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What do we mean by the future? Schools have a 'future' determined by the needs of pupils and the larger educational system. EU projects have a much shorter timescale and in S-TEAM, for example, the future flows from the present - we've started, so we'll finish! Political timescales are also short. But there is a need for more long-term thinking about the future of science education.
The S-TEAM conference included more than 110 science educators, teachers and teacher educators from 15 countries, including representatives of EU projects ESTABLISH, FIBONACCI, PRIMAS and SCIENTIX. The main purpose of the conference was to agree an agenda for the next decade in science education, specifically in teacher education for Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
Its main conclusions are, firstly, that STEM education requires long-term investment. Whilst the future is unpredictable, conditions can be created for flexibility and resilience in the face of new challenges. Secondly, European collaboration is useful because national players are constrained by local, short-term factors. Much knowledge has evolved from EU projects, but it is not used sustainably.
Inquiry-based science teaching (IBST)
The conference concluded that IBST has existed since the 1960s and is welcomed by the science teaching community, but there are constraints on its effectiveness. Curriculum and assessment methods should be fully integrated with inquiry-based teaching. A further constraint is time. Curricula could be simplified, or time for STEM teaching might be increased.
The role of mathematics is crucial, and there should be more collaboration between mathematics and science educators. both in the adoption of inquiry and in ensuring that science pupils are not held back by inadequate maths. This also highlights the need for more inter-disciplinary collaboration generally.
A rigorous pathway is needed for pupils going into higher education and STEM careers, without excluding others from basic science education. The answer is careful curriculum design, involving modularity and flexibility,and the removal of barriers caused by early exclusion from the science track.
Teacher Professional Development
The conference agreed that existing European Teacher Professional Development (TPD) systems are inadequate, and do not provide skills and confidence for delivering effective IBST. Although the majority of teachers can do good inquiry-based work, they need time and space to reflect on their practices. This should be based on continuing processes, rather than one-off interventions. The conference supported the creation of a European framework for TPD qualifications in STEM, which would provide a vehicle for long-term continuity.
A full report on the conference will be available from www.ntnu.no/s-team from November 5th 2010.
The conference also provided an opportunity for current EU projects to get together, and an informal working group has been formed, including the coordinators of current and upcoming projects. This group will share knowledge and experience, and will develop a common language for IBST development. We invite other STEM education projects to be represented in this group: please contact either: