Policy makers Policy makers

Welcome to the first DESIRE Online Discussion Event for policy makers. The discussion is open from 15 to 17 October 2012 and is moderated by Professor Emilio Balzano from the University of Naples, Italy.

In this event, policy makers are invited to discuss the results of European and national science education projects and their dissemination strategies. During the event we will review various sources in Science Education and explore the potential of new media in informing different target groups about the latest develepment in STEM education.

Each of the 3 days of the event has a specific sub-theme. The sub-theme is introduced in details at 9 am. At 12pm and 4pm policy makers are invited to actively participate in the debate.

The themes of the three days are:

Day 1
The first day will focus on the STEM project dissemination strategies and on what feedback they get from the target audience.

Day 2
On the second day, participants will discuss their experience with applying new methods, tools and partnerships to their practice and will also concentrate on what and why certain media do not work with their audience ( i.e. with teachers or schools)  

Day 3

On the third day I would like you to tell about obstacles or circumstances that prevent teachers from/easy the integration of new tools and methods achieved though European and national project.
Decision makers from different countries are welcome to participate. We are looking forward to include your feedback and opinion in the analysis run by the DESIRE project.

Don’t miss it out!

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Meet the expert - Emilio Balzano Meet the expert - Emilio Balzano

Emilio Balzano teaches Physics at the University of Naples Federico II and is active in the field of science education since 1983.

His research activities aim at improving science learning and teaching through permanent training. He is (and was) a member of Steering and Scientific Committee of numerous national and international projects (LES, Piano ISS, Communication in Science, LIGHT, Pencil,  ISWA).

Recently, Prof. Balzano co-ordinated  the FP7 project TRACES. The main outcome of TRACES is a series of findings and recommendations on how to bridge the gap between science education research and actual teaching practice. They are aimed at all actors in science education, mainly researchers, policy makers and teachers in all grades.

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What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
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Inevitably, the discussion topics of the ODE three days intersect.

This can be seen already from several interventions. This is not a bad thing. We will try, in the end, to "bring order" to summarize what has emerged.

It seems to me that despite the different experiences from which we come, we are all aware of the complexity of the topics. The views that emerge are not far away.

For example, it seems to me that almost all share the fact that innovation must take into account how people learn, the actual teaching conditions, the needs of teachers, the socio-cultural aspects, etc.

In particular, I am very happy that schools are regarded as complex systems of interacting dynamics. In the dissemination process, teachers are not the target of an intervention based on assumed evidence but the protagonists of a participative process in which they work together with researchers, experts, policy makers as peers at all stages of the process.

Discussion about curricula, teaching methodologies, assessment and more generally about priorities in STEM should be part of an open debate on issues that are related to cultural specificities of local communities.

A possible strategy could be the construction at both the local and central level of consulting commissions involving teachers, researchers, students’ families, school principals and administrators, and all the other relevant actors.

But at this point we have to animate the discussion bringing out even different points of view!

To do that I launch the following questions:

What are, in your experience, examples and transferable models of educational innovation that you think are effective?

