science & innovation in education – your thoughts, please

By Alison Campbell 14/12/2010


I’ve just received an e-mail about a forum on Science & Innovation in Education, which’ll be held next year in Wellington on 19-20 April. Now, quite apart from the fact that I’d really like to go to this one, I thought I’d write a bit about the forum here because my correspondent is in the throes of developing a series of questions to form the basis of discussion & asked if I’d be willing to share them around as any & all feedback on them would be very welcome.

In other words – are the following questions ‘good’ questions?

Do you think they’ll be useful in promoting discussion?

If you had to narrow the list down to – say – half a dozen questions, which ones would you include, & why?

 

(I do have my own opinions here, but that’s all they are, & I’d rather throw this open to everyone here & get a decent discussion going around science education in New Zealand.)

So, don’t be shy! And read on…

Here’s the list:

1.   What is the role of education in the innovation system?

2.   How should New Zealand look to manage the changing demands of students, teachers, society, and science itself?

3.   Our schools form part of local social systems, institutions created to meet human needs. As needs change, as lags, confusions, and conflicts develop, these conditions will be reflected in the schools and in the way various segments of the public view the schools. With this as the sociological frame of reference – what is happening to NZ communities? What are the effects on young people and on schools? And how can teachers, principals, and others prepare themselves to deal with the problems with which they must cope?

4.   Are New Zealanders’ attitudes getting in the way of high achievement in science? How can we continue to change attitudes so that we give all children the opportunity to be inspired to pursue science?

5.   Should we be requiring more from our students?

6.   The current education system lock-steps children by age. Should we begin to focus more on ability, enabling children of different ages to learn together at whatever is the appropriate level

7.  How can education best serve science and how can science best serve education?

8.   What really matters in science education? Does our science education match the demands of the 21st century?

9.   What and how should we be investing in the area of strategic science?

10.  How can we continue to help businesses to realise the commercial potential science can bring to them?

I’ll look forward to hearing what you all have to say 😉


0 Responses to “science & innovation in education – your thoughts, please”

  • Nice post, Alison. The last month or so I have been reading a lot around education theory including a number which are critical of the current “assembly line” approach to education (e.g. Ken Robinson, Guy Claxton, Robert and Michele Root Bernstein). The forum sounds very interesting.
    Some thought on the questions:
    Q 1 – I’d be more interested in the role of innovation in the education system but given the question posed I would suggest that more contextualised teaching, more teaching the underlying concepts of science and innovation would be beneficial.
    Q 2 – Our education system needs to be guided by experts in education, including those who actually deliver it (school teachers) rather than by politicians and those who haven’t worked in education in years. The new science curriculum seems like a step in the right direction.
    Q 3 – if we accept that the education system is central to social development and society in general then spending a lot of time and resources to make the education system work for everyone should be a priority.
    Q 4 – yes, NZ still has a notable tall poppy syndrome. Also there are whole sectors of society who don’t value education. Solutions? Can’t think of any easy ones straight off.
    Q 5 – more what? We can only expect more from students if they know what is expected of them and have a framework in which to achieve. But yes, under the right system we could expect much more from students (and parents) and have them achieve more.
    Q 6 – a complex question, particularly if we consider that some students might have advanced abilities in some areas and not others. In principal, locking them in by age is not necessary.
    Q 7 – A good science curriculum and scientists being available to schools and spending time on science communication. Scientists as role models.
    Q 8 – Teaching how to “think scientifically”, teaching in context, using a wide variety of teaching methods, accepting that all students are different in what will engage them and in what interests them, etc
    Will think more on 9 and 10 as they seem quite distinct from education and some of the answers may have come from the Science and Innovation conference earlier this year.

    Suffice to say more resources wouldn’t go amiss.

  • First, I think it is very good that you offer this matter for discussion. Alison. It’s very important.

    I hope whoever wrote these questions won’t take offense, because that is not my intention. However, I can’t get away from the observation that none of them seem to me to be very good questions. My concern is that they are too generalised and will only yield gobbledegook answers. “What is the role of education in the innovation system?” is such a huge and open and vague question that you won’t get any answers that are specific enough to add anything new to a long-running debate. You’ll get a lot of empty words, particularly from people with vested interests. That question also begs the question what is “the innovation system”? That’s a phrase that will mean different things to different people. Is there even such a thing as “the” innovation system, and is it even “systematic” in nature? My impression is that innovation generally comes from individuals or small groups and there is little that is systematic about it.
    Same problem with the second question “How should New Zealand look to manage the changing demands of students, teachers, society, and science itself?”. You could discuss this question for a week without anyone saying anything that had not been said many times before. Discussion at this level only perpetuates the waffle industry — you’ll get lot of words but little content of specific relevance to science and innovation. The focus is altogether too loose.

