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Publication - Report

Supporting Scotland's STEM Education and Culture - Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group - second report

Published: 28 Feb 2012
Part of:
Education
ISBN:
9781780456737

Recommendations for improving the profile of science in the community and enhancing science and engineering education.

133 page PDF

416.2kB

133 page PDF

416.2kB

Contents
Supporting Scotland's STEM Education and Culture - Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group - second report
PART 4 THE NEW CURRICULUM: ADDITIONAL CHALLENGES

133 page PDF

416.2kB

PART 4 THE NEW CURRICULUM: ADDITIONAL CHALLENGES

In the rapidly evolving landscape of CfE implementation and the development of new qualifications, a number of additional challenges and opportunities are emerging.

Interdisciplinary learning and teaching in Curriculum for Excellence

A widely-welcomed feature of the aims and values of Curriculum for Excellence, particularly in the context of science, engineering and technology, is the intention to develop cross-cutting interdisciplinary themes drawing together outcomes from one STEM area with another, with attention being given to the applications of science and real-world relevance. This has provided rich opportunities for active learning in open-ended investigations leading to critical thinking, discussion and debate. Interdisciplinary science learning fosters an awareness of the relevance of science to the real world and contemporary issues that is fundamental to the CfE capacity of responsible citizens.

Science is by nature 'interdisciplinary', with an overlapping core of knowledge and skills for each science area. While there is great value in the different views that emerge from the study of particular disciplines, a level of common understanding is an important part of a holistic or 'systems' approach to real-world problem solving that is fundamental to CfE [43] . 'Pure' science (including mathematics) provides a foundation of knowledge and understanding to the more applied science disciplines, but these latter also have their own core principles and paradigms that should be articulated coherently. Interdisciplinary working requires that all science subjects should continue to be founded on deep and coherent pillars of knowledge and understanding. Interdisciplinary understanding will lack rigour and utility if it is not part of a structure in which the disciplines are pillars with interdisciplinary work as lintels. Without the pillars the lintels will fall. In STEM subjects, this is one of the grand challenges of CfE.

To address this challenge, SEEAG asked the Deans of Science and Engineering to organise a workshop in February 2011 to discuss the ways and means of encouraging, promoting and delivering interdisciplinary and cross-curricular STEM teaching, learning and assessment within Curriculum for Excellence and the new National Qualifications. Some key issues, outcomes and recommendations arising from these responses are summarised here and were incorporated into the SEEAG report on Excellence in Science Education in its capacity as the Government's Science Excellence Group . The report arising from the meeting is available at:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/Schools/curriculum/ACE/Science/SEEAG/CatalogueofEvidence/DeansofScienceInterdisciplinaryLearning.

Practical steps were identified to support and develop interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Working across the disciplines

Major scientific advances and insights at the research frontiers of science occur at interfaces between science disciplines, where progress depends on making interdisciplinary connections and gaining new interdisciplinary insights. They depend upon teamwork and cross-disciplinary collaborations. A powerful approach is to bring together a group of people from different disciplines to work towards a common aim. This approach to problem-solving is particularly beneficial in industry and increasingly in higher education, and should be rehearsed in a school environment to prepare young people for situations they will meet beyond school. Universities and employers increasingly seek students with interdisciplinary awareness as well as the substantive STEM subject knowledge on which it is founded. Both are essential.

STEM education should reflect these contemporary developments, engaging both pupils and teachers. Interdisciplinary working offers opportunities for developing teamwork and problem-solving skills, essential features of CfE. The real world provides excellent contexts for teaching STEM subjects that arouse the curiosity of young learners so that they will want to study STEM not just for its own sake but because of its relevance. If young people are interested in a problem or issue, they will become interested in the underlying science.

Practical promotion of interdisciplinary and cross-curricular learning

Subject specialist teachers often venture reluctantly outside the comfort of their disciplines. CPD is required that encourages teachers to communicate and collaborate on teaching across discipline and curriculum boundaries. This will require a major culture change within the teaching profession.

