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School science teaching by project orientation - Improving the transition to University and Labour Market for boys and girls

Final Report Summary - POPBL (School Science Teaching by Project Orientation - Improving the Transition to University and Labor Market for Boys and Girls)

The POPBL project which received funding under the Sixth EU Framework Programme (FP6) for Research and Technological Development aimed to show new ways of how to foster pupils' interest in science by school science teaching.

In addition to observation of the motivational effects, special interest was laid on the analysis of the acquisition of science knowledge with respect to science careers, thus linking school with working life via university. The science teaching method was executed by POPBL. This teaching style was transferred from university to school science teaching by means of workshops, in which science teachers learned to adapt POPBL to their teaching situation and by guidance during implementation. The school subjects concerned were chemistry, physics, biology, technology, computer science, ecology and science. For a while the regular lessons - attached to the curricula, were substituted by POPBL lessons. The school types comprised all types of secondary schools. The pupils' age ranged from 11 to 19 years. Most of the universities involved were those of applied sciences, with traditionally intensive contacts to industry.

The described results are based on pilot studies in six different countries, each having different cultures in science, science education and school systems. There are similarities in results - independent of country cultures and of school systems - and differences, which will be discussed and may be explained by cultural factors collected within the project course.

POPBL is able to develop the interest of pupils for science subjects. Within the pilot study, the measured interest increased - especially if qualitative data is regarded. Teachers' motivation in science teaching also increased, due to the specific elements of POPBL teaching which allows them continuously changing, 'updated' topics within a given curriculum. The results obtained by qualitative data (observation, interviews, diaries) appear to be consistent, independent of cultures prevailing in the six countries and thirteen schools involved, although distances to the former teaching style in some schools was considerable. An increase of interest towards science careers by POPBL in school science teaching can be expected but not be proved by just one pilot teaching experiment. The decision of the pupils is also influenced by other than school teaching factors alone which has to be kept in mind.

Factual knowledge in science, science know-how and methods (scientific working and thinking that leads to transfer knowledge and to application) and additional skills and capabilities (group work, social effects, communication and self management) are fostered by POPBL, but in different ways: In most classes, the POPBL method led to - surprisingly - good learning results, often to more higher factual knowledge increase as in the control group. This effect was even higher for know-how acquisition, measured by transfer know-how. Only one school in Finland expressed the missing of some detail knowledge in POPBL teaching whereas the control group displayed this. The teacher concerned in that school joined the pilot study at a later point in time and without pre-test.

Whether girls or boys profit more could not be verified. It seems that there are gender differences and that girls tend to profit more from POPBL teaching as compared to traditional teaching - significantly at least when they are younger (Germany) and in general when they were pupils in one of the Spanish (Basque) schools. In some cases, boys seem to take more advantage of POPBL for transfer questions. For boys who usually profit more from traditional teaching, POPBL shows more advantages in knowledge acquisition.

The 'gender question' does not appear to be relevant for all countries participating in the pilot study. The Finnish, Czech and the Romanian partners did not notice meaningful gender differences. German, Danish and Spanish (Basque) schools noted differences within POPBL teaching and its specific methodological approach.

In contrast to the more anxious girls, boys were observed to start more easily with 'dangerous experiments' and to become motivated and interested by those experiments - for them, 'danger' appears to be a challenge and facilitates the access to interesting science 'doings'. The boys tended, however, to not work as structurally as the girls but to be more playful, Danish and German experiences, age group from 11 to 16 years). Girls are described as working in a more planned and result oriented manner (here Romania, Spain-Basque country, Germany) and being able to fully read, understand and follow instructions. Boys evidently seem to suffer under scientific illiteracy, especially when forced to read.

Boys appear to require a hierarchical order in their project work, which includes 'bosses' and workers. They also have a pecking order which they seem to need and like, whereas girls more often work together as equal team members (observations from Germany). Boys were observed to possess a good pre-knowledge which they share (teachers from Germany). Girls appear to underestimate their science knowledge and are evidently less self-confident concerning science.

The future challenges of industrial countries demand more scientists and engineers being capable of approaching new technologies, and to link the different spheres of human activities for a sustainable future. The demographic development in many European countries, and the increasing demand for scientists and engineers, open new human potentials by interesting more young people for sciences and technologies. This must begin at schools within science teaching and is to continue at universities. POPBL is an efficient tool, to be used as a stimulation for science teaching and learning in all cultural settings involved in this project.

POPBL is clearly capable of increasing motivation for learning and knowledge acquisition, including the group of originally 'average' pupils. This distinguishes POPBL from other science teaching initiatives being more concerned about the 'better' pupils ('elite'). The results of this project lead to the recommendation to include POPBL for science teaching methods to the normal repertoire of all science teachers. This can be recommended in all countries and schools, although improvements may not be equally high for all countries.