John's Summer Conference 2010 Blog

Contemporary Science Education - Implications from Science Education Research about Orientations, Strategies and Assessment. 20th Symposium on Chemical and Science Education, University of Bremen, 27-29 May 2010

Conference site

This conference, arranged by Ingo Eilks (Bremen) and Bernt Ralle (Dortmund), is remarkable in that the organisers invite presenters within their own theme, and the conference is free to delegates.
This refreshing meeting focused on the needs of science for all, unregulated by the usual dogma of examinations and syllabuses, and where speakers were free to speak their minds in an open atmosphere. I wrote the piece below as part of the reflections chapter.

“We are going on a journey, by train, potentially an inclusive form of transport that all can use. Unfortunately, the windows have been blacked out, so we can only know what is going on inside. Somewhere up front, in a separate section, are the first-class carriages, for the more traditional customers. These customers are well-funded (the tickets are a lot more expensive than the second class) with members of the learned scientific societies who can access the richest education, usually directed to producing more scientists. In the second-class carriages, the passengers are so crowded that many can not sit down, but the tickets are cheaper. In this section, science for all, scientific literacy, and science for democracy are the issues that are enthusiastically discussed, informed by research evidence presented by experts. The topics are radical and more focused on human activity of ordinary people. The first-class passengers talk about disembedded scientific concepts, and experimental objectivity, as their dominant topics. Assessment is about recall, or algorithmic problem-solving. The second-class customers chatter about the everyday context, human aspirations and motivations, and values as future citizens. The first class believes they are heading to an industrial town where manufacture will fund the education of those who they value as future scientists and industrialists. The second class believes they are heading towards an idyllic small town in the countryside, where all is peace and all have goodwill towards one another. The truth is that they are both connected, travelling together, but neither knows where they will end up.

Of course, these are caricatures but they seem to describe the views of the symposium quite well. Delegates were mainly in the second-class carriages, exploring the environment of the inclusion science movement. Generally, they criticised the educational stance of those in the first class as out of date or outrageously elitist. Given so many second-class passengers with such a variety of views, we did not reach a consensus on the meaning of scientific literacy, content vs. context, process vs. facts, as opposed to the first-class folk with their certainty and clarity of assessment and pedagogy. It was a brave decision to focus on the interests of the ordinary passengers, the ‘unwashed artisans’ as John Birkbeck, founder of Birkbeck College in London described them so long ago. We did not discuss how to affect policy, to effect change. Perhaps we are still searching for inclusion champions but the challenges of lack of clarity and the relationship with the first class remain.”

IOSTE Conference (Bled, Slovenia, June 13-18

OSTE (The International Organization for Science and Technology Education) aims to encourage informed debate, reflection and research on science and technology (S&T) education. IOSTE was established in 1979 to promote contact and dialogue across political and ideological borders. A key concern was that education in S&T should be a vital part of the general education of the peoples of all countries. IOSTE identifies science and technology education with the real and changing needs of humankind as a whole and with specific needs of its component communities and nations. IOSTE wants to continue and strengthen its tradition and considers that S&T education should:
  • Highlight S&T education for citizenship and for informed, critical, and active participation in democracy
  • Stress the relationship between science, technology and society
  • Emphasize the cultural and human values of S&T
  • Promote equity in S&T and S&T educationAdvance S&T education for a just and sustainable development and consider how S&T education can contribute to the fight against poverty, discrimination and injustice
  • Encourage the peaceful and ethical use of S&T in the service of humankind
  • Encourage cultural diversity and international understanding through S&T education
  • Stimulate international collaboration in the domains of research and development and promote cooperation with other international organizations
The conference delegation represents a wide range of cultures from around the world, and in every continent. The topics cut across interests that appeal to minority and majority world cultures, but embrace relevant issues such as Climate Change and Sustainable Development. The venue this year was rather surprising as its expense excluded many in poor countries, and the next venue in Tunisia should redress this. The North Western European Region had a large representation and so was split into Nordic Countries and the rest. I was elected as Board Member for the non-Nordic section.The keynote speeches included some that were undoubtedly bestowing political favours to friends and colleagues of the organisers, since they were seemingly hardly related to the conference themes but focused on pure science research.

