Sunday 4 September 2016

Reflections on (one of) my Communities of Practice

My personal learning journey sees me involved in a lot of CoPs; each one determined by the shared goals of that community. The community that I feel I interact with mostly, is the Science department I as a part of. We meet approximately fortnightly, with a shared interest in the promotion of scientific thinking within our students to encourage a level of Citizen Scientific Literacy, as described by Gluckman (2011).

A Community of Practice (CoP) has been defined by Wenger (2000) as "communities that share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning". He also points out that participation in these communities is essential to learning.

The focus of the Science department is to raise critical thinking within our students; making them question the world around them and hopefully, learn to understand information presented as scientific to them on a daily basis. We are attempting to focus more on the inclusion of the Science Capabilities as well as the Nature of Science strands of the NZ Curriculum, making the students' learning more about the act of 'doing Science' rather than just completing practicals and writing notes because it is necessary for an exam or test (Haigh, France and Forret, 2005).

Image result for science nzThe department has spent a lot of time in critical reflection so far this year, as it was realised we are too assessment-heavy across all sections of the Science department, and our students are not getting the benefits of the accumulated knowledge and experience that the teaching staff have to offer. Our reflections have led us to understand that to really move forward and encourage scientific thinking is to make some big changes to the way we assess. This has not been easy, as all Communities of Practice can get bogged down over time, and sometimes need a real boost to get them moving in the right direction once again. From a personal point of view, this has been something of a revelation, but I am conscious of the stress this causes colleagues as sometimes making big changes is not easy, but as Wenger points out, gaps in the learning must be recognised and addressed.

I am part of the leadership team for the department, and am helping to drive some of the new ideas, making sure my colleagues are feeling supported, and also letting them know that it is acceptable to make mistakes and that by streamlining our processes, we will be clawing back precious time and seeing less stress among each other and our students. We are all learners on the journey with our students, and if we are afraid to make mistakes how can we encourage them to learn through making their own mistakes?

It is all a work in progress. Clearly, practices that we want to change have been long ingrained, but things must change. Otherwise, we can't enjoy our teaching of science, and there is no way we can get our students to develop the love of learning in science either. Thankfully, as a community, we have identified the issues and are working to move forward together, for ourselves and primarily for our students.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step - Lao Tzu


Gluckman, P. (2011). Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century A report from the Prime Minister ’ s Chief Science Advisor.

Haigh, M., France, B., & Forret, M. (2005). Is “doing science” in New Zealand classrooms an expression of scientific inquiry? International Journal of Science Education, 27(2), 215–226. 

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.

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