Bridging the Gap: Connecting science education to the real world. Preliminary results- Strategies to facilitate boundary crossings between university, business and government

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Carol Aldous
Flinders University

The purpose of this project is to increase school student participation in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) topics by forging links between university (teacher education and industry outreach entities), schools and business and industry through engaging student science teachers in short STEM industry placements. In particular, forging of these links will necessitate stakeholders crossing boundaries on multiple occasions (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011).
The project has 3 aims, to:
(1) develop in pre-service science teachers, a deep understanding of the connections between theoretical science knowledge and its application in society and industry through immersion in experiential learning;
(2) increase pre-service science teachers’ capacity to innovate new approaches to learning and teaching in secondary schools, associated with creative problem solving, a spirit of enterprise and contemporary science in meaningful contexts;
(3) positively impact secondary school students’ perceptions of STEM as a creative enterprise thus increasing the likelihood that they will pursue STEM careers.
The overarching research question within the project is “What is the relationship between pre-service teacher industry engagement, entrepreneurial and creative thinking and high school student engagement and entry into STEM?” The research is being conducted in 3 stages and involves the collection of qualitative and quantitative data from the various stakeholders.
The Participants: Pre-service teachers, and Industry sites
A cohort of 19 students are taking part in the project. Participating industry sites, have been negotiated and formalised through discussions with Government and the industry-outreach arms of Flinders University: New Venture Institute and Flinders Partners.
Stage 1: Creating Curriculum Resources including a Web Based Platform
During this stage of the project, digital and other on-line curriculum resources that show-case industry partnerships in STEM education were developed. These resources have been used to create an online platform where project participants, interact to support the STEM learning of pre-service teachers on placement ( Previous studies have shown that establishing clear lines of communication between industry partners and teachers in schools is critical to the development of boundary crossings required for success in the project (Cripps-Clark, Tytler & Symington, 2014).
Stage 2: Industry Engagement and ongoing Communication between Communities of Practice
For the second stage of the project pre-service teachers have been placed with industry partners for 2 intense visits over 3 weeks, for approximately 6 to 8 hours in total. It has been important to communicate with project participants and partners that the purpose of placing pre-service teachers with industry is not merely to experience a work environment but also to conceptually engage with the scientific principles underpinning the STEM industry being visited and to acquire an intimate understanding of its operation and application, with a view to this experience informing and shaping their teaching practice.
Stage 3: Placement of Preservice Teachers in STEM Industry Focused Schools
During this stage Flinders University STEM pre-service teachers undergo their final year practicum placement (6 weeks) in a school with an already established STEM industry partnership. This affords the pre-service STEM teacher the opportunity to be mentored by a teacher with prior experience in collaborating with an Industry partner in the creation of innovative science learning and teaching practices that are authentic and meaningful to students.
The pilot project is well underway. Although the project is not due for completion until August 2017 we do have preliminary results concerning strategies successfully used in forging connections and crossing boundaries between various stakeholders.
Successful strategies used to create boundary crossings include:
• connecting research scientists within the university with the commercialisation arm of the university, with pre- service teachers and with industry,
• encouraging pre-service teachers to write a blog about their industry visit (identifying science in the real world) to encourage ‘conversations’ between stakeholders, using the project web portal,
• inviting guest speakers from business and industry to provide advice and training regarding design thinking, real world application of scientific inquiry, and general advice about approaching industry,
• coordinating assistance from industry outreach entities within the university to assist with translation of preservice teacher identified industry issues to expert research scientists, with a view to presenting insights back to business (and thereby presenting a value add benefit for businesses), and
• forging an ongoing relationship between the research scientist and the student science teacher, for possible benefit regarding future teaching practice and creating partnerships in high-schools
Our research thus far highlights the critical importance of:
• a thorough understanding of the difference between the incentives (boundaries and orientations) of the different parties, and
• based on this understanding, an effective, tailored and multi-dimensional communication strategy that may involve repeated interactions in order to permeate the boundaries.