World Science Education Conference

The Conference was held at the Estonian University of Tartu from 29th June-3 July.
ICASE (International Council of Associations for Science Education) is an umbrella organisation forming a communication network for national and regional science teacher associations, science societies, science institutes, universities and others interested in science education or is sub-branches of biology education, chemistry education, earth science (geography) education, physics education.
ICASE is a non-Governmental organisation which has official relations with UNESCO. It was created in 1973 by a group of national science teacher associations who wished to interlink internationally. ICASE performs this function by means of a newsletter, a journal and organises a world conference every 3 years.
World STE2010, the 3rd ICASE world conference, is designed to especially cater for members of science teacher associations around the world and all who wish to network in the field of science and technology education.
The Association for Science Education in the UK, ASE, is not presently a member.
This triennial conference has a particular focus on science across the world, especially those in poor countries. There was large delegation from Nigeria (25) for example.
I was elected as a keynote speaker for the 2013 Conference in Borneo. a great pleasure.

ECRICE & DidSci Poland Conferences
The 10th European Conference on Research in Chemical Education, and the 4th International Conference on Research in Didactics of the Sciences were held in Krakow , from 4th July - 9th July.
ECRICE Report: As a long tradition, ECRICE (European Conference on Research in Chemical Education) is organized under the auspices of EuCheMS (formerly FECS), in relation to the activity of the Division of Chemical Education. In July 2010 the Pedagogical University of Kraków with a support from Jagiellonian University organizes the 10th European Conference on Research In Chemistry Education (ECRICE) and 4th International Conference Research in Didactics of the Sciences (DidSci). This 10th meeting follows successful conferences held in Istanbul (2008), Budapest (2006), Ljubljana (2004), Aveiro (2001) etc. ECRICE was the opportunity exchange experiences on research in chemical education carried out at every education level - from primary school up to graduate studies and lifelong learning. More than 190 delegates from 42 countries all over the world.
The Conference has a strong component on academic chemistry, and its content is dominated by the rather traditional approach of chemists in transmitting chemical knowledge.The delegates 'prefer practical, ideas type sessions where analysis of research data lead to recommendation which can be implemented in a chemistry classroom' which is strong positivist approach.
I gave a Keynote in the DiSci Conference on my HIPST project, in the form of a one-man play, and two shorter presentations in the ECRICE Conference, and these seemed to go down well.
The next Conference is joint with ICCE in Rome, in two years' time.

ACS Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, Texas

The 21st BCCE was held August 1-5, 2010 at the University of North Texas in Denton. The 21st BCCE, like its predecessors, is designed to provide you opportunities to interact with chemistry instructors at all levels in formal and informal settings. The Conference will offer plenary lectures, symposia, workshops, chemical demonstrations, poster sessions, exhibits and tours.
General Information About the BCCE
The BCCE is a national meeting sponsored by the Division of Chemical Education (DivCHED) of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and is designed for those who teach chemistry at all levels: secondary school science teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, and post-secondary chemistry faculty. The Conference provides anyone teaching chemistry opportunities for interacting with like-minded colleagues in both formal and informal settings. Teachers who are about to launch their careers, those who are new to teaching chemistry, and those who have teaching experience will find this conference to be an excellent source of materials, techniques, and chemistry content. The BCCE helps teachers make connections with others equally committed to teaching chemistry.
The main focus of the conference is at High School and College level. Apart from the temperature (a dry 42 Celsius at the maximum), my recollections are similar to the approach of the ECRICE Conference i.e. 'the delegates 'prefer practical, ideas type sessions where analysis of research data lead to recommendation which can be implemented in a chemistry classroom which is strong positivist approach.' This led to a strong focus on hints and tricks approach. I attended some research-led sessions, especially in cognitive research. These were often strongly statistically focused (it is a conference that is clearly chemically focused with its mathematical basis at higher levels) but these were often mainly descriptive, albeit quantitative, and I felt myself wanting to have more interpretation in terms of theoretical ideas. Qualitative research, such as Case Studies, was not common. I was often asked if I was enjoying the conference, to which I replied that I was learning much, since it was a work activity. I met some very interesting delegates, but my critical thinking appeared to be out of line with that of many other delegates. I gave a presentation on my HIPST project, in the form of a one-man play rather than a PowerPoint, and this seemed to go down very well.

