Building ICT Capability into the Science Initial Teacher Training Partnership at Birmingham and Beyond (R&DA 2: 10)

RDA Logo

What the resource is:
This project attempted to develop pedagogy appropriate to computer modelling and explored computer based modelling in science teaching with beginning teachers.  Science teachers and trainees in partnership with one training provider over three years used the modelling application VnR (Variables and Relationships) in science lessons.  There was some evidence of pupil progress but the innovation did not survive well in schools.  The possible reasons why the innovation was not incorporated into continuing practice are discussed and these shed light on the process of innovation and on training.

This is a summary report of a research project supported by a TDA Research and Development Award. These Awards were designed to contribute to the knowledge base in ITT and to provide an opportunity for those new to ITT to collaborate with more experienced colleagues in research in areas relevant to their practice.

The aims of the resource:
The authors set out to develop pedagogy appropriate to computer modelling as one example of using ICT more creatively in teaching science. 
A modelling application was selected because it encouraged aspects of the interplay of experience and imagination at the heart of science and it is part of the Key Stage Three entitlement and moreover one that was not being widely addressed in schools.
Mentors and trainees were trained in the use of the VnR computer modelling tool in science teaching and this was then explored in schools.

Key findings or focus:
The results fell into two groups.  Findings collated across pilot and main phases of the project showed the application being used by teachers and by pupils, with trainees attempting somewhat more in the way of hands on experience for pupils. Trainees' comments mainly addressed questions concerning whether or not the application worked but were relatively slight in terms of comments on pupil learning.  Mentors found it possible to support trainees using the application.
Pupil progress towards the objectives of the lesson was judged to have taken place in roughly two thirds of the lessons using the computer based modelling.  Feedback suggested that pupils gained more once they were familiar with the application. Some mentors thought that trainees' lack of general teaching experience was a significant factor in the success or otherwise of the innovation.

The second group of findings concerned the trajectory of the innovation.  The findings concerning the curriculum innovation aspect of the work were noteworthy and in many ways more important. 
The project leaders found that they made comparatively little progress in terms of the take-up and incorporation of the innovation and this disappointed them.  There was a high drop out rate for mentors, even though they had been paid to attend training in the computer based modelling application and, intriguingly, as this study proceeded there appeared to be shrinking rather than growing support.

The quality, authority and credibility of the resource:
The study involved three phases: a pilot, a main study and a supplementary phase. 
In the pilot phase four mentors worked with five trainees, all volunteers. It was planned that each of the trainees would use the computer based modelling tool on at least three occasions. In the main study the plan was that in each half of one term in at least one lesson trainees would use the tool and in another pupils would use it under the trainee's supervision. Fifteen volunteer mentors were trained (and paid to participate in the training).
In each of these phases fewer lessons using computer based modelling took place than had been planned.  Mentors, tutors and trainees wrote notes on their experience.  Project leaders hoped for comments on pupil progress and achievement; participants commented on more basic concerns in innovation - whether or not the software worked and whether it was easy to use.

The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
From the point of view of a commentator what was revealed were the multiple challenges and many critical features in introducing an innovation and above all the time it takes to work through implementation.  In addition the findings point to the problematic place of teacher educators in innovation in educational practice.
If an innovation is based solely in school or in the university based part of training there would be significantly critical features, the two together may increase the innovation load to breaking point.  The computer based modelling application has to be learned, the uses of it in teaching to be identified, planned and developed, time has to be found and lessons organised.  Both experienced teachers and trainees want lessons to be successful; they do not want a high risk of failure.  For trainees with less developed teaching repertoires and fewer recovery strategies the challenges are considerable and for mentors it is a tall order: they need to learn the application for themselves and for coaching trainees.

The relevance to ITE students:
Trainees normally draw on a considerable body of teaching capital built up individually and collectively by their mentors and trainers and by teachers in general.  When it comes to an innovation there is less capital to call on and this draws attention by contrast to the usual situation where trainees, in effect, borrow expertise whilst they build up their own.

This work was supported by a TDA Research and Development Award.  These Awards were designed to contribute to the knowledge base in ITT and to provide an opportunity for those new to ITT to collaborate with more experienced colleagues in research in areas relevant to their practice.

Reviewed by:
Hilary Constable


Lawrence, I and Pinilla, J(2003): VnR. Birmingham. UK  (software)

Authors :

Ian Lawrence and Jenny Bryant. Ian Lawrence is the Project coordinator and key contact – Lecturer in physics education at the University of Birmingham –

Other Contributor :

Allan Soares – Lecturer in science education at the University of Birmingham – Roger Lock – Senior lecturer and science: biology tutor at the University of Birmingham –

Publisher :


Article Id :


Date Posted: