In the 1806 of Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, magicians are scholars of magic rather than practitioners. They study magic, wonder where it went and discuss it. Mr. Norrell is the only ‘practical magician’ in the country, a position he holds dear until along comes Jonathan Strange: first as a pupil, then as a master in his own right. I loved it – all 1,000 pages plus – and one thing that has stuck with me in the six years since I read it was the use of the term magician not as someone who ‘does magic’, but as one who studies, just as an historian doesn’t make history.
It popped back into my head this week after reading this:
Which I was drawn to by this:
If you’re still reading this blog and haven’t read Tom Sherrington’s Guardian article, read it first.
Most science teachers aren’t scientists.
I’m certainly not, and I can live with it. I’m a teacher. I have friends who are PhD’d up and active in research: they deserve the title. Perhaps I should be called a scientician, in the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell sense. As a non-practicing scientist, a teacher who is responsible for many students, most of whom won’t go into the sciences but may end up in the arts or humanities, I have no right to be a discipline snob. But I do understand the scientific method and I can apply this to education.
I love the breadth and currency of science across disciplines and sharing that with students much more than the minutiae of specialism (I think months in a fridge counting cells did that to me). I model the scientific method with my students as we learn about Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science, but we are not adding to the canon of scientific knowledge as much as we are marching on to the assessments that will get the students out of school and (perhaps) into universities… where they most likely still won’t be real ‘scientists’ until they near the end of their degrees or become postgrads. I can live with that, too, even though I would much rather free up the curriculum to engage students in ‘real science’. We have some good opportunities in the IB MYP and DP for exploring science, and students from our school are engaged in some interesting self-directed science projects.
I hope that as science teachers we’re sowing the seeds and nurturing the roots of scientific inquiry and literacy; that as our students grow beyond our reach our influence remains in some of them and they are engaged in real science. If we have a cognitive surplus that is not engaged in genuine scientific research, then we should harness it to improve education.
Maybe one day I’ll earn my stripes as an educationalist.
I am actively engaged in my own PD, in ‘experimenting’ with learning in my class and with working on an MA in International Education. As my foundations in educational theory and research develop, these informal ‘experiments’ in my classes will hopefully develop into more controlled and reliable projects. I will admit that my inner qualifications-snob did at first shop around for an education-related masters that gave the title of MSc, but I dropped that soon enough when I realised that the international & education elements were more important to me, my values and my family.
I agree that using schools as research institutes could be incredibly powerful PD. We, as science teachers, don’t need to to feel threatened by the perceived ‘soft science’ approach of educational research. Good educational reserach is by no means soft. Just look to the Hattie meta-analysis for evidence of this.* We could take ownership of our own professional development, draw on academic research and apply our understandings of the scientific method, reliability and validity to the work that could take place. The work we produce would be evidence-based, in our own useful context. It would be cognitively engaging and would really count as development – perhaps much more so than the passive forms of PD that tend to be ‘done to’ teachers.
There are bound to be challenges to this, though. Masters-level work or real research in schools takes a significant amount of effort. What is clear from Sherrington’s article is that his school is fostering a research environment – it has become part of the school’s values and I find it difficult to see how really effective research could develop in a high-pressure environment.
As teachers in international IB schools, we have to live up to high expectations, but I would argue that we have fewer of the significant challenges that might inhibit others: behaviour, funding, the whims of educational governance. I look forward to seeing the research that is produced in IB schools (and through their own Journal of Teaching Practice).
I would love to see the sciences lead the way.