March 16, 2011

A Science Museum Can Be A Good Class Support, If Teachers Do Their Homework First

In her Ph.D. thesis, University of the Basque Country lecturer Maite Morentin puts forward a teaching unit which would help to incorporate a visit to the Science Museum in San Sebastian into the school curriculum

Pupils like school visits to science museums a lot, partly because they are entertaining for the youngsters and in part because it is seen as a way of missing a classroom lesson. But how do teachers see these trips? Do they see them as educational activities or merely as excursions for entertainment? School of Education lecturer at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Ms Maite Morentin, after observing such visits at the Science Kutxaspace Museum in the Basque city of Donostia-San Sebastián, concluded that their efficiency in learning by pupils can be improved, a lack of involvement by teachers having been observed. This is why she drew up a teaching unit for this museum, aimed at taking better advantage of educational visits there. Her PhD thesis is entitled Interactive science museums as an educational resource in initial teacher training for Primary School teachers.

To begin, Ms Morentin analysed the behaviour of Primary and Secondary School teachers who went to the Science Kutxaspace with their pupils. The researcher observed that they organise the visits mainly as an entertainment activity, not seeing the visit as a complementary resource to enhancing the learning of their charges. In fact, most teachers confessed to not knowing the content of the museum beforehand, neither had they prepared activities previously nor had they organised follow-up work to complement the visit. They also tended to let the pupils in the hands of the museum guides, despite the latter not knowing the curriculum being followed by the groups. In conclusion, the involvement of the teaching staff in the visit was observed to be minimal.

Teaching unit on forces

Given these results, Ms Morentin drew up a theoretical framework in her thesis with the goal of involving the teaching staff in the preparation of the visits. In this way their pupils would get more out of the contents of the museum.

The main tool of this framework is the design and teaching of the educational units in relation to the museum contents that they are going to visit, and aimed at future teachers. In the case in hand, Ms Morentin designed educational units known as ´Forces in action' in harmony with the displays and exhibits at the Science Kutxaspace: this was implemented with second year Teacher Training students at the University School of Education (UPV/EHU) in Bilbao (Primary Education speciality). The unit has initiation activities, search and analysis of information and experimenting, and in which these Teacher Training students were involved through teaching sessions.

Thanks to this teaching unit, the thesis concludes, the Teacher Training students improved their ideas on the preparation of such visits. For example, 60 % valued the visit with a score equal to or more than 8. Moreover, apart from the teaching, more than one third of the teachers mention the need to undertake pre- and post-visit activities in order to enhance its effectiveness. Ms Morentin considers this data to be highly positive, given that, if future teachers are enthusiastic about their tasks, their pupils will be also.

Links between museums and schools

Given the success of this experiment, Ms Morentin concluded her thesis with a number of suggestions for the future. Amongst other things, she proposes that science museums prepare basic materials for school groups that are to visit their centres and that the school's teachers input these materials, in such a way that feedback between the museum and the school is guaranteed. She also stressed the need for close cooperation between the museum guide and the teacher responsible for the group.

As regards training for future teachers, the researcher proposes designing more teaching units, the interchanging of ideas between museum guides and Teacher Training students and the possibility that teaching students who have received these educational sessions can do teaching practice with Primary School children.


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