Thursday, March 12, 2015

STEMing the Decline in Science and Maths Teaching

Greetings from the Shine Dome in Canberra, where I am taking part in an IMSITE (Inspiring Mathematics and Science in Teacher Education) Dissemination forum. This is sponsored by the Office of Learning and Teaching to reverse the decline in science and maths teaching in schools. This adversely effects student's interest in, and ability to undertake, technology and engineering programs at university. This is an area being researched in Australia, as well as other countries.

The event is is being chaired by the always enthusiastic, Dr Judy-Anne Osborn, Lecturer, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Newcastle. She described the "online-ificaiton" of some of their MATH2910 course and MATH2920 invited other institution to collaborate in the teaching of this.

University of Wollongong is part of IMSITE. They offer a teaching minor for science degree students and are hosting a STEM Teachers Conference 25 July 2015

It occurs to me that there are some obvious ways to  foster teaching and learning maths and science. One would be to use the link to the exciting careers, which are the other two letters in the STEM acronym: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is the areas of technology and engineering which have the career prospects.

A way to improve the teaching would be to use on-line education, both for teacher training and, for direct student education. It seems to me that teacher educators are making their job harder than it needs to be, by not using e-learning techniques. It seems that educators don't think computers can be used for teaching in schools and so should not be used for teaching teachers. I suggest "flipping" the approach to place e-learning at the center of education. As I explained to one of the attendees, you can make your on-line materials backward compatible with paper and classroom teaching, whereas it is much more difficult to design for paper and the classroom, then adapt for on-line.

My rule of thumb is that the average university student needs to spend about 20% of their time in class (one day a week), with the rest on-line. Extending this to school, might see the youngest students starting at 80% in class, 50% for primary students, and about 30% for high school students.

This is not to say students will not be actively engaged in learning, just that this need not be in a formal classroom setting. The least useful activity is to have students sitting passively listening to a teacher, they should be doing something, mostly with other students. Where students are required to "attend" school, they can spend most of their time in a learning center (what used to be called a "library"). Only a few teacher-librarians are needed to watch over several hundred students.

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