Symposium outcomes

Summary of Discussion groups on Country by Country

  • In Germany the individual school curriculums are set by the state – there is no overarching government dictated curriculum. South Germany has more freedom than the north and teachers are allowed to set their own lessons to the outlined set competencies (rather than a curriculum as a whole). This was discussed with particular reference to how RE was taught.
  • In Spanish state schools the RE teacher is appointed by religious authorities, rather than going through formal teacher training. They sit no teaching exams and they are often appointed based on their popularity in the community, rather than for their teaching ability or knowledge base. The RE teacher comes into the school and gives RE lessons separately to the rest of the curriculum. There is no compulsory education for RE, you can opt out of attending these lessons – although it is not clear what the pupils do during this time instead, it is possible that they read a book. Like Germany there is strong regional variability in how RE is taught – as different governments have different policies. The RE that is taught in schools is Catholic in nature and there are no general RE lessons.
  • In the UK it was argued that there is a focus in our education system on getting the children through the system with the end goal of getting a job – that is the only target – to get a job. It is not to develop as a citizen or person. It was acknowledged that parents sometimes say that RE is ‘not useful’ to children getting a job in the future – therefore they cannot see the point in their children being taught this in the space of another ‘more useful’ subject. It was noted that as RE is a subject only taught once a week by the time the following week comes around the subject from last week has been forgotten.
  • In Panama religious leaders are some of the most influential people in their society. Popularity of the religious leaders is more influential than their education or background. As with Spain, very few pastors have an educational background Panama as a country is very religious, and teachers can be very influential also. It was noted that most RE teachers are not familiar with science which provides a barrier to cross-discipline discussion or questions.

 

SHARED EXPERIENCES

  • Teachers at all levels are constrained by expectations of the syllabus and pressures of meeting exam outcomes. Another challenge stems from teachers’ tendencies to steer clear of controversies and/or potential conflicts with parents also a possible pressure.
  • Introducing bridging questions or even consideration of the nature of science faces challenges if these are not examinable in some form.
  • With this said there ARE some bridges in and out of science – for example
    • a teacher’s own religious background and/or a school’s ethos (e.g. Christian schools in Spain want to introduce science and religion together as a course),
    • In Portugal, social roles of engineering in engineering classes are discussed but whether it is enough is questionable. (Dr João Paiva et al)
    • Participant from the US (Dr Tuomas Mannienen) indicated that there are individual science teachers who are interested in bridging subject boundaries and cross-disciplinary conversations
    • In Germany, philosophy of mind, consciousness and mind are part of secondary school curriculum, and there are courses that bridges science and non-science in relation to science fiction. (Dr Christian Hoegar, Germany).
  • The group felt that teacher education is a key time to address some of the challenges. Further research could look at how these topics should be taught to teacher trainees who are not experts in science or philosophy of science but need to have a minimum level of knowledge about the topic to be able to help their student think critically about the nature of science? Resources such as books, other materials and CPD sessions could all prove highly valuable in enabling teachers to bridge subjects Additionally how do we teach teachers of science to look at how science fits into a bigger picture
  • Compartmentalisation of subject areas was recognised as potentially problematic if taken to extreme but at the same time as an important aspect of pedagogy. Cognitive compartmentalisation and pragmatic aspects mean that subject division are useful. Whether current divisions are correct and fixed was more open to question.
  • It was highlighted that there is a lack of communication between teachers and no expectation that there would be any collaboration between subject disciplines or teachers. In fact it was suggested that there would probably be quite a lot of resistance to this idea among science teachers. RE more open by nature.
  • Most teachers of science know little about philosophy and methodologically are not very comfortable with going off-piste. Science teaching does not give enough attention to science history, this could bridge disciplines and make connections in and out of the science classroom.
  • Teacher training – increasingly narrow focus. Does not provide opportunity for off topic discussion – specialist teachers who are very good at dealing with their specialisms. There is a need for teaching about how disciplines relate and the nature of science to teachers.
  • The role of imagination and creativity in physics was emphasized and it was suggested by Dr Stephen Rayner that highlighting the role of imagination and creativity in physics may attract more girls to physics.
  • It was suggested that one strategy to help students better understand the relationships between science and religion is to start from science and correct misconceptions about the nature of science. Thus it was agreed that…
    • Dr Christian Hoeger suggested teaching about science methodology (the difference between proof and evidence + deductive and inductive inference)
    • Dr Ben Trubody who has philosophy of science background, suggested some ideas about what could be taught to help teachers and students to improve their thinking about the nature of science (the difference between good science and bad science, over representation of some revolutionary moments in science).

