged for me to run a workshop for Penang teachers on Action Research (mostly about PALAVA!) at Al-Mashoor Islamic Boys' School. The teachers had been previously involved in the ASE Science Across the World programme with their pupils, and the discussion section was very lively. Khar Thoe works at RECSAM (an Asian CPD regional centre in Penang) and had provided me with a slot to present my work on Action Research. Afterwards, I was hastily rushed back to the boys' school to record a session for their Ministry of Education Teachers TV. The Al-Mashoor School is a special school established as a centre of excellence, with Linda Toh as their 'Advanced Skills Teacher', full of life and very proud of her work in the selective estblishment.

International Conference on History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
27th July - 2nd August: Budapest, Hungary
I wanted to experience the research world of historians of science, mathematics and technology at this conference (with around 800 delegates) held at the Budapest Technology University on the banks of the Danube. Most papers were written in a style for journal publication, not designed for oral presentation, and often simply read (by authors whose English was not the best). In some cases, presenters did not turn up! The papers were usually very specific, and detailed, analyses of documentary evidence in archives. The university was equipped with some fans but my lasting impression is one of very long days (9 am - 8 pm) with successions of 30 minute presentations in different rooms. Despite the programme booklet (that weighed around 3 kilos) that seemed designed to make it impossible to find sessions of interest, I managed to get to some interesting sessions on the history of chemistry and industry. Evening dining in Budapest with new and old friends was very enjoyable, though.

History of Chemistry
2nd August - 5th August: Sopron, Hungary
This was much smaller conference (60 delegates) held at a hotel in Sopron, 200 km from Budapest. A starting keynote session on conservation of paintings set the scene for a more involving set of presentations, including a lengthy set of talks about the spread of the Periodic Table in different countries. In Norway, for example, domination by one textbook written by an author not interested in the Periodic Table, meant that these new ideas did catch on for 50 years. On the way back to Budapest, we had an excellent visit to a museum of chemical industry, where I recognised a lot of analysis equipment that was in use when I started my chemical career in a factory in 1962. After a wonderful tour round Lake Balaton on a boat, culminating with a lightning and thunder storm just before we docked, we had lots to talk about at our last dinner in Budapest!

European Science Education Research Association
28th August - 4th September: Istanbul, Turkey
This was a truly international conference for new and old science education researchers from all over the world, including 80 from the UK. Over 1000 delegates, with around 800 presentations (what a choice?) and some keynotes (some of them rather weak). It was most exhilarating to hear of som much research in science education going on. The web site ESERA has the programme for each day for those who would like to explore the range of what was going on. Needless, to say, the presentations were highly varied, with emphases on methodology, context, qualitative and quantitative studies, highly specific or broad and generalised, in different talks. Some research was very strong and some attracted comments designed to improve the researcher's approach to his/her work. For those who focus on representation (at a mainly European conference) large numbers of females and ethnic minorities presented very powerful thinking, while new presenters were more common in the poster sessions. For me, to see and hear so many using English (2nd, 3rd or 4th language for many) was exceedingly impressive.