Exemplification of interdisciplinary topics should build on work such as the Connecting It Up project [44] and include good teaching materials and associated equipment to promote practical skills development and associated CPD on its implementation, with national coverage and access for all appropriate STEM teaching staff.

Interdisciplinary science teaching and its cross-curricular links to other curricular areas will require particular support to ensure changes in classroom culture and practice and to provide the additional subject knowledge and skills necessary to build the bridges between the traditional STEM subjects and other subject areas.

Exemplification and associated CPD are needed to encourage changes of practice in schools.

Recommendation 4.1
It is recommended that SEEAG and the Deans of Science and Engineering Group working with STEM-Ed Scotland and teachers from all STEM subjects lead and organize a project to exemplify good interdisciplinary and cross-curricular teaching and learning, emphasising its foundation on sound subject knowledge, and to make these examples and associated CPD widely available to teachers.

SQA science qualifications

Until recently, insufficient attention has been paid by SQA to the exploration and development of explicit interdisciplinary and cross-curricular links between the sciences consistent with the broadening of contexts for science learning and teaching. We welcome SQA's establishment of cross-disciplinary subject working groups to develop these links. However, such links ( Figure 1) are only the first step in a wider process. Such links need to be identified and developed much more broadly rather than simply linearly between the science disciplines (in other words inter disciplinary rather than cross - disciplinary) in order to ensure that the broad real-world contexts are evident that enable learners to recognise the practical relevance and connectivity and wider relationships of the STEM disciplines.

Figure 1

Figure 1

An obstacle to interdisciplinary and cross-curricular science teaching and learning has been a either a lack of subject knowledge beyond their own subjects or a lack of pedagogical experience that results in discipline-based science teachers, who are dominantly physicists, chemists and biologists, experiencing a lack of confidence in teaching beyond their own subjects. The challenge should be addressed through enhanced professional development for teachers and a new culture of teachers working together to explore new interdisciplinary areas.

Recommendation 4.2
It is recommended to universities that more graduates in, for example, engineering, electronics, Earth and environmental science disciplines should be encouraged and recruited into teaching in order to broaden and enrich the discipline knowledge base of the profession and to contribute to developing and enhancing interdisciplinary approaches to science learning and teaching.

The recent introduction of the Science Baccalaureate provides a new opportunity for S6 pupils taking Advanced Highers to explore science within the context of an industry or academic setting. An interdisciplinary project on real life science applications is a key feature of this new qualification, awarded since 2010.

Recommendation 4.3
It is recommended that Scottish universities give much greater recognition to the Advanced Higher and Science Baccalaureate qualifications in order to promote a higher level of uptake across Scottish schools and colleges, and to encourage more flexible pathways to college and university entry.

Interdisciplinary science teaching and its cross-curricular links to other areas of the curriculum will require particular support and professional development to ensure changes in classroom culture and practice and to provide the additional subject knowledge and skills necessary to build the bridges between the traditional STEM subjects and other curriculum areas.

The ways and means of ensuring the delivery of interdisciplinary and cross-curricular STEM at various levels require careful consideration and implementation. The cognitive and transferable skills developed by deep learning together with an understanding of interdisciplinary STEM subjects and topics are particularly valued by employers. These will only be achieved if sufficient curriculum time is devoted to allow deep learning of both the key pillars of knowledge and skills of science as well as the awareness of the interdisciplinary nature of much of modern science and technology.

Recommendation 4.4
It is recommended that Education Scotland provides national guidance to schools to ensure that schools devote sufficient curriculum time to the study of STEM subjects to allow pupils to develop a deep learning of the pillars of knowledge and skills of STEM as well as an understanding of the practical and interdisciplinary nature of STEM.

Subject choice

One of the principles of curriculum design for the Curriculum for Excellence is that of personalisation and choice:

''The curriculum should respond to individual needs and support particular aptitudes and talents. It should give each child and young person increasing opportunities for exercising responsible personal choice as they move through their school career. Once they have achieved suitable levels of attainment across a wide range of areas of learning, the choice should become as open as possible. There should be safeguards to ensure that choices are soundly based and lead to successful outcomes.''

