INSTEM - Ireland

INSTEM is a Comenius network (2012 – 2015), which brings together the experience and learning of a wide range of projects in European Science and Mathematics education. INSTEM links research, practice and policy in a unique way. Its main goal is to promote inquiry based teaching, to gather innovative teaching methods and to raise students' interest in science as well as offering them careers information in STEM subjects, in order to respond to global challenges in teaching and gender imbalances in STEM education.
 
The INSTEM project was developed from the idea that projects in STEM education should talk to each other and share their ideas. It grew out of the informal group ProCoNet (Project Coordinators‘ Network), which was formed in 2011. INSTEM and ProCoNet work closely together and provide a single channel to communicate with European Union directorates and other policymaking organisations. INSTEM also acts as an integrated provider of STEM education materials and techniques, based on the work of previous projects. It works with national teams on the implementation of good science and mathematics teaching, using inquiry as a starting point whilst being open to all innovative and effective approaches. 
INSTEM will initially develop accessible synthesis reports and briefings, and will also provide regular updates on progress in STEM education, based on state of the art information from researchers, practitioners and policymakers in the field. It goes beyond previous ‘clearing-house‘ activities by taking a critical , reflective and inclusive approach to the various strands of practice and development work carried out in projects across Europe.

 

 

Engagement with key national stakeholders in Ireland.

 

The Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Teaching and Learning (CASTeL) at Dublin City University, continually engages through hosting/attending events with key stakeholders in Science and Mathematics Education, including:

 

In Ireland, innovations in science education at post-primary level are present, but tend to occur in pockets rather than a systematic approach to the teaching and learning of science.  The purpose of holding a national event was to increase the visibility of projects that support innovations in science education (innovations such as inquiry-based science education) and to discuss with stakeholders about how they can become more involved in supporting educational innovation in classroom practice. Therefore a one day workshop was held in November 2013 with key Irish stakeholders in STEM education and in addition 1:1 communication was also carried with key stakeholders as part of this INSTEM project.

 

KEY FINDINGS

Need to adopt effective communication strategies for inter- and intra-stakeholder engagement to support innovation in STEM education.

 

In particular:

  • Adopt multiple communication strategies to engage all stakeholders
  • Use social media
  • Engage relevant professional bodies
  • Student competitions
  • Facilitate teacher exchange
  • Involve parents/parent networks

 

For effective communication with teachers

  • Resources need to be clear, succinct and easy to follow
  • Host workshops and provide explanations on using resources
  • Ensure resources are suitable for local curricula

 

SUMMARY OF ONLINE DISCUSSIONS WITH KEY STAKEHOLDERS

 

Topic: How can the outcomes from international projects be communicated in an effective way?

 

Key ideas were:

  • Sharing project results through small cluster group workshops preferably in school laboratories
  • Sharing projects materials through resource banks that teachers currently use (e.g. in Ireland this could be the PDST subject website)
  • Project results need to be distilled into useable, relevant and concise pieces of information.

 

An effective model for dissemination was used in the roll-out of the National Strategy for Numeracy and Literacy.  Each school nominated a link teacher who received CPD and worked to support the Principal in coordinating a team of teachers to focus on improving literacy or numeracy in the school. The Link Teacher was responsible for developing good practice in the school and supporting on-going learning among the staff. Central to the role was the sharing of his/her learning with the other members of staff, and the facilitation of /leading CPD at school level.  This model reaches more individual teachers and allows the link teacher to feed back to the project partners or PDST on the type of CPD needed in order to implement project results. This allows CPD to be targeted to local needs. 

 

Topic: What information would teachers need to make projects attractive to them?

 

Teachers need to be able to quickly see if the material is useful for them. An explanation on how these resources can be used should be provided. Student / teacher testimonials could be useful. Some projects will need to add an additional layer in advance of dissemination in their own country to focus on that particular country's curriculum and context factors.

 

Linking project results to the particular national situation and particular professional development needs of teachers in the country could incentivise teachers to take part in a project, e.g. in Ireland, there will be changes in the lower secondary curriculum (including a focus on key skills) and assessment (schools based rather than national based certificate at end of lower secondary school) as well as upper secondary syllabus.

 

 

Topic: Where do teachers look for information?

Teachers look for information from a variety of sources, e.g. flyers, school noticeboards, colleagues, social networks, websites for teachers such as www.pdst.ie. Multiple communication strategies including social media should be used by projects to engage with teachers.

 

 

Topic: How could the outcomes from projects have an effect on national policies?

Qualitative and quantitative outcomes / accounts should be sent to relevant bodies such as the NCCA, Ministry of Education Teacher Education Section and  the inspectorate.

 

Topic: How can projects and school administration / policy makers work more closely together?

All stakeholders must agree on the targets that need to be achieved in a particular timeframe and then set an implementation plan in place. Current deficits in science education must be identified and broad agreement on the best measures to address these deficits. The gap between established research and classroom learning and teaching needs to be greatly diminished.

 

School administration need to be made more aware of the benefits to the teaching and learning of students that these types of projects make to the schools and teachers that participates. Also the benefits that it makes that it has in developing a collaborative science subject department and how these projects could be used in developing targets in Science subject plan.

 

Topic: How can we build up permanent networks of stakeholders in relation to schools?

