In December the project partners of mascil came together in Heraklion for their second project meeting. Next to the European Advisory Board meeting, a main focus was put on the introduction of the platform for teachers and the setting up of a professional development toolkit. Find out more in an interview with Marie Joubert from the University of Nottingham.

Marie-JoubertYou developed a toolkit to be used for professional development. How could you put things together in one toolkit acknowledging the different languages, school systems and mentalities of the various countries taking part in mascil?
The whole mascil project is based on the idea of inquiry learning, bringing the world of work into the classroom and relating what we do in the classroom to the world of work. So those were the underpinnings of the toolkit. What we tried to do, and are continuing to try to do, is to provide a whole range of different types of - we call them tools - but they are professional development activities, so that in different countries mulitpliers can choose the ones they want to do, the ones that suit them and the teachers best. Obviously every professional development session or meeting takes place in a different context. The multiplier may choose to do something depending on what happened in the last meeting or they may choose to do something that is related to what just happened in the country. So essentially what we are trying to do is to provide flexibility.

But there is a task repository and professional development could simply take place based on the tasks presented there. What do you need an extra toolkit for?
Well, we know that providing tasks in itself is not enough. Even if, say, every teacher in the country used one of those tasks, the task itself does not guarantee that the classroom will be an inquiry classroom. We have seen different teachers using the same task: some of them in a very inquiry oriented approach, and some of them in a much more directive approach. So the professional development toolkit aims to focus more on the way of working in an inquiry classroom.

Project Meeting HeraklionWhat do you put in your toolkit to make this possible?
We're including tools that support teachers in developing new pedagogic approaches. For example, we have got materials that focus on questioning in the classroom, looking at the kinds of questions people ask, what sort of questions will open up an inquiry rather than close down an inquiry. We have also added some video from a very well-known educator in England talking about the same issue and some role play for the teachers to make up questions based upon that video and to try them out in a sort of classroom type situation with each other.

At the conference in Heraklion you presented a professional development activity based on architecture and invited the partners to try it out. What was the feedback you got?
Somebody said to me, I like the way you have got a lot of different kinds of tasks within the activity, somebody else said it is very clear and well written. But I think there are two things: the feedback from the participants and then my observations. In terms of my observations it was very interesting because we had seven groups, and they were all so different. We anticipated that the groups would be different, but I did not think it would be that different.

Can you give one or two examples illustrating the differences we are talking about here?
The very first part of the activity is to watch a video, and the students in the classrooms where this activity would take place are asked to fill in a sheet with three columns about how they respond to the video. So the first part of the professional development activity is for the teachers to try this out themselves. In one group the multiplier spent a lot of time talking about the task before the teachers actually started doing it. In another group the multiplier just said, can you fill this out, and in a third group they ignored it completely and went straight on to the next task.

By using the toolkit you get a notion of IBL and you get tools to build up a session, an inquiry-based learning session ...
You also get resources that link very directly to the world of work. One of the underpinnings of the whole project is that teachers will want to bring the world of work into the classroom but it is quite challenging to find resources that link directly to the world of work. So the toolkit provides some resources that they can use.

The partners of mascil seem to have various understandings of why there should be a connection to the world of work: Some say, well I have teachers working at vocational schools and they are very interested in this connection. Others think it's enough to just say that maths and science are important for life ...
There are very strong arguments not only in terms of making maths and science relevant to children, but also to understand the importance of studying these in these subject areas, because if they don't, they will be lost in the world of work. Our materials demonstrate those two perspectives on the world of work. Teachers may choose not to use the task we presented at the meeting, because it is based on the work of an architect and they might think my students don't need to know about architecture, they won't become architects. So in the toolkit we provide some reason to convince teachers to use it even if the students might not become architects, for example: The students are learning about processes of modeling which are relevant in all sorts of different areas of work. So we try to emphasise the bigger process skills that are relevant to the world of work.

Interview by Gesine Kulcke