Learning | 7 November 2022

Why was ‘Whale stranding’ your top issue? The story behind the Issue.

Why was ‘Whale stranding’ your top issue? [Student]
“Because they are living animals in need.”

This simple resource was launched at the beginning of term one, 2017, when the nation focused on a mass whale stranding, and our junior Science classes continued to focus on how to light a Bunsen burner… despite the heat! Now, do not get me wrong, lab experiments are spot on for active learning and motivation, building skills alongside a love of science. My point is, at times, we forget, or run out of time, to look beyond ‘the program’ and continue doing what we have always done. Our Science Department theme is ‘Citizenship! Learning for now and for the future.’ Regular integration of an issue of the week into our Science program is our way to acknowledge that our world is changing, what our students expect and the way they engage with learning is also changing. By popping our heads up, and looking around for local and global socio-scientific issues, we are taking a macro view of science learning. If we can make this a regular occurrence, then we may better meet the citizenship goal of NZC.

Perhaps simplicity led to its success. Each week we take an issue of local or national importance and put together a resource to present to students in a consistent and user-friendly way. Students see a picture, such as the one above and are simply asked, “What’s the issue?” This provides an opportunity for each student to discuss with his or her peers, and to bring their own ideas, experiences, culture and viewpoints to the table. The goal is not to ‘guess’ what the issue is, in fact, the more abstract the picture, the greater the wonder. Students can be who they are, form and defend opinions and share their own experience and ideas without fear of failure or ridicule. Learners are not just searching for one correct answer; rather they are delving into an authentic dilemma for discussion. This provides the hook.

The trick is then to bring the issue to life. We search out short (2-10 minute) YouTube clips that capture the imagination and raise questions or concerns. As it doubles as a literacy tool, we also incorporate a brief reading, a new word to focus on and then a discussion or writing activity; not too long or overly complex, but one that hits the goals of the exercise.

The issue of the week requires collaboration and buy-in from both Science teachers and students who come up with suggestions each week. There is not just one way to teach or learn using this resource. Some set it as homework; some take 5 minutes, while other classes engage for an hour or more. The goals are set each term during department meetings to address a need in our own student population. We recognise that these needs evolve and adapt, and we are honouring the Māori concept of ako, a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator learns from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective (from TKI).
The language of science learning is changing toward individualised, yet social platforms and activities.
As one student put it: “Because new technology is cool and I want to learn all the science behind it (in detail).”

Students create personal spaces such as Facebook pages, webpages and Twitter accounts. These advances toward autonomy, social interaction, and collaboration can be seen as a positive movement, but they raise challenging questions. Do current pedagogies meet the needs of current and future science students?

As Hand et al. (2016) point out;
“Considering that many students already perceive a substantial gap between their everyday life and school science, failure to evolve only widens the gap” (p.224). Future focus is about supporting learners to recognise that they have a stake in the future, and a role and responsibility as citizens to take action to help shape that future (Education Review Office, 2012).”

As mentioned, the objective of ‘the issue of the week’ is itself flexible. For term one, it was very simple for students to complete this sentence: “I think … because…” Rather than be frustrated that our senior science students seem unable to form, express and back an opinion, we decided to help them to learn how to do this in the lower stakes of junior science.

Issue of the Week 46 / 2022

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