What tools have been effective? What were useless?
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RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
16/10/12 20:35 as a reply to emilio balzano.
I try to answer to Emilio question writing some reflections on how to involve teachers and spread innovation. As I wrote yesterday, we have to distinguish the effectiveness of our innovation work with a small group of teachers from the more general issue of the mainstreaming of innovation.
The reality, at least in Italy, is that small group of innovative teachers, working in a collaborative ways and using action research, are very useful for the research aims but not for mainstreaming innovation. The risk in fact is that the development of new ideas and new ways of thinking and teaching is restricted to a very small, and enthusiastic, group of teachers.
As demonstrated by the TRACES project, and many others, if the researchers really listen to teachers needs and possibilities, it is relatively easy to fill the gap between research and school practice. This require big efforts, collaborative strategies, follow up, but it works. The point is that this not change the system, and not transform the local and national 'culture' about science education.
We need to work on both directions: with a 'contamination' strategy involving more group and more teachers, and with a systemic strategy fighting for change some of the conditions of teachers work (more time for study and research, for following training courses, for participating to projects...) and for achieve more visibility and recognition for innovation in science education.
Specific aims and tools need to be in tune with the national and international situation. In Italy we are going toward a regression in the possibility of teachers to follow innovative projects - the addition of hours to their teaching time and the no recognition of their working time in projects and research are specific obstacle we need to face.
In general it could be interesting to discuss the effectiveness of 'popular' tools as 'science awards' for classes and teachers especially interested in science; 'science weeks'; 'science days' organised by the schools and open to families and the community, ... All these tools look for motivation and community involvment and need to be coupled with research based practices, but the risk is to leave the good practices in a ghetto.
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RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 11:18 as a reply to emilio balzano.
Silvia Caravita
Sono una ricercatrice del CNR, ora in pensione e ricercatrice associata dell'IRPPS del CNR. I processi di apprendimento e insegnamento delle scienze nella scuola di base sono il mio principale oggetto di studio.
Premetto una riflessione sul rapporto insegnanti-ricercatori che esperienze anche recenti continuano a suggerirmi.
Il rapporto tra insegnanti e ricercatori è critico perché ognuno, in qualche misura non può che continuare ad essere se stesso, con motivazioni, scopi, conoscenze e abilità diverse. Hanno in un certo senso ragione gli insegnanti che descrivono come troppo ”astratte” certe richieste e obbiettivi dei ricercatori: l’insegnante ha tutta una serie di problemi molto concreti e prioritari che derivano dalla sua personale relazione con i bambini (tutti diversi) e dalle interazioni possibili con loro. Percepiscono bene che i ricercatori pur proponendo cose sensate e probabilmente utili, su queste loro esigenze non hanno soluzioni (anche perché forse non ce ne sono di immediato risultato).
D’altra parte, anche i ricercatori sono pressati dalla relazione con la comunità scientifica e ne risultano inevitabilmente condizionate la qualità del loro rapporto con gli insegnanti e con la scuola, le loro aspettative. E’ tuttavia giusto che possano assicurarsi un riconoscimento e una interazione con la comunità scientifica.
Inoltre è fuorviante pensare il rapporto come tra pari: nella grande maggioranza dei casi non lo è, perché i ricercatori per loro mestiere sono stati spinti (hanno avuto il dovere, l’opportunità, il piacere, il peso,…?!) ad approfondire conoscenze, ampliare punti di vista culturali, esercitare capacità analitiche, interpretative, riflessive, comunicative, argomentative,…attraverso esperienze e modi che sono diversi da quelli di un insegnante.
Sono d'accordo con Michela Mayer quando dice che la formazione che passa attraverso la collaborazione con ricercatori non può che riguardare piccoli gruppi privilegiati e tempi lunghi ma non può essere la strategia generalizzata. Però la stretta interazione tra Scuola e istituzioni di ricerca mi sembra che (sempre per approssimazione) abbia dimostrato in anni passati di produrre buoni risultati, penso ad esempio alla rete dei Teachers' Centres o degli istituti dell'INRP. Non sono le azioni nazionali intraprese periodicamente che possono assicurare la continuità del processo di aggiustamento delle strategie dell'istruzione ai cambiamenti delle conoscenze, da una parte e delle società dall'altra.
Non so quanto sia utopistico attualmente proporre la creazione di un sistema in cui:
- i ricercatori per produrre risultati utili alla scuola e al suo cambiamento insieme alla società debbano lavorare in collaborazione con gli insegnanti, in contesti reali, anche quando i risultati delle loro ricerche hanno un valore prevalentemente teorico o riguardano aspetti molto parziali della relazione insegnamento-apprendimento; devono anche misurarsi con i problemi della ricaduta e diffusione dei risultati del loro lavoro, come missione formalizzata dal loro profilo professionale
- ricercatori di questo tipo devono appartenere (e in parte anche essere formati) a centri accademici che non siano mono-disciplinari e che abbiano canali istituzionali di dialogo e interazione col Ministero.
- la formazione iniziale degli insegnanti e dei dirigenti deve essere affidata a ricercatori con caratteristiche di questo tipo
- per un lungo periodo, il tirocinio degli insegnanti dovrebbe obbligatoriamente prevedere l’interazione con i ricercatori
- agli insegnanti in servizio che collaborano con i ricercatori in progetti specifici deve essere data la possibilità di farlo con le facilitazioni necessarie e con riconoscimenti dovuti; gli istituti scolastici che ospitano progetti di ricerca dovrebbero ricevere incentivi economici e non solo
- una rete di centri territoriali/laboratori dovrebbe costituire un riferimento stabile per la scuola per un lavoro di continuo e sistematico contatto, con l’obbiettivo di mediare il rapporto tra ricerca e scuola, ma anche di produrre ricerca sulla documentazione didattica. Le figure professionali di questi centri dovrebbero essere molteplici e non solo insegnanti che abbiano fatto esperienza di ricerca o che abbiano dimostrato particolari competenze didattiche; per esempio artisti, professionisti, artigiani, tecnici, anche ricercatori. Queste figure dovrebbero funzionare come partner degli insegnanti in progetti, come mentori di insegnanti giovani, dovrebbero essere di supporto nella produzione di risorse didattiche, e collaborare con le case editrici nella produzione di libri di testo. Questo personale non dovrebbe essere necessariamente permanente.
Anche l’interazione attraverso il web acquisterebbe senso per i partecipanti agli scambi perché sostenuta da sempre possibili interazioni di persona.
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RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 12:49 as a reply to silvia caravita.
I think there are two critical points.

