Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Consultation to Begin Shortly on New Biology, Physics & Chemistry Syllabi

I have just received an email from Yvonne Higgins, Chairperson of the Irish Science Teachers Association, indicating that the new syllabi in Biology, Chemistry and Physics are being sent out to teachers for consultation. The email reads:
"At the NCCA Board of Studies meeting on 16 February it was agreed that the draft syllabi for all three subjects should be sent out for consultation. I have been in touch with the NCCA and have been informed that these syllabi will be available in April. The ISTA will be organising branch meeting to discuss the syllabi. Comments will have to be returned to the NCCA by October 2011 and the ISTA will be making formal responses to each syllabus by this time."
The consultation process will provide teachers with the opportunity to comment on the content of the new syllabi while I also hope that we will be given the chance to comment on the assessment procedures. As mentioned in my recent post on More Stress Less Success I made the point that our current syllabi are far too descriptive and lack wonder, while the assessment procedures promote regurgitation and not thinking. The consultation process will end on October and the syllabus will likely to be introduced for September 2012 or 2013. I still feel that the process is too slow and I hope the new syllabi account for the every changing nature of science and include some "non examined" material. Time will tell but at least the process has began. Well done to all teachers involved in the process in the creation of these syllabi and I look forward to seeing the fruits of your hard work. For more information on the work of the Irish Science Teachers' Association or to find out about membership click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Frog Blog Wins Irish Blog Award

I'm delighted to announce that the Frog Blog took home the gong of 'Best Science / Education Blog' at this year's Irish Blog Awards, which took place last night in Belfast. Many thanks to everyone who supports the blog and what we do here in St. Columba's College in promoting science and ICT in education. Thanks to the pupils and staff who contribute to the blog as well as those who take the time to read it. I would like to thank our fellow nominees: Anseo a Mhuinteoir, Seandala√≠ocht, Live at the Witch Trials and SCC English (who inspired us to begin blogging in the first place and has been extremely supportive ever since) for their company on the night but more importantly for creating interesting online content for all to enjoy. I would also like to thank Damien Mulley for the excellent work he has done in organising this year's event,  the last Irish Blog Awards, and for recognising the increasing number and quality of Irish educational and scientific blogs by creating a category in this year's IBA's. The event was a great success with a lively yet relaxed atmosphere. Finally, well done to all the nominees and winners in this year's awards. For further information on all the runners and riders click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Putting Wonder Back in to Science Education

Fellow science teacher and blogger Noel Cunningham, from King's Hospital School in Dublin, recently wrote an excellent blog post on the "Wonder in Science - And Why We Hide It". In the post he bemoans the inherent lack of wonder in the Irish science syllabi, both at junior and senior cycle, revealing our science curricula as boring and dull. He later posted an apology to students of second level science everywhere, past present and future, for putting them through the ordeal he so elequently describes here:
We educators take this incredibly exotic jungle of knowledge called science and distil it until all the wonder has been removed and we are left with nothing but a heap of dry shavings. We then pour this into our syllabus and textbooks and make our students learn it off by heart so that it can all get vomited back up come exam time. And then we wonder why so many young people don’t like science.
I would like to add my own voice to that apology because I too am "a cog in this horrible machine". I too turned my back on true science and asked my pupils to learn by memorising, regurgitating facts and formulas for tests and exams. I too stifled the wonder in science, in exchange for exam success, "results" if you can call them that. In recent years I have endeavoured to bring wonder back into my science classroom, using the Frog Blog as the main tool, to reveal science as the ever evolving and living subject that it is - not a collection of facts, equations and dull "experiments" as portrayed by the syllabi and textbooks. 

Last week I attended the Atlantic STEM Conference and Leo Enright, the conference chair, made the point that the NCCA were doing "great things" in bringing the science curricula in line with the economic needs of the country - developing the "future skills for future jobs". The extraordinary claim was made during a debate on promoting sciences in second level schools and I simply had to interject. The NCCA's last offering was the 2003 revised syllabus for junior science, which is universally regarded as a dull and lifeless representation of my life passion. The syllabus is too broad, still too exam focused and the practical component is a mere gesture  rather than any concerted effort to bring true investigation into our science classrooms. It is so devoid of wonder and awe that it fails to ignite even the most inquisitive mind. For example, there is no mention of space in the syllabus, no astronomy whatsoever! Why? Are they afraid that pupils might find this interesting and then ignore the section of conservation of matter or, heaven forbid, forget that V = R X I? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fine Gael - Labour Programme for Government: ICT in Education

This is an interesting snippet from the new Fine Gael - Labour Programme for Government on their policy on '21st Century Schools'. What are your opinions on their plans?
"The Government will end the treatment of ICT in education as a stand alone issue, but will integrate it across education policy.This will begin with merging the National Centre for Technology in Education with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. .... The primary priority for investment in ICT in the immediate term will be the the integration of teaching and learning across the curriculum and investing in broadband development to ensure schools have access to fibre-powered broadband. Investment in ICT will be maximised through pooling of ICT procurement. Greater use of online platforms will be made to offer a wide range of subjects and lessons online, and to enable schools to "share" teachers via live web casts. These online lessons will be made available through a new Digital School Resource, bringing together existing resources from NCCA, Dept. of Education and other sources as a cost effective means of sharing expertise between schools. We will engage with the publishing industry to develop more online resources and new mediums for their learning materials."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smart Careers Poster Competition

Smart Careers is a great new poster competition for 1st and 2nd year pupils brought to you by Careers Portal with the help of Discovery Science and Engineering, Scifest and the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning (NCE-MSTL).  Discover the reality behind real careers – explore one and present your findings on a poster (or a PowerPoint slide) for a chance to win super prizes – with amazing Apple iPads, iTouchs and iPods all up for grabs! Simply pick a career that interests you, research why science or mathematics are important for that career and present your findings on a poster or PowerPoint slide. Easy! All the information you need here and the application is available here.