Teach them well and let them lead the way

To celebrate Research Week 2018, UQ is proud to share how UQ research is creating change, right across the world, every day.

Find out how our researchers are collaborating with research partners both in Australia and abroad to transform society through education.

Just as Australian society has changed significantly over the last two decades, so too has Australian education.

How and what we teach our children, and how we teach those who teach them, is changing as a reaction to and reflection of the seismic shifts in our culture and society.

And it’s not just broader social influences – such as the exponential increase in globalisation and digital literacy – that have made an impact, but also political issues such as education budget cuts, the introduction of an Australian Curriculum, standardised national assessments in literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN), national reporting on schools through the My School website, and a partial implementation of the fiercely debated ‘Gonski’ needs-based funding reforms.

Now more than ever, we need to analyse how these changes are being implemented, how effective they are, and how to solve potential issues before they arise.

From early childhood right through to high school, children’s cognitive development is shaped by many influences – formal education, social encounters, cultural influences, and their lived experiences inside and outside the classroom.

To fully address the diversity of these influences, UQ's education research is conducted across a number of key disciplines, including teaching, science and mathematics, human movement, philosophy, history, music, and social science, with a focus on the lifelong impacts of how education affects individuals, and how policies and curriculum affect education and its flow-on effect to social issues.

Professional development inspired by Future Makers

STEM disciplines – that is, subjects that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – underpin every integral industry for our society and economy, ranging from food production and manufacturing to health care and education.

Therefore, having an engaged cohort of high-schoolers (and particularly girls, who are still under-represented in these disciplines in schools and universities) who are eager to pursue careers in STEM is vital. However, these subjects are often misperceived as too nerdy or difficult, so keeping students motivated to study them can be a challenge.

While research on this topic across Australia and globally is extensive and ongoing, UQ’s Associate Professor Kim Nichols is tackling it in a unique and collaborative way.

Through the Future Makers program, Associate Professor Nichols is working with the Queensland Museum Network, QGC, the Queensland Department of Education and the Australian Catholic University (all UQ Australian Research Council Linkage project partners) to extend on, and provide evidence for, using museum educators’ abilities to effectively and sustainably contribute to STEM education through professional development, museum outreach, and online resources and training.

By leveraging the museum’s artefacts and educational experiences, QGC’s professional digital resources, and the University’s education expertise, they are addressing high school educators’ need for practical and digital STEM-based professional development and curriculum resources.

High school teachers – particularly in regional hubs, where schools have little access to STEM resources and training – often lack professional learning options and access to STEM material and experts that can help them keep their teaching relevant, up-to-date and exciting for students.

This partnership will have a longstanding and mutually beneficial impact for students and teachers, but also for the Queensland Museum Network and for QGC, who aim to develop a legacy in Queensland that inspires future innovation, industrial development and employment pathways.

However, the real winner of the Future Makers program is all of us – because by inspiring young people to be passionate about science and increase the participation and performance of young Australians in STEM-related careers, the program is contributing to creating a highly capable future workforce that will solve the problems we haven’t even thought to worry about yet.

Image credit: Getty Images/SolStock

Find out more about this visionary research partnership on the Future Makers website.

Thank you for the music

UQ research has revealed that informal encounters with music at home are critical for young children’s development – with benefits above and beyond those of shared reading.

Professor Margaret Barrett, Head of UQ’s School of Music, has spent nearly two decades working alongside Australian families to research music learning and development. Her extensive research has been funded by grants from the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Australia Council for the Arts, the British Council, and a number of commissioning bodies.

“Songs are a fantastic way of learning about the world. We learn our body parts, we learn numbers, we learn the order of the alphabet, we learn that wheels go round, and we learn colours – it’s an incredible didactic tool,” Professor Barrett says.

Her research extends to the emerging area of musical parenting, in which music becomes a tool to help parents communicate and bond with their children. This is the topic of her longitudinal study with University College London colleagues, which tracks how children’s lived experience of music aids their early development.

Findings drawn from data from over 3100 parents indicate that shared music-making at the age of 2–3 years correlates positively with increased school readiness, pro-social skills, and literacy and numeracy outcomes at age 4–5, showing benefits over and above shared reading.

"Too often we underestimate the capacity of young children to learn in and through music."
Professor Margaret Barrett

The research shows informal music-making is a powerful tool for early social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as in the development of gross and fine motor movements. It's also been used to inform the programming and development work of independent Sydney-based radio station Kinderling, devoted to family-friendly programs for children aged 0–7.

Given the significant impact that musical engagement has on young children, Professor Barrett is now working with childcare providers to design programs that support shared music-making in daily practice, and intends to work on policy reforms that would make shared music-making an essential part of early childhood curriculum and educator training.