    Other examples:

    “3. Our schools form part of local social systems, institutions created to meet human needs. As needs change, as lags, confusions, and conflicts develop, these conditions will be reflected in the schools and in the way various segments of the public view the schools. With this as the sociological frame of reference – what is happening to NZ communities? What are the effects on young people and on schools? And how can teachers, principals, and others prepare themselves to deal with the problems with which they must cope?”
    Comment: First, this question is too long and once again too open. It begins with two rather rarefied and contestable statements. Vague questions create opportunity of the wrong kind: opportunity for gobbledegook merchants to thrive.

    “4. Are New Zealanders’ attitudes getting in the way of high achievement in science? How can we continue to change attitudes so that we give all children the opportunity to be inspired to pursue science?”
    Comment: the answer to the first question is begged by the way that the second one is phrased. Also, “attitudes” is a very broad term. Attitudes to all kinds of things impinge on the perception of science. Attitudes to education more generally, to social issues, to wealth creation and distribution — what attitudes are we talking about? Thirdly, the question asserts that “changing attitudes” will create “the opportunity” for all children to be inspired by science. That is a moot point. Kids get such opportunity every day, it’s just that they don’t take it up. Is the solution to “change attitudes”, and if so, whose attitudes to what? Kids’ attitude to learning generally? Teachers’ attitudes towards their charges? Parents’ attitudes towards teachers? New Zealanders’ attitudes towards education?

    “5. Should we be requiring more from our students?”
    Comment: Again this is vague, and it also seems jejune to me: who is ever going to say ‘no, we should expect less of them’? It has long been a truism among educational professionals, business leaders and politicians that we should expect more. Arguably we should never cease striving to require more while there is anything less than 100% achievement.
    “6. The current education system lock-steps children by age. Should we begin to focus more on ability, enabling children of different ages to learn together at whatever is the appropriate level”
    Comment: This is a more general question about education, not specific to science. I would save that for another debate. there’s quite enough other stuff to consider.

    My remarks about questions being too open and only encouraging gobbledegook also would apply to the remaining four questions.

    So what can I offer? Really, I think these questions need to be asked at a more practical level; but people won’t like that as it requires facing up to some unpleasant realities. But here goes. I have phrased each of these questions in the form of several questions that overlap, in the hope that they will clarify what I am suggesting be asked.

    1. Does our science curriculum need to be revised [in order to encourage innovation]; and if so, should the primary focus be on the use of science to promote life skills or on more academic education? Is a revolutionary change needed?
    2. what importance should society place on science relative to other parts of the curriculum [in ordr to foster innovation]? Which parts of the curriculum should matter most? What is the relative importance of practical application of science in relation to practical application of other curricular-learned skills? Where does understanding how to interpret statistics fit into this?
    3. Does society genuinely wish to promote critical thinking, testing and challenging of ideas? To put it another way, are we prepared to commit to the scientific method as the best means of answering ‘testable’ questions? What is the place of “untestable” ideas, superstition and spirituality?
    4. Exactly what skills vis-à-vis science do we want children to leave school with? We could actually nail this down to a whole lot of arguably important specifics like understanding redox reactions, the basic nature of matter and energy.
    5. How can children be better taught to recognise the difference between ideas that are “unpopular” because they are ill-considered, and ideas that are unpopular because they are factually wrong?
    6. How can we address the confrontations between the scientific world and the ‘spiritual’ world? Does society wish to actively discourage the perpetuation of, for example, superstition, religion and spirituality?
    7. Is it important for people to understand how things around them work? If yes, then what are the implications? If no,then what are the implications for teaching science? Do all people need to learn it at all?
    8. Where does the teaching of maths (including statistics) fit into all this? Maths isn’t science but the two are intimately connected.
    9. What can be done to better encourage children to retain rather than forget or mentally ‘dump’ the science they learned, after they leave school?
    10. what could the mass media do to help?

    I’d like to spend more time on this, but nobody’s ever going to pay me for it so I have to get on wit the mundane business of making a living. But I will follow this debate with interest.

