Science teaching, PDP and consulting at SFU

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In 1965, a new university—SFU—was being planned, and it was to have a Faculty of Education as one of the founding faculties. John Ellis, the first Dean, had earlier described teacher education in very negative terms and Scrum insisted that the Faculty of Education at the new SFU must not resemble the traditional approach where teaching involved lecturing and testing, and learning involved memorization and regurgitation.

Elsewhere, winds of reform were beginning to blow. The Russian Sputnik motivated the US government to improve science teaching in schools. One such project was the Elementary Science Study (ESS). I recall one conference session I attended when the presenters put materials in front of us that we manipulated and discussed for most of the session. The presenters closed the session by explaining that we had just been introduced to Elementary Science Study (ESS), an early example of “constructivist education”, which interested me greatly.

I was appointed at SFU in Science Education in 1974, and I found the atmosphere conducive to trying new ideas. The buzz, support and atmosphere I experienced are memorable for me to this day. I was able to apply the inquiry approach I had learned about in graduate school to my teaching. It involved presenting students with discrepant events, to stimulate discussion as to what was happening and to find their own answers. The literature referred to this as a constructivist approach.

This approach was easily extended into the Professional Development Program (PDP) that John Ellis and Archie Mackinnon had developed for teacher education when SFU opened. Among other things, PDP placed students in schools and the University on a 50/50 basis. When I received my first teaching assignment in PDP, I worked with two faculty associates and a group of students exploring issues, topics and problems in their journey to learn to teach. That experience for me was very memorable because in many ways it involved a constructivist approach to teaching and learning.

This focus on inquiry and constructivism continued into my retirement. With Ian Andrews, the Director of International Education, I worked as a consultant in countries both in Asia and the Caribbean helping district administrators assist schools to modernize their instruction. My experience at SFU in both coursework and PDP enabled me to offer alternatives to the mantra of ‘lecture and test’ typical in those countries. I drew on this experience to discuss alternatives to their present teaching to help them modernise instruction.

In conclusion, the atmosphere, support, and opportunity that the Faculty of Education provided helped me gain skills and understanding to improve my teaching and research. That experience is very memorable.

Marv Wideen
Professor Emeriti