In interdisciplinary and cross-curricular science, units and courses that broaden understanding of the application of science have struggled to find space in the curriculum, with teachers and/or curriculum managers unwilling to stray far from familiar basic science [45],[46] . Well-designed applied science qualifications such as Biotechnology, Electronics, Geology ('Earth science') and Managing Environmental Resources ('Environmental science') have struggled to increase uptake but are considered to be of wide interest to young people if the courses were more widely available; in other words these are essentially low access - not low uptake - subjects. Only Human Biology and Psychology have been successful at Higher in attracting an increased uptake, mainly because of their vocational link with medicine and allied professions and their perceived relevance to the human condition.

The development by SQA of new suites of courses in Environmental Science, Engineering Science, Computing and Information Science is welcomed. However, at qualifications level, the six science qualifications offered to Higher level ( Figure 1) will shortly be reduced to four following the removal of Biotechnology and Geology from the science qualifications portfolio. The loss of subjects with central relevance to the economy of Scotland in the 21st century reflects a lack of the vision and support necessary to ensure their continuing and wider accessibility to learners across Scotland, particularly through the failure to attract and train teachers from a wider range of science disciplines in sufficient numbers over the past two decades. The problem is also a reflection of the narrowness of the science base in Scottish primary and secondary education that is indicated by research evidence, but has neither been recognised nor addressed.

The 2007 TIMSS report [6] recognised that Scottish STEM education has remained rooted in the three 'big sciences' at the expense of other sciences. At eighth grade (S2) level, Scotland's pupils spend a very much lower amount of time on 'earth science' (6%) and 'other' sciences (1%) than the OECD average, but higher amounts of time on the traditional sciences (chemistry, physics and biology; 30-32% each) than the average. Scotland ranks 39th of 41 OECD countries in the percentage of all 'other science' taught, i.e. science that is not classified as physics, chemistry or biology (7%). This is less than one-third of the OECD average (22%).

Only the three traditional basic sciences are offered at Advanced Higher Grade. While a strong grounding in the basic sciences in the Senior Phase is of great value, the school world is an unreal representation of how knowledge is structured and used. There are more than just three science disciplines in the real world, and indeed much (perhaps most) major progress in STEM takes place at and across discipline boundaries or in interdisciplinary areas. Science disciplines are no longer confined within well-defined walls. The narrowness of the science base in Scottish secondary education is a poor foundation for the support and development of interdisciplinary science learning. In a small country rich in natural resources and dependent on the scientific and technological skills of its population, this very narrow STEM discipline base in its secondary education system and the resulting failure to engage with the increasing diversity of STEM subjects is ill-judged and ill-timed, and poorly serves a small country that aspires to be and to remain at the forefront of STEM research and STEM-based scientific and technological innovation.

Rather than reducing science subject choice, SQA should work with universities and colleges to seek new ways of regenerating, sustaining and increasing choice, in order that young learners have a much better understanding of the options and pathways available to them in further and higher education and in the workplace. An alternative means of delivering this provision is to make additional relevant, economically important STEM subjects available at for example Higher level through web-supported distance learning, with provision being made available locally or regionally for practical aspects to be taught centrally at key (hub) schools, colleges or universities; the latter approach of central provision is already being adopted in some local areas for delivery of Advanced Higher courses. The above points are addressed further at Part 7 in considering more effective learning pathways through the transition from secondary to further and higher education.

The responsibility for subject choice and availability does not rest solely with SQA. Subjects introduced over recent decades such as Biotechnology, Electronics and Managing Environmental Resources, together with Geology, have not been made widely accessible by curriculum managers. A shortage of suitably trained teachers with relevant qualifications and subject knowledge, the failure to attract suitably qualified graduates from across the wider STEM disciplines into the profession, and a failure to provide additional CPD and qualifications for existing teachers of physics, chemistry and biology, have been contributory factors. The implementation of the Donaldson Report [12] is likely to require ITE students in Scottish universities undertaking in-depth academic study in areas beyond education. The extension of this principle to secondary PGDE training, and to new four-year degrees to replace the B Ed, provides another means of enabling and supporting access to currently low-access STEM subjects. The problem may be further addressed through CPD and additional teaching qualifications as part of a wider professional accreditation system.

