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Teaching at the science center Universeum
Teaching at a science center requires an understanding of what the exhibitions can contribute – and what they lack.”
Photo: Universeum
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Science centres create new opportunities for student teachers

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Teaching at a science centre can provide student teachers with important experience of subject-specific teaching and an opportunity to put theory into practice. But it is important to understand how the exhibitions can be linked to a particular subject matter, new research from the University of Gothenburg shows.

“We need to take our student teachers outside of the classroom!”

This call challenge comes from Alexina Thorén Williams, who, in her thesis at the University of Gothenburg, has reviewed how science centres can enhance student teachers' knowledge. She points out that many student teachers perceive science subjects as abstract and difficult to teach, so utilising new environments offers many benefits.

“Teaching at a science centre is fun but difficult,” Thorén Willams says. “It can give student teachers amazing opportunities to test their teaching skills outside the classroom in an exciting but hard-to-control environment where a lot happens at the same time. It requires an understanding of what the exhibitions can contribute – and what they lack.”

From experience to understanding

Thorén Williams has followed three groups of student teachers who have had the opportunity to teach science subjects at Universeum science centre in Gothenburg. The students — who are studying to become teachers for the lower and higher ages of primary and lower secondary school and upper secondary school — experienced the setting as rich in opportunities. At the same time, the study shows that if teaching is to succeed in taking students one step further: from experience and interest to understanding, there are many challenges to overcome.

“A science centre is full of presentations that can be used in science teaching, such as interactive displays, models, plants, and animals. They all represent opportunities and limitations for the particular content you want to teach. Student teachers need to be given time to reflect while they plan their teaching.”

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Alexina Thorén Williams
Alexina Thorén Williams
Photo: Privat

She stresses that practical components, or the fact that something is concrete, do not automatically lead to learning.

“By holding up a leaf while talking about photosynthesis, I can help students part of the way, but we need other presentations to make the connection between the visible leaf and the invisible photosynthesis.”

Capturing interest ‘in the moment’

Another key is being able to capture students’ observations and questions in teachable moments. The study shows that interaction among students, the content of instruction, and presentations of the environment did not work as well if student teachers followed the curriculum too rigidly.

“It’s all about being responsive and focusing on the students – how they think and interact with the environment. And being able to adjust the instruction accordingly.”

Easier to take on challenges

She believes that student teachers who learn to connect the setting of a science centre to the content of teaching can also more easily take on other challenges, like teaching outdoors. She argues that the study’s conclusions relate not only to student teachers but also to educators in schools and science centres.

“The study shows how it is possible to go beyond the ‘wow effect’ that a science centre can provide and really see what the exhibitions can offer the subject matter. It is important to create opportunities for learning specific scientific content to make the experience more than just a fun outing.”

Text: Ulrika Ernström

Contact
Alexina Thorén Williams,
Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Gothenburg. E-mail: alexina.thoren.williams@gu.se, alexina.thoren-williams@universeum.se, phone: +46 (0)725-777496
Alexina works as an educator at Universeum in Gothenburg and is a trained teacher of mathematics and nature-oriented subjects in grades 4–9.

About the research

The dissertation’s title: Look around, what can you discover? The science center - a critical space for science student teachers’ development

Supervisors:
Örjan Hansson, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Gothenburg, Maria Svensson, Associate Professor, Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg; Dawn Sanders, Associate Professor, Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg

About science centres
Science centres are designed to stimulate interest in technology and science, particularly among children and young people. In addition to Universeum in Gothenburg, there are several other science centres in Sweden, such as Tom Tits Experiment in Södertälje, Molekylverkstan in Stenungsund, and the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm