Student Teachers Supporting Primary ScienceResearch Report
The ‘Student Teachers Supporting Primary Science Project’ sought to simultaneously address two problems which constrain the pre and in-service phases of science teacher education. The first problem is that during the school placement phase of ITE programmes, student teachers often have very limited opportunities to observe or teach science lessons due to the low profile of science within the primary school curriculum. Scholars of teacher education concur that effective ITE programmes must provide scaffolded and supportive classroom experiences in which student teachers can begin to apply the knowledge and theory acquired throughout the other areas of the programme. While this problem of enactment requires student teachers to move from thinking like teachers to acting as teachers relates to the teaching of all curricular areas, it is particularly challenging in primary science where managing practical activities and adopting more pupil-centred approaches can be very challenging to novices. Graduates with little experience of science during their pre-service training are more likely to offer a limited repertoire of science lessons during their professional career. The problem that relates to the in-service phase of teacher education is that resource, budgetary and time restrictions limit the availability of professional development for teachers. Where there is training, the focus tends to be on numeracy, literacy or wider issues such as assessment or pastoral care. In-service training in primary science usually takes the form of a one-off event or course, is usually held off-site, and rarely tailored to suit the immediate needs of a teacher’s particular teaching context.
This projects explored whether student teachers could be encouraged and supported to teach science during their school placements and if these lessons could serve as both a resource and a stimulus for developing their host teacher’s future teaching. We have previously reported on the merits of involving student teachers in school-based curriculum development projects (McCullagh & Doherty 2021; Earle & McCullagh 2020; McCullagh & Doherty, 2018). These projects have involved up to 20 primary specialist student teachers planning and teaching primary science in a small number of local primary schools. The students and teachers worked together to develop and evaluate teaching strategies and resources, which can continue to support in-service teachers long after the project is completed. Our evaluations of this work have consistently reported a huge increase in student teachers’ ability, confidence and capacity to teach primary science and evidenced the benefits to our partner schools. In this ‘Student Teachers Supporting Primary Science Project’ we aimed to explore if two entire cohorts of student teachers (not just science specialists) could add to the science provision of a more significant number of primary schools while simultaneously developing their own practice in primary science. We sought to explore if this potential ‘win-win’ deployment of pre-service teachers could prove effective on a larger scale and thus address the current demise of primary science in our schools.