A Transition Year Module Based on the Principles of TEMI

(Proceedings Dortmund Symposium 26-28 May 2016)

Laurie Ryan 1,2,3 & Peter E. Childs 1,2 

1EPI*STEM, National Centre for STEM Education, 2Department of Chemical and Environmental Sciences,3 Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland.

This research project focuses on developing teaching and learning resources for Transition Year Science in accordance with the Teaching Enquiry with Mysteries Incorporated (TEMI) guidelines. The TEMI project aims to work with schools across Europe to develop and implement innovative training programs. Its goal is to provide teachers with new resources and methods to teach STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) using mysteries and discrepant events as a starting point (Childs, 2013). This research project focused on Transition Year (TY) science. TY is a gap year in the Irish education system, it has no set curriculum. A module was created which contained 8 different units. The units within the created module were developed based on Bybee’s 5E model of Inquiry which included: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. The ‘Engagement’ stage focused on the use of discrepant events or mysteries to follow to the TEMI approach.

Introduction

The aim of this research project was to develop science teaching materials specifically for the Irish Transition Year (TY) as part of a Final Year research project (FYRP) done by Pre-Service Science Teachers (PSSTs). The module follows the same lesson structure as the previous TY science modules created at the University of Limerick (UL) (Childs et al., 2013). However, the lessons were designed to use the Teaching Enquiry with Mysteries Incorporated (TEMI) approach, which uses mysteries to engage students. TEMI is an EU-funded project running from 2013-2016 (www.teachingmysteries.eu). The TEMI-based TY module offers schools a self-contained module that covers a range of topics from Biology, Physics and Chemistry, and includes a students’ workbook and teacher’s guide. The module shows teachers how to carry out inquiry effectively by “bringing to the fore the sense of mystery, exploration and discovery that is at the core of all scientific practice” (TEMI, 2013). The TEMI method of teaching can be linked in to many topics of science and can be extended to both Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle science courses.

The main research questions in this project were:

  1. Does the TEMI approach promote students’ motivation to explore science concepts further?
  2. Does the TY TEMI module encourage students’ intentions to pursue a Leaving Certificate science subject?

Literature

The TEMI innovations

The overall aim of the TEMI project is to develop teachers’ inquiry-based teaching skills in science and mathematics (TEMI, 2013). The goal is to provide teachers with the support needed to achieve this, which includes the production of exciting new resources (TEMI, 2013). What makes TEMI unique is how it has conceptualised IBSE in terms of 4 innovations. These are:

  • The use of mysteries to engage students.
  • The use of the 5E model to structure inquiry.
  • The use of showmanship to sustain student engagement.
  • The use of the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model to develop students’ inquiry skills.

The first innovation involves using ‘Mysteries’ to create curiosity and engage students. According to Bybee and Landes (1990), “the objective in a constructivist program is often to challenge students’ current conceptions by providing data that conflict with students’ current thinking or experiences that provide an alternate way of thinking about objects and phenomena” (p. 96). If used correctly, such ‘discrepant events’ (Liem, 1990) can promote students’ motivation, causing students to be active participants in their own learning and to create new knowledge for themselves (Longfield, 2009). The TEMI CPD workshops showed teachers how to use mysteries to start off an inquiry and then use the 5E model of inquiry to structure the lesson (innovation 2). The 5E cycle is a model to help teachers and students develop understanding of scientific concepts through a process of enquiry (TEMI, 2013) and includes the stages: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate (Bybee & Landes, 1990). González-Espada, Birriel & Birriel (2010), state that careful planning and preparation is required in order for the event to be successful. However, they go on to state that the “pedagogical awards are worth it” (p.510). After a mystery or discrepant event, the follow-up is equally important. It is not enough to show the students a mystery or discrepant event and just leave it at that, they need to explore the different explanations in order for them to come up with the answers. It is vital that the students learn from the process and engage with the material and not just the initial mystery. The third TEMI innovation is the use ‘Showmanship’ to help to introduce the mystery and sustain students’ efforts in inquiry-based learning (Sherborne, 2014). TEMI CPD workshops use performers like magicians or actors to support teachers to transform science lessons using a range of showmanship techniques (TEMI, 2013). The final innovation is the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model to embed and develop inquiry: this involves three stages encapsulated in the statement – ‘I do it, We do it, You do it’. In principle it is a transition from the teacher as the master, through the student as apprentice, to the student as the problem solver (TEMI, 2013). Gradually increasing the challenge to students aids in the development of their problem-solving and reasoning skills (TEMI, 2013).

