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Improving progress for lower achievers through Formative Assessment in Science and Mathematics Education

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Technology to tackle lower achievement in science and mathematics education

Low achievement in mathematics and science education has become a major concern in Europe. But can technology prevent so-called lower achievers from being left behind? The FASMED project tried to find out.

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Just like other EU-funded projects such as SAILS, ASSIST-ME, MASCIL or PRIMAS, FASMED (Improving progress for lower achievers through Formative Assessment in Science and Mathematics Education) comes as a direct response to the Rocard report published in 2007. This report pointed out the economic and social consequences of underachievement in mathematics and science education and recommended the adoption of an inquiry-based pedagogy — a method that invites students to resort to self-assessment rather than subject them to predefined responses. More specifically, FASMED builds upon the observation that the highest achieving countries in Europe tend to preserve the complexity of concepts and methods when working with lower achievers, as opposed to more established approaches where material is being repeated and broken down into less and less challenging tasks. Project partners aimed to develop resources, processes and technological tools allowing students to use technology to engage with complex concepts and methods, all this while improving their motivation. The project team also conducted interviews and case studies to gather evidence of the most effective approaches. ‘There is evidence of teachers using technologies to gain information about their students’ thinking, as well as to facilitate opportunities for students to learn from their peers. In interviews, students identified these practices as particularly beneficial in making their learning visible to the teacher, themselves and their peers. We recommend that technologies are utilised within classrooms to make learning more visible to all “in the moment”,’ says Dr Jill Clark, coordinator of FASMED and executive director of Newcastle University’s Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CflaT). According to a paper published by the project, the benefits of technology use include higher immersion, support of positive thinking habits, immediate and private feedback, and opportunities for independent and collaborative learning, along with the aggregation of student results for further analysis. Regarding the types of technologies to be adopted, the project’s case studies showed that most teachers opted for tools which were both accessible and easy to use in the classroom. The team found that the introduction of innovative technology to create a digital environment between students, peers and teachers can notably assist teachers in making more timely formative interpretations. ‘We recommend the use of such technologies within classrooms to further enhance “formative assessment” (FA) practices,’ says Prof. Clark. Other project recommendations include investments in networking, wireless systems and technical support, as well as school commitments to facilitate time and space for teachers willing to plan and reflect on their practice. Tools and resources for teachers In addition to observations and recommendations, two of the main outcomes of FASMED are a toolkit for teachers and teacher educators as well as a ‘professional development’ (PD) resource. The toolkit, which is available from the project’s website and includes content in six languages, includes a collection of classroom materials produced by FASMED partners and covering three main categories: mathematics, science and time-distance graphs. ‘The structure of the toolkit makes it very easy for teachers to get a first impression of different tools and find out which teacher guides they would like to download,’ says Prof. Clark. Teacher guides describe classroom activities within a lesson or a series of lessons, give insight into the mathematical or scientific content, and highlight aspects of FA as well as technology used. Teachers can share their experience and adapt FASMED tools based on their own context, student abilities and available technologies. The PD package developed by FASMED, on the other hand, reflects the range of ways in which partners have worked with teachers in their countries and offers examples for teachers and teacher educators to use. These include a set of six PD modules designed to help teachers use FA and technology more effectively in their classrooms, as well as a theoretical section on principles for effective PD and a practical section on ways in which PD can be organised. ‘This section is meant to be used by people who are organising professional development for teachers of mathematics and science but can also be used by teachers either individually or working with peers,’ Dr Clark points out. ‘There now remains an open question about the extent to which a website incorporating the resource will be used or valued by teachers. We are currently engaged in disseminating the toolkit to teachers and teacher educators and through this process we hope to gain valuable feedback on the use of the resources,’ she concludes.


FASMED, science, mathematics, Rocard report, inquiry-based pedagogy, lower achiever, technology, classroom, toolkit, teacher, professional development

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