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Read more about Professor Barrett's research on the Research Impact website.

Ability tackles truancy

Truancy may seem to some like a risqué teenage rite of passage, but statistically it is a harbinger for future problems.

“Kids who skip school are more at risk of being snared into antisocial behaviour and have more potential for negative life outcomes,” says criminologist Professor Lorraine Mazerolle from UQ’s School of Social Science.

Professor Mazerolle is a chief investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, as part of the Life Course Centre at UQ’s Institute for Social Science Research.

Through an ARC-funded Laureate Fellowship, Professor Mazerolle and her UQ-based team have been working with Queensland Police and the Queensland Department of Education to implement the Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP) – a theory-driven, evidence-based program that brings together at-risk youths, their parents, their teachers and the police to empower students, instead of punishing them.

The trials, conducted over four years and then tracked in the years following, showed a very clear, two-fold benefit to the approach – intervention group participants were overwhelmingly more likely to attend school and less likely to behave anti-socially than the control group participants.

“Our results show that in just a very short, 45-minute intervention, ASEP engaged young people and their parents to think about the impact of truancy and its consequences.”
Professor Mazerolle

After winning a number of prestigious international industry awards for the program, Professor Mazerolle is now investigating how ASEP could be translated into the United States system, and is also working with the Queensland Department of Education and the Queensland Police to scale ASEP into other Queensland and interstate schools.

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Read more about the ASEP program and its impact in schools and society on the Research Impact website.

To think or not to think

William Shakespeare’s literary impact on the world is profound – however, the value of his work extends far beyond its literary merit.

“By engaging with challenging literature like Shakespeare’s plays and poems, we become stronger critical thinkers – a crucial skill for a healthy democratic society,” UQ’s Professor Peter Holbrook says.

In 2012, Professor Holbrook began working with school teachers through the UQ node of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, to connect them with current Shakespeare scholarship and improve their knowledge of, and passion for, Shakespeare’s language and plays.

Mr Gary Collins, former President of the English Teachers’ Association of Queensland, says the workshops have brought benefits to teachers, and therefore to students.

“The exposure to cutting-edge scholarship about Shakespeare and related topics has considerable potential to enrich and re-invigorate the work that high school English teachers do with their own students,” he says.

The program has reached more than 6000 secondary school students and over 1.5 million media consumers, with a focus on communicating up-to-date Shakespeare scholarship and explaining its relevance to the secondary school classroom.

In 2016, to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Centre for the History of Emotions developed a comprehensive series of events, exhibitions and lectures in a celebration called The Delighted Spirit: Shakespeare at UQ.

“One of our main aims in the series was to show that Shakespeare’s plays have a continued vitality and are a source of new creativity – that they give themselves to us to use today,” Professor Holbrook says.

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Read more about why Professor Holbrook believes Shakespeare is still relevant 400 years after his death on the Small Change blog.

Turning the tables for maths teaching

Two intertwined strands of research by UQ's School of Education are making mathematics teaching and learning more engaging and accessible for school students.

Professor Merrilyn Goos leads the ARC Discovery Project, ‘Embedding Numeracy Across the Whole Curriculum’.

“The research provides a rich interpretation of numeracy that connects mathematics with real-world contexts,” Professor Goos explains.

The STEM movement in education has enabled science, technology and engineering to embrace an inquiry approach, but mathematics hasn’t really kept up, according to Acting Head of the School of Education, Associate Professor Katie Makar.

“The work we’re doing is raising the profile of mathematics in STEM,” she says.

The two related strands of mathematics education research have addressed the persistent need in schools to make mathematics more relevant for students. Integrating numeracy and mathematical inquiry across the curriculum has created a paradigm shift for mathematics teaching and learning, and reshaped the pedagogy underpinning the Australian Curriculum.

The numeracy model has also made an impact internationally, informing reviews of OECD student assessment and adult competency programs. Now the research is being translated into a textbook.

UQ’s collaborative, practical research in numeracy and mathematical inquiry is shaping the future of mathematics teaching and learning – building capacity for students and teachers alike, and promoting mathematics as a productive and rewarding tool for life.

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Read more about the project on the School of Education website.

Data analysis: the key to student success

Which key factors lead to higher student engagement in the classroom? This is the question that Dr Wojtek Tomaszewski and his team of researchers from UQ’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) are working to discover.

As part of this ongoing study, undertaken in collaboration with the NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE), Dr Tomaszewski is examining the associations between school practice, student engagement and academic achievement.

The project aims to identify key classroom practices that are associated with improved student engagement, which have the potential of translating into improvements in academic achievement. This research will culminate in a powerful data resource that will help provide a better understanding of student engagement in NSW and in Australia more broadly.