The Irish Transition Year

While TEMI is the guiding focus of the project, the target group of the module is a TY science group. The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is a one year optional programme for Irish students in their 4th year of second level education. It is designed as “a bridge to enable students to make the transition from Junior to Senior Cycle.” (Department of Education, 1993, p. 3). The TYP is a curriculum-free “gap” year, unique to the Irish secondary education system, and is aimed at promoting students’ social and personal development (Clerkin, 2012). It offers students a year that is not solely focused on examinations, unlike the rest of their post-primary education (Jeffers, 2011). TYP offers students a broad educational experience with a view to the attainment of increased maturity (Department of Education, 1993), allowing learning to become student-centred. The TYP does not have a prescribed curriculum, so each school can design its own programme using a suggested curriculum framework. The curriculum content is decided by the individual school and thus differs for each school. However, science is not considered a core subject in the TYP; it is a subject that can be ‘sampled’ by students to allow them to “make informed choices when making their subject choices” (PDST, nd). Thus TY schools either offer a taster course in one or more of the senior cycle Sciences or they offer a general science course (Hayes, Childs & O’Dwyer 2013).

Methodology

With the research questions in mind, it was decided to use both qualitative and quantitative research methods. It was essential to gather responses from students and teachers during School Placement as these were the target groups. School Placement is a 10 week teaching block for PSSTs. The brief time-span of the research project meant an emphasis was placed on time-efficient research methods. Pre- and post-questionnaires were designed for the TY students taking the module. Participating PSSTs also kept a diary of the lessons they trialled, along with completing a teacher questionnaire at the end of the implementation.

This action research project had three phases. Phase 1 involved the development of the Transition Year module and the questionnaires. The Transition Year module was developed in accordance with previously developed modules (Childs et al., 2013). Eight science topics were chosen, covering biology, chemistry and physics, and each unit consisted of a single lesson, a double lesson and an optional single lesson. (See Table 1 for the list of units and topics.)

Phase 2 was the implementation of this TY module by both the researcher (LR) and other PSSTs from the University of Limerick. Pre-and post-questionnaires were given to the students and the other PSSTs were asked to complete a teacher’s diary, as well as completing a final questionnaire.

Table 1: List of TEMI topics in the Homemade Heroes TY module

Topic Title (scientific topic covered)
1 What floats your boat? (Density)
2 Bubble trouble (Surface Tension)
3 Move your body (Centre of Gravity)
4 Food for thought (Enzyme denaturation)
5 The disappearing act. (Absorbent Polymers)
6 Now you see it! Now you don’t! (Acids, bases and Indicators – hidden messages)
7 Ice, Ice baby (Depression of fpt. of Ice)
8 What’s going on? (Alcohol Fermentation)

Phase 3 was the analysis and evaluation of the data from the pre- and post-questionnaires and teacher diaries, from the researcher and other PSSTs. In total 7 teachers took part, one of whom was the researcher (LR), with their TY class sizes varying from 9 to 27 students, with a total of 102 students. The researcher’s own student questionnaires were analysed separately and then combined with the others, to identify effects due to prior TEMI training and the researcher’s bias. The school backgrounds varied between mixed, all-girls and all-boys. The collected data was analysed using the IBM SPSS Statistics (Version 22) software.

Results

Research question 1

The key findings of the research showed that using the TEMI approach has significant motivational effects, and students were willing and eager to explore scientific concepts further.The students were asked to state if they were encouraged to carry out further investigations on their own after seeing a discrepant or puzzling event. The results of the researcher’s pre-questionnaire showed that 20% of students stated ‘Yes’; in the researcher’s post-questionnaire, the students were asked the same question after doing the TY TEMI module and 64% chose ‘Yes’, an increase of 44%. In the other 6 PSSTs’ pre-questionnaires, 37.5% of the students voted ‘Yes’, and in the post-questionnaire 57% stated that they were encouraged to carry out their own investigations after a puzzling event, a 19.5% increase. The teacher diaries also indicated that students were motivated to investigate themselves after the initial TEMI lesson, and 83.3% of the PSSTs stated that students learn more when they are given responsibility for their own learning.

Research question 2

There was also a large increase in the number of students who intended to carry out a Leaving Certificate (LC) science subject after doing TY module, from both the PSSTs and the researcher’s data. In the researcher’s pre-questionnaire only 44% of students stated they were interested in doing a Leaving Certificate science subject, whereas after the module the figure was 68%, a 22% increase. The results from the PSSTs students’ responses were similar: in the pre-questionnaire, 44% of their students wanted to pursue one or more science subjects in Leaving Certificate, compared to 64.1% of students after doing the module. This was despite the short time period the researcher/PSSTs had with their class groups. This implies that students’ interest in science is increased after the experience of the TY TEMI module.

