Academic success in science and technology is a challenge in Quebec as elsewhere in the world. In the UK, the Education Endowment Foundation recently issued a series of recommendations (in English) for improving the quality of science and technology education. The report, based on convincing research data, suggests very concrete avenues for intervention. We present to you a summary.
- Build around the student's initial designs
The young people come to class with a personal representation of the world around them. The teacher should not ignore these preconceptions. Rather, he must understand its origin and then work to develop students' critical thinking through cognitive conflicts and discussions. Misconceptions do not disappear, they evolve. These concepts must be allowed time to evolve and make the student aware of it.
- Help the student to self-regulate his learning
It is through metacognition that the student manages to self-regulate. Metacognition must be integrated into learning situations to be effective. To do this, the teacher can make it explicit and model it by verbalizing his thoughts, actions or strategies. Group discussion and argumentation, where statements are supported by facts, is another way for the student to self-regulate.
- Use models to support understanding of concepts
Because our world is complex, models allow students to bridge their representations and new conceptions. Their use is therefore essential provided that the model is not too far removed from the student's initial representation. To maximize the impact of models, the teacher should invite the student to criticize them and name their limits.
- Help students retain information and access their learning
Science and technology lessons require the memorization of a large amount of information. The teacher must be aware of the cognitive load required and take measures to reduce it. To ensure long-term memorization, one technique that works is to go back to previous learning as often as possible and ask the student to elaborate on what he has learned.
- Use practical activities wisely and in a learning sequence
Practical activities should not be used to amuse students. The teacher must define his learning intentions and stick to them. A laboratory activity alone cannot allow the learning of a concept. It must be part of a structured teaching sequence. It is indeed preferable that the students experience different approaches and procedures. Open tasks are the most effective pedagogically.
- Develop scientific language and encourage scientific reading and writing
There is a lot of new vocabulary in science and technology classes. The teacher should make a conscious choice of words and ensure that the student understands them. He must focus on quality rather than quantity. It can support understanding by teaching the meaning of root words, prefixes and suffixes, for example. The teacher must propose activities requiring the reading of scientific texts adapted to the age of the pupil and the writing of explanatory texts.
- Give effective feedback
To be effective, student feedback must be specific, frequent and clear. Since the students do not always understand the feedback given by the teacher, the latter must therefore ensure that it is as clear as possible. Peer review, which is often overlooked, also provides very good feedback. Feedback has much more impact on learning than a simple grade, and questioning is also a very powerful form of feedback.