Students’ involvement in science is increased when they have an opportunity to make decisions about science-based issues that have consequences for their lives. Seven teachers from two primary schools took part in a professional development programme using Volcanoes material from the Science Learning Hub. Data was collected through teacher interviews. Unit plans and samples of student work were collected. Data analysis was guided by the following research question: How can the Science Learning Hub support a pedagogy that promotes class discourse and scientific investigation about the risks of volcanic activity?

Findings about productive teaching approaches

Supporting evidenced-based observations

Teachers used a number of approaches to support students to understand the role scientists have in helping us make evidence-based observations and actions, including showing Hub videos of volcanologists at work. They also showed the DEVORA video, which shows a volcanic eruption. This helped make the risks of volcanoes apparent.

The activity Who’s on your team? provided students with the opportunity to discuss the role of scientists in society. One teacher explained, “We need scientists because they can tell us when there is going to be a volcanic eruption. We need them to be there and record what happens in this eruption, and they’ll take photos and record what happens in the eruption so that they know for predicting for the next time.”

The students took part in the Google mapping activity Volcano hunt from the Hub to identify and locate Auckland volcanoes using latitude and longitude measurements. Year 5 students easily managed this activity and found it exciting because of its links to where they lived. “I think it was because they live in the area – they got so excited. We’ve found another one! We’ve found another one!”

The teachers modelled working as a volcanologist by locating and recording rocks in situ, measuring dimensions, weight, volume, texture, colour and properties. “I did a lot of modelling and talking about the scientific way of doing things like being a volcanologist. If we are going to be scientists, we have to record our findings, and we had to share our findings and justify what we found out.”

The students conducted a rock hunt in their own backyards. The students filled in a data collection sheet and wrote down their address as evidence of the location of the rock they brought to class for identification.

Supporting conceptual development

The teachers helped students learn and use science language, believing this supported conceptual development. To this end, teachers used videos of scientists explaining how volcanoes work (for example, Differences in rocks and Geology in the field) coupled with guided reading of the video transcripts. The activity Lost – a hot rock provided students with an opportunity to synthesise their ideas and use science language to talk about the rocks they had found as evidence that they lived in a volcanic area. For teachers with a large number of ESOL students, this focus on language as part of conceptual development was key. “They need language as they are ESOL – they are now talking about rhyolite, andesite and magma and lava.”

Supporting evidence-based action

The assembling of a home disaster kit provoked discussion about what was needed at the school. Some students took further action by writing to their principal outlining their plans. Others developed their own kit. The need to decide on the contents of an emergency kit meant the students made decisions that were based on their knowledge of the volcanoes in their locality. A teacher commented, “I put them in lots of positions where they had to share their opinion and justify their decisions. The justification was based on the science about volcanoes. Most of the justifying came into the socio part of the session, for example, the emergency kit and who was in the team.”

Concluding comment

Investigating a topic of immediate potential relevance to students can engage them in the learning of science ideas and skills when the three approaches described above are used.

The last word should be from a teacher from the study.

Science gives students the understanding to make decisions that will be more useful than if somebody just said ’Here’s a civil defence book. These are the things you need’. They can actually understand why they need these things and how their families will be affected.

    Published 23 January 2014