Science teacher in every primary school – SMH, September 2, 2014

I have a real issue with this.

The science that is taught in primary school is not outside what any literate, thoughtful adult can and should know and understand. Therefore, every primary school teacher could have the knowledge and understandings of the science they are to teach. What’s stopping them? A lack of time, access to appropriate PD, and the belief that they can learn and understand primary level science, perpetuated by articles like this one.

We DO have a problem where science is sometimes not taught well in primary schools. This is in part because the teachers in the classroom now did not have a good education in science themselves (generally). In the past, teacher preparation programs at universities sometimes suggested that the teacher “could just learn along with their class”, which we now know is not good practice (which is why we have a course specifically in P-10 science at UQ, which I teach). This has led to a cycle of teachers who have not had appropriate experiences for learning science themselves, leaving them at a disadvantage for delivering effective lessons to their students. They lack the conceptual understandings and subject matter knowledge to use the pedagogical skills they already hold effectively.

BUT, bringing in specialist teachers will have two unintended and major consequences:

  1. We continue to perpetuate the myth that science isn’t for everyone; that it’s for “special”, “smarter”, or “nerdy” people, instead of the diverse group that primary school teachers are.
  2. We will continue to have a set of people for whom learning science isn’t perceived as necessary or relevant: primary school teachers. How does this help anyone?

Primary Connections is an excellent program that teachers who are lacking in confidence to teach science can use to plan and support their teaching. Other resources exist. DETE’s recent “Science Spark” strategy of bringing in “experts” who could model and teach primary school teachers the science they needed was closer to the mark (although inconsistently delivered, and with flaws in the employment of staff for the program). There are Science Teacher Associations all around the country who are willing and ready to deliver high-quality PD to teachers, but are starved for funding and support themselves. And we have teacher preparation programs delivering the science education that is needed for future generalist primary school teachers to teach science (e.g. University of Melbourne).

What do you think? If you agree, please say so, and provide any other thoughts you have or reasons I may not have considered. If you think I’m wrong, please explain to me how and why!