75% of the fastest growing occupations in Australia require STEM skills and knowledge according to an Australia Industry Group report. Unfortunately the growing demand is not met with a growing supply of graduates. Therefore, it is important to fill the critical gaps in STEM education.
In the lead up to the STEM Education Conference, taking place on the 20th and 21st August in Melbourne, Professor John Loughran, Dean & Foundation Chair of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education from Monash University talked about the issues that challenge the quality of science and mathematics teaching and learning, and the importance of Pedagogical Content Knowledge.
What are some of the issues that challenge the quality of science and mathematics teaching and learning in our schools?
Prof. Loughran: Teaching is busy and intensive work. The schooling system is not well set up to support teachers to spend time involved in meaningful professional learning. It limits the possibilities for teachers to have time to think deeply about their practice and work strategically toward addressing the things that matter to them in their teaching with their students.
What is the knowledge-practice nexus and how does the science teacher’s content knowledge inform their pedagogies and influence student learning in the classroom?
Prof. Loughran: The knowledge-practice nexus is really about how knowledge can be helpful to practice, as also how practice is informing to knowledge. The idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) is a good example of how knowledge and practice come together in ways to help give new insights into teaching and learning, and really offer a way of thinking differently about teaching particular content knowledge in ways that matter for students’ learning.
You have spoken of the need for teachers to recognise and articulate what it is that they do, in more professional and meaningful ways. How can they do this?
Prof. Loughran: This really links well to the ideas from the two previous questions. Articulating what we know and do as teachers is one way of demonstrating not only our professionalism, but also the reasons and thinking that underpin our practice. Expert teachers know not only how and what to do, but also the ‘why’ of their teaching; they choose to use particular approaches with particular content for a reason. Being able to articulate that helps to share knowledge of practice and go much deeper than just the application of activities that work.
Having been a science teacher yourself, what are some of the insights you have gained on how students absorb and learn science and mathematics? How can we integrate such insights of teachers about how our young people learn into the way in which we teach the science and mathematics teachers of the future?
Prof. Loughran: I’d like to think that as teachers we do much more than help students absorb information. Yes there are things that they need to know to be able to engage with ideas, but the real issue is moving beyond the know what and developing a deep understanding of knowing how and why – just as we need to do the same in our knowledge of practice.
I think that something that makes a difference is the ability to develop meaningful ways of engaging students with the ideas of maths and science, being able to help them have a ‘need to know’ and in many ways, to open up the possibilities for their curiosity, interest and engagement through appropriate approaches to pedagogy that invite them to want to learn about the content, again, that is where PCK is so important.
Professional learning that is driven by teachers’ pedagogical concerns, needs, issues and expectations is the way of having their thinking drive their learning. That is dramatically different from Professional Development designed to tell teachers what to do to implement mandated change or policy that they see little value of in their classrooms with their students.
Professor Loughran will be speaking on the topic “Influence of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) on successful science teaching” at the upcoming STEM Education Conference. For more information about the detailed agenda and to register, please visit the STEM Education Conference website.
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