ENGAGING students in science through hands-on activities is a highly effective method of teaching in Aboriginal communities, new research suggests.
Scitech’s Aboriginal Education Program (AEP) aims to “close the gap” between academic achievements of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by offering culturally relevant science programs to rural schools with high Indigenous enrolments.
In the study, the Scitech team and researchers from the Edith Cowan Institute for Education Research visited five remote primary schools in the Mid-West education district with Indigenous enrolments greater than 70 per cent.
The researchers observed, audio recorded and documented each session as the Scitech team asked open questions to encourage students to actively participate in conversations, make scientific predictions and describe and explain their observations.
The students learned to associate science activities with familiar everyday experiences to help link their science knowledge with their environment and community outside the classroom.
ECU professor Mark Hackling, who co-authored the study, says an important outcome of the program was the identification and documentation of these pedagogical practices which were used by the team to engage students in science.
“These are a very strong set of strategies for engaging students in learning,” Professor Hackling says.
“They could have wider application in school contexts with children from lower social economic groups or children from refugee and migrant families.”
The researchers found that pre-visit cultural competency training was important in allowing Scitech presenters to teach in culturally appropriate ways in Aboriginal communities.
According to the collected data, visiting a school over two days was more effective than a single visit, possibly because repeated contact strengthened relationships and increased the opportunity to form role models for the students.
Importantly, attitude scales and surveys completed by the students before and after the AEP indicated that the Scitech team’s visit had a statistically significant effect on their perceived enjoyment, curiosity and enthusiasm for science.
The researchers note that students demonstrated sophisticated conceptual understandings during post-visit interviews and were able to use language related to scientific processes.
The visit also helped improve the teachers’ confidence for teaching science using interactive methods and resources and utilising areas outside the classroom instead of using worksheets, teacher survey data indicated.
The findings suggest the program, which was funded by the Australian and WA Governments, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Woodside, significantly increased the interest in science that most primary school students already hold but rarely have the opportunity to let flourish.