“Our research aims to understand the causal relationship between engagement and related feedback data and student outcomes,” Dr Tomaszewski says.

“The ISSR-CESE partnership has been a productive model under which we have been able to respond to emerging research needs, including by providing methodological expertise on statistical weighting and qualitative research to support school improvement practices.”

By conducting complex statistical analysis, Dr Tomaszewski and his team are developing new knowledge on the relationship between student engagement and student outcomes – which will contribute towards better educational outcomes for future students.

Image credit: Getty Images/courtneyk

Read more about the impact of UQ's social sciences research on the Institute for Social Science Research website.

Connection to place integral for sustainability education

As the pace of globalisation increases, we must learn how to overcome future sustainability issues such as food shortages and sea level rise – and to prepare ourselves for any future, we must ensure that the next generation of students are prepared to confront the challenges of global climate change and the ongoing degradation of natural environments. But how can we best do this?

UQ School of Education Professor Peter Renshaw sought to answer that question in a year-long research project he conducted with Dr Ron Tooth, Principal of the Queensland Education Department’s Pullenvale Environmental Education Centre.

Their research focused on place-responsive pedagogy – that is, education theory and resources that were linked by a strong connection to a physical location. Based on a year-long values education case study in eight primary schools, they explored how a place-based, narrative approach to learning experiences, when linked to deep attentive experiences in nature, could be effective in helping students to construct their own identities, as well as develop commitments and a deeper knowledge of the environments that surround them.

Through their work with these students, they demonstrated that personal connectedness is crucial to effective environmental education, and also that professional learning and teacher collaboration is essential to the success of any sustainability-based curriculum and resources.

The outcome of this research was a published collection of case studies and curriculum advice, titled Diverse pedagogies of place, which features eight case studies, including practical learning activities and teaching strategies that can be adapted for a classroom environment.

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Read more about how UQ researchers are making a difference on the School of Education website.

Philosophy bringing benefits to the classroom

Could the practice of philosophy lead to deeper student engagement in the classroom?

According to Dr Gilbert Burgh from UQ’s School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry (HAPI), the introduction of philosophical inquiry into schools can lead to better educational outcomes for students.

Dr Burgh’s earlier research and recent collaborative research with Simone Thornton (HAPI) on educational philosophy has been used to inform a theory of practice for teachers and students developed by East Brisbane State School (EBSS) teacher and UQ researcher Elizabeth Fynes-Clinton, which aims to see the next generation putting philosophical inquiry into action.

The study was conducted from 2012 to 2016 in collaboration with teachers at EBSS to examine how collaborative philosophical inquiry facilitated students' development of deep reflective thinking.

This is a specific way of thinking and learning that emerges from a balanced, dynamic interplay among four elements: development of a repertoire of intellectual skills and processes; sustained philosophising; ongoing self- and peer-assessment; and examination of epistemic doubt.

Dr Burgh's research informed the study, which examined whether doubt can be cultivated through philosophical inquiry, and the impact that it has on questioning and classroom dialogue.

“Philosophy functioning educationally is unique in its ability to develop students’ knowledge and skills to improve their social and intellectual capacities as active and informed citizens,” Dr Burgh says.

“In this way, philosophy can make a fundamental and much-needed contribution to education.”

Image credit: Getty Images/SolStock

Find out more about how UQ researchers are creating ideas to share our future on the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry website.

Teaching for thinking

The University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project (UQCTP) is a comprehensive curriculum and engagement program for the development and deployment of critical thinking pedagogies.

The UQCTP is inspired by the idea that teaching students how to think critically is not only a valuable educational goal, but also an effective way to improve their learning across the curriculum, and an effective way to build their academic aspirations.

The project was developed by Associate Professor Deborah Brown, Dr Dominic Hyde, and Mr Peter Ellerton from UQ’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Since its launch in 2012, the UQCTP has established itself as the leading provider of critical thinking pedagogy in Queensland, and as one of UQ’s most extensive outreach programs.

The program actively assists teachers in embedding critical and creative thinking in a disciplinary context, shifting the focus of education from the dissemination of accumulated knowledge to more autonomous and critically engaged learning.

The UQCTP also works in partnership with educators, schools, families, communities and institutions to improve access to university and to foster academic success among students from disadvantaged backgrounds. At present, the program has 8600 students enrolled in online extension courses, and provides support to more than 600 schools.

The UQCTP adopts a developmental approach, enabling the pedagogy to be embedded right across the P–12 curriculum. It has tested the efficacy of its pedagogical approach in multiple settings, including on-campus Enhanced Studies Program courses and QCS booster programs for low socio-economic, remote and rural students.

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Read more about the project's impact on the Critical Thinking Project website.

Discover how we create change

From science and sustainability to health and humanities, UQ research has impact.