Sunday, 21 February 2016

Key competencies in re-designing the HPSS science curriculum

I will start with a disclaimer: all of the (insanely hard!) work mentioned in this post was a huge collaborative effort from all of the awesome science team at HPSS (Cindy, Danielle, Cairan and Aaron), and took a fair few months to pull together, and we are still tweaking and modifying as time goes on. We have plans to document this journey and initial outcomes in more detail too, but this is just a preliminary overview of our pathway so far.

As part of a MindLab assignment, I have been asked to reflect on how I have developed in my own use of the key competencies, and key changes in my own practice. I have decided to use the most significant change in how I am teaching as an example of this, which I will outline below.

The material and ideas broached in the MindLab course reminded me that the mindset and approaches to teaching and learning that we follow at HPSS are already a long way ahead of many other secondary schools. This experience reinforced that we need to make the most of our special situation to push the boundaries even further and really question how we do things and why we do things the way we do. Therefore, my use of key competencies centred around thinking and relating to others.
Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. These processes can be applied to purposes such as developing understanding, making decisions, shaping actions, or constructing knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency.
Students who are competent thinkers and problem-solvers actively seek, use, and create knowledge. They reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions. (NZ Curriculum)
My use of thinking involved bringing our experiences of teaching science over the last 2 years at HPSS, as well as making decisions based on critical thinking and questioning how we can further develop our science curriculum. We did this by reflecting on what we thought was going well, but also where there was room for improvement, as outlined below.
Relating to others is about interacting effectively with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts. This competency includes the ability to listen actively, recognise different points of view, negotiate, and share ideas.
Students who relate well to others are open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations. They are aware of how their words and actions affect others. They know when it is appropriate to compete and when it is appropriate to co-operate. By working effectively together, they can come up with new approaches, ideas, and ways of thinking. (NZ Curriculum)
Relating to others involved taking the experiences of all of our science team, and to be able to incorporate different ideas into a shared pathway forward. This wasn't a quick process, and it took a few iterations to go through the sharing and negotiating processes; but this time was vital to give everyone enough chance to process and think about where we wanted our take on the science curriculum to end up. 

Part of the impetus for change in the way we were teaching science at HPSS came about by a session from Grant Lichtman, who asked us to reflect on "simple rules" that we could apply to course design (this is the video of his visit also). This prompted us to think about what we envisaged a science graduate profile would look like - what do we want our students who take science through to the senior/qualification years to be able to do/think about/be?

The next step took us into the science capabilities for citizenship, as developed by the NZCER. The science capabilities can also be linked to the key competencies, as well as underpin what the Nature of Science is all about:
Key competencies are clusters of capabilities
The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) defines key competencies as capabilities for living and lifelong learning.
Each key competency is a cluster of capabilities. Capabilities are things students learn to be able to do. But what do they need to be capable of? We need to keep learners’ futures in mind when working out answers to this question. (TKI)
The science capabilities themselves are placed into 5 categories:

  • Gather and interpret data
  • Use evidence
  • Critique evidence
  • Interpret representations
  • Engage with science
We have decided to streamline these for our own use, hopefully without removing meaning from them, but to assist us in figuring out how we may assess these - so focusing on:
  • Gather and Interpret Data
  • Use and Critique Evidence
  • Interpret Representations and Models
With our whole approach to teaching science allowing students to engage in science. 

So capabilities underpin the competencies, and in order to maximise student's exposure to develop these aspects of their learning, we needed to change the focus of our teaching - making the capabilities, and over time competencies, visible and explicit. We still need to teach the 'strands' of the science curriculum, but these become contexts through which students can develop their science capabilities - interweaving skills and knowledge, rather than teaching solely knowledge through 'topics'.

As mentioned, this is only a brief overview of changes we have made, with more to follow.... but we welcome questions and feedback!

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