Recommendation 4.5
It is recommended that SQA develop mechanisms for increasing the breadth of CfE STEM subject qualifications provision, and that Education Scotland and universities provide the necessary support for the redevelopment and delivery of these qualifications nationally.

The development of the senior phase in schools is intended to provide increased flexibility and a more individualised approach to learning for pupils, supported and enabled by new and updated qualifications. However, concerns have been widely expressed that under the new arrangements some pupils will have to make subject choices too early in their academic development, and also about the possible restriction of choice and loss of opportunity for scientifically-minded pupils to study two or three sciences at Higher or Advanced Higher. This decision will be up to individual schools and a 'postcode lottery' may prevail, which will be a particular disadvantage for the many children who, for reasons outside their control, have to move between secondary schools during their education. In its State of the Nation report Preparing for the transfer from school and college science and mathematics education to UK STEM higher education [47] the Royal Society highlights the relative success of the existing Scottish curriculum in allowing pupils to study STEM subjects and recommends that in moving to a Curriculum for Excellence equally successful options are provided.

Recommendation 4.6
SEEAG supports the SSAC Recommendation 9 [17] that there should be close monitoring by Education Scotland of the curriculum models introduced across Scotland to ensure that a sufficient breadth of opportunity to study the full range of sciences is available to all pupils across Scotland.

Modularisation of teaching, learning and assessment

Throughout the formal stages of education, in the Senior Phase of secondary education, further and higher education, there has been a growing tendency in recent decades to package knowledge into modules that are taught, assessed and attract 'points' as disconnected packets of knowledge in which progression and inter-connection have been diluted or even lost (the 'education supermarket'). Modularisation of learning and teaching is inimical to strong interdisciplinary working. It is little wonder that students and graduates are rather poor at making connections between learning modules, both within and between disciplines (systems thinking) , a point that is commonly made by employers and universities. The introduction of CfE introduces a greater focus on inter-disciplinary teaching of STEM subjects.

SQA qualifications in science are split into Units, and Units further split into Outcomes, and in many Courses separate assessment instruments are used for each separate Outcome. Such an atomistic structure of assessment tends to encourage an atomistic or modular approach to teaching and learning, and discourages making connections within and across disciplines ('systems thinking').

Assessment

SQA examinations in the sciences, compared to those from many other countries, are complex instruments of assessment which assess both the basic knowledge of a candidate but also more complex skills such as problem-solving of different forms, data handling and analysis, evaluation and the drawing of conclusions usually set in a real-world context. Such assessments benefit from being undertaken by candidates under controlled examination conditions and therefore provide a reliable and standardised assessment of the work of the candidate. However, over the last few decades there has been a gradual trend to more structures, short answer questions and a move away from more extended responses, at least until the introduction of more Open-ended Questions in courses such as the recently introduced Revised Higher Physics and Chemistry.

The assessment of scientific practical, research and investigative skills in Scotland has had a somewhat chequered history, apart from the CSYS and Advanced Higher Projects and Investigations which are often seen as the 'jewel in the crown' of Scottish school science education. Over the years various approaches to practical abilities assessment have been attempted including Practical Investigations and Practical Techniques at Standard Grade, the individual assessment of an experiment by SCOTVEC and Practical Activity Reports in many of the current NQ units. These are competence-based and also require candidates to understand theories behind practical techniques.

There are a number of pressures which have resulted in a reduction in the validity in much of the practical assessment of science in Scottish schools. These have included:

  • a desire to ensure the assessments are reliable across centres
  • concerns amongst the teaching profession that standards may not be applied equally across centres
  • inflexible verification procedures
  • the requirement of an assessment procedure that can be managed by teachers in classes of 20 pupils.