    • Thanks so much for your input, both of you 🙂 This is the sort of thing I was hoping for when I agreed to post the questions here, & I do hope that other readers will join in & add their comments & suggestions. This is very much a real opportunity to help shape the questions that are eventually used. And so (Mike B) I don’t think that the person who wrote the originals will be offended; he is very much open to this sort of feedback.
      (On your #10: the mass media could help but cutting out a lot of the pseudoscientific nonsense that they show – ‘Sensing murder’, anyone?)

  • First, I think it is very good that you offer this matter for discussion. Alison. It’s very important.

    I hope whoever wrote these questions won’t take offense, because that is not my intention. However, I can’t get away from the observation that none of them seem to me to be very good questions. My concern is that they are too generalised and will only yield gobbledegook answers. “What is the role of education in the innovation system?” is such a huge and open and vague question that you won’t get any answers that are specific enough to add anything new to a long-running debate. You’ll get a lot of empty words, particularly from people with vested interests. That question also begs the question what is “the innovation system”? That’s a phrase that will mean different things to different people. Is there even such a thing as “the” innovation system, and is it even “systematic” in nature? My impression is that innovation generally comes from individuals or small groups and there is little that is systematic about it.
    Same problem with the second question “How should New Zealand look to manage the changing demands of students, teachers, society, and science itself?”. You could discuss this question for a week without anyone saying anything that had not been said many times before. Discussion at this level only perpetuates the waffle industry — you’ll get lot of words but little content of specific relevance to science and innovation. The focus is altogether too loose.

    Other examples:

    “3. Our schools form part of local social systems, institutions created to meet human needs. As needs change, as lags, confusions, and conflicts develop, these conditions will be reflected in the schools and in the way various segments of the public view the schools. With this as the sociological frame of reference – what is happening to NZ communities? What are the effects on young people and on schools? And how can teachers, principals, and others prepare themselves to deal with the problems with which they must cope?”
    Comment: First, this question is too long and once again too open. It begins with two rather rarefied and contestable statements. Vague questions create opportunity of the wrong kind: opportunity for gobbledegook merchants to thrive.

    “4. Are New Zealanders’ attitudes getting in the way of high achievement in science? How can we continue to change attitudes so that we give all children the opportunity to be inspired to pursue science?”
    Comment: the answer to the first question is begged by the way that the second one is phrased. Also, “attitudes” is a very broad term. Attitudes to all kinds of things impinge on the perception of science. Attitudes to education more generally, to social issues, to wealth creation and distribution — what attitudes are we talking about? Thirdly, the question asserts that “changing attitudes” will create “the opportunity” for all children to be inspired by science. That is a moot point. Kids get such opportunity every day, it’s just that they don’t take it up. Is the solution to “change attitudes”, and if so, whose attitudes to what? Kids’ attitude to learning generally? Teachers’ attitudes towards their charges? Parents’ attitudes towards teachers? New Zealanders’ attitudes towards education?

    “5. Should we be requiring more from our students?”
    Comment: Again this is vague, and it also seems jejune to me: who is ever going to say ‘no, we should expect less of them’? It has long been a truism among educational professionals, business leaders and politicians that we should expect more. Arguably we should never cease striving to require more while there is anything less than 100% achievement.
    “6. The current education system lock-steps children by age. Should we begin to focus more on ability, enabling children of different ages to learn together at whatever is the appropriate level”
    Comment: This is a more general question about education, not specific to science. I would save that for another debate. there’s quite enough other stuff to consider.

    My remarks about questions being too open and only encouraging gobbledegook also would apply to the remaining four questions.

    So what can I offer? Really, I think these questions need to be asked at a more practical level; but people won’t like that as it requires facing up to some unpleasant realities. But here goes. I have phrased each of these questions in the form of several questions that overlap, in the hope that they will clarify what I am suggesting be asked.