 

FOCUS ON WORLD OF PHYSICS

  • The connection between aesthetics and physics was highlighted. A beautifully formulated equation in physics is more likely to be true!
  • In Physics class, boys and girls act differently is supported by the participants, and suggestions made that there are differences in mixed and single classrooms.
  • Focus on processes of scientific enquiry rather teaching some facts in physics was emphasized
  • The ‘wonder’ element of science was a theme at several points. Several people raised the subject that it was such wonder, interest in the metaphysical questions and awe at the scale of the cosmos, that had drawn them into science in the first place. The loss of opportunities to think about such aspects in the study of physics was considered a loss by many attendees.
  • In order to facilitate discussion of questions relating to the philosophy of physics at tertiary level it would be useful to begin introducing such concepts at Year 12. This would necessitate changes to the current A Level curriculum at the very least.
  • Improvement of physics education will require significant efforts at all levels of education, from primary to tertiary. It would be useful to look internationally for best practice in the area.
  • In order to develop broader concepts of science and insight it is important to incorporate the study of both the philosophy and the history of science.
  • Linked with the above point, philosophy should be integrated into all science education as it is impossible to separate science and philosophy.
  • There may be a role for the Institute of Physics in seeking to incorporate bridging questions that draw in broader issues into validated syllabus.
  • Students should also be encourage to have awareness of, and engage in debates relating to, underlying principles of science.
  • there was an emphasis that in order to break the cycle some elements and concepts that are essential to understanding about the nature of science and some metaphysical questions about science can and should be taught to science teachers. Here are some suggestions:
    • Measurement and uncertainty
    • The difference between ‘error’ and ‘uncertainty’
    • Fact and value interaction
    • The existence of disagreement in science
    • Naïve realism vs. Critical realism in science
    • The existence of a spectrum of science/non-science questions
  • Concerns about the teaching of science in ways that suggest it is factual
    • easy to assess for teachers and prepare for students
    • facts vs intuitive beauty of science
    • facts vs explanation of ideas
    • Big ideas of science – creating interest
    • Students not critical about the question – criticality is the epistemic insight.
    • Looking at the methods, rather than conclusion

 

FOCUS ON CHARACTER EDUCATION

  • Defining the extent of the syllabus – the idea of “humaneness” and its overlap with science, RE and PSHE curricula.
  • Bridging cognitive and spiritual development
  • The Competition Model – because of the potential of character education to share relevance with different subjects, the competition among different schools can harnessed by advertising a challenge to design the best character education model for school and design its syllabus, components and relevance. Expert academic panel of judges to select five best models. Workshops based on the selected models will be then conducted in interested schools and impact measured. Based on results, policy recommendations will be made.

 

 

FOCUS ON TEACHER EDUCATION

The wide-ranging discussion commenced with the identification of several research questions of interest to group:

RQ1: What are the difficulties in teaching science in teacher education programmes?

RQ2: What topics in both the primary and secondary curriculum are appropriately addressed from both science and religion?

RQ3: What do initial teacher education (ITE) students know about the nature (epistemologies and limitations) of the disciplines they study and ultimately teach?

RQ4: How does the use of models, analogies and metaphors (representations of understanding) enable ITE students engage with cross-disciplinary thinking (specifically religious education) thinking to access ideas that are novel, invisible and conceptually difficult?

RQ5: What are developmentally appropriate pedagogies for teaching epistemic insight and within this, the nature of science (NoS)?

Some key ideas:

  • All science teachers need to be taught/understand the nature and limitations of their discipline.
  • In order to interrogate the nature of science properly, learning about the history and philosophy of science is important.
  • Language is an important component of learning/understanding/communicating science.

The final idea that the group would like to explore:

RQ: What knowledge do Early Childhood, Primary and Secondary ITE students need to have about the nature of science and the nature of theology?

The research would be undertaken across several countries (UK, Australia, Portugal, Germany) and be cognisant of the curriculum constraints of each context.

Method:

  1. Survey and follow-up interviews
  1. With the purpose of exploring student understandings of each domain (where relevant) and identifying possible interventions to challenge and enhance their knowledge.
  1. Quasi-experimental study
  1. Intervention with the purpose of enhancing the development of the NoS and/or NoT.
  2. Determine the efficacy of the intervention and describe and provide evidence of the effectiveness in terms of specific learning theories, and developmentally appropriate pedagogies for teaching the NoS and/or NoT underpinning the intervention.