Aspects of investigative work obviously lend themselves to coursework assessment rather than assessment in an examination. However, the assessment of coursework across all subjects in Scotland, and in other countries, has suffered from problems such as bias where students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds have been at a significant disadvantage.

Recommendation 4.7
It is recommended that SQA ensure that assessment instruments build on the strengths of the current procedures and are more holistic in nature. Innovative methods should be employed for the assessment of practical, research and investigative skills. These could involve the use of pre-release resources, synoptic questions and open-ended questions, and should be designed to avoid the pitfalls of previous assessments, including undue bias due to the background of candidates.

Assessment of interdisciplinary learning

Interdisciplinary learning and teaching in senior phase STEM is a key challenge. At qualifications level, science knowledge and skills are assessed in a subject context, and this substantive knowledge is important. Interdisciplinary teaching opportunities are limited and secondary teachers value subject identity. In an assessment-driven system, we need to identify new ways of assessing interdisciplinary thinking and common skills sets, for example in project work and by setting problems and the application of knowledge in unfamiliar contexts. If a desired learning outcome is an interdisciplinary approach, then assessment should reflect that.

Recommendation 4.8
It is recommended that SQA develop exemplars of interdisciplinary questions, together with assessments that measure the different inputs from the different sciences.

Recommendation 4.9
It is recommended that SQA assessments should use a broader range of interdisciplinary contexts within which to locate examination questions, and explore innovative courses (perhaps units within courses) which deliberately blur traditional subject boundaries. These courses should include innovative assessment methods (synoptic questions, extended assignments and collaborative project work) [43] .

Skills development

''Curriculum for Excellence is as much about improving skills and methodology as it is about updating subject knowledge.''

The case for higher order thinking skills ( HOTS) development through science education

To meet the social and economic realities of the 21st century, young people will need to acquire more sophisticated high-level skills and ways of thinking. The promotion of skills is a central function of the new curriculum at all levels. The shift from a curriculum based primarily on knowledge and 'content' to one in which knowledge and higher order thinking skills are interwoven is a substantial shift in emphasis. Such a shift will serve learners well through their lives, when much of the detailed subject knowledge they have learned is long superseded. Here we draw on key points from the Higher Order Skills Excellence Group Report [48] that are particularly relevant to STEM learning and teaching.

Development of thinking skills: research evidence

Research evidence indicates that the reasoning ability of British children has declined over the past 30 years [49],[50],[51] . If this is so, grade inflation may have masqueraded as genuine educational gains. One reason for this apparent decline may be the increasing importance attached to assessment that largely tests factual knowledge rather than skills and understanding, synthesis, analysis, evaluation and creativity. A shift from the acquisition of knowledge towards one with a stronger emphasis on skills therefore has implications for the process of assessment.

Recent research [52] has also demonstrated the effectiveness of including the teaching of thinking and problem solving skills within the curriculum on raising academic achievement. Children who spend time thinking about, and working on improving, their general thinking skills show consistent gains in reasoning powers and academic outcome measures such as Standardised Assessment Tests ( SATs) and examination grades. The implementation of thinking programmes in schools is rare.

Examples of successful effective thinking skills programmes include Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education ( CASE), Activating Children's Thinking Skills ( ACTS), Philosophy for Children, Guided Socratic Dialogue and Klauer's Inductive Reasoning [48] . All have positive impacts on reasoning and mathematical skills. All have common elements. They encourage discussion, constructive argument, exploration and skilful questioning. The thinking skills classroom is characterised by high quality dialogue, metacognition (pupils thinking about their thinking) and cognitive challenge (stretching the minds of pupils). Learners take ownership of their learning and teachers mediate, encourage, challenge and support. In science, learning will typically be collaborative, problem-based, interdisciplinary and multi-context, and involve systems thinking, high level discussion, interactive questioning, peer reflection and challenge.

Many of these skills are fostered and strongly developed in STEM learning. Research [ 53] has demonstrated that skills of high value to non- STEM employers were found to be unique to STEM graduates, such as a logical approach to problem solving, enabling some STEM graduates to progress faster in their careers than non- STEM graduate colleagues. This link is discussed more fully in Part 7.