Discussion

TEMI had a large impact on the students’ motivation in all the student groups. The TEMI approach gave an opportunity to involve students in surprising and relevant activities. The researcher had an advantage over the PSSTs in terms of experience with TEMI, the 5E model and discrepant events, and this shows the value of such training in order to carry out IBSE effectively in the classroom. The percentage of students who intended to take a LC science subject increased after doing the TY module. This shows that students are drawn towards science when a suitable pedagogy is used and when science is made more relevant to the students. The limited results show that by using inquiry-based and student-active teaching strategies, science is made more appealing to the student. Approaches like TEMI, which are more focused on the student’s experience, can improve their motivation and interest in science. The limitations of this study should be noted: the sample of teachers and students is small and there was a limited time to implement the materials during the 10 week school placement.

TY is a chance to sell the science subjects to students (Childs, 2007) and in turn increase student’s interest and uptake of LC science. It is a chance to promote science to the students in a way they may not have experienced before (Hayes, Childs & O’Dwyer, 2013). The TEMI TY module offers a new and exciting way to introduce science topics and allow students to experience inquiry. The research suggest that the use of the discrepant event is vital in terms of creating a ‘need to know’ (Wright & Govindarajan, 1992) and motivating students to find the answer themselves, since they aren’t being told what to learn. All the units in the TY module began with a discrepant event to engage the class, causing them to be active participants in their own learning and to create new knowledge for themselves (Longfield, 2009). The teacher had to become a facilitator to help students take over the problem and find out the answer for themselves. This led to students having increased responsibility over their learning. Mysteries are effective in motivating students because they engage the students in cognitive conflict (Gonzalez-Espada et al., 2010) and this means that the students were encouraged to work towards the answer from their previous knowledge.

This was a short-term intervention project, with a small sample, and the long-term impact of TEMI and IBSE approaches in general were not looked at. A copy of the module can be obtained by sending an email to the author.

Acknowledgements

The TEMI project is funded by the European Union in the FP7-programme under grant agreement no. 321403.

References

Bybee, R.W., and N.M. Landes. 1990. “Science for Life and Living.” American Biology Teacher, 52(2), 92-98

Childs, P. (2007). The problems with science education: “The more things change, the more they are the same. Available at: http://chemistrynetwork.pixel-online.org/data/SMO_db/doc/20_peter%20childs%20problems%20with%20science%20eductaion.pdf [Accessed 19 January 2015].

Childs, P. (2013). Teaching Enquiry with Mysteries Incorporated, Chemistry in Action!, Summer 2013 (Issue No. 100), 45.

Childs, P.E., Hayes, S., O’ Dwyer, A and Sheehan, M. (2013), TY Science: Developing new context-based teaching, Proceedings: New Perspectives in Science Education (NPSE), Florence, Italy, 14-15 March.

Clerkin, A. (2012). Personal development in secondary education: The Irish Transition Year. Education Policy Analysis Archives, [online] 20 (38), available: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/1061   [Accessed 16th January 2015].

Department of Education (1993). Transition Year programmes guidelines 1994 – ’95, Dublin: Department of Education.

González-Espada, W., Birriel, J. and Birriel, I. (2010). Discrepant Events: A Challenge to Students’ Intuition. The Physics Teacher, 48(8), 508.

Hayes, S., Childs, P., & O’Dwyer, A. (2013). ‘Science in the Irish transition year: an opportunity to change the way science is taught.’ In T. Plomp, & N. Nieveen (Eds.), Educational design research – Part B: Illustrative cases, Enschede, Netherlands: SLO,(733-755).

Jeffers, G. (2011). The Transition Year programme in Ireland. Embracing and resisting a curriculum innovation. Curriculum Journal, 22(1), 61-76.

Liem, T.K. (1990) Invitations to Science Inquiry. 2nd. Edition. Toronto: Science Inquiry Enterprise.

Longfield, J. (2009). ‘Discrepant Teaching Events : Using an Inquiry Stance to Address Students’ Misconceptions’, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education [online], 21(2), 266–271, available: http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/pdf/IJTLHE732.pdf   [accessed 17 January, 2015].

PDST (Professional Development Service for Teachers ), (n.d). ‘Transition Year Curriculum’ [online], available: http://www.pdst.ie/TY/curriculum [accessed 25th January 2015].

Sherborne, T. (2014). Enquiry & TEMI CPD: Enquiry based science education & continuing professional development (CPD) [online] www.teachingmysteries.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Enquiry-CPD.pdf [accessed 7th June 2016]

Teaching Enquiry with Mystery Incorporated (TEMI), (2013). ‘Teachers – Information’ [online], available: http://teachingmysteries.eu/ [accessed 12th January, 2015].

Wright, E.L. and Govindarajan, G. (1992). Stirring the Biology Teaching Pot with Discrepant Events. The American Biology Teacher, 54(4), 205–210.