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Future science and maths teachers to benefit from Curtin research

Media release

C181/08

23 June 2008

Early childhood and primary teacher education students at Curtin University of Technology are set to benefit from two new and innovative research projects investigating better ways of teaching science and maths in schools.

Curtin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education),  Professor Robyn Quin, said that the two collaborative research projects were being funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) – formerly The Carrick Institute.

“The projects are addressing major concerns facing teachers in Australia about ways to improve the teaching and uptake of science and maths in schools,” Professor Quin said.

“One study is looking at improving the science teaching skills and confidence of our early childhood education students and the other is looking at enhancing the skills of our primary education students as maths teachers,” she said.

Dr Christine Howitt, a lecturer in Curtin’s Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC) and winner of a 2007 Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning is Project Team Leader of the two year study entitled: Science for early childhood teacher education students: Collaboration between teacher educators, scientists and engineers. The project received $210,000 in ALTC funding and a further $90,000 ‘in kind’ support by Curtin.

“Some graduating teachers are not very confident in science and in the teaching of science – especially early childhood teachers,” Dr Howitt said.

“Our research will focus on closing the students’ science knowledge gap by including more science content, within an authentic early childhood context, thus providing a better grounding in science.

“My Project Team is made up of experts from the Departments of Education and Science and Engineering at Curtin, with a representative from Murdoch University, making this a unique study group.

“The team is working collaboratively with the students and supporting them in the preparation of interesting science programs for use in their final teaching practice in early childhood settings. This includes developing teaching materials and implementing and evaluating the success of the programs.”

Dr Howitt’s team includes Associate Professor Len Sparrow, Dr Sandra Frid and Dr Yvonne Carnellor  from the Department of Education; Associate Professor Simon Lewis, Associate Professor Mauro Mocerino, Associate Professor Mario Zadnik and Professor Jo Ward from the Department of Science and Engineering; Dr Martina Calais from Murdoch University, and research assistant Elaine Blake.

Dr Sandra Frid, who was the recipient of a 2005 Carrick Award for University Teaching category award, has also been successful in obtaining Carrick funding for another project entitled: Developing primary teacher education students’ professional capacities for children’s diverse mathematics achievement and learning needs.  This one year study will receive $98 000 in ALTC funding and this figure will be matched with ‘in kind’ support by the Curtin.

Dr Frid said that student feedback shows that catering for the diverse maths learning needs of primary school children, in particular Indigenous children, is a great challenge.

“This study will enable my team of teaching and research experts from the Department of Education to enhance the students’ abilities and confidence as maths teachers by developing and delivering a better course to suit their needs in the classroom” Dr Frid said.

“As part of this study, my team will support the students in designing authentic and flexible maths learning activities and assessment tools that they can use in various classroom environments.”

The study will look at using actual work samples from a diverse range of school children, including those from year levels 1-7, of different cultural and language backgrounds, and from metropolitan, rural and remote schools.

As part of the study, the students will analyse the individual children’s work, assess their mathematics knowledge, understanding and skills and then design learning activities to progress the children’s learning. Blogs and emails will be the main communication tools to connect the researchers and students with a wide range of schools, children and teachers.

Dr Frid’s team includes Associate Professor Len Sparrow, Dr Lina Pelliccione, Dr Chris Hurst and Dr Susan Beltman.

Modified: 23 June 2008