The Higher Order Skills Group [48] has constructed a modified Bloom's cognitive taxonomy of skills, which helps organise thinking about practical skills development in a scientific context. This cognitive taxonomy ( Figure 2) may be linked directly to the process of cognitive enquiry, which is familiar to scientists as the 'scientific method'. Knowledge and understanding are pre-requisites to skills development, and within the taxonomy knowledge and skills become inseparable.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The shift from a curriculum based primarily on knowledge and 'content' to one in which knowledge and higher order thinking skills are interwoven should not be underestimated. This will be a particular challenge in science, requiring a major shift in teaching culture and styles of assessment. The above analysis indicates that such a shift may need to be supported by professional development around the teaching of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and changes in classroom practice. Realistically, such changes will take many years to achieve and will be most readily achieved if there is a strong foundation of peer support.

Recommendation 4.10
It is recommended that Education Scotland initiates and supports a programme to implement the teaching of thinking and problem-solving skills within the STEM curriculum in order to raise academic achievement.

Development of practical skills - promoting and supporting practical work in schools

Science, engineering and technology have practical work at their core. If young people are to learn the investigative skills of science or the practical craft and problem solving skills of engineering and technology it is important that they are able to practise these practical skills in schools. This requires both specialist accommodation of laboratories and workshops and the equipment to allow quality practical activities to be undertaken on a regular and frequent basis. Whilst watching a good teacher demonstration has its place, hands-on doing in the classroom by all pupils is the best means for developing their skills and understanding.

Generally, Scottish secondary schools have satisfactory accommodation. HMIE reported in 2001 [54] that science accommodation was good or very good in 65% of schools although they also reported that '' many laboratories presented a dull and depressing learning environment, ill-suited to the needs of new science and technology courses in the 21st century.'' Since then a significant number of schools have been rebuilt or refurbished which may have improved the quality of accommodation for many.

In the same report HMIE reported that ''Even where there appeared to be sufficient scientific equipment, some of it was out-dated and some did not meet the needs of new units and courses, particularly those which involved developing technologies such as biotechnology and microelectronics. Most science departments were poorly supplied with modern equipment for information and communications technology.''

There has been concern about the supply and maintenance of up-to-date equipment in Scottish secondary school science departments for many years. The Royal Society [55] and SSERC [56] produced estimates of the cost of equipment required to adequately deliver the curriculum based on reasonable assumptions of both consumable use and the writing-off the cost of capital items over sensible life times. Using this information as a benchmark Farmer [57],[58],[59] collected funding data from 30% of Scottish secondary school physics departments between 2001 and 2003. With the aim of determining the total funding resource allocated to Scottish secondary school physics departments, this was based not only on physics and science department per capita allocations but also bids for additional funding such as for curriculum development and central supplied ICT resources. It was determined that Scottish secondary school physics departments received on average 16.5% of the funding SSERC recommended for replacing, maintaining and updating equipment. In 2003 physics departments spent over 50% of their budget on photocopying and other non-equipment costs. It is likely that in recent times, with the tightening of school budgets, the funding science departments are able spend on equipment will have come under even greater pressures. The very positive feedback received from teachers attending SSERC, Optoelectronics College and other CPD where modern equipment is supplied as part of the workshops illustrates the demand there is from teachers for quality, modern science equipment in Scottish schools.

Recommendation 4.11
It is recommended that SSERC build on its previous work and that of The Royal Society to research the cost of adequately delivering the STEM curriculum at all stages in Scottish schools. Budget recommendations should be based on reasonable assumptions for use of consumable materials by pupils and the writing off costs of equipment over sensible lifetimes. These figures should be widely circulated and regularly updated.

Recommendation 4.12
It is recommended that schools and their local authorities ensure pupils are provided with quality learning experiences where they can develop the skills of practical investigation and problem solving. This can only be done when there is sufficient equipment for hands-on pupil practical work in small groups or individually. Schools must be provided with adequate funds to provide and maintain sufficient equipment for effective hands-on experiences for all pupils based on the figures provided in SSERC's recommendations in 4.11 above.