On the one hand, teachers aren't generally see as drivers of improvement and transformation. Usually they have to be involved more than to involve; to be supported more than to support. We need a school system that works as a cultural institution with a certain social usefulness (in terms of production of ideas, perspectives, activities). Therefore, the whole school system should be devoted to research (in case, proposing structure and rules of research institution different from the current ones).

On the other hand, several large-scale initiatives aimed at "innovation" in the field of science education are lacking of global and long-term strategies (with regards of their development and evaluation). So that a large amount of resources are blown. For example, I'm thinking to PON in Italian southern regions (based on European structural funds devoted to areas under Objective 1).
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RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 14:12 as a reply to Michelina Mayer.
I agree with Michelina Mayer on the need to work on two directions:

“We need to work on both directions: with a 'contamination' strategy involving more group and more teachers, and with a systemic strategy fighting for change some of the conditions of teachers work (more time for study and research, for following training courses, for participating to projects...) and for achieve more visibility and recognition for innovation in science education.”

Without this, the proposed innovation will remain isolated.
In several schools in Italy, the teachers involved in innovation projects are always the same. On the other hand, for example in southern Italy, due to lack of funds, schools often are forced to join the projects to do ordinary activities. I know of many situations where projects fail to engage the whole school and more active teachers are even isolated.

External stimuli are needed but I think that teachers must build themselves, working with other teachers and researchers, proposals for educational innovation: without experimentation and research is impossible to adopt any proposed change.

Policies should recognize the experimentation and the joint planning of learning activities as a structural part of teachers’ practice and provide appropriate resources in terms of time, spaces and training.

So the question we must ask is how to involve central and local institutions and policy makers in the education system with the aim of recognizing the needs of teachers and schools.
Flag Flag
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 20:29 as a reply to emilio balzano.
I totally agree that the conditions in which the teachers work in their schools are probably the most important factor that should be changed to attain the goal of improving the quality of education, of science education in particlar; the real problem is that this goal is "proclaimed" in the formal documents but is not coherently pursued through decisions and moves that affect the concrete school environment.
Whilst the focus is always put on the teachers, the Head of the school institute has a very important function in supporting or hindering the innovation. I think that the selection of these professional figures should be done with great attention to their crucial role in promoting change and they should be always directly involved also by researchers when promoting reasearch-action projects. The responsibilities of the Head do not end in just giving their agreement to innovative projects, or to educational programs offered by exernal agencies: they consist in an active participation with pedagogical competences, in managing the organizational aspects, in making the teachers a community which shares objectives and policies.
Flag Flag
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 20:49 as a reply to silvia caravita.
I strongly agree with Silvia and with her Utopia. As she wrote we need to promote actions in several directions: we need to support and to to involve teachers, but we need also to ask for the recognition of educational research, and for orienting educational research to educational practice. In many countries, and Italy is one, educational research is not really valued, not at school as a teacher quality, not at the universities.
An European position on this point could be an important policy move: research is an intrinsic component of education. If education want to be effective while contexts and students competencies change, continuos innovation and teachers longlife learning are needed, and this is not possible without research.
The Silvia proposal of having a structural support by territorial lab, specialised in STEM and connected i suppose with educational research centres and museums, is very important. But they need minimum a 10 years implementation in order to become a structural component of the school system.
Also web sites could be useful, not just as 'repository' but as a stimulus for action and cooperative work.
Flag Flag
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
18/10/12 03:50 as a reply to Michelina Mayer.
I agree totally with Michela and Silvia and other that expressed themselves in more or less the same way. We need to work in both directions: to valorize teachers work and their involvement in innovative programmes and researches on one side, and generate a real recognition of Educational research both, at the highest level (universities, financing agencies) and in schools, that is to say at de governmental level. If science educational research is not valorized, teachers won´t have never the conditions and interests on innovative programs and researches and the practice of science education won´t notice of their results and recommendations.

