Strengthening Secondary/Tertiary Collaboration

By Michael Edmonds 07/10/2012 1

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Secondary-Tertiary meeting, organised by Sabina Cleary of UC Ed Plus with the support of the Canterbury Science Teachers Association. This meeting involved teachers from secondary schools around Christchurch with staff from the three main tertiary institutions (University of Canterbury, Lincoln University and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) to discuss various aspects of the secondary/tertiary interface.

Top of the agenda was to discuss level 2 and the new level 3 achievement standards in science subjects. This was an extremely valuable discussion. Teachers wanted to find out which achievement standards tertiary institutions would be looking for as part of their entry criteria. Tertiary staff wanted to know which achievement standards schools would be teaching. Hopefully there would be substantial overlap.

However before breaking into groups to discuss the different sciences separately (chemistry, biology, physics and earth science) there was a very robust discussion on science education in general. Some of the key themes I can remember are:

  • Both at school and universities, students have a very silo’d view of the science subjects. Good teachers try to demonstrate connections but the “boxing” of information into unit standards seem to me to be reinforcing this.
  • Students can be very calculating in their choice of subjects and achievement standards. Students will constantly ask “is this going to be assessed” and as many achievement standards are based on theory, this can be a disincentive to carry out practical work. Another example was given of students aiming for scholarship to switch to subjects such as classics, history etc which are supposedly easier to earn scholarships in.
  • Teachers vary in their approach to teaching. Some favour more contextualised teaching, while others prefer a more formal style. Several teachers vary their approach significantly, depending on the actual group of students they are teaching.
  • Externally assessed (i.e. primarily exam assessed) courses are favoured as the marking is more consistent and they cover key theoretical concepts,
  • However, most teachers and educators see the value in doing practical science with the students
  • Some teachers are taking innovative approaches in combining achievement standards. One school is using data gathered for a biology achievement standards to complete a statistics achievement standard.* More of this approach would break down the siloed perception of science.

In order to discuss the unit standards we broke into four groups based on our science backgrounds. My group involved several chemistry teachers and a lecturer from the University of Canterbury and we had some very interesting discussions. Overall, there was consensus on which achievement standards were most valuable for students. Externally assessed standards formed the core of teaching with a few internally assessed standards either reinforcing key concepts or being used to introduce students to the practical fun of chemistry as a way of giving them the context so they understand why they need to learn various chemical concepts.

Coming away from the meeting, I feel that the Canterbury secondary and tertiary educators present now have a better understanding of the requirements and challenges each other face. Everyone involved is passionate about student success and science in New Zealand, and I’m sure future meetings will continue to allow us all to improve how the secondary and tertiary sector work together.

Also coming away from the meeting I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way to develop science curricula than by using achievement standards. Most tertiary institutions require 14 credits in certain subjects, which has teachers trying to work out which combination of 3, 4 and 5 credits in externally and internally assessed subjects will best serve their students.

* I so like this idea, I just had to highlight it!

Thanks to Alison whose recent post on falling numbers in physics reminded me to write about this meeting.

One Response to “Strengthening Secondary/Tertiary Collaboration”

  • Totally agree with your comment about the ASs driving a ‘silo’ view of the various subjects. Trouble is, they needn’t. I remember a conversation with a ‘National Assessment Facilitator’, a few years ago: they commented that the standards weren’t necessarily intended to be taught as a series of little boxes & that there was nothing actually stopping schools from doing what you’ve described with the biology/statistics crossover.

    Another thing is that the science curriculum is actually rather wider than what is covered by the various ASs. But our constant focus on assessment outcomes (that is, the demands of school communities, politicians etc for ‘results’) means that it’s standards that are taught – something that exacerbates the silo-isation of the various disciplines.

    And – what of the year 12/13 students who aren’t intending to go on to university? Is a focus on standards that the universities require, necessarily the best science education for that cohort?