British Educational Research Association (BERA)

Conference web site

BERA is a broad education research conference, with a great poopulation of sociologists and a variety of Special Interest Groups, a few devoted to subject disciplines. I was elected as the Science SIG Convenor on the first day. The SIG Forum mentioned a major role in influencing policy, a good idea.
Many of the presentations have more of an emphsis on the methodology (sample, ethics, questionnaires, type of methods such as interviews, focus groupzs, etc) than on the results, and quite a lot of the science education research is carried out by sociologists with too little experience of science themeselves.
In one conversation, I reflected on the present emphasis on STEM and aspirations. Great attention is paid to 'discovery' science such as those producing big theories and ideas, but most scientists work in fairly routine 'lab science' i.e. routine analysis, forensics, pharmaceuticals, atomic weapons, environmental control, and the like. How much does our present curriculum, such as enquiry, focus on 'discover science' rather than 'lab science' and is this distorting the view of science that our learners are being given? I would like to explore this question much more in the next few months.

SMEC 2010

Conference programme

From the conference web site:
'Inquiry-based learning has been chosen as the theme for this year’s conferences as this inductive method for teaching and learning has been shown to engage and stimulate students to continue to learn and pursue careers in areas of science and mathematics. Inductive teaching methods come in many forms, including discovery learning, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, case-based learning and just-in-time teaching, as described in full in the following publication (Michael Prince and Felder, 2007)'
The programme consists of sets of parallel sessions on aspects of Science and Mathematics Education, with Key Note speeches along the way. The Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Ireland started us off with the traditional mantras of insufficient supply of scientists and how science is important for the economy. Jonathan Osborne, now Professor at Stanford University, gave the first Key Note on the significance of Literacy in Science, not much new but very well presented and new to many of the delegates. Given that listening and copying takes up 58% of science lessons, the common view that scienc is centrally practical does need to be challenged. Martina Roth, from Intel, gave a strong presentation to sell Intel's programme of Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills that left me little wiser. Donna Messina elaborated her programme at the University of Washington in Seattle that provides Summer Institutes to improve subject knowledge of US physics teachers. Apparently, the state schools have little in the way of practical equipment, sometimes insufficient stools for the students to sit on, and large numbers of the teachers have inadequate physics knowledge. I was left asking the question about how this could be in such a rich country but it was comforting to know that her courses are extremely successful. The workshops are generally given over to international projects involving Irish researchers and teachers, and we had the ESTABLISH Science and Technology project, and the dissemination Fibonacci project explained to us.

The short (20 minutes) oral papers are often highly variable in quality. An Edinburgh University report on 1st year enquiry-based beliefs and attitudes conducted entirely by matching these against 'expert' views of difficulties left me puzzling about the value of conducting a survey with one simple method, Likert-type questions. Certainly, it would have benefited from using multiple methods of investigations. Amsterdam University have learned much by having older students conducting authentic research projects, and their example of a study of a falling body by video techniques that had forces greater than g acting provoked much thinking from me. Leah Wallace at the Irish Limerick Institute of Technology had a wonderful project on integrating activities to promote learning such as pre-labs, to get students thinking critically. She promoted both their engagement and thinking skills according to the multiple methods she used to assess these.

This report should give some indication of both the strengths, and weaknesses of the programme. No conference is uniformly excellent so some provocative high quality work is much to be applauded, and the two day format gives sufficient opportunity to hear fascinating ideas. The off-course discussions were enjoyable and thought-provoking, especially at the dinner at the Washerwoman's Restaurant!