The latest NAP – Science Literacy assessment shows that Australian students’ understanding of scientific concepts is on the up, particularly in the Primary years.
According to the data, Year 6 students achieved their best results since the sample assessments began in 2003.
However, studies show that keeping up this momentum requires strong early years education, which will ensure that students don’t have to play catch-up later on in their educational journey.
Key to achieving this, as any educator knows, is sufficient resourcing – and this is an important area that is now being tackled head-on by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
Today, the Council announced a set of free resources to improve young children’s scientific understanding by encouraging educators to recognise science not just as subject but as an approach to learning that is present in everyday activities.
ACER’s Science in the early years series was developed to help preschool and Foundation to Year 2 educators incorporate the latest research into science learning and development into their teaching.
“Science isn’t just about learning facts, it is a way of thinking and developing skills so that we can understand the world,” authors Christine Rosicka and Gayl O’Connor, said.
Research shows that developing the science inquiry skills of observing, predicting, checking, recording and communicating can teach young children that it is acceptable to fail and that learning can come from making mistakes.
“Young children may be more willing to take risks and to accept mistakes than older children, so it is important that these traits are encouraged and developed from a young age if they are to be further developed as students get older,” Rosicka and O’Connor said.
ACER’s Science in the early years series includes four activities that educators can complete to develop young children’s science inquiry skills and monitor their science learning.
These activities – exploring plants, mixing liquids, floating and sinking, and light and shadows – are also appropriate for parents whose children are learning at home.
The series provides examples of developmentally appropriate ways of monitoring young children’s science skills and knowledge, such as discussing stories, and creating drawings and models. Such monitoring enables educators to determine what the child already knows, identify any misconceptions that require correcting and inform what might be explored next.
Rosicka and O’Connor stress that educators are not expected to know everything about science, but rather be open to working together with children to help them make connections and develop their understandings.
“Educators do not have to be a ‘fount of all knowledge’. They can be a facilitator who collaboratively finds out the answers to the questions children raise,” Rosicka and O’Connor explained.
Rosicka and O’Connor also emphasise that including science in the early years does not mean educators need to add more to their programs.
“Developing children’s science inquiry skills are integral aspects of both the Early Years Learning Framework and the Foundation to Year 2 Australian Curriculum,” Rosicka and O’Connor said.
“Science is not something that needs to be taught in isolation from other learning areas. If science is cleverly integrated, it can mean that more skills and content can be covered at the same time”.