Research methodology

The research methodology for the SILO project is design-based research (DBR).  “DBR is a methodology designed by and for educators that seeks to increase the impact, transfer, and translation of education research into improved practice” (Anderson & Shattuck, 2012, p. 16). Barab and Squire (2004) were early adopters of this methodology who noted that “design-based research strives to generate and advance a particular set of theoretical constructs that transcends the environmental particulars of the contexts in which they were generated, selected, or refined” (p. 5).  The SILO project is built upon the following five constructs:

  1. The international emphasis on STEM is not likely to go away and will probably increase due to the rapid technological era in which we live.
  2. “STEM education begins in primary school” (Prinsley & Johnston, 2015, p. 1).
  3. Time is scarce in Primary Schools.  This has led to certain phrases such as the 'overcrowded curriculum'.
  4. The Australian Curriculum is essentially sound and useful, covering the necessary curriculum content for STEM education but within the component disciplines of science, technology (digital technologies), engineering (design technologies) and mathematics. 
  5. The challenge for teachers is to implement the Australian Curriculum in an efficient, equitable and authentic manner focusing on depth over breadth.

Sandoval (2014) has noted that there is no clearly identifiable set of methods that can be labeled as DBR and that the commonality is mainly in terms of certain commitments that include “the joint pursuit of practical improvement and theoretical refinement; cycles of design, enactment, analysis, and revision; and attempts to link processes of enactment to outcomes of interest” (pp. 19-20).  Given this, the question of how the SILO project will be assessed is critical.  Sandoval’s contribution here is what he calls ‘conjecture mapping’, which is when articulating and testing opinions or conclusions formed on the basis of incomplete information.  In this sense conjecture mapping could be likened to “hypotheses about how learning happens in some context and how to support it” (Sandoval, 2014, p.20).  Accordingly, the working hypothesis for the SILO project is that students and teachers will expand their knowledge and skills in STEM by having a daily focus built into each day. The challenge then is how to do this in a seamless and sustainable way.  Figure 1 is the initial conjecture map for the SILO project. 

Figure 3.1. Initial conjecture map for a daily STEM focus in primary schools.

 

Data sources

The relationship between the data sources is shown in figure 3.2:

Figure 3.2. Venn diagram of the data sources.


Co-construction

Another important methodological issue is co-construction and how teachers and researchers understand their own role as co-designers within the classroom.  This issue is at the heart of DBR as participants "are treated as co-participants in both the design and even the analysis" (Barab & Squire, 2004, p. 3).  This will become most apparent in the SILO project during the current implementation phase where teachers and the primary researcher seek to design engaging and authentic opportunities to engage in STEM education.  Much time and effort has gone into cultivating a learning environment based on mutual trust and respect to encourage the free flow of ideas in a spirit of collaboration.  As yet, there have been no differences of opinion regarding implementation but the following three protocols are proposed to manage such instances:

  1. Ultimately, it is the classroom teacher who has the final say about what happens as it their classroom as they have a duty of care for everything which occurs. 
  2. If the researcher suggests an activity which is unfamiliar to the classroom teachers (such as Arduino or coding), the researcher will run the session so that the classroom teacher can observe without having to invest any additional preparation time
  3. If two or more classroom teachers within the same year level have a difference of opinion in relation to classroom activities, each teacher will remain free to pursue their chosen option.  Such instances are likely to be generative as, "It is through understanding the recursive patterns of researchers’ framing questions, developing goals, implementing interventions, and analyzing resultant activity that knowledge is produced" (Barab & Squire, 2004, p. 10).

Teachers make countless decisions every day but the decision-making process which guides such decisions is rarely articulated because it is tacit knowledge.  Figure 3.3 seeks to make this tacit knowledge visible in the context of STEM education.

Figure 3.3. A decision-making tool for STEM education

Figure 3.3 is largely based on common sense and professional judgement, but a simple tool like this brings some larger issues into focus such as relevance and suitability.  It also shows teachers where and when they might need to expand their skills, knowledge or resources. 

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