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Australian Curriculum: Science 2 – structure of the curriculum

Before we get into the next installment, I want you to go to AC: Science and have a little play, if you haven’t already. One of the things I love about this curriculum has nothing to do with the pedagogy or science and everything to do with the presentation. Those little symbols up the top that look like an optometrist’s test let you decide whether the year levels go down the page horizontally or across vertically. You can choose which year level to look at. You can choose whether you see the achievement standards, the content descriptors or the whole shebang. You can even choose to see the links to the cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities in there. Or not. It’s the first document I’ve seen anywhere, not just in education, that really takes advantage of the fact that the web is not linear.

And that makes it a joy to use. I spent today writing advice on multi-level classes. Nothing can do everything right and this is the bit that the AC: Science does horribly. That’s not to say I can think of a better way right now and 9 hours of solid work may have hammered out a compromise, but it’s ugly. At least while I was writing it I could arrange the years vertically and clear everything else away to compare the achievement standards right next to each other. Then add in the content descriptors to see if it still worked. When I was writing an exemplar for a year 2 program I could just look at the specific standards, descriptors and elaborations for year 2. This is a complete change in the way we can use this document, far more useful and flexible than any book we’ve been given in the past. And that makes it a pretty darn good metaphor for the AC: Science itself, because this curriculum is not only based on the latest thinking and research, it completely re-writes the goal of teaching science and therefore the way we teach it.

One of the big concerns at #onsci was where is the science for general life? The answer is right there. Throughout the entire curriculum in every single class.

In the past science education was aimed at producing future scientists. There was some nice fiction that every student in our classes could be going on to become a scientist, so that was what we had to prepare them for. This has changed.

Now, our goal is to produce scientifically literate future citizens. There is national and international acknowledgement that not everyone is going to become a scientist, but everyone needs to be able to grapple with the big issues facing us as a global society, which means being able to understand how science works and how it affects our lives even if you aren’t specialising for a career.

AC graphic

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This is one way of representing AC: Science. It’s actually much more complicated, and I will love forever anyone who manages to design a graphic for the rest of it. I’m thinking of multiple paths to the same destination and weaving. But this bit’s fairly reasonable.

The Achievement Standard is the most important part. If you’re a non-teacher forget the content descriptors. I know they take up lots of room and look important, but they are just suggestions of how to meet the standard. Suggestions you need a darn good reason signed off in triplicate to ignore, but ‘the order and detail in which the content descriptions are organised into teaching/learning programs are decisions to be made by the teacher.’ The achievement standard, on the other hand, is the bit that we expect every Australian child to have the opportunity to achieve.

Below the achievement standard are the most important strands that contribute to it. And front and centre you can see ‘Science as a Human Endeavour,’ which is the fancy name for science for real life. And right there next to it is ‘Science Inquiry Skills.’ No longer are they tucked away in a corner as something along the lines of ‘Working Scientifically,’ they make up fully two thirds of the curriculum and the achievement standard. Biology? Chemistry? Physics? They’re the ones tucked away, down below in the sub-strand level. They’re still important – knowledge is an important element of scientific literacy – but they are in many ways just the context for learning about scientific ways of thinking and doing.

Now let’s look at an actual achievement standard so you can see what I mean. They all follow the same pattern, so I picked one in the middle.

By the end of Year 5, students classify substances according to their observable properties and behaviours. They explain everyday phenomena associated with the transfer of light. They describe the key features of our solar system. They analyse how the form of living things enables them to function in their environments. Students discuss how scientific developments have affected people’s lives and how science knowledge develops from many people’s contributions.

Students follow instructions to pose questions for investigation, predict what might happen when variables are changed, and plan investigation methods. They use equipment in ways that are safe and improve the accuracy of their observations. Students construct tables and graphs to organise data and identify patterns. They use patterns in their data to suggest explanations and refer to data when they report findings. They describe ways to improve the fairness of their methods and communicate their ideas, methods and findings using a range of text types.

That entire second paragraph is all about the Science Inquiry Skills, the doing of science. In the first paragraph, we have a sentence on chemistry, a sentence on energy, a sentence on the solar system and a sentence on biology. Then we finish with a longer sentence about science as a part of daily life and how we got to where we are.

Facts and pracs are no longer an option. In order for students to pass science, in order for them to be able to do the things that we have decided are important for all Australian children, investigation of real-world questions important to the students themselves is not the jam you get to if you are lucky, but the absolute bread and butter.

But wait! There’s more! In part three we’ll meet the Overarching Ideas.

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