    1. Does our science curriculum need to be revised [in order to encourage innovation]; and if so, should the primary focus be on the use of science to promote life skills or on more academic education? Is a revolutionary change needed?
    2. what importance should society place on science relative to other parts of the curriculum [in ordr to foster innovation]? Which parts of the curriculum should matter most? What is the relative importance of practical application of science in relation to practical application of other curricular-learned skills? Where does understanding how to interpret statistics fit into this?
    3. Does society genuinely wish to promote critical thinking, testing and challenging of ideas? To put it another way, are we prepared to commit to the scientific method as the best means of answering ‘testable’ questions? What is the place of “untestable” ideas, superstition and spirituality?
    4. Exactly what skills vis-à-vis science do we want children to leave school with? We could actually nail this down to a whole lot of arguably important specifics like understanding redox reactions, the basic nature of matter and energy.
    5. How can children be better taught to recognise the difference between ideas that are “unpopular” because they are ill-considered, and ideas that are unpopular because they are factually wrong?
    6. How can we address the confrontations between the scientific world and the ‘spiritual’ world? Does society wish to actively discourage the perpetuation of, for example, superstition, religion and spirituality?
    7. Is it important for people to understand how things around them work? If yes, then what are the implications? If no,then what are the implications for teaching science? Do all people need to learn it at all?
    8. Where does the teaching of maths (including statistics) fit into all this? Maths isn’t science but the two are intimately connected.
    9. What can be done to better encourage children to retain rather than forget or mentally ‘dump’ the science they learned, after they leave school?
    10. what could the mass media do to help?

    I’d like to spend more time on this, but nobody’s ever going to pay me for it so I have to get on wit the mundane business of making a living. But I will follow this debate with interest.

  • Yes, but unfortunately the news media are so hopelessly, utterly dominated by eager purveyors of pseudoscience that we have more enemies than allies there, and that is unlikely to change in today’s market economy where news is commodified and there is little lingering sense of social responsibility. “Never let the facts [or rigorous reasoning] get in the way of a good story.” The bigger problem is that we live in an age of disinformation, thanks largely to the so-called “freedom” the internet has given us. “The information age” is a tragic misnomer. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

  • Yes, but unfortunately the news media are so hopelessly, utterly dominated by eager purveyors of pseudoscience that we have more enemies than allies there, and that is unlikely to change in today’s market economy where news is commodified and there is little lingering sense of social responsibility. “Never let the facts [or rigorous reasoning] get in the way of a good story.” The bigger problem is that we live in an age of disinformation, thanks largely to the so-called “freedom” the internet has given us. “The information age” is a tragic misnomer. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

  • I’ve just been reading “What’s the point of school” by Guy Claxton and he lists eight qualities of a powerful learner:
    1) curiosity
    2) courage – not afraid of uncertainty and complexity
    3) good at exploration and investigation
    4) use experimentation to understand things
    5) imagination – ask “what if”
    6) reason and discipline to harness creativity and imagination
    7) sociability – use interaction with others to share ideas and learn
    8) reflection -capable of stepping back and thinking “where are we going with this”

    A curriculum that was based around these seems to me one that would be good for science.

    with regards to the media, I suspect that their embracing of pseudoscience is due to a combination of lack of critical thinking and focus on entertainment rather than education.

  • What about something like:

    1. What is the role of education in the innovation system?

    2. What should the role of science be in education?
    o What do we want to create, and why?

    3. What is the current market for sciences in New Zealand?
    o What will the market actually require from the future workforce and what is motivating this?
    o What level of private sector investment will we require?

    4. How do we optimise both the compulsory education system as well as the tertiary education system to support the advancement of a science-based economy?
    o What are the outcomes we expect from each level of the education system and why?
    o How can education best serve science and how can science best serve education?
    o What changes need to be made across the system?
    o What are we currently doing really well that we might want to increase or replicate in other forms?
    o What specific new interventions do we need to explore?
    o How can we create a more inclusive system that achieves greater participation from all students?

    • I must admit that one of my concerns about the original questions was – who’s driving this & what is the underlying agenda? We have to be realistic – not everyone wants a career in a science-related field, but there isa need for us to ensure everyone leaving school has some basic level of scientific literacy. (How do we define ‘basic’? Another question, I think!) Now, that may be quite different from the demands of business/industry for people with a particular skill set/level of content knowledge, & I think we’d be worse off if those demands were given too much influence in shaping science curricula.

  • I was reflecting on Michael’s post about the eight qualities of a powerful learner. The first thing that came to mind was that perhaps we need to see Te Whariki permeating its way up to High School and Tertiary level because Te Whariki promotes all of those qualities already.

  • Thanks Alison,
    So perhaps:
    o What level of scientific literacy do we want the general workforce to have and why?
    o What does business actually require from the future workforce and what is motivating this?

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