Science of new syllabuses

Kerri Carr

Presenter Tim Sloane helps teachers grapple with the new science syllabuses at a Centre for Professional Learning course

One of the key challenges of introducing a new syllabus is the implementation of new concepts and content.

At a recent Centre for Professional Learning course, presenters Jim Sturgiss and Tim Sloane shared their ideas and gave course participants the opportunity to immediately put their new knowledge into practice.

Colleagues who teach the same Stage 6 science syllabus worked together on the beginning of an assessment and standards-based rubric to support a student depth study (a common feature of the new syllabuses).

Mr Sturgiss said the new syllabuses embrace an inquiry-based learning model and thus using an inquiry-based pedagogy is useful. He emphasised the importance of students’ active involvement in building knowledge.

“You can’t teach them explanations, otherwise they will just rote-learn those things and they really won’t have a good understanding at all,” he said. “The tension when we teach science is that the syllabus is very full and we just try to get through stuff, so we just teach them everything and then they just respond by learning everything off by heart and really not getting to the depth of what they need to know.”

He cited Roger Bybee’s "5e" model, with its pedagogical phases Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate.

Engage Conduct an activity that will pique students’ interest. It’s great if you can use this opportunity to gauge what they already know.

Explore “Next is, allowing the kids a bit of time to puddle around before we give them the answer,” Mr Sturgiss said. “Let them play with slinky springs and the like and see how waves behave before you actually consolidate that into some explanation of how the world works.”

Explain This phase is for students to communicate to you and fellow students what they have learned.

Elaborate Once you’ve got the kids to give some explanation allow your students to apply it to new situations.

Evaluate This phase is about students reflecting on what they have learned but is also an opportunity for you to work out what the students know. “You should be assessing at the Engage level, to find out what they know before you start … assessing at the Explain stage to see if they get what you’re saying while they’ve still got naïve understanding of things and then at Evaluate stage,” he said. “You need to know what the kids know at each stage, to be able to guide them.”

Keep it simple

Teachers were run through a sample program, which noted the pedagogical phase/s engaged for each planned classroom activity. Mr Sturgiss told course participants he likes constructing his programs on Google Docs because he can include hyperlinks.

“I’m a great believer that a program should only be three or four pages long — most of this is actually done in two pages” he said. “I don’t really believe in writing a textbook. I think that if a program is too long, it takes forever to build it and no one is going to try and change it because it took too long to build in the first place.

“Just keep it simple, so you understand the scope and sequence of what you’re teaching … every resource I think of, I hyperlink in the resources page and then I can choose to use them or not.”

Armed with practical experience in implementing new ideas, introduced during the course, teachers left the classroom with information to help them with programing and assessing for when Year 11 students begin to study the new science syllabuses in 2018.

Evaluation comments included:

  • “I found the most useful aspect of the course to be navigating the syllabus in relation to the depth study and actively putting a study together.”
  • “It was wonderful to have time to reflect on the syllabuses and engage in professional discussions with teachers grappling with the new syllabuses.”
  • “The course was delivered well and there was a good opportunity to collaborate with other teachers.”
  • “I found using a rubric to drive the creation of a depth study most useful."

Jim Sturgiss has been a science head teacher, teaching Physics and Chemistry for 30 years.

Tim Sloane is science head teacher at Concord High and an experienced HSC Biology marker.

The Implementing the New Stage 6 Science Syllabuses course will be offered again at Surry Hills on November 10. Visit the Centre for Professional Learning website, at cpl.asn.au, for more course offerings.