Recommendation 4.13
It is recommended that Education Scotland in carrying out their inspection of schools should review and comment on the school's allocation of resources against SSERC's recommendations in 4.11 above.

STEM equipment is specialist in nature and good quality technician support is required in schools for effective delivery of practical STEM subjects. In 2002, based on survey information from across the UK, The Royal Society [60] came to the following conclusions regarding school science technicians:

  • The number of technicians per science lesson was found to be lowest in comprehensive schools compared to other types of schools. In grammar and independent schools, technicians worked with fewer pupils while servicing comparable numbers of laboratories to colleagues in comprehensive schools. The number of technicians per science lesson was lower in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than in England.
  • Technicians in schools and colleges have a vital role to play in the provision of high quality science education and, if they are to play this role to the full, all technicians must be supported in their work and accorded the professional status they deserve. Clear job descriptions for all technicians, linked to a national career structure and pay scale, are required, as is substantial investment in technician continuing professional development.
  • Science is a practical subject, and good quality 'hands-on' activities which involve students undertaking experimentation and investigative work add hugely to the experience of learning science. A well-trained, professional technician support service is essential if students are to experience such work.
  • Up to 4,000 additional science technicians need to be recruited into schools in England in order to provide adequate technical support to all school science departments. A precise figure for the number of science technicians currently working in schools is not available.
  • The profession of science technician is not attracting young recruits; this is perhaps unsurprising considering technicians' pay and conditions. If young people do not see the profession as an attractive and viable career option it seems unlikely that it will be possible to recruit several thousand more science technicians into the school system.
  • Without adequate numbers of science technicians in schools and colleges the learning experiences of students will be impaired, raising levels of achievement will be made much more difficult, and safety in school and college laboratories will be compromised.

Recommendation 4.14
It is recommended that local authorities and schools ensure that STEM departments and faculties have sufficient well trained, specialist technicians to ensure delivery of practical STEM work within CfE, and that in parallel with recommendation 2.1 the Scottish Government ensures that a clear and detailed record of the number, qualifications and capacities of the STEM technician force in Scotland is collected and maintained.

Numeracy and mathematics

Numeracy and mathematics are fundamental interdisciplinary skills that have attracted the attention of educational policy makers, prompted in particular by wide concerns about numeracy teaching in Scottish primary schools that followed publication of the TIMSS 2007 report [6] . This report highlighted the disparity between primary pupil confidence and teacher preparedness in numeracy on the one hand and pupil performance on the other. The solution lies in improving the professional capacities and qualifications of primary teachers, as discussed above and addressed extensively elsewhere.

Good creative numeracy teaching in primary schools critically underpins mathematics teaching and learning in secondary (and higher) education, and mathematics is the language of science. Primary-level numeracy is therefore of such fundamental importance to science education that it merits particular attention, through a numeracy action plan . Numeracy need not take more space and time within the curriculum. What is needed is better rather than more numeracy teaching, coupled with the embedding of numeracy skills more widely into the curriculum in real-world contexts to ensure relevance, and to raise challenge, expectation and confidence amongst learners and teachers.

A national action plan on numeracy has been commissioned by the Scottish Government to report in February 2012, to be informed by the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy ( SSLN). However, the SSLN will only offer an insight into numeracy levels at stages P4, P7 and S2 within the broad general education. The action plan will aim to strengthen numeracy levels within the CfE. Specific proposals to improve numeracy levels will be in place by June 2012 and Education Scotland will have a role in informing the proposals. This is very welcome as the critical importance of numeracy as a foundation to mathematics and science cannot be underestimated.

Numeracy is an important part of mathematical capability, but mathematics is more than just becoming familiar and fluent with numbers [ 61] . Mathematical capability includes:

  • Using and applying skills in the real world, including the appropriate use of information and communications technology.
  • Being open to new ideas and alternatives, and appreciative of the importance of evidence, and critical reasoning.
  • Being curious, imaginative and diligent.

