Monday, October 24, 2011

Science Community Asked to Help Shape Future of Irish Science Education

The National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) revealed earlier this year their new vision for senior cycle science education in Ireland – new draft syllabi for Leaving Certificate biology, chemistry and physics and a dramatic change in how they could be assessed. The NCCA also opened up a consultation process to allow scientists, outreach groups, teachers, parents, students or anyone interested in science education the chance to mould the future course of science education in Ireland. 

The NCCA’s aim is to create a “learner centred” approach to science education with a spotlight on developing scientific literacy, critical thinking skills, communication skills and the cultivation of analytical proficiency across all the senior sciences. 

There have obviously been some changes to the content of each of the syllabi with some material added and other elements removed – which is sure to cause much discussion. However, the most significant change is a shift in the focus of the assessment from purely examination based to the incorporation of a new practical component

When introduced candidate will receive twenty percent of their total mark, in each of the subjects, based on the completion of mandatory practicals throughout the two years of study (5%) and a 90 minute practical test (15%) where pupils will be asked to complete a series of three or four short set tasks. These tasks will aim to assess their practical skills and their ability to analyse data and draw conclusions. Some of the material within this practical assessment will be beyond the scope of the syllabus. 

The terminal exam will also look to challenge the candidates more and reward students with a greater understanding of the scientific method. The NCCA have just recently released samples of the types of question which could be included and they are a welcome move from the current style of exam question in Leaving Certificate which, more often than not, rewards the students capable of remembering facts and regurgitating them on paper come exam day. 

The consultation process, which closes on Friday (October 28th), is a chance for anyone with an interest in science to shape the future direction of science education. 

Over the past number of weeks, science teachers around the country have been meeting to discuss the new syllabi, the proposed changes, additions, deletions and to consider the new approach to assessment. By all accounts these meetings have been very productive and the Irish Science Teachers’ Association (ISTA) will be submitting the teacher feedback to the NCCA

However, it is also incredibly important that the Irish scientific community are willing to contribute to this consultation process. It is vital that the new syllabi are up-to-date with new scientific thinking; include the latest advances in scientific understanding; contain relevant content and develop the required skills for the next generation of Irish scientists. 

This is an excellent opportunity to influence how science will be taught in this country over the next decade and there is a responsibility on everyone involved in Irish science to ensure that this new direction is the right one. So please take some time to review the new syllabi and to fill out the short questionnaires so that the NCCA can mould these draft syllabi into structures that promote the sciences and develop scientific literacy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Stoverview

My former St. Columba's College colleague Jeremy Stone recently took up a management and teaching position in his native Devon in south west England. Over the past number of years Jeremy and I have worked tirelessly on the Frog Blog, nurturing our science department blog from its tadpole infancy to its current bull frog status. Now Jeremy acts of Head of Teaching & Learning at Stover School in Devon and has failed to shake off the blogging bug. His new project,A Stoverview, aims to offer an "independent 'take' on news, views and events" from his new school and the educational world.

In it's short history Jeremy has provided some excellent posts for teachers, and those generally interested in teaching and learning, to ponder on - including a recent post on the "perils of modern technology". He also has an excellent discussion piece on homework.

So please pop on over to 'A Stoverview' and see what's happening. Alternatively, why not follow Jeremy on Twitter!

Friday, October 14, 2011

University Plans to Down-Grade the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education

Below is a short post from a student teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, on a decision made by our country's universities to down-grade the Post Graduation Diploma in Education (PGDE) from a National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) Level 9 qualification to a Level 8 (at the same level as a Higher Degree) - without any consultation with the students who have registered and paid for their course. The course is also being renamed a Professional Diploma in Education. This is the final year that the "H-Dip" will be a one year course, being replaced by a two year long course from 2012. It is unclear if the new course will be a NFQ Level 8 or 9.

There has no coverage of this story by any newspaper or online news site, principally because only one university has informed the students on the changes. The student teacher, who has a legal background, outlines the many problems associated with the changes - which appear to me to constitute a breach of contract in the very least with everyone having registered and paid for the course advertised as a NFQ Level 9 qualification. The changes - which have been implemented and not merely suggested - seem outrageous to me, especially considering media outcry on the use of under-qualified individuals in teaching positions. Interestingly, when contacted, the ASTI and the Teaching Council were unaware of the changes and were unable to provide any advice to the student teacher. Anyway, this is what our student teacher has to say, describing the situation as "a real case of more stress and officially less success".

As I sat in my PGDE lecture the other day I was treated at the start to the usual drudgery of announcements, one flippant remark was made as the announcer was about to exit the theatre. It was something along these lines:
Just to let you all know the course has been renamed the Professional Diploma in Education, it has also been downgraded to level 8 from level 9 on the NFQ framework. 
Interesting, I thought, we were told if we had any questions please send an email. Out the announcer waltzed and the lecture started! 

So what does this mean for this year’s PGDE / (PDE!!) students? Well, there are some serious questions which need answering!
  1. Is the qualification still internationally recognised? 
  2. Are we going to be the only level 8 year? If the course becomes 2 years will the new course be level 8 or 9? 
  3. When we are qualified will we be on the same pay scale as teachers with the level 9 qualification? 
  4. Has the cost of the course been reduced in line with its downgrade? Will we be getting a refund? 
  5. Will students be able to get a grant for the course considering they already have a level 8 qualifications to get on the course? 
  6. Will this year’s students be disadvantaged when interviewing for a position against a candidate with a level 9 qualification? 
As it can be seen this change has brought up numerous issues which affect all of this year’s PGDE students, all of whom applied, were accepted, registered and paid for the PGDE not the PDE. On a very simple level this looks to be a cheap shot, a badly disguised austerity measure. What is more frustrating is there has been no communication on the issue, nobody in the School of Education can answer any of these questions as they plainly don’t seem to know. The Teaching Council also didn’t know of this change when contacted. 

Please leave your comments below as I feel this issue of a grave importance. We already have a situation where new entrants into the teaching profession will be paid 10% less than their colleagues, and on a lower pay scale. Another blow such as this is going to detract talented young minds from the teaching profession, causing further problems down the road. Please, pass on this post also.