We want a society where science and mathematics are as much a part of everyday culture as is art, music or sport and a society that creates, supports and develops the talent and skills in science, engineering and mathematics that underpin scientific and technological change and drive economic growth.
To discuss this and to inform how we might develop our Vision, we gathered views from a wide range of people interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. We consulted experts, engaged with educators and other professionals, including the education policy groups which work across science education (SCORE), mathematics education (ACME) and engineering education (E4E).
In 2013, we held workshops with a number of these groups. Where a report is available, it is highlighted below:
A discussion with the British Science Association CREST Youth Panel at the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. Young people from 14-17 debated what science education should be like in the future and created their own Manifesto for Science and Mathematics Education.
Visions for improving accountability in education, in collaboration with The Wellcome Trust.
We hosted jointly with the Wellcome Trust a seminar to explore how to improve the way the work of schools and teachers is judged. (Document to be published in autumn 2014)
The Future of Science and Mathematics Education - A Royal Society Fellows workshop to explore how to bring 21st century science into the classroom. The workshop was attended by experts from academia and the education community, and was chaired by Professor Steve Jones FRS.
One of the themes under discussion was the importance of learning to ‘think like a scientist’, thereby equipping students with the ability to ask questions about an unknown domain and deal with new situations. Participants felt that this could best be achieved by having students come up with their own questions, test them through experimentation, and evaluate the data to derive the likely correct answer. This approach was set in contrast to a current focus on specific content, with the correct answer presented on the next page of the textbook.
In addition, workshop participants thought teaching should provide a clear link between the curriculum and the ‘real world’, as students were more likely to engage with science and mathematics if they could see how it related to their own lives. Finally, the group discussed how long-term training programmes for teachers, development and continuous improvement of on-line teaching resources, and stronger industry engagement could bring about changes – potentially coordinated through a single overarching body.
At the close of the workshop, participants wrote down definitions of what they considered to be scientific thinking. The recurring themes were:
A) Asking questions (enquiry) and making predictions
B) Collecting accurate evidence and data
C) Analysing, evaluating, and interpreting the evidence critically and objectively
D) Understanding the power and communal nature of science, as well as its limits
Take a look at the videos from the event to see what some of the workshop participants thought.
Video 1: The aims of science and mathematics education
In this video, workshop participants give their views on the aims of science and mathematics education, and explain why learning science and mathematics is important for everyone: those who go on to become scientists and those who do not.
Video 2: Experiencing real science, thinking like a scientist
Here, we find out what workshop participants thought students should understand about the nature of scientific discovery, how they might go about it – by doing - and what it means to think like a (computer) scientist.
Video 3: Bringing science and mathematics to life
In this video, workshop participants explain how we can bring science and mathematics to life in the classroom, and give some ideas of how this might be achieved within the educational system: by working more closely with academia and industry, enhancing collaboration networks between schools, and improving system-wide coordination of partnerships and resources.
Workshop at the ASE 50th Anniversary conference
Following the future of science and mathematics education workshop, a one-hour session to debate its findings was held at the Association for Science Education (ASE) Summer Conference on 27 June 2013. One of the key areas explored was the Vision Committee’s draft recommendation that all young people should study science in some form to the age 18. The session was chaired by Vision Committee member David Swinscoe, and co-chaired by Vision team leader Juliet Upton. The key thoughts that emerged were:
SCIENCE UNTIL AGE 18
Why should science be compulsory until age 18, rather than other subjects? Session participants felt it was important to consider this question carefully, and to articulate clearly what specifically science could offer young people to help them develop into well-rounded adults. Many members of the audience agreed that it would be difficult to re-engage with science in later life if foundations had not been laid during school – which was not the case for arts subjects. Attendees were concerned that compulsory science could have unintended consequences and alienate many learners.
CURRICULUM AND ENGAGEMENT
What should students learn? Several members of the audience thought that we should focus on skills, such as higher-order thinking and data analysis abilities, rather than specific content. Others pointed out that skills could not be developed context-free; the key to student engagement was to make curriculum content relevant to the individual. A curriculum anchored on ‘Big ideas’, such as food security or energy, could prevent young people from ‘tuning out’ at age 16; it would inspire by letting young people feel they could become part of the solution. Attendees were concerned about the increased cost of a broad school education, such as the need for longer HE science degrees.
ATTITUDE TO SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS
What should we be doing about student attitudes to science and mathematics? The group agreed that work on development of positive attitudes should start early, at primary school age. Students also needed more transparency in career options involving science to help them make better informed course choices. One attendee from Aberdeen pointed out the importance of a community’s ‘STEM culture’: Strong employment in the oil and health sectors in Aberdeen led parents to have high expectations in science and mathematics for their children, reflected in 40% of the city’s students choosing mathematics and science as Highers subjects. The group also discussed how this could be ‘exported’ to other locations.
Consultation events with teachers, education leaders and employers throughout June/July
During June, 4 separate workshops were held in Birmingham, Manchester, at the Eden Project in Cornwall and York, with further discussion also taking place at The Sunday Times Festival of Education on 21 June.
In September 2013, we were delighted to run a consultation event at the Scottish Parliament with the support of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Futures Forum, STEMEC and SSERC.
Recognising that the world in 2030 is likely to be very different from the world we know today, the workshop explored two different scenarios about education and teaching set in 2030, developed from evidence commissioned by the Royal Society in 2013.
Expert workshops were also held with SCORE, with the Mathematics Education Community through the Joint Mathematical Council, the Council for Mathematical Sciences and ACME and the vocational education community working with City and Guilds.
Stabilising the curriculum to allow true innovation – expert workshop
Throughout our consultation it became clear that teachers and others were concerned about frequent changes to the curriculum. We held an expert workshop, chaired by Sir John Holman, to discuss with the education and policy communities the Vision recommendations to bring stability to the curriculum.
Testing ideas with stakeholders
Once the Vision Committee had completed early drafts of its report, further stakeholder engagement took place to discuss ideas and test the draft recommendations. This included many one-to-one meetings with a range of players from those in government, such as officials from the UK Departments for Education and Business, Innovation and Skills and chief scientific advisers, professionals from regulators, and the National Governors’ Association to engineering employers and Presidents, Chief Executives and Directors of Education of the Science, Engineering and Mathematics Professional Bodies and Learned Societies. A very supportive workshop was held with six teaching unions, representing school and college teachers and leaders across the UK.
Following publication of the report in June 2014, the Royal Society will continue to engage with previous and new stakeholders to take forward the recommendations from its report.