What are the professional competences for science teachers?
The idea of competence, which is widely disseminated through in current scientific science educationcurricula in various countries, has great potential for the professionalization of science teachers. Moreover, teachers need competences for introducing these competences and for supporting students to learn these competences. In this chapter, we explore a characterisationcharacterization of scientific competences that can be productive for the pre-service teacher education. With such a definition, it could be possible to inspect some “paradigmatic” competencies in science teaching.
In current educational research, the notion of “competence” is considered both problematic and promising (Perrenoud, 1999; Díaz Barriga, 2006). To a large extent, this problematic character arises from its exo-educational, economicist origins. The promising nature of the concept, on the other hand, may be mainly due to the power it has to help to restructure the training of teachers in the 21st century.
In the context of the European Higher Education Area, one definition of competence that has already become classic characterises it as the general capacity based on knowledge, experiences, and values that a person has developed through their participation in educational practices (Eurydice, 2002). Such a definition of competence could be considered, following Alex Pavié (2011), as “generic”; it has the value of placing science as a noteworthy contribution to the integral education of people, but it entails a danger: separating the training of formal skills from the disciplinary ways of understanding the world. Therefore, it would also be necessary to have a “specific” definition of competence, set in context. In the case of the professional competences of science teachers, the specific context is the science classrooms, in which the specific activity of teaching science is developed.
One way to understand competences for science teacher education is to think of them as abilities (cognitive, discursive, material, value-related) that operate on scientific content within a well-defined context, which is that of professional performance. However, this definition does not indicate any criteria for selecting the competences that would be most relevant for teacher professionalization. It is here that the need arises to make some additional specifications in order to identify the most paradigmatic competencies in the professionalism of teachers.
Towards the identification of professional competences for science teachers
We start from the basis that the education of science teachers aims at preparing individuals that are competent in designing, implementing and evaluating a good quality science education in their classrooms. This competence is similar what Caena (2014) recognised in her analysis of various national level teacher competence frameworks or strategies or standards, which typically emphasise professional knowledge and practices in teacher profession. Thus, the competence for science teachers par excellence would that they make their students scientifically competent. The specific competences, on the other hand, could be conceptualized as a set of knowledge-based strategies that enable teachers to successfully design a teaching of science directed to different audiences and to tackle with the conflicts and difficulties that arise in their professional practice.
Science teachers of course need scientific competences aligned with those that they will foster in their students. But they also need competence for the planning, execution and regulation of their teaching, which involve effective actions responding to complex demands. Science teaching, seen from the perspective of professional competences, entails the integration of very different forms of knowledge –including, but not reduced to, disciplinary knowledge. When science teachers teach, they are expected to mobilise these different forms of knowledge adequately and efficiently.
A competence-based science teaching would include four dimensions: 1. a body of scientific knowledge composed of theoretical models that should be taught; 2. the ability to effectively transform the world using those models according to various human aims; 3. a set of socially shared attitudes and values to meet the demands of citizenship; and 4. a critical understanding of the nature of the scientific activity. These dimensions, therefore, should be central in pre-service science teacher education. In addition to competences needed in a science classroom, science teachers need professional engagement, which includes teachers’ own engagement in professional learning and professional engagement with colleagues, parents and the community (APST 2014). However, these competences are not analysed here.
Therefore, a central trait in the professionalisation of science teachers would be sound knowledge of science and about science; teachers’ professional competences, in relation to the discipline to be taught, would be both of scientific and meta-scientific nature (using here the Greek prefix meta to give an idea of a “second order reflection on”). Among meta-scientific competences, we could place the teaching, instructional or didactical competence.
School science could be understood as an intellectual and social activity in which students use scientific models to make sense of phenomena. The theoretical ideas carried by the models, together with the specialised language of science and the experimental activities to intervene on phenomena, would constitute “game rules” to explain the natural world and to understand the human aims and values that shape science. With this idea in mind, a substantial part of the professional task of the teachers would to teach model-based competences, that is, competences that mirror the epistemic nature of the scientific activity, requiring that students think, talk and act on scientific problems.
What would then be some of the important competences for teachers to teach, which they would therefore need to learn during their professional training? When we face this question, we are located on a continuum with two very recognisable ends: 1. competences that belong to science, working as a sort of “Ockham’s razor” to demarcate science from common sense and from other human activities, or 2. more general competences directed to citizenship, for which science would be an instrument or a context.
Mid-way in between these two positions, we could talk about “paradigmatic” scientific competences modelled on central traits of science. Such competences would satisfy, at the same time, two requirements: 1. they would show the most characteristic elements of the scientific activity (and this does not imply that we naively believe that such characteristics are exclusive of science); and 2. enabling students to acquire ways of understanding the world with scientific concepts and, at the same time, showing the nature of science as a human endeavour.
Among the “good candidates” as paradigmatic competences, we could locate those related to: 1. grasping the methodological dimension of science; 2. producing texts in the different scientific “genres” in order to elaborate, justify and communicate scientific ideas; 3. using models while understanding their nature as representations, and 4. producing and defending solid arguments in favour of established scientific understandings of phenomena. It is worth noting that these four competences have a hybrid cognitive-linguistic nature.
Competences such as those above, and other that science teacher educators could collective define, are perhaps key constituents of the definition of a scientifically educated citizen: they help meet current social demands such as engaged social participation, informed decision-making, critical thinking, or the ability to critically manage information in mass media.
In the particular case of the competence of scientific argumentation, the careful selection of the (socio-)scientific problems and issues on which students are going to argue would help them to apply and evaluate the scientific models and, at the same time, to discuss and incorporate an educationally valuable “image of science” that presents it as a deeply human activity of enormous social relevance.
Adopting an operational definition of competence for science teacher education requires the identification of content to be taught (“big” scientific ideas that are essential), but also of “modes of thinking” that give support to the scientific activity and are valuable in order to educate our students of the different educational levels. In this sense, it is interesting to cite Díaz Barriga’s (2006) idea that “the best way to see a competence” is in the “amalgam” between abilities, data and information, situations, aims, etc.
Students could be characterized as scientifically competent when all those elements can be put into action not only in school situations, but also in a wide variety of new conditions, thus demonstrating a high level of “transversal” applicability. In accordance with this, science teachers would be genuinely competent when they can guide their students in the application of what they have learnt to meaningful contexts. This would require for them the competence of carefully designing science classes that accompany the whole process.
APST. 2014. “Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.” Melbourne: Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/list
Caena, F. 2014. “Teacher Competence Frameworks in Europe: Policy-as-Discourse and Policy-as-Practice.” European Journal of Education 49(3): 311–31. DOI:10.1111/ejed.12088
Díaz Barriga, Á. (2006). El enfoque de competencias en la educación: ¿Una alternativa o un disfraz de cambio? Perfiles Educativos, XXVIII(111), 7-36.
Eurydice (Red Europea de Información en Educación) (2002). Las competencias clave: Un concepto en expansión dentro de la educación general obligatoria. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. [Disponible en línea.]
Pavié, A. (2011). Formación docente: Hacia una definición del concepto de competencia profesional docente. Revista Electrónica Interuniversitaria de Formación del Profesorado, 14(1), 67-80.
Perrenoud, P. (1999). Identifier des compétences clés universelles: Fantasme de technocrate ou extension des droits de l’homme? Documento de trabajo. Ginebra: Université de Genève.
|Tila||Julkaistu - 2020|
|OKM-julkaisutyyppi||C2 Toimitettu teos|
|Nimi||Communications in Computer and Information Science|
- 516 Kasvatustieteet