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Sarah Frodsham joined the School of Education at Oxford Brookes in 2013. Her thesis title is 'Developing creativity within primary science teaching and considering how assessment strategies can augment this process'.
In 2012-2013 I was completing my MSc whilst being employed as a part-time teaching assistant. During the latter half of that academic year I found myself discussing my next steps in education with an academic from another university. It was during this discussion that I happened to mention that I was interested in how science was currently being taught and assessed at primary schools through a practice called 'creative teaching'. The academic emphasised the School of Education at Oxford Brookes as being a central hub for supporting creativity within primary school education. I took a risk and emailed various lecturers within the educational faculty and to my surprise the majority replied. I was subsequently invited to talk to a director of studies about the possibilities of exploring creativity within primary school science. At the time of the meeting I naively thought that only I would be interested in this subject area however at Oxford Brookes I discovered a small but active community who shared this enthusiasm.
I was attracted to Oxford Brookes because within a month of my informal talk with the director of studies, I was awarded a fully funded PhD which is partly funded by the Primary Science Teaching Trust.
Before attempting education for a second time (10 years after I first left aged 18) my employment was, let’s just say, unsettled. I had been a HR assistant, pharmacy supervisor, retail manager, cleaner, carer and mystery shopper at various points during these years, with varying degrees of success. However, in 2005, I found education again and this time I felt at ease with my surrounding environment. By 2009 I had obtained an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from Oxford Brookes. Following this I went on to study part-time at Birkbeck, University of London for an MSc in Structural Biology.
Entering any new environment can be daunting, however I personally found the initial period of adjustment challenging but nevertheless a worthwhile endeavour. This journey was supported by my newly found peer group and via an appropriately supportive supervisory team. Both members of my supervisory team are never that far away. I must also send out a special thanks to the science technicians at Harcourt Hill campus because no matter what my request (e.g. asking for specialist scientific equipment that needed to be built from scratch) they have always tried their best to accommodate.
There are two main strands to my research they are: 1) how teachers develop creativity in their primary science lessons and 2) how Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies can augment creative development. To help me begin to conceptualise these two strands I am initially reflecting upon how teachers interpret creativity personally (e.g. is it a process or a product) and how this translates into their pedagogical practices (e.g. is creativity being developed by the teacher through their enactments of creativity or through the children through their own autonomous learning). To help answer this question I am collecting data through multiple research methods (i.e. questionnaires, interviews and observations) and triangulating results. This data is then being scrutinised for the way teachers mediate the creative learning process (i.e. the development of the learner’s creativity) through the way they present and engage children through the science curriculum. Whilst there are various ways teachers ensure children construct scientific knowledge and understanding it is my intention (at present) to try and ‘capture’ the essence of developing creativity in primary lessons from a pedagogical perspective. As explained above I am also examining how current formative-AfL assessment strategies may (or may not) augment creativity in science. I have tried to argue that most of the stand-alone AfL strategies when applied mechanistically, can only inform the teacher of the child’s progress, this offers little to the learner to recognise their own personal creative development (i.e. the teacher is only applying prescribed strategies). The few strategies that do enable the teacher and child to know where they need to go require reflection and/or participation by the child (i.e. they enable thinking and some learning to take place) and thus the child may, theoretically, be able to understand what is required of them to move their learning forward. However, if the teacher carefully mediates these strategies (i.e. they are reciprocal in nature so that the child feels they have ownership of their own learning) then mutually beneficial AfL assessment can take place. I am thus also scrutinising the collected data to try to understand how each of these strategies, when applied during the science lesson, can aid (or not aid) creative development.
The main challenges are ones of persistence and resilience. Whilst on many occasions these two factors have been tested severely I have continued to push forward. To be honest I think I thrive on this type of challenge and without it I don’t think I would have enjoyed my small but personal successes quite so much.
Oxford Brookes offers a good list of research training. I have learnt how to use software to analyse qualitative data (Nvivo) and I’m striving to master academic writing through regular formal (lecture) and informal (peer-led) sessions. However, I have found that I have required more training beyond that which is offered. Fortunately all the tutors that I have met thus far, have been more than accommodating, for example when struggling with analysing collected qualitative data the tutor set aside two hours of his own time to help. I have also heard that he does this for all interested parties and I personally am extremely grateful.
I am about to undergo training in research methods and management so hopefully upon completion of my PhD this training should provide me with the information and advice on securing external funding and managing research projects. Thus I am hoping, in the end, to become a principle researcher on a number of projects.