UniServe Science News Volume 18 October 2001


Australasian Science Education Research Association Annual Conference

Shelley Yeo
Curtin University of Technology

The Australasian Science Education Research Association (ASERA) 32nd Annual Conference was held Wednesday July 11 Saturday July 14, 2001, in Sydney.

Reflections of a first-time attendee

For ten years I have been meaning to get to 'ASERA' but with one thing and another ... Having, in the past, been involved in meetings of the Australian Science Teachers' Association and its annual conference (CONASTA) during the week before, it seemed to me that either work, or a bit of 'R & R', always had a higher priority. This year I was determined to attend. In this brief reflection about the conference I will highlight a few presentations that were memorable for me and also reveal a little of the international flavour of the conference.

The first day of the conference was held jointly with CONASTA at The University of Sydney campus. Although the logistics of this exercise were a bit difficult, I think the potential benefits of interaction between practicing teachers and science education researchers made the effort worthwhile. The CONASTA theme for the day was 'Best Practice in Science Education' - an ideal opportunity for researchers to hear about grassroots classroom innovation and for teachers to hear from researchers examining innovation and best practice. Perhaps I might not have taken so long to get to ASERA if this had occurred in the past.

On this day, I heard Rod Watson1 describe a study about the types of scientific inquiry carried out in UK schools. They found a heavy dominance of the 'controlled investigation', which they call Fair Testing, and a neglect of many other legitimate forms of scientific inquiry, such as detailed observation, description and classification. Subsequently, they matched different kinds of inquiry against developmental characteristics of students of different ages, to suggest a progression in the balance of different kind of inquiries that should be carried out during high school years.

I also listened to Paul Hobden2 talk about teaching physics 'problem solving' to South African students whose aims are to get the right answers, get high marks and get into university. They did not learn much physics. It sounded familiar.

ASERA moved to the Mercure Hotel for the next two days - together with the British and Irish Lions and many hundreds of their entourage who were still operating on GMT (or UTC) instead of EST! Either that, or they did not sleep at all.

Friday night's conference dinner was in a world-class venue - the WatersEdge restaurant on Pier One. There could hardly have been a better place - on Sydney Harbour, under 'the bridge' on a cool but balmy night, watching bridge walkers make their slow torchlight journey over the top and a record number of ferries passing underneath, carrying very many, merry visiting rugby fans on harbour cruises.

On Saturday, Mildred Hoover3 told us of her experiences of teaching in a Californian high school, where she endeavoured to relinquish traditional teaching control over 'content coverage' and implement a student-centred, collaborative inquiry-based approach. Students learn the content and teach each other. Mildred feels that she has never worked so hard! She plans to research the effectiveness of this approach in the future.

Stuart Naylor and Brenda Keogh4 introduced us to Dennis, a key character in their 'concept cartoons'. Concept cartoons are an innovative strategy for teaching, learning and assessment in science. Because students easily relate to one or more of the scientific views of the cartoon characters, the cartoons also appear to be an effective stimulus for a form of argumentation in primary science classes.

And speaking of arguments, a good conference always has a few controversial papers. Michael Matthews5 seriously questioned the validity of Thomas Kuhn's very considerable impact on science education and suggested that the science education community should have learned an important lesson from its wholesale and unwarranted embrace of logical empiricism during the 1950s and 1960s.

There are many people I have not mentioned who gave excellent presentations, embracing all levels from early primary through to university students and teacher education. Some I only heard about after I had missed them. Having five parallel session means that you miss 80% of what's going on. Nevertheless, I'm hooked, and hope to be back for more next year.

The papers referred to above are listed as follows in the Conference Program and Abstracts.

1 Watson, J. A., Goldsworthy, A. and Wood-Robinson, V., Kings College, London: Kinds of practical science enquiry: enquiries that are not fair.
2 Hobden, P., University of Natal, South Africa: A problem! Multiple perspectives on the role of problem tasks in the teaching and learning of physical science.
3 Hoover, M., Apple Valley High School, California, and Treagust, D., Curtin University of Technology: Student-centred learning in science: new approaches to teaching in a Californian high school.
4 Naylor, S., Keogh, B. and Downing, B., Manchester Metropolitan University, UK: Dennis likes a good argument: concept cartoons, argumentation and science education.
5 Matthews, M., The University of New South Wales: Thomas Kuhn's impact on science education: What lessons can be learned?

Contact details for ASERA:

Shelley Yeo
Physics Education Research and Development Group
Department of Applied Physics
Curtin University of Technology

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UniServe Science News Volume 18 October 2001

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