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Three of a kind meet under lab conditions

On April 17, when 180 PGCE science students from all over Scotland gather at Heriot-Watt University, new ground will be broken. The residential course they attend will be the first of its kind in bringing together students training to teach in the three main science disciplines: biology, chemistry and physics.

Early last year, representatives from organisations which support school science teaching - the five teacher education institutes, the Scottish Institute for Biotechnology Education, SAPS Biotechnology Scotland, the Institute of Physics, the Development to Update School Chemistry (DUSC) and the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre (SSERC) - met to consider how some "togetherness" might be brought to their activities.

PGCE tutors were uneasy about releasing students for three days, however much they welcomed the idea of the residential course, so the first day is a Sunday.

A proposal made on behalf of all the partners was put to the Scottish Executive and funding was granted. SSERC will act as the grant-holder.

The course will draw heavily on the successful pattern that has been run for biology students for the past two years by the Scottish Institute for Biotechnology Education and SAPS Biotechnology Scotland.

The principle aim of the course is to lay early foundations for students'

engagement with continuing professional development, so that they can deliver "a vibrant curriculum via a range of high quality learning experiences that promote effective lifelong learning of science, especially the capacity to respond effectively to new science developments and issues" (A Science Strategy for Scotland, Scottish Executive, 2001).

The programme also attempts to provide enhancing experiences not usually available in PGCE courses; develop expertise in teaching topics within the students' immediate specialisms; encourage new entrants to the profession to establish networks with other teachers of science nationwide and with scientists in universities and elsewhere; and encourage thinking about the longer term development of science education.

It will combine frontiers of science and science education sessions. Some will engage all the students, others will be targeted on the separate subject disciplines.

The opening address will be by Jack Jackson, the chief deputy inspector for schools, and John Richardson, the director of projects at SSERC, on science education in 2005 and beyond.

Later in the day students will take part in a risk assessment activity for mixed groups, designed to be engaging and fun. Such activities will offer the opportunity to highlight "common ground' and promote intermingling and networking.

There will also be workshops on developing expertise in the teaching of biology, chemistry and physics for students who do not specialise in those areas.

The biology programme will contain a mix of interrelated practical activities, lectures and an industrial visit and emphasise the application and implications of the subject for society.

The chemistry and physics programmes will include workshops on using information and communication technology in teaching those subjects and hands-on activities relating to cognitive acceleration through science education.

The chemistry tutors will also run workshops on the DUSC materials and the physics staff will look at role play in science teaching. There will be presentations on relevant research in science education for the chemistry students.

The formal content of the programme is crucial for encouraging the PGCE students to attend, but for the organisers, engaging them in shared activities and in high quality career professional development at this early stage is a higher priority.

A measure of the success will be the strength of the network among the "class of 2005" five years and more down the line.

Catherine Wilson Residential school enquiries to Sheila MacLellan, tel 0131 651 6625email

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