New way of teaching science receives funding for expansion

RDS Stem Learning to be extended to hundreds of schools after success of pilot projects

A new way to teach science in primary school has received top marks in an independent review carried out by consultants.

Developed by the RDS, Dublin City University and St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, the teaching method is to be extended to hundreds of schools across the State.

The RDS Stem Learning initiative has been developed over the past three years in collaboration with primary teachers.

It has proved so successful in two pilot projects, involving 52 teachers, that Science Foundation Ireland has agreed to help fund an expansion of the programme into other schools.

The organisers hope to have 1,000 teachers involved in the initiative by 2017.

The method moves away from looking at what a child knows towards exploiting how a child thinks, allowing them to explore science through child-led inquiry, said Mary Heslin, a teacher in Scoil an Chroi Ró Naofa Íosa, Huntstown, Dublin.

Ms Heslin was among an initial 12 teachers who signed up for training in the programme before testing it with their own pupils.

A second group of 40 teachers were then trained, with the initial 12 acting as facilitators.

All the teachers undertook this professional training outside of normal school hours over a period of months.

Michael Duffy, CEO of the RDS, and DCU president Brian MacCraith both delivered high praise for the teachers for their commitment to the pilot studies and their application of the programme.

“It is nice when an experiment works and this one certainly did,” Prof MacCraith said.

Independent assessment

The RDS and DCU agreed it was important to conduct an independent external assessment of the programme.

UK social research consultancy The Research Base undertook the assessment, which was published this morning.

The programme “demonstrated good practice and significant impact”, the consultancy’s report said.

In particular, the programme was said to have had a “particular impact upon teacher confidence”, and on student participation and understanding of scientific concepts.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was also announced as a new partner for the venture, with a combined €440,000 being made available to scale-up teacher involvement in the training programme.

SFI’s Discover Programme would contribute more than €220,000, with the remainder coming from other participants.

Child-led learning has proven itself very effective at engaging pupil participation, said Margie McCarthy, the head of education and public engagement at SFI.

The consultants recommended the project should be continued and expanded, given its current successful application.

They said the CPD (continuing professional development) received by the teachers should be of longer duration, at least 50 hours, and possibly as much as 80 hours to match international best practice.

An information evening takes place tomorrow at 6pm at the RDS for anyone considering becoming involved as a facilitator in the 2015/2016 programme. People can also submit their interest online.