These are capacities that apply equally to the other STEM subjects.

Universities and employers increasingly seek STEM students who are both numerate and mathematically literate. The application of mathematics is fundamental to the practice of science, and in this context it is an example of interdisciplinary practice and as such must be founded upon a pillar of deep understanding of applicable mathematics. The application of mathematics should include a basic understanding of statistics as a foundation for a deeper understanding of the nature of risk, and of uncertainty in scientific measurement and prediction.

Recommendation 4.15
It is recommended that the Scottish Government should implement a numeracy and mathematics action plan based on the findings of the national survey, that this implementation recognises the fundamental role of numeracy and mathematics plays as a foundation to science, and ensures that these are more widely used in an interdisciplinary way in the teaching of science, engineering and technology.

Computer Science

Widespread concern has been expressed about the way that computing is taught in schools. At the McTaggart Lecture (August 2010) the chairman of Google (Dr Eric Schmidt) expressed disappointment that the UK's ICT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software but not how it is developed. The Royal Society is undertaking an investigation into the teaching of computing against a backdrop of plummeting levels of applications to study computing at UK universities and concerns about the economic impact of this decline in the digital age, and its impact on the supply of specialist teachers necessary to equip young people with the skills and understanding they will need to prosper. Issues concern whether computing is a discipline in its own right, whether it is best taught in the classroom, and the distinction between computer science and ICT.

Scotland has not experienced the dramatic fall in numbers studying computing that England has experienced at GCSE and A-level, with over 4,000 Higher entries versus 4,000 A-level Computing entries in England. The SEEAG welcomes the new Computing and Information Science Course being developed by SQA to articulate with the CfE Experiences and Outcomes, which will include a Software Development and Design unit and required learning in current and emergent technologies. The Royal Society of Edinburgh and BCS Academy of Computing are preparing CfE exemplification materials for teaching of computer science with an introduction to computing science and computation; completed materials will be made available on the Education Scotland website.

Early years STEM

''Real science incorporates many things to which young children are particularly open - creative thinking and problem solving and experimentation and invention.''

The early years have been widely recognised to be highly influential in a child's subsequent educational development and outcomes [62] . Early years or 'emergent' science is an important foundation for all later development. There is a growing national and international interest in pre-school science education. An Emergent Science Network was formed in 2007 (now involving nearly 300 professionals internationally) to facilitate communication between people interested in emergent science, to develop an understanding of young children's scientific development, to support professionals working with young children and to evaluate the impact of emergent science research on pedagogical practice [62] . In exploring the world around them, children are intuitive scientists from the earliest age , developing scientific (including basic numeracy) skills, attitudes, understanding and language in a holistic way. Development of young children's scientific skills is thought to depend on dialogical social interaction in play, in which peers and adults have an important role to play [62] .

The term 'scientist in waiting' expresses the recognition that pre-school children are not engaging in authentic scientific activities but rather are learning how their everyday activities of exploration and discovery - measuring, predicting, questioning and explaining - all connect to scientific practices and attitudes in a socially based enquiry process [63] . Scientific practices, especially experimentation skills, were found to be stronger amongst those who experienced the Pre-school Pathways to Science curriculum [63] than those who did not, and stronger among children after experiencing the Pre-School Pathways to Science curriculum than before [64] .

The above research evidence stresses the exploration and enquiry processes of young learners as scientists in waiting; however, measurement and numeracy (the basis of mathematics) form an essential part of the development language of science. It is extremely important that children obtain a good grounding in mathematical thinking from a very early age to enhance the effective development of science learning at later stages in their education. Effort and resources invested in secondary school science may be wasted if similar effort and resources are not invested in early years and primary.

Recommendation 4.16
It is recommended that the Scottish Government and Education Scotland support and ensure the wider development of skills and expertise in the teaching of early years (emergent) science by identifying and building upon existing expertise in Scotland, and through teacher education and professional development.


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