Fusing curricula : science, technology and ICT

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Conference publication

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Curriculum demands continue to increase on school education systems with teachers at the forefront of implementing syllabus requirements. Education is reported frequently as a solution to most societal problems and, as a result of the world’s information explosion, teachers are expected to cover more and more within teaching programs. How can teachers combine subjects in order to capitalise on the competing educational agendas within school timeframes? Fusing curricula requires the bonding of standards from two or more syllabuses. Both technology and ICT complement the learning of science. This study analyses selected examples of preservice teachers’ overviews for fusing science, technology and ICT. These program overviews focused on primary students and the achievement of two standards (one from science and one from either technology or ICT). These primary preservice teachers’ fused-curricula overviews included scientific concepts and related technology and/or ICT skills and knowledge. Findings indicated a range of innovative curriculum plans for teaching primary science through technology and ICT, demonstrating that these subjects can form cohesive links towards achieving the respective learning standards. Teachers can work more astutely by fusing curricula; however further professional development may be required to advance thinking about these processes. Bonding subjects through their learning standards can extend beyond previous integration or thematic work where standards may not have been assessed. Education systems need to articulate through syllabus documents how effective fusing of curricula can be achieved. It appears that education is a key avenue for addressing societal needs, problems and issues. Education is promoted as a universal solution, which has resulted in curriculum overload (Dare, Durand, Moeller, & Washington, 1997; Vinson, 2001). Societal and curriculum demands have placed added pressure on teachers with many extenuating education issues increasing teachers’ workloads (Mobilise for Public Education, 2002). For example, as Australia has weather conducive for outdoor activities, social problems and issues arise that are reported through the media calling for action; consequently schools have been involved in swimming programs, road and bicycle safety programs, and a wide range of activities that had been considered a parental responsibility in the past. Teachers are expected to plan, implement and assess these extra-curricula activities within their already overcrowded timetables. At the same stage, key learning areas (KLAs) such as science and technology are mandatory requirements within all Australian education systems. These systems have syllabuses outlining levels of content and the anticipated learning outcomes (also known as standards, essential learnings, and frameworks). Time allocated for teaching science in obviously an issue. In 2001, it was estimated that on average the time spent in teaching science in Australian Primary Schools was almost an hour per week (Goodrum, Hackling, & Rennie, 2001). More recently, a study undertaken in the U.S. reported a similar finding. More than 80% of the teachers in K-5 classrooms spent less than an hour teaching science (Dorph, Goldstein, Lee, et al., 2007). More importantly, 16% did not spend teaching science in their classrooms. Teachers need to learn to work smarter by optimising the use of their in-class time. Integration is proposed as one of the ways to address the issue of curriculum overload (Venville & Dawson, 2005; Vogler, 2003). Even though there may be a lack of definition for integration (Hurley, 2001), curriculum integration aims at covering key concepts in two or more subject areas within the same lesson (Buxton & Whatley, 2002). This implies covering the curriculum in less time than if the subjects were taught separately; therefore teachers should have more time to cover other educational issues. Expectedly, the reality can be decidedly different (e.g., Brophy & Alleman, 1991; Venville & Dawson, 2005). Nevertheless, teachers report that students expand their knowledge and skills as a result of subject integration (James, Lamb, Householder, & Bailey, 2000). There seems to be considerable value for integrating science with other KLAs besides aiming to address teaching workloads. Over two decades ago, Cohen and Staley (1982) claimed that integration can bring a subject into the primary curriculum that may be otherwise left out. Integrating science education aims to develop a more holistic perspective. Indeed, life is not neat components of stand-alone subjects; life integrates subject content in numerous ways, and curriculum integration can assist students to make these real-life connections (Burnett & Wichman, 1997). Science integration can provide the scope for real-life learning and the possibility of targeting students’ learning styles more effectively by providing more than one perspective (Hudson & Hudson, 2001). To illustrate, technology is essential to science education (Blueford & Rosenbloom, 2003; Board of Studies, 1999; Penick, 2002), and constructing technology immediately evokes a social purpose for such construction (Marker, 1992). For example, building a model windmill requires science and technology (Zubrowski, 2002) but has a key focus on sustainability and the social sciences. Science has the potential to be integrated with all KLAs (e.g., Cohen & Staley, 1982; Dobbs, 1995; James et al., 2000). Yet, “integration” appears to be a confusing term. Integration has an educational meaning focused on special education students being assimilated into mainstream classrooms. The word integration was used in the late seventies and generally focused around thematic approaches for teaching. For instance, a science theme about flight only has to have a student drawing a picture of plane to show integration; it did not connect the anticipated outcomes from science and art. The term “fusing curricula” presents a seamless bonding between two subjects; hence standards (or outcomes) need to be linked from both subjects. This also goes beyond just embedding one subject within another. Embedding implies that one subject is dominant, while fusing curricula proposes an equal mix of learning within both subject areas. Primary education in Queensland has eight KLAs, each with its established content and each with a proposed structure for levels of learning. Primary teachers attempt to cover these syllabus requirements across the eight KLAs in less than five hours a day, and between many of the extra-curricula activities occurring throughout a school year (e.g., Easter activities, Education Week, concerts, excursions, performances). In Australia, education systems have developed standards for all KLAs (e.g., Education Queensland, NSW Department of Education and Training, Victorian Education) usually designated by a code. In the late 1990’s (in Queensland), “core learning outcomes” for strands across all KLA’s. For example, LL2.1 for the Queensland Education science syllabus means Life and Living at Level 2 standard number 1. Thus, a teacher’s planning requires the inclusion of standards as indicated by the presiding syllabus. More recently, the core learning outcomes were replaced by “essential learnings”. They specify “what students should be taught and what is important for students to have opportunities to know, understand and be able to do” (Queensland Studies Authority, 2009, para. 1). Fusing science education with other KLAs may facilitate more efficient use of time and resources; however this type of planning needs to combine standards from two syllabuses. To further assist in facilitating sound pedagogical practices, there are models proposed for learning science, technology and other KLAs such as Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956), Productive Pedagogies (Education Queensland, 2004), de Bono’s Six Hats (de Bono, 1985), and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1999) that imply, warrant, or necessitate fused curricula. Bybee’s 5 Es, for example, has five levels of learning (en age, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate; Bybee, 1997) can have the potential for fusing science and ICT standards.