 

There will be opportunities for schools to be more autonomous through junior cycle reform. The debate on school-based assessment is one that is emerging rapidly. IBSE can play a major role in here. When schools and subject departments in schools recognise the huge advantages in being part of a larger support network, this process will be successful. Teacher professional development is key here and the school's increasing role in providing for this. Schools can emerge from isolation by being part of a network.

 

 

Summary of IRISH NATIONAL TAKEHOLDER WORKSHOP, 13th NOVEMER 2013

Venue: Clock Tower, Department of Education and Skills, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1

Host and Organisers: AG Education Services (partners in the FP7 project ESTABLISH) and Dublin City University, (coordinator ESTABLISH and partners in INSTEM Comenius Project).

 

Each stakeholder group was represented at the event, and there were a total of ~40 participants from:

  • Researchers in science education,
  • Post-primary teachers,
  • Post-primary students,
  • students’ parents,
  • Ministries of education/inspectorate
  • Teacher professional development associations
  • Industry.

 

 

The event was structured to allow for a combination of plenary addresses as well as interactive discussions to address the objectives set out for the event.  The presence of the Minister of State highlights the importance that the government currently places on identifying and supporting innovations in science and mathematics education.  The addresses from each of the other stakeholder groups (Governmental bodies responsible for curriculum and assessment; parents; industry; teachers and professional development

associations for teachers) each concurred with the sentiment that in order for Ireland to have the most engaged and scientifically informed public. An important part of this event was the student interview session during which the opinions of post-primary students (boys and girls) about science, their perception of the subject and engagement with it were discussed and shared with the whole group. During the latter part of the event, the participants were invited to engage in several roundtable discussions and share their thoughts, opinions and comments of how innovations in science education can be encouraged and nurtured to create supportive environments for scientific learning.  Five groups were formed with each group focusing on one of the following questions:

  • How can we communicate information about teacher training & education projects and where do teachers look for information?
  • How can we build up sustainable networks of stakeholders in relation to school?

 

Topic: How can we communicate information about teacher training and development projects?

This topic was considered from the perspective of the teacher. ‘Passion’ emerged as an overall theme.  The ‘big idea’ is that teachers need the passion and motivation to access this information. Practical solutions were also discussed including:

  • Social media – facebook, blogs – by individual or educators.
  • Teachers can exchange information at workshops and in-service courses and such as those delivered by the  PDST, Ireland.
  • Weekends programmes can be run in universities
  • Relevant professional organisations can be a good channel e.g.  Royal Society of Engineers,  Irish Science Teachers Association.
  • Some feel that online is way forward for teacher education but others feel that physical presence is necessary - so both methods should be used.

 

 

Topic: How can we build up sustainable networks of stakeholders for STEM education?

In opening the discussion, it was agreed that the question contained many components, and that in order to answer it, it would need to be broken down into a series of shorter, more specific questions, which focused on:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • How are we communicating with these stakeholders?
  • Is there a role for parents and parent networks in school?
  • What is the role of the media?

 

The discussions flowed from one topic to the next, with all group members contributing to the discussions.  The group contained representatives of teachers, parents, students, science educators, policy makers, industry and media.

 

  • Communication Strategies

It was agreed that multiple communication strategies are required to engage stakeholders and that traditional (paper/post/fax/face-to-face) need to be combined with electronic (emails) and multi-media forms (twitter/facebook). 

 

  • Involving Parents/Parent Networks

In discussing the role of parents in schools, it was noted that parents, through their employment, can often be highly experienced in science and could contribute to the teaching of science in partnership with the teacher.  The information a parent can present can be inspirational and provide an intrinsic motivation for students.  The learning could then be reinforced by the teacher.  This can be useful for circumstances where a teacher can be fearful of the science content, but can approach scientific topic in partnership with the parent.  Also the student comes to realise that science is a part of life.

 

Science competitions can play an important part, as parents become aware of their children’s activities, interest und success in science through prizes, awards and so on.

 

In discussing the role of parent networks it was noted that these networks are at their strongest at primary school, when the students are younger as parents meet more frequently (collection/drop-off at schools), and that they tend to dissipate around 2nd year in secondary school (~14 years old). It was noted that this network is a channel of communication that could be used by the schools more frequently to develop a supportive network around the school. 

 

  • Impact on Students

It was noted that the choice of subject selection in first year secondary school (~13 years olds) is often make in the context of job prospects and that science can often be dismissed as a difficult career path. [It is noted that the input from many stakeholders (government/funding bodies/employers/employees) is required at multiple levels in order to make any change to this perception, and not the main focus of this discussion]. If science was presented in the context of investigations and exploring concepts then it would be more favourably received by students. 

 

 

  • Media

It was agreed that the media has the potential to influence the public’s interest and support of science both at a national level but also at a community level.  It was proposed that the media should be made aware of existing school-parent-industry partnerships so as to promote their success on a national scale.

 

Overall, it was agreed that the focus of stakeholder networks should promote curiosity in science. If those involved in the network are aware and supportive of this vision, then they are more likely to be able to work together and become sustainable.

  • Lots of local activities and general interest already exist.
  • It is necessary to learn from them in a “best practice way”
  • It would be important to bring industry, science and education networks together.
  • Networks are recommended, because they survive (as long as people are constantly brought back into them).