How can we do better in maths and sciences?

photo: The Gene Tree Project public workshop #2 in Carlton Connect Lab14 artistic research residency (September 2016), image – Tess Hutson

The latest international test results for maths and science in schools have been released and Australia isn’t doing so well.

The Study observes the maths and science results from years four and eight provided by more than 60 countries. In Australia, more than 570 schools and more than 16 000 students at Year 4 and Year 8 were involved. (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS):

The results show that, since 2011 in Australia, year four maths results have fallen 10 places from 18th to 28th. At a year eight level Australia has fallen five places in both maths and science to sit at 17th. Year four science has seen no change and we sit in 25th place (source: The Guardian).

Before we go further, we need to address the limitations of ranking.

As Julie Sonnemann, School Education Fellow at the Grattan Institute, and Dr. Peter Goss, School Education Program Director at Grattan Institute say, “These results only show student achievement, not student progress (growth over time), which is a far more important measure of the value-add of an education system, as well as student resilience for later life.” (‘International maths and science rankings: keep calm but change direction’, The Guardian, 30/11/16).

However, the study of trends is useful if we want to address and ultimately change our maths and science education.

Sonnemann and Goss say that ‘These test scores are not everything: we want our children to develop broader skills and resilience for success in both work and life. But they do tell us something about the practical knowledge and skills our kids have in maths and science. And these core skills matter too.’ (‘International maths and science rankings: keep calm but change direction’, The Guardian, 30/11/16).

So, let us continue.

Maths and science are important for our future. If we want to expand our understanding of how our world works and how we fit into it, we are going to need our students’ curious minds to continue to explore the rich skills of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These kinds of subjects and careers are often referred to as STEM.

Education experts are offering their educated solutions, which include:

  • Provide appropriate funding in the right areas (source: The Guardian)
  • Improve training for teachers (source: The Conversation)
  • Train specialist teachers (source: The Guardian)
  • Make the science curriculum engaging, current and relevant to the students by discussing the personal or societal implications of science. (Source: The Conversation)
  • Get scientists in the classroom to give students the experience of science practice. (Source: The Conversation)
  • Use different ways to explore knowledge that will engage critical thinking, including the arts. (Source: The Conversation)

It is the final strategy in particular that catches our eye.

The Gene Tree Project would like to add an ‘A’ for the arts to the teaching of STEM. We would like to turn STEM into STEAM, something that is happening more and more in our schools. Because teaching is not just about information, it’s about inspiration, it’s about creating curious minds.

At The Gene Tree Project we believe that the arts offer another way for students’ curiosity to be stimulated, for students to find, understand, connect with, and express knowledge.

We believe that the Arts provide students with the opportunity to re-interpret their understanding and refine their critical thinking. The arts allow students to experience and understand processes, facts and outcomes at an intellectual as well as physical and emotional level. The Arts enable students to explore how knowledge relates to them in their world. And the Arts engages all of the senses to create unexpected experiences and new pathways to memory.

The relationship of the arts and sciences to education is a complex and important conversation that we at The Gene Tree Project are manoeuvering with delicacy and curiosity.

And we are always interested in hearing about your interesting and positive experiences of learning and educating across the sciences, technologies, engineering, maths and the arts. What inspires you to learn?

Written by Cressida Bradley and Elissa Goodrich, inspired by the Gene Tree Project team.


Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) by ACER

‘Three ways to boost science performance in Australian schools’, in The Conversation, by Russell Tytler, Professor of science education, Deakin University, 2/12/16.

‘International maths and science rankings: keep calm but change direction’, in The Guardian, by Julie Sonnemann, School Education Fellow at the Grattan Institute, and Dr. Peter Goss, School Education Program Director at Grattan Institute, 30/11/16.

‘Teaching — It’s about Inspiration, Not Information’ in Medium, by Tina Seelig, Creativity, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship teacher at Stanford, 12/12/16.

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