Harnessing an interest in science through teacher education

November 24, 2014

A new research project by Murdoch University will aim to improve science literacy in primary school children by improving the way we educate future teachers to teach the subject.

The project titled Advancing future primary teachers’ engagement in science inquiry learning is funded by the Australian Research Council and is worth $300,900 over three years.

Professor Simone VoletProfessor Stephen Ritchie and Dr Deborah Pino-Pasternak will work in close collaboration with Dr Amanda Woods-McConney, as well as with Professor Marja Vauras, from the University of Turku in Finland and Professor Ken Tobin, from the Graduate Centre of City University of New York to examine ways to engage future primary school teachers in inquiry-based science activities.

Inquiry-based science learning does not just involve textbook learning, with right or wrong answers, but an open-ended, more student-centred approach to learning that emphasises the process of inquiry as well as the relevant science concepts.

“Solutions to improving scientific literacy and growth of student enrolments in science-related degrees at university have challenged Australian education and scientific communities,” Professor Volet said.

“Widespread acknowledgement of the significant role of teachers in initiating and sustaining students’ engagement and interest in science was one of the drivers for the latest Commonwealth intervention to review teacher education.

“Primary school teachers are pivotal in initiating children’s early interest in science therefore it is essential that teachers have a solid understanding and confidence when teaching inquiry-based science.

“It is vital that future teachers get the chance to experience scientific inquiry while studying at university so these experiences will then translate to inquiry in the classroom.”

There is limited information about how future science teachers engage in inquiry-based science during their university training and this research project aims to provide some insight and improve their experience.

“We will be looking at how future science teachers actually learn and develop knowledge and understanding through their exposure to inquiry-based science as well as their motivation, attitudes, feelings and emotions in relation to learning in this way,” Professor Volet said.

“Positive experiences of inquiry-based science during their university education will translate to more confidence and competence when using this teaching style with their students in the classroom.

“Like similar other OECD developed countries, enrolment of Australian students into tertiary science and future science careers is of concern.”

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