A year after the Australian Curriculum review kicked off, ACARA has released a revised curriculum for consultation. Understandably, changes to the curriculum can cause a lot of uncertainty. Luckily, the proposed revisions to the science curriculum are refinements rather than a wholesale rethink. And, if you’re already using Stile’s lesson resources, you’re very well placed to accommodate these changes.

When we sat down to really analyse the proposed changes with a critical eye, we were delighted by just how much they validate and reinforce Stile’s existing approach. The move to more inquiry-based learning and stronger ties between science and society aligns perfectly with Stile’s long-standing emphasis on real-world contexts. The “clearer alignment to Mathematics and Technologies” moves closer towards Stile’s model of natural integration of the STEM disciplines, and is supportive of our approach to numeracy.

Together with those broader themes, the proposed revisions also include some minor resequencing of content knowledge across the year levels. These changes make sense to us, and will allow further reinforcement of these complex, important scientific ideas. If we have a nitpick, it’s about the increased prescriptiveness of some “content descriptions”. While this definitely provides greater clarity on expectations, we worry this may limit the creative ways teachers might present these scientific concepts.

We also welcome the reinforcement of Indigenous perspectives. This is something we’d like to get better at, and we’re currently in a phase of listening and learning on the most appropriate way to do so.

To support you and your students, we’ve already begun aligning to the changes in sequencing recommended by this review and will continue to do so once the new curriculum is finalised. View our proposed aligned Stile Curriculum here. We also hosted a live Q&A where we answered questions submitted by our community of teachers. Catch up on the webinar here!

Our take on the revisions

As scientists at heart, we couldn’t help but critically analyse ACARA’s proposed changes to the Australian Science Curriculum. We find ourselves broadly supportive of their revisions, and feel well aligned on the thinking that underpins them. In particular, the encouragement of an inquiry-based approach, stronger integration between skills, society and science, and a more cross-curricular STEM approach.

Our job is to really understand science curricula, both Australian and beyond, so that we can craft the highest-quality resources for teachers. In particular, we’ve spent a great deal of time over the years dissecting America’s new curriculum, the evidence-based Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the published research behind important global assessments such as PISA and TIMSS. This work has also inspired much of the underlying pedagogy and thinking behind Stile’s curriculum. It was reaffirming and reassuring to note that ACARA’s review team is drawing inspiration from those same sources.

More inquiry-based learning

Our analysis has revealed that the inquiry-based approach taken by ACARA is overwhelmingly similar to our approach to science education. We’re constantly driven to do our part in improving scientific literacy in students. We do this by creating engaging lessons that are anchored in the real world and empower teachers in the classroom. Science is all about the desire to seek answers to unanswered questions, to find new ways to innovate and to fundamentally see the world through a critical and creative lens. ACARA’s changes align with and echo why Stile exists.

We therefore welcome the inclusion of example inquiry questions by ACARA. You may have noticed our most recent units have essential questions to encourage an inquiry-based approach (check out our latest unit on Energy and our essential question). These questions are a wonderful tool to reinforce the real-world connections in science, and are often aligned to the latest happenings in science and the big socio-scientific issues facing young people.

Our Energy unit's essential question is 'How can we learn from nature to improve energy technology?'

More prescriptive content descriptions

The revised curriculum attempts to remove ambiguity in the content descriptions by being more prescriptive – for example, the types of chemical reactions in year 10 (synthesis, decomposition and combustion) are explicitly identified. Previously the teacher had discretion around how they approach the topic and what chemical reactions they choose to focus on. This provided more flexibility in the way teachers are able to differentiate their classroom. We understand this move was made to provide clarity to teachers. However, we’re concerned this will remove the last mile of freedom that allows teachers and resources like Stile to find creative ways to teach scientific concepts and ensure content is always current.

In our lessons, we begin all questions with cognitive verbs to clearly inform students of the level of thinking required (see our blog about why here). Cognitive verbs are widely used around Australia as a mechanism to indicate the level of thinking required. The range of verbs indicate the level of thinking required by the student and when used in a comprehensive way across the school can be a powerful tool in eliciting levels of thinking from students. The revisions to the Australian Curriculum include beginning all content descriptions in the Year 7 - 10 Science Understanding and Science as a Human Endeavour strands with “investigate”. While we advocate using cognitive verbs to indicate the level of thinking required, we feel removing the scope of verbs and including one verb, investigate, may compromise some of the clarity added by cognitive verbs.

The inclusion of some of the elements of the NGSS in the revised curriculum is encouraging. One aspect of the NGSS that’s particularly helpful is the way they frame their content descriptions with clear assessment boundaries and clarification statements. This approach provides clarity without removing the last mile of freedom. We’d like to see a similar structure adopted in the Australian Curriculum.

NGSS structure with content descriptions and clarification statements.

We want students to leave school with the confidence to tackle tomorrow’s problems and participate in public discourse around the ethics of scientific issues such as climate change, artificial intelligence or vaccination. This goal is constantly front of mind when we are designing our lessons. Every year we run our annual science education study. In 2020, 909 teachers participated and 64% agreed or strongly agreed that their students are becoming more interested in socio-scientific issues. However, only 50% agreed or strongly agreed that their students make connections between what they’re learning in science and important social issues. We want to help students to develop the skills required to tackle these issues, while also covering the curriculum (check out our blog on our science news lessons). The new Australian Curriculum looks to strengthen the relationship between science and society, providing more alignment between science technology and maths. It indicates a desire to move the curriculum in a direction with the aim of fostering confident, creative individuals, successful lifelong learners and active, informed members of the community. Reassuringly, these have been at the core of what we do at Stile from day one.

What are we doing about these changes?

We’re always refining and improving our collection. Just like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, as soon as the workers have finished painting it, the painting begins again. Our approach at Stile has always been that our resources will never be “done”. Science is constantly changing, best practice education is always improving and so are we. Our latest content roadmap demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that we will always stay ahead of the curve, ready to adapt to new curriculum revisions. But we’re also always refining and improving our resources to ensure you receive the highest quality, most beautiful and engaging resources delivered through the lens of real-world science.

We’ve mapped out what the Stile Curriculum will look like if these changes are adopted. View the new Stile Curriculum here.

We’ll also begin implementing a few changes now in preparation for these revisions. One significant update in the revisions is the change to the sequencing of climate change and evolution. In the proposed curriculum, these topics are split over two years rather than both only being taught in Year 10. For such important topics, this sequencing will reinforce these key ideas and give students more context. We’ll split Year 10 Global Systems into two units, one focusing on the carbon cycle (the potential new Year 9 unit) and the other focusing on analysing patterns of global climate change. We’ll also split out Year 10 Evolution in a similar way; initially focusing on sexual and asexual reproduction and the survival of species (the potential Year 9 unit) and the other unit focusing on the theory of evolution by natural selection. These changes, whether they are accepted or not, will strengthen the way both climate change and evolution are taught within our collection.

If you are using Stile or currently thinking about using Stile as your science resource we have you covered to ensure you have curriculum-aligned, beautiful lessons based on real-world science and global issues.

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact me at clare.feeney@stileeducation.com or on 0447 945 533. Your school’s dedicated Stile specialist will also be able to answer any questions you may have.