Integrating for better science teaching

Dr Samantha Moyle won the PM’s Prize for Science Teaching last year and the time that followed has been rich in experience and achievement.
Oct 27, 2020
Drawing references across STEM subjects

Dr Sam Moyle, who holds a PhD in Medicine, has been working hard innovating how lessons are delivered and creating content that enlivens the students’ experience of STEM at Brighton Secondary School in SA. The program has an accent on integration across disciplines.

She has been named the school’s Science and STEM Coordinator and has set about structuring teaching so it caters to all levels of student ability. Moyle has also moved into a mentoring role for the other teachers.

“I have been working with the team to redevelop our assessment tasks to provide clear scaffolds and checklists to support learners who require this, while also enabling extension and differentiation for those learners who wish to challenge themselves. We have been deliberately building in problem solving, critical and creative thinking, and digital technologies capabilities into assessment tasks and removing multiple low-stakes ‘tests’ in favour of more rigorous and authentic assessment.

“I am also responsible for the STEM Bright program, which is an integrated, maths, science and technology program with an engineering focus. This is in addition to implementing integrated learning across the site. Integrating units within mainstream classes is a passion for me. I am really pleased and proud of the Siege Engines unit and the work that the science, maths and history teachers put in to make this a truly authentic task. For National Science Week this year, we ran activities linking 2020’s theme with art through water colour paintings and English with short stories and poems. This has been an excellent first step in building teacher capabilities and mindsets towards integrated leaning.”

Using Microsoft Teams as a video conferencing platform, Moyle has found that online learning and the anonymity that that affords has given students new voice and the confidence to ask questions without fear.

“2020 has presented some interesting challenges to building innovative pedagogy but it has provided an excellent opportunity to open up avenues of teaching and learning I hadn’t previously explored. Although in South Australia we didn’t ever go to a full-online learning model, our preparation for it has enabled me to explore other avenues of supporting my students.

“I now run evening tutorials for my year 12 biology students, providing them with an opportunity to go over concepts they might be struggling with in class. Behind their avatars, the degree of anonymity that the platform enables seems to provide students with a comfort level to ask questions they wouldn’t ordinarily do in a class environment. Despite having quite a close-knit class, there is always that reservation (almost a stigma) associated with asking a question in front of the others due to fear of judgement. However, the video conferencing platform seems to remove some of this fear.

“It is our goal to develop student’s achievement through engaging, authentic and integrated learning. To achieve this, I have also been working with learning area leaders from other faculties to create opportunities for integrated learning, and this has been a particular focus between maths and science. There is so much cross-over between the two curriculums, but the maths course is particularly dense. The maths coordinator and I have been working to align the year 8 science and maths courses, especially with inquiry skills and content such as graphing, perimeter and area, percentages and ratios. This will enable the maths teachers more time to develop mastery over concepts that students struggle with, like algebra. We are hoping to implement this new format for 2021.”

One of her prouder achievements has been the lessons and resources that she has created and released as free IBooks catering to different year levels with a focus on unconventional, fun subjects. An interdisciplinary format is another one of their strong suits.

“I try to prepare my favourite lessons as free resource iBooks, but I have been particularly proud of the Siege Engines unit (year 8), Mini Worlds unit (year 9), and the Forensics-Zombie Virus unit (year 10). As an example, The Siege Engines unit was conducted by all year 8 students this year. It was an amalgamation of history, science and maths, and authentically incorporated assessable aspects from all curriculum areas. For example, Venn diagrams (which are traditionally part of year 8 maths course) were utilised from a history perspective to compare three types of siege engines (ballista, trebuchet and catapult).”

In science, students prototyped and tested their machines, explored the range, accuracy and destructive capability of each (which was the best at breaking down the castle walls?) and even explored how different weighted projectiles impacted these findings.

“Analysis was conducted using statistics, percentages and ratio concepts in maths with student challenged to determine which would be the best siege engine to use in a real-life scenario. Finally, students reviewed how the development of this technology changed the nature of warfare, which not only connected to the HASS curriculum but also the science as a Human Endeavour Strand. I am really excited about this unit and am planning on preparing it for publication later this year.”

The STEM Coordinator role has allowed Moyle to release her inner research geek, encouraging the others on staff to look into what has been published around education theory.

“Generally, I do a lot of presenting at conferences as I love sharing my successes (and sometimes resounding failures) albeit COVID-19 has restricted that this year. It has however, provided a greater opportunity and need to work one-to-one with members of my team to build capabilities and confidence especially in relation to the innovative use of iPads in transformative ways.

“In the coordinator role I have also been able to leverage the strengths and skills of my team members providing faculty time for professional learning in relation to areas such as cognitive load theory, flipped learning and mastery, science literacy development, and innovative collaborative glossaries in the form of mind maps. Being a research ‘nerd’ in the coordinator position I have also built a ‘library’ for our team, showcasing current research relating to engagement, collaborative learning, formative assessment and cognitive load.”

In case you hadn’t noticed, 2020 has been a bit different with the virus throwing a spanner into the works of regular schooling, fortunately, SA wasn’t as badly effected as other states.

“We have been very lucky – COVID-19 had minimal impact on us here in South Australia. However, in preparing for it, it has opened up some new avenues of teaching and learning. Firstly, educators who were less confident with using technology in transformative ways were provided time and professional development to explore this, which empowered them by building their confidence. For those educators who were more comfortable, it opened up new ways of looking at pedagogy. For myself, I have mentioned using the videoconferencing platforms to better support students above but also dug deeper into to using more creative platforms such as CoSpaces, Minecraft and RealityComposer which means students can create their own virtual worlds.

“Conversely, COVID-19 has also provided an opportunity to move students away from using technology all of the time by utilising self-directed science investigations that could be conducted in the home environment. An example we considered during COVID-19 and the toilet paper shortage, was to investigate the biodegradability of toilet paper substitutes like tissues and baby wipes. The question we posed was, ‘what could be used that could still be flushed down the toilet?’”