Primary Connections: Stage 3: Interim research and evaluation report 17: Professional learning facilitators: Activities as at end of term 1/2, 2008
Australian Academy of Science
Place of Publication
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
School of Education
The main purpose of this survey of professional learning facilitators (PLFs) was to determine the level of activity of PLFs in terms of workshop facilitation, their perception of demand for Primary Connections professional learning workshops, factors enhancing or constraining their effectiveness as PLFs and any needs for support. Previous research with the PLFs has demonstrated that: their initial training was effective in terms of enhancing their confidence and self-efficacy for facilitation and the PLFs gave positive evaluations of the Primary Connections professional learning resources (Hackling 2006a). Earlier research also indicated that PLFs that were based in schools and those not based in schools had different profiles of professional learning activity (Hackling, 2006b). Of the population of 383 PLFs, 130 (34%) completed the survey and it would be expected that the sample of 130 is not representative of the population. Those whose careers have brought about changes in their professional roles so that they no longer are able to be active PLFs are less likely to respond to the survey than those who are active. The sample is therefore likely to comprise the more active of the PLFs and 89% of the sample indicated they were active. The sample was broadly representative of jurisdictions and sectors (KF 1 and 2). The data indicate a high overall level of workshop facilitation activity by the PLFs in the period covered by the survey (KF 3). A total of 2360 workshops had been conducted with most being information sessions about or an introduction to Primary Connections (1050). Large numbers of workshops were also conducted on investigating (346), linking science and literacy teaching (294), the 5Es model (289) and on cooperative learning (175). Given that it would be expected that many schools would only find time in their crowded teacher professional learning schedule for one Primary Connections workshop, the number of workshops conducted indicates a widespread penetration of the professional learning program in primary schools across Australia. The level of activity of individual PLFs varied considerably, one PLF had conducted 80 workshops. PLFs based in classrooms were far less active than those not based in classrooms (KF 4) and this finding is consistent with the factors identified by the PLFs that enable or constrain their effectiveness as PLFs. The most commonly cited enabler was flexibility within their professional role and the most commonly cited constraint was finding time within their professional roles for facilitating workshops (KF 7 and 8). Classroom teachers have the least flexibility and time for leaving their school to conduct workshops at other schools and as indicated by the PLFs these activities need the support of the school principal or line manager (KF 8). Other important enablers are the quality of the program and its resources and experience of teaching with Primary Connections. A majority of the PLFs were of the view that the demand for workshops was either increasing or remaining the same (KF 5). The two most common reasons given for an increase in demand for Primary Connections workshops were an increasing awareness of Primary Connections in their jurisdiction/district and the increasing priority given to science in their jurisdiction (KF 6). Initiatives at the national level that include the increased requirements for accountability of schools for reporting student achievement to parents, the development of national statements for learning and national assessments of the scientific literacy of Year 6 students will have supported a higher priority for science in the primary school curriculum. The widespread science professional learning initiatives conducted in some jurisdictions as a result of science being a priority in these jurisdictions and the linking of these initiatives to Primary Connections would have increased awareness of Primary Connections curriculum resources and professional learning workshops and the availability of the resources and workshops. Some PLFs reported a decline in demand for workshops in their district as a result of saturation, changing priorities in their jurisdiction or as a result of industrial action (KF 6). Many PLFs indicated that had no additional needs for support in their roles as PLFs while others indicated they required the ongoing support of networking with other PLFs through catch-up meetings or other mechanisms, supply of updated resources and new units and some requested further professional learning (KF 9). Only two PLFs indicated in their responses to the survey that their effectiveness was limited by a lack of skills or confidence for facilitation, the requests from 14% of the PLFs for further PD may be an indication of an appetite for advanced professional learning to extend their existing knowledge and skills. The findings of this study are very positive in the sense that the sample of PLFs who responded to the survey have reported that a very large number of Primary Connections workshops have been conducted representing a widespread penetration of the professional learning program in Australian primary schools. The findings remind us once more of the importance of awareness of the program within schools and districts and of the priority given to science at national and jurisdictional level. Communication about the program to schools and advocacy to governments about the importance of science must be sustained if we are to ensure that all Australian primary school children have the opportunity for a high quality science education. When all children have the opportunity to study science with Primary Connections we may be able to close the gap between low performing and high performing schools and between high and low performing students.