A Contemporary Approach
Introduction

Since education is a very complicated, dynamic, social process involving many
variables, it is recognised that no one rigid structure will be universally applicable. Teachers
need to construct their own pedagogical preferences in context, using anything from simple
trial and reflection to more formal research. However, the following summarises some of the
commonalities in the approach used with different student cohorts during recent years, and
exemplifies the considerations made to cater for cohorts which differed in, for example, their
experience in team learning situations and their experience in self-directed learning. As such, it
provides more of a “compass” direction than a detailed “road map.” It is not implied that the
approach described is the only way to implement such features, nor that the approach is
necessarily the best way for students to be involved in Junior Science.

Class Projects

A class project approach was adopted. Each project was problem-based, was worked
on by members of a class for at least one school term, and comprised a number of negotiated
themes. For example, themes in the Condamine River Study (a local river) included biological
assessment (fauna and flora), physical assessment (erosion and vegetation), chemical
assessment (pH, salinity, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus), turbidity, speed of flow,
temperature, cross-sectional profile of the river, origin of the river and changes through time,
and catchment area. Themes in the Queensland Electricity Options project included energy
efficiencies associated with showering, home design, hot water heating systems, clothes
drying, domestic lighting, use of microwaves for heating, cooking vegetables, waterbeds,
electric blankets, and daylight saving, together with the attitudes of members of the local
community to the efficient use of electricity, the greenhouse effect, and energy from wind.
 From an overall class perspective, each project was addressed via a four-phase
pedagogical approach: invitation, exploration, proposing explanations and solutions, and
taking action. The following expands on each of these phases.

Invitation

The invitation phase was designed to arouse the curiosity of students, to overview the
possibilities for study, and to motivate students. Music was used, during these and following
lessons, to set a welcoming mood and stimulate auditory learners. Moran (1999), for example,
is one source of science songs. Bright posters and mobiles were prepared and displayed to
stimulate visual learners. Possible themes and potential mentors were brainstormed, excursions
were conducted, videos were viewed, guest speakers were hosted, environmental study
reports were perused, and students’ prior knowledge and understanding elicited. A mind map,
or web, was developed.

Aspects of goal-setting were addressed positively, with students being invited to
answer “What’s in it for me?” (e.g. visualising how they might use the skills they develop,
during the program, in the future) and “What’s in it for my world?” type questions. Teacher
responses of the type “Unless you do such and such well, you’ll get a poor report” were
avoided.

Exploration

During the exploration phase, students “worked scientifically” (and mostly in a hands-
on manner), either individually or as a member of a learning team (the students’ choice, but
with all students encouraged to work cooperatively for at least some time), using scaffolding
supplied by the teacher. They researched information from a broad range of sources (e.g. the
Internet, multimedia software, printed materials including newspapers, audio and video
programs, and people outside the school), selected appropriate resources, collected and
organised data, designed and conducted experiments, and analysed data.

For students with little experience in team learning, smaller learning teams of 2 or 3
students were used, whereas larger teams (maximum of 5) were sometimes used for more
experienced students. For cohorts with little experience in self-directed or autonomous
learning, all teams worked on the same theme at certain, or all, times, whereas with more
experienced cohorts, different teams worked on different themes, of their own choosing, at the
same time. During team learning, various strategies were adopted to promote positive
interdependence (i.e. the need for a combined effort for the team to succeed), individual
accountability (so some don’t simply hitch-hike on the work of others), and group processing
(i.e. peer evaluation in the form of answers to questions such as “What contribution was made
by each member of the team?” and “How could each member improve?”), a very powerful
strategy.

At strategic times, I also provided more traditional whole-class lessons, aiming to
provide what I regarded to be desirable background understanding for all students (e.g. atomic
theory, food chains and webs, and electrical energy use calculations). Traditional short class
tests were administered in conjunction with these lessons. The periodic and systematic
reporting, by each member of a learning team and using prepared audiovisual aids where
appropriate, to the whole class is considered an integral aspect of the pedagogy. This not only
informs all students in the class about progress in all aspects of the project, but assists in
achieving individual accountability of students who are working in a team situation and also
forms part of the evaluation process. By ensuring the appropriate design of students’
investigations, each student was given the opportunity to qualify for a CREST Award (offered
by CSIRO Education Programs).
 

 

Figure 1. Hugh and Jeremy used a weighted string-line and canoe to determine the cross-sectional profile of the river.

 


Figure 2. Sharran collected data in the bathroom to draw conclusions about the effects, on energy use, of the length of showers and the use of restricted-flow roses.

Figure 3. Ranu and Garrett experimented to determine the energy savings, and reduced carbon dioxide emission and consumption of coal, resulting from cooking vegetables in a minimum volume of water and also from turning the hot plate off a short time prior to the finish of cooking.

Proposing Explanations and Solutions

In the proposing explanations and solutions phase, students first communicated
information, results, and ideas and synthesised conclusions, including conclusions based on the
pooling of results from different groups. For example, in the Condamine River Study, results
for speed of water flow, turbidity, cross-sectional area of river, and catchment area were
combined to conclude that, under light flood conditions, the topsoil life in the catchment was
2000 years and that $600 worth of fertilizer was washed down the river every day. Other
conclusions included a number of satisfactory aspects of the river and the need for further
study to determine the reason for fish kills.

 Students then used these conclusions to propose solutions. For the Condamine River
Study, these solutions included the re-establishment of native riparian vegetation, the control
of both access of stock to watering points and stock numbers, the provision of riparian buffer
strips, the killing of Lipia, the construction of a model to simulate the use of old tyres to
reduce erosion in waterways, and the need for regular water testing as urban and rural
development continues.

A major conclusion in the Queensland Electricity Options project was that the biggest
domestic electricity savings could occur as a result of shorter showers, or conversion to solar
water heating, and the installation of ceiling insulation. Other conclusions included that more
efficient use of electricity by Queenslanders could easily avoid the immediate need for new
(polluting) power stations or an interstate link, that householders will need encouragement to
overcome some apathy about using electricity more efficiently, that demand side management
strategies were needed, that Australia could contribute significantly to internationally-
suggested levels for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and that we appear to be at the
crossroads for decision-making about the future provision of electricity in Queensland.

Solutions included greater government monitoring of home design, the building of
brick veneer homes with the brick on the inside, a scheme whereby the government could
engineer the installation of solar hot water heating in every home at no financial cost, the
greater use of energy auditors (accompanied by the creation of employment opportunities for
energy engineers also), a number of suggested demand side management solutions, and
increased use of photovoltaic cells, wind energy, and bagasse. A working wind energy
generator model was constructed.

Taking Action

Finally, during the taking action phase, students shared information and ideas more
broadly and posed new questions. Here, particularly, students were given the opportunity to
exploit their stronger intelligences, and this included the use of multidisciplinary skills. They:

The fossil fuel reserves,
are running out for sure.
We need to find alternatives,
wind, solar and much more.
Our Earth is being slowly,
depleted of its resource.
So let’s all work together,
and try another course.

The sun it shines so brightly,
solar panels convert to power.
Wind can sometimes help us,
driving generators, hour after hour.
So instead of building power stations,
and creating problems more
Let’s research and think about it,
ideas there must be more.
 

Figure 4. Students are encouraged to exploit their stronger intelligences. Anthony produced
this poem.
 

Figure 5. Public presentations allow students to share their findings with members of the public.

Student Assessment and Reporting

While this approach to Junior Science education can expose students to the concepts
embedded in the strands of the National Science Profiles, and student achievement could be
reported in terms of an outcome level in each substrand of these profiles (18 substrands in
all!), I had the autonomy to choose not to do so, and I made this decision for reasons given
elsewhere (Eastwell, 1999).

Because it was desired to assess what was important rather than make important what
is tradionally assessable, learning was assessed and reported in terms of the aims of the
program. This included encouragement of student self-appraisal and the use of peer
assessment. Student assessment was highly process-oriented, focussing on things like the
creativity of research questions, skills in solving problems, the validity of conclusions, and the
overall contribution of the student to enquiry, as well as application, perseverance, working to
deadlines, and communication skills.

Short, whole-class or learning team only, written-response, individual tests, sometimes
given orally and sometimes including higher-order thinking tasks, were used to especially
reinforce traditional lessons. There was no need for a traditional, common, end-of-theme,
formal written examination. In the final paper in this series, I will reflect upon the
implementation of the approach and discuss some implications.

References

Eastwell, P. H. (1999). [Letter to the editor]. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 45(2), 3.
Moran, J. (1999). Notochords: Products and programs.
 http://www.tranquility.net/~scimusic/notochordsproducts.html. (1999, January 25)