Helen Georgiou

ACSME Panel: Learning from each other: a tale of two education sectors

Helen Georgiou

Dr Helen Georgiou Lecturer, Science Education University of Wollongong

Dr Helen Georgiou is a lecturer in science education and former high school physics teacher. Helen’s research focuses on how improve access to and success in science. Her PhD, from The University of Sydney, focused on student understanding of thermodynamics and is entitled ‘Doing Positive Work: on student understanding of thermodynamics’. A unique element of Helen’s research involves drawing from an epistemological framework known as Legitimation Code Theory to explore the nature of scientific knowledge in various educational contexts. This approach is able to make certain knowledge claims and practices more explicit, reducing the risk of misunderstanding and disengagement in science. Other research interests include diagnosing misconceptions, exploring student-generated digital explanations as assessment, describing creativity in physics and evaluating professional learning opportunities through peer observation (in higher education).

I have engaged in crossing the boundary between secondary and tertiary education considerably and regularly.

I actually began my career as a high school teacher, teaching in various contexts, including different ages, different types of schools and in different university faculties. In my current role, I work across the secondary and tertiary sectors in coordinating the undergraduate preservice science teachers’ pedagogy subjects. In these subjects, I work with Faculty of Science colleagues, Education colleagues and high school science teachers. I am also involved in university admission of high school students, advising on and writing curricula, delivering professional learning to teachers, and delivering outreach directly to schools.

In these experiences, I have developed a sense of some of the key challenges and successes related to crossing the secondary – tertiary boundaries. I believe these challenges and successes can be organised into two main areas, people and ideas. I elaborate on these below.

Collaborations between science academics and science educators (people): Key individuals from secondary and tertiary sectors will often collaborate in order to improve student outcomes. In my experience, this can be extremely fruitful but is also very challenging. For instance, university academics (E.g., physics or chemistry lecturers) will often work with teachers to contribute to curriculum development. University lecturers will also collaborate across Faculties (i.e., Education and Science) to design and deliver pre-service teacher subjects. The strengths of those in the secondary sector include a richer and more holistic understanding of secondary students’ dispositions and needs. University academics, on the other hand, have deep content knowledge and often direct experience with science as it is practiced. Challenges are evident where one of these is prioritised over the other; content knowledge above all else, or failure to appreciate the significant role content knowledge plays.

Using ideas from secondary contexts in tertiary contexts and vice versa (ideas): There are a range of ideas related to both content and pedagogy that cross the secondary-tertiary boundary. One example is the act of peer observation of teaching. I was personally involved in bringing a successful peer observation program to Usyd that was modelled on the observations that occur in the secondary context. This program, which we conducted research into, helped academics feel more connected to each other, and resulted in improvements in teaching practices. There are also ideas that originate in tertiary contexts that are translated for secondary contexts, such as citizen science projects that aim to allow students to experience authentic scientific practices. Challenges occur here too, in terms of the appropriateness of an idea for the different contexts. Engaging in authentic scientific practice is not always feasible or appropriate, for instance, and peer observation is not as easily accepted in the tertiary sector than in the secondary context, where it is more routine.

A recognition of the differences of the secondary and tertiary contexts, their different aims, values, knowledge structures and the characteristics of their actors is a useful first step in working towards more fruitful collaborations. I believe that the advantages of such collaborations far outweigh their challenges, and I, personally, am committed to continuing this important work.