DCU to lead €3.75m science initiative

Wed, Jan 11, 2012, 00:00

DUBLIN CITY University is to head an international research effort to revolutionise the way science is taught in schools.

The goal of the €3.75 million four-year project is to increase the numbers of students going forward for science at third level.

The Sails (Strategies for Assessment of Inquiry Learning in Science) project involves 13 research partners in 12 countries and is funded by the European Union under Framework Programme 7.

As it progresses, the project will provide teacher training workshops and online facilities where teachers can share experiences.

It is based on further development of the inquiry-based learning methods already being used in the Junior Cert science curriculum and in Project Maths, said Dr Odilla Finlayson of Dublin City University.

She is based in the university’s Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Teaching and Learning and will co-ordinate the Sails project.

“The project uses inquiry teaching methods and will add assessment strategies for use by teachers,” she said yesterday at the announcement of the research consortium.

Inquiry-based teaching encourages students to develop their own questions when studying a problem to devise an answer. “Inquiry teaching and inquiry learning are now becoming part of the normal practice in schools,” she said.

It was meant to encourage critical thinking, problem solving and creativity in students but existing performance assessment methods do not readily measure these, Dr Finlayson said. “The project will develop assessment strategies for measuring those kinds of skills.”

The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which gets under way this morning, was a good example of inquiry-based learning, she said. Students are asked to identify a problem and then devise ways of solving it.

The project will focus in particular on teaching science using these advanced methods. “We will be working with teachers in developing these skills and assessing these skills,” Dr Finlayson said.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn attended the Sails launch. He congratulated DCU on securing funding from the commission and on heading up the project, saying it was great that Irish researchers were leading an international consortium of this size.

The project would help reinforce the gains being made by the Project Maths curriculum, he said.

Intel Ireland will be a partner in the project and will develop online tools and supports for teachers and students.

Enhancing student learning of maths and science subjects was “crucial” for the development of Europe’s knowledge economy, said DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith.

“Sails advocates and supports a curriculum that encourages problem-solving and exploratory learning,” he added.