I´m very sorry that my participation was so poor. I lost yesterday discussion and lost the opportunity of relating our interesting experience during TRACES Field Actions in our context, and so on.

Thank you Emilio and colleagues for the invitation and opportunity. Hope we can have a better interaction in another opportunity. Greetings!!!!
Flag Flag
Latest posts Latest posts
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
18/10/12 03:50
I agree totally with Michela and Silvia and other that expressed themselves in more or less the same way. We need to work in both directions: to valorize teachers work and their involvement in innovative programmes and researches on one side, and generate a real recognition of Educational research both, at the highest level (universities, financing agencies) and in schools, that is to say at de governmental level. If science educational research is not valorized, teachers won´t have never the conditions and interests on innovative programs and researches and the practice of science education won´t notice of their results and recommendations.

I´m very sorry that my participation was so poor. I lost yesterday discussion and lost the opportunity of relating our interesting experience during TRACES Field Actions in our context, and so on.

Thank you Emilio and colleagues for the invitation and opportunity. Hope we can have a better interaction in another opportunity. Greetings!!!!
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 20:49
I strongly agree with Silvia and with her Utopia. As she wrote we need to promote actions in several directions: we need to support and to to involve teachers, but we need also to ask for the recognition of educational research, and for orienting educational research to educational practice. In many countries, and Italy is one, educational research is not really valued, not at school as a teacher quality, not at the universities.
An European position on this point could be an important policy move: research is an intrinsic component of education. If education want to be effective while contexts and students competencies change, continuos innovation and teachers longlife learning are needed, and this is not possible without research.
The Silvia proposal of having a structural support by territorial lab, specialised in STEM and connected i suppose with educational research centres and museums, is very important. But they need minimum a 10 years implementation in order to become a structural component of the school system.
Also web sites could be useful, not just as 'repository' but as a stimulus for action and cooperative work.
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 20:29
I totally agree that the conditions in which the teachers work in their schools are probably the most important factor that should be changed to attain the goal of improving the quality of education, of science education in particlar; the real problem is that this goal is "proclaimed" in the formal documents but is not coherently pursued through decisions and moves that affect the concrete school environment.
Whilst the focus is always put on the teachers, the Head of the school institute has a very important function in supporting or hindering the innovation. I think that the selection of these professional figures should be done with great attention to their crucial role in promoting change and they should be always directly involved also by researchers when promoting reasearch-action projects. The responsibilities of the Head do not end in just giving their agreement to innovative projects, or to educational programs offered by exernal agencies: they consist in an active participation with pedagogical competences, in managing the organizational aspects, in making the teachers a community which shares objectives and policies.
RE: What are the examples, models, tools that you think are effective?
17/10/12 14:12
I agree with Michelina Mayer on the need to work on two directions:

“We need to work on both directions: with a 'contamination' strategy involving more group and more teachers, and with a systemic strategy fighting for change some of the conditions of teachers work (more time for study and research, for following training courses, for participating to projects...) and for achieve more visibility and recognition for innovation in science education.”

Without this, the proposed innovation will remain isolated.
In several schools in Italy, the teachers involved in innovation projects are always the same. On the other hand, for example in southern Italy, due to lack of funds, schools often are forced to join the projects to do ordinary activities. I know of many situations where projects fail to engage the whole school and more active teachers are even isolated.

External stimuli are needed but I think that teachers must build themselves, working with other teachers and researchers, proposals for educational innovation: without experimentation and research is impossible to adopt any proposed change.

Policies should recognize the experimentation and the joint planning of learning activities as a structural part of teachers’ practice and provide appropriate resources in terms of time, spaces and training.

So the question we must ask is how to involve central and local institutions and policy makers in the education system with the aim of recognizing the needs of teachers and schools.