Getting science out there

Issue: Volume 93, Number 2

Posted: 10 February 2014
Reference #: 1H9cts

The goal of the LENScience initiative is to get contemporary science out of the ivory tower and into students’ lives, says director Jacquie Bay.

LENScience (the Liggins Education Network for Science) is a dedicated science education and translation group within the Liggins Institute, an Auckland University centre for research. The institute conducts research into such socio-scientific issues as breast cancer, foetal and child health, epigenetics, and evolutionary medicine. The initiative was founded by Sir Peter Gluckman in 2006.

LENScience provides teachers and schools with a great way to get behind science that can sometimes be fairly impenetrable in the classroom. Working in partnership with schools, LENScience can provide modules of work that can be built into learning programmes and teacher professional development. They also facilitate face-to-face experiences where students can talk to ‘real world’ scientists.

Director of LENScience, Jacquie Bay, says LENScience’s role is to act as an intermediary between learners and scientists.

“We recognise that communicating science [to learners] is a two-way street. Developing scientific literacy for citizenship is important, and we are supporting schools to implement and develop programmes that engage students in ways that support the development of scientific literacy that is appropriate for the 21st century. This, of course, ties in with the goals of The New Zealand Curriculum.”

Jacquie tells of a great quote from founder Sir Peter Gluckman, that nicely encapsulates the mission statement of LENScience.

“There is a need to communicate scientific literacy to society at large. You can’t do all this research and leave it in an ivory tower. Knowledge should never be the preserve of any kind of elite, as maybe it used to be.”

“Peter once made this wonderful statement: ‘The process of science is not complete until the community for whom that knowledge has relevance is able to connect with it, engage with it, and discuss it. Then society is able to decide how it will use that knowledge.”

Page 28 of The New Zealand Curriculum, under the heading ‘Why study science?’, states:

“By studying science, students [develop the ability to] use scientific knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about the communication, application, and implications of science as these relate to their own lives and cultures, and to the sustainability of the environment.”

Jacquie says that this calls for students to engage with science in meaningful ways which is what her team facilitate alongside teachers.

LENScience encompasses a range of programmes, the most significant of which are the modules of work which explore socio-scientific issues, for example, ‘diabetes in my community’. Driving the development of all of the programmes is the need for students to explore science through the lens of what is happening in New Zealand scientific research at the moment, says Jacquie.

“We are able to re-image the data in a way that is much more accessible for the kids.

“Teachers don’t have time to digest mountains of data and re-package it into a form that can be approached by students. Some teachers have spoken to me about being empowered. Time previously spent creating resources is now spent responding to students learning and adjusting teaching to match. That’s music to my ears.”

Another large part of the work that Jacquie and her team are involved in is evaluating the efficacy of their programmes in terms of successfully communicating knowledge. Jacquie says that research has proven that students are very interested in these socio-scientific issues because they manifest in their own communities and lives which is another key goal of the science curriculum.

Their research has also revealed that learning facilitated by LENScience is retained by students and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the learning has made a difference to real lives. Jacquie reports that students have made lasting changes to their diets and lifestyles after going through LENScience programmes.

Research has also shown that knowledge acquired by students is being shared with their families.

“For example, we asked parents before their children went through a module of work whether they thought that susceptibility to non-communicable disease is partly determined when you’re very young, and even before you’re born. Of those who initially said ‘no, it’s got nothing to do with that’, when we asked them 12 weeks later, 48 per cent knew better, meaning that effective communication of knowledge within the home is happening.”

Meet a scientist

Modules of work are just part of what LENScience can offer educators. The team have the capacity to host 8,000 students per year in their dedicated classrooms, for ‘meet a scientist’ sessions. This provides opportunities for things like engaging with scientific equipment and technology. Meeting real world scientists also helps to replace some of the persistent clichés about what scientists need to be successful.

At the beginning of the session, students are asked to detail the skills that scientists need. They then test their hypotheses throughout the day in their conversations with scientists.

“At the end of the day, we ask them what, from their hypothesis, they would like to confirm, what they’d like to change. Things that typically change might be ‘gosh, I didn’t realise scientists have to be so collaborative in their work.’

“During school time, students are being asked by their teachers, ‘how did you think this through?’, ‘how did you arrive at this conclusion?’, and that’s something that the children can see in practice when they meet scientists, that these people in the real world really require great thinking and reasoning skills.”

In practice

Helen Mora is head of science at Linwood College in Christchurch. Her team recently made effective use of the resources that LENScience offer. She says that it’s a great initiative for getting science ‘out of the clouds’ and for supporting teachers to confidently approach a complex subject.

“The modules that LENScience have designed model great classroom practice. Teachers can pick them up and adapt them to their own individual needs. They are also adaptable to different contexts. We’re using them here at Linwood College. We’re becoming a year 7 to 13 school and we can now look at what we’re doing throughout the school and create pathways that feed into each other.”

LENScience also goes a long way toward another goal of the curriculum: the development of citizenship capabilities. Helen points to the mission statement of the science learning area of The New Zealand Curriculum that talks about the values that we should be encouraging in students. “Community and participation for the common good” is a value that encompasses what LENScience is all about.

“There is a lot of focus on literacy and numeracy and we’re really fortunate in terms of the recent changes to the curriculum. The nature of science is now at the forefront of what we’re teaching. Helping both teachers and students to understand science inquiry as a process is really important in terms of understanding the role that science plays in our society.

“Right across The New Zealand Curriculum, no matter the subject area, there’s that emphasis on gaining an understanding so that students can make informed decisions and act on their conclusions and beliefs. Without science literacy and an understanding of the nature of science, they’re not able to do that.”

Healthy Start to Life

Helen and her team recently took up the ‘Healthy Start to Life’ programme for Linwood College students. The programme aims to make student aware of the fact that there are a whole range of environmental factors that children can be exposed to in utero and in their first years that can influence their whole lives and dictate their susceptibility to disease in later life.

Another topic that Helen says was really effective was the learning around Type 2 diabetes.

One of the first things we did was get teachers to look at the research behind it alongside reading on science literacy cross-curricular teaching.

“I gave them readings on foetal programming and how, for example, a pregnant mother’s diet can have long term repercussions.”

Some of the key outcomes of the Type 2 Diabetes module included:

  • identify patterns of prevalence and risk for Type 2 diabetes in New Zealand communities
  • identify key global patterns of prevalence and risk for Type 2 diabetes
  • develop understanding of the biological concepts underpinning the development and impact of Type 2 diabetes
  • explore the complexity of risk factors associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes, including obesity, physical inactivity, genetic inheritance, diet, and lifestyle throughout the life course (including before birth), and socio-economic, cultural, and environmental conditions throughout the life course.

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 6:30 pm, 10 February 2014

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