European study shows when teachers like science, students do too
Did you ever blame your teacher for hating science? If you answered yes, you're not alone. New research shows that the shrinking number of students in Europe who choose to study science is influenced by how schools and teachers shape their attitudes. The research findings were applied in the EU-supported POLLEN ('Pollen seed cities for science, a community approach for a sustainable growth of science education in Europe') project, funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the tune of EUR 1.75 million.
Led by Professor Tina Jarvis of the School of Education at the University of Leicester in the UK, the study examined how the ideas of science and technology develop in the minds of young children.
The research findings were applied in the EU-supported POLLEN ('Pollen seed cities for science, a community approach for a sustainable growth of science education in Europe') project, funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the tune of EUR 1.75 million.
This Specific Support Action targeted the development of a model for the renewal of science education in primary schools, based on an experimental inquiry approach already implemented in 12 European countries, specifically Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK. Three other countries have since joined the programme: Luxembourg, Romania and Slovakia.
This approach fuelled autonomy in children, as well as critical thinking and language skills, but most of all, the eagerness to learn more about science and technology. The study also confirmed that teachers no longer consider science a difficult subject to teach. Their motivation for the subject was stimulated by the extra support and resources afforded to them including a methodological guide outlining basic principles behind the inquiry-based approach and an iterative process.
For her part, Professor Jarvis said: 'There is a concern that there have been declining numbers of pupils choosing to study science in Europe. There is evidence that the decline in attitudes to science starts in the primary school and is particularly noticeable for girls.'
According to the researcher, it is important for the EU Member States to 'educate the potential scientists of the future, as well as the citizens, to engage with socio-scientific issues'. Another important factor that should be examined is the schools' and teachers' attitudes to science, particularly because they play a huge role in the career choice a student makes, as well as in how they succeed in achieving their objective.
Professor Jarvis presented the research at the lecture, 'Changing European primary pupils' and their teachers' attitudes to science' in mid March. Based on the findings, students start off their education by having a narrow or inaccurate view of science and technology. Their development is impacted by two factors: the school and how teachers are trained.
For the two-year study, Professor Jarvis and her team identified four teacher types, focusing on who required different types of 'science in-service', a programme to help change attitudes about science. A link was demonstrated between the types of teacher and the rate of development of pupils' understanding of science as well as their attitudes.
It should be noted that further research conducted by the National Space Centre in the UK confirmed the importance of the teachers' attitudes to science. Established more than a decade ago and opened to the public in 2001, the Leicester-based Centre combines education, information and research on one site. Around 50 000 students visit the Centre each year.