The Science IS website is a professional development tool for New Zealand science teachers. It provides a new approach to science learning and teaching, and is a precursor to the revision of Science in the New Zealand Curriculum.
“95% of our students will not work in professional science, but will need to participate in a world shaped significantly by science.”
Team Leader Curriculum, Learning and Teaching
The current version of the framework for New Zealand primary and secondary school science education, Science in the New Zealand Curriculum (SiNZC), was published in 1993. Subsequent research into science learning and teaching (see Further reading) has provided new insights as to what students should know about science, how students can be encouraged to explore science ideas, and how teachers can support this exploration.
The Science IS website draws on this research to support two key areas of SiNZC, the learning strands: Making Sense of the Nature of Science (NoS), and Developing Scientific Skills and Attitudes (DSSA).
The aims of the NoS and DSSA strands, collectively described as the integrating strands, are to help students understand ‘what science is’ and develop their critical thinking skills.
Support for the integrating strands includes a series of statements that expand upon an achievement aim from each learning strand. For each statement, a single webpage explores key concepts, scaffolds teacher understanding through focusing questions, and lists example classroom science activities.
The Nature of Science themes are statements about how scientists create new science knowledge: how new science ideas are explored, the processes and challenges of formalising science knowledge, the relevance of science knowledge to the world around us, and how the focus for scientific exploration has changed over time.
The Developing Scientific Skills and Attitudes focuses are statements about how students explore science ideas: the challenges faced by students when exploring science ideas, behaviours and attitudes to be encouraged and those that may impact upon science learning in the classroom.
…common classroom science activities refocused to emphasise the integrating strands.
The website also provides common classroom science activities that have been refocused to emphasise the integrating strands.
For example, an activity exploring the theory of plate tectonics is also used to explore the idea that ‘New scientific explanations often meet opposition from other individuals and groups’ (a Nature of Science theme).
Discussion starters are used to surface students’ understanding of this NoS theme as they explore how the theory of plate-tectonics has been investigated and changed over time.
The website was created with significant involvement from the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Unit and an advisory group of leading New Zealand science education researchers and practitioners.
“Our advisory group were not only committed to this project, but have a genuine passion for science,” says Motive’s project manager Justine Flanagan.
Motive’s approach to the website was to weave the themes and focuses into the fabric of the content. “Each activity links to the integrated theme and focus, and each theme or focus lists the example activities,” explains creative director Andy Kirkwood. “The structure of the website helps teachers create a mental model of the relationships between SiNZC, the themes and focuses, and their teaching practice.”
“One of the challenges we faced, was that the content is entirely new—we had to create meaningful starting points for teachers and also ‘invent’ and standardise the language used throughout the site.”
“…moving beyond the image of science as ‘white lab coats and beakers’.”
Each section of the website features a banner combining a photograph with a quotation from the SiNZC review consultation team.
“We’re representing the richness of the culture of science—moving beyond the image of science as ‘white lab coats and beakers’,” explains Kirkwood.
“The banner for the NoS section features a phrenology bust. Although the ‘science’ of divining a person’s character through skull shape was rejected in the mid-19th century, other phrenological tenets have been borne out by new technologies. The bust is (literally) a reminder that ‘Open-mindedness is important to the culture of science’.”
Science IS was added to the Ministry of Education web portal Te Kete Ipurangi in July 2005.
Phrenology was a science of character divination, faculty psychology, theory of brain and what the 19th-century phrenologists called ‘the only true science of mind.’