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Popularity and relevance in science education for scientific literacy

Final Report Summary - PARSEL (Popularity And Relevance in Science Education for scientific Literacy)

This project put forward an approach designed to raise the popularity and relevance of science teaching through a three-stage philosophical design which is illustrated through a collection of modified, or created teaching / learning modules. The main objective of Parsel was to develop, test and disseminate pan-European science education modules which can be used to enhance scientific literacy. The modules were developed according to a common model, by a consortium involving eight Universities and ICASE.

The PARSEL project is an attempt to meet the challenge of putting forward teaching approaches to tackle the issue of a lack of popularity and relevance of school science at the secondary, and especially at the junior secondary, level. In so doing, the PARSEL partners recognise that for some students science is already interesting and relevant (often the more able) and see science careers as attractive. However, this is not the case for the majority of students. This concern is also expressed by the European Commission through its recognition that Europe needed more scientists and that a lack of interest in school science is seen as detrimental to such a development. Nevertheless, the PARSEL partners do not so much focus on making school science a springboard for further studies in science (the old traditional view), but see the learning of science as essential for life in general and of importance for all careers.

To promote learning that meets multidimensional scientific literacy demands for all students, an approach to teaching is put forward which promotes a greater degree of student autonomy, stresses inquiry teaching to promote the acquisition of process skills and utilises society context-oriented approaches. As this demands that teachers possess skills to teach in a wider context, teaching / learning materials assist the teacher in these endeavours. The modules provide a challenging learning environment according to a constructivist teaching / learning paradigm; as well as give guidance to students towards self-regulated and challenging learning in both problem solving and decision making.

This means that teaching / learning modules support the development of cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies, as well as emotional and motivational dispositions in an interesting environment and with relevance for future life and / or careers. In the literature such approaches are found under the keywords Science / technology / society (STS), Science / technology / literacy (STL), context-oriented and subject-integrated teaching and, more latterly, Socio-scientific issue-based teaching (SSI). There is a wide assortment of teaching materials related to these approaches that have strong similarities, but also with different stresses. Unfortunately, these materials are mainly linked to projects and not fully available in any one country, or for any one teaching programme. PARSEL sets out to make such science teaching-learning materials available across Europe through the development or adaptation of modules.

Teacher ownership is a key feature of PARSEL modules. Teachers are encouraged to modify modules to better fit their teaching situation and the background of their students while still remaining faithful to the PARSEL model. During the final PARSEL conference in Berlin the posters on display illustrated how teachers have used innovative ways to relate the modules to their classroom situation. Other posters illustrated how teacher ownership, geared to dissemination and evaluation, has led to thinking about future module modifications.

Encouraging teachers to take ownership of the modules was seen as an opportunity to promote changes on teachers' practices and even conceptions. Indeed, teachers need to understand expected changes, to agree with it, to perceive it as solutions for the problems they identified and also to develop adequate competencies to implement desired changes. By facilitating teacher involvement with modules implementation and by creating reflexive spaces where teachers can discuss their views and difficulties, PARSEL facilitated teachers' comprehension of some important ideas considering science education and also the process of implementing some of the innovative ideas.

To be involved with changes is a major factor contributing to successful change in practices and conceptions. But this is a slow process, as it implies special contexts where teachers can develop new competencies and reflect on their own experiences relating it to innovations.

In the context of the PARSEL project, most modules were implemented in each partner's country by a small amount of teachers. Each partner involved in average eight teachers, which represents about 600 students involved with this new way of teaching and learning science. Nevertheless, by forming such small teams of dynamic and enthusiastic teachers, each partner had the opportunity to support changes, to deal with uncertainty and with difficulties that emerged during the implementation process and most important of all to facilitate teacher ownership. University-teacher collaboration was an important issue in creating contexts of change. But, managing change has to be a continuous process and not a punctual one. This is a limitation within any project. Projects by definition are time limited. What will happen to university-teacher collaboration? Will it be finished after the project ends? Will teachers involved with PARSEL maintain recently developed ideas and practices? How will they manage opposing contexts, difficulties related to time and curricular constrains? Will they give up when they face students' resistance concerning this type of teacher-learning approach? These are important questions that deserve reflection.

Having strongly sought to promote teacher ownership was a positive issue of the project, as it empowered teachers to deal with difficulties they will meet in the future. And also, by involving teachers with the new ideas and practices, PARSEL created a context that can facilitate its dissemination, as by deeply believing in it teachers are motivated to share it with their school peers. A facilitating factor in this process of local dissemination will be modules characteristics. Indeed, their appellative character, being easy to apply and being sufficiently open to promote articulation with curricula, are characteristics that can captivate other teachers at school and that also can motivate teachers continued use. However, mention should be made to the way teachers will take ownership of modules. Will they use it but maintain the same practices? Will they 'apparently change' without really changing? Once more, this issue calls attention for university-teacher collaboration, as an essential path for promoting desired changes.

Based on acceptance of the exemplary materials in the countries of the project, the project can put emphasis on the wider dissemination of the materials into other European countries, noting potential language limitations stopping materials being usable directly in the classroom. This dissemination makes use of partner contacts with others in the field of education, journal articles, conferences and also the ICASE worldwide network, which is mainly in English.

The PARSEL teachers in Estonia, Portugal, and Israel obtained positive feedback from their students following the teaching of the PARSEL modules. In Portugal, teachers valued the possibility of making a connection between science and students' daily life. In Estonia, the teachers considered the PARSEL modules to be valuable tools in enhancing students' interest and curiosity. This was due to the difference in lessons from the normal teaching pattern, and this raised students' interest. In Israel, we found that the teachers aligned their teaching with the philosophy and the teaching style of the PARSEL project and at the same time they adopted the modules to their own needs, their own school, and their own student. It is assumed that the process of adaptation of the PARSEL philosophy increased the teachers' ability to teach the modules in accordance with the developers' intentions, and thus reducing the gap between the developers' intention and the actual curriculum that was taught before in the science classes.

The PARSEL approach is a very fruitful strategy to, with support from engaged teachers, promote teaching / learning modules that are popular and relevant to students, as well as enhancing scientific literacy and allowing students to see science careers in a more favourable way. It has been established an efficiently working network of researchers and practitioners, which should be maintained beyond the end of the PARSEL project runtime. The PARSEL website will still exist as the internet platform for archiving developed material, exchange new ideas referring to the further development of the PARSEL approach and its modules and strategies, and as a forum of communication among PARSEL partners, wider network participants and all interested colleagues. The PARSEL partners still publish PARSEL ideas and materials via journals, conferences and workshops throughout Europe and beyond. Together with interested teachers existing modules will still be implemented and tried out, while the evaluation results lead to revisited and optimised materials. The dissemination aims at PARSEL partner countries but also at other European nations and countries out of Europe. There is a great interest in Asian countries to implement PARSEL modules, some of them have e.g. been translated to Chinese and have successfully been tried out in Nanjing, China.