Carrying out practical experiments is judged an essential aspect of science teaching. Indeed, some schools consider it best practice to perform a practical activity in every science lesson. Generally, practical activities aim to teach students how to develop hypotheses, design and carry out experiments, make observations and report them, interpret data and evaluate the outcomes. All this against a backdrop of trying to engage students, encourage curiosity and inventiveness as well as having fun in carrying out science!
As a science teacher, I have been lucky. Before becoming a school teacher I carried out a career in science research. I know, often by trial and error, how to carry out experiments that are challenging and unique. I have experienced what it is like to work with abstract ideas to develop new approaches to the novel questions and concepts. Not the least, I have experienced the exhilaration of making new discoveries. Research can be an emotional roller-coaster dotted with terrific fun and excitement. This has helped me to try and convey these thoughts and feelings to students to inspire them, fire their imaginations and encourage them to think differently.
However, as a teacher I came to appreciate that my experience of practical research was certainly not always shared by other science teachers. Indeed, many might not have carried out an experiment since their schooldays, or during their teacher training. Added to this is the constraint of lessons being time limited, posing challenges to the implementation of practical work. As a mentor of student teachers carrying out their initial teaching practice I came across students who approached science practical work with anxiety, if not fear. In lesson observations this anxiety was not only apparent to me, but also the pupils in the class. Raising this issue with the student teacher was not always straightforward. Which prospective science teacher wants to admit that, actually, they didn’t like doing experiments?
Kent and Medway Training (KMT) is a consortium of schools working together to train teachers. They train new graduate students as well as mature students who decided to change careers, and are based in Kent here in the UK. KMT coordinates the training of teachers; organizing training events and managing and overseeing school-based teacher training in 41 secondary schools throughout the southeast of England.
School based mentoring of student teachers is key to developing successful and effective teachers. Mentors are normally drawn from host school teaching staff and work to guide and coach student teachers through their first stages of teaching practice. I have been discussing with Stuart Russell, head of initial teacher training at KMT, how to improve the effectiveness and quality of mentoring.
One of our focus areas is how to develop best practise in science teacher training in general and, in particular, how to help remove the anxieties that student teachers might have when approaching practical experiments. In looking at this, we think it makes sense to assess how mentoring is currently being carried out, identify what works and what doesn’t, decide how to tackle weak areas and test how to overcome these.
Currently, we are aiming to do this within the KMT framework of schools but in broader terms we are interested in finding out how this is approached in other teacher training organisations and schools in Europe.
We’d be interested to know your thoughts on these questions:
- Have you experienced, or come across in others, anxiety in carrying out practical work in science, or STEM lessons?
- Broadly speaking how effective is the mentoring of student teachers in your experience?
- What do you think are the dos and don’ts in mentoring student teachers?
- How is coordination of mentoring student teachers and the development of best practise carried out in your country?
Author: Richard Walden, Scientix Ambassador