Engaging diverse young people with science education: articulating a framework of practice

Wilson, Kimberley Luanne (2015) Engaging diverse young people with science education: articulating a framework of practice. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Science can be seen to exist as an icon of prestige, power and success in Western society with the potential to marginalise those who differ in their epistemology (Aikenhead, 2006). Science education itself is often understood by both teachers and students as a 'pipeline' process that filters 'apt' students towards tertiary education and professional careers (Tytler, 2007). While much policy attention is direction towards improving mainstream secondary students' engagement with science, the needs of those who might be considered 'non-mainstream' (Lee & Buxton, 2011) appear to have been sidelined. There is a wealth of literature in regards to science, science education and effective teaching and learning strategies, yet little that explores the specific needs of non-mainstream young people, particularly in Australia. This thesis makes a contribution to this field in the context of working with an alternative or 'flexible' secondary schooling system - the Edmund Rice Education Australia Youth + Flexible Learning Centre (FLC) network.

The FLC network operates within a social inclusion framework to 'walk with' young people who have found themselves outside of the mainstream schooling system. Like other similar educational systems, the network aims to offer a broad array of educational experiences in order to cater to the academic, social and emotional needs of the young people who select to attend. The place of science education in flexible or alternative settings is at best tenuous, in that it is perceived as a difficult subject for young people who often present with numerous academic challenges including large gaps in schooling and low levels of basic literacy and numeracy skills. In these circumstances, science education can seem a poor fit for addressing the immediate needs of young people experiencing complex educational and life circumstances. However, the argument of this thesis is that science education is a necessary component of a socially just education, but it must be reframed to meet the needs of disenfranchised youth. A humanistic approach to science education is advocated for due to its transformative potential in remaking science teaching and learning into a form that is both personally and socially meaningful for diverse young people. Central to this approach is a focus on both the intellectual resources of the learner and their cultural funds of knowledge (Gonzalez & Moll, 2002), resulting in an emphasis on student capitals rather than deficits.

The methodology of the project has involved working in close partnership with the EREA Youth+ FLC network, in order to establish the needs of the organisation in terms of promoting the teaching and learning of science. The project has embraced a generative orientation through working outwards from developing an understanding of the context, to capturing the practice of innovative teachers of science through use of a case study research strategy (Simons, 2009), and then refracting these understandings against the literature to develop a framework to guide future practice. Data sources have included classroom observation notes acquired through extended time in the field, semi-structured interviews with teaching and support staff and a review of key organisational, policy and curriculum planning documents. Data analysis has been grounded in the contextual and the holistic (Mason, 2002), and has been further supported and validated through the process of co-authoring the case study accounts with the key teacher participants of the study.

The culminating output of this thesis, the 'Thinking About Science' framework, has been designed as a pedagogical reflection tool and highlights the value of inclusiveness, diversity and place within the broader conceptualisation of science for everyday life (Aikenhead, 2006). It is intended to provide a basis for establishing an ongoing dialogue around science curriculum across the FLC network, and to act as a platform for professional development. While this particular framework has been developed to respond to the specific needs of an Australian flexible learning context, it may have wider significance in relation to reframing science education to meet the needs of non-mainstream young people more generally. To date, addressing the needs of marginalised students has taken the form of developing more generic science curriculum and proposing increased standardised testing (Masters, 2009), purportedly to improve the educational outcomes of marginalised students in the form of greater accountability and 'equity of experience'. However, the overall results of this study support the notion that the engagement of diverse young people occurs not through delivery of a homogenous science curriculum, but rather through innovative pedagogical practice that responds to the needs of individual young people and their wider communities.

Item ID: 43809
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aboriginal students; alternative learning; diversity; Edmund Rice Education Australia; FLCs; flexible learning centres; flexible learning; inclusive education; Indigenous students; marginalised students; non-mainstream students; science education; teaching science; teenagers; Torres Strait Islander students; young people; Youth +; Youth Plus; youth
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 2: Wilson, Kimberley, Stemp, Kellie, and McGinty, Sue (2011) Re-engaging young people with education and training: what are the alternatives? Youth Studies Australia, 30 (4). pp. 32-39.

Chapter 6: Wilson, Kimberley, and Stemp, Kellie (2010) Science education in a 'classroom without walls': connecting young people via place. Teaching Science, 56 (1). pp. 6-10. Chapter 7: Wilson, Kimberley, and Alloway, Todd (2013) Expecting the unexpected: engaging diverse young people in conversations around science. Australian Educational Researcher, 40 (2). pp. 195-206.

Chapter 8: Wilson, Kimberley Luanne, and Boldeman, Suzi Ursula (2011) Exploring ICT integration as a tool to engage young people at a Flexible Learning Centre. Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Date Deposited: 19 May 2016 00:15
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130199 Education systems not elsewhere classified @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 34%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930201 Pedagogy @ 33%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939901 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 33%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939903 Equity and Access to Education @ 34%
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