Two researchers from Curtin University’s Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC) have developed an international program to help teachers promote science learning in Indian classrooms.
Recently held in Mumbai, the three-day professional development workshop was organised by SMEC science education researchers, Professor Vaille Dawson and Dr Rekha Koul, in collaboration with the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), which is a subsidiary of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
Dr Koul said the project had a strong focus on student diversity and provided Indian science teachers with ideas, resources and teaching strategies to use in classrooms.
“The motivation for the program was a desire by Indian science teachers to enhance students’ interest in science and their motivation to achieve,” Dr Koul said.
“To assist this process, we looked at factors including language development, students’ contextual understanding, world views, quantitative and visual-spatial reasoning skills and social skills, which all contribute to preparing students to become productive scientists.”
Dr Koul said while the characteristics of Australian classrooms and Indian classrooms may seem different, an important similarity was the diverse socio-cultural nature of the student population.
“Although specific science skills are found in varying degrees across the students in a classroom in any part of the world, addressing them poses a challenge in the face of greater diversity, when we factor in ethnicity, religion, region, habitat, language, and gender,” she said.
“This program seeks to develop and evaluate the science teaching methods suitable for addressing this diversity in classrooms through collaborations at different levels, and to increase knowledge and understanding through the education sectors in each country.”
Inquiry-based learning expert, Professor Vaille Dawson, said inquiry learning was a form of active learning, helping to overcome potential barriers in student diversity.
“Inquiry based teaching approaches recognise and value the diversity of students’ backgrounds and abilities and inquiry methods provide opportunities for students to ask questions and work collaboratively with their peers to solve authentic problems using their science knowledge,” Professor Dawson said.
“Teachers were given strategies to develop their students’ scientific process skills and understandings. The primary resource used in the program is the ‘Science by Doing’ professional learning resource, developed in 2010 by the Australian Academy of Science.”
Based on feedback given by teachers attending the workshops, Professor Dawson said a request for further support towards teaching strategies would see her and Dr Koul return to further develop the program.
“The teachers would like us to give them strategies for teaching in large classes of up to 80 students and resource deficient classes, and to provide examples from the Indian science curriculum,” she said.
“In addition to HBCSE, many other organisations in Mumbai and other major cities of India, including Delhi and Bangalore, have shown their interest in hosting us and have requested we run professional development workshops for their science teachers.
“In the meantime, the research group from HBCSE is going to use our model of teaching for professional development of teachers being trained at a national level under the Indian Government’s Right to Education (Srav Shiksha Abhiyan) program.”
The three day professional development program was funded by the Australia India Council.
Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
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