Significance and Innovation

This is the first study to investigate the different literacy demands of senior high school chemistry, physics and biology. It will provide new understanding of the intensified interaction of complex language, image, scientific symbols and mathematical formulations that distinguish senior high school physics, chemistry and biology. This will advance understanding of the multimodal nature of these specific discipline literacies and how they are interwoven with generic literacies throughout the curriculum. Furthermore, the scope of the study across years 10 -12 and the longitudinal nature of the student data allow us to map the developmental trajectory of the multiliterate practices students need to learn as they progress from junior through senior high school science.

Improving Science-Literacies of Educationally Disadvantaged Students

By distinguishing the multimodal nature of the distinctive literacies of senior school chemistry, physics and biology and how these differ from generic literacies, this study delivers new insights into why disadvantaged students struggle with the multi-literate requirements of senior school science subjects. Understanding how subject-specific literacies differ from generic literacies will facilitate the design of learning experiences that build on educationally disadvantaged students’ existing literate competence to target the particular multiliterate practices needed for successful learning in the different science subjects. In this way the explication of subject-specific literacies will provide a new basis for teachers to develop students’ capacities to interweave everyday and distinctively scientific language and literacy, simultaneously shifting between familiar images and increasingly complex scientific representations and negotiating increased integration of scientific symbolism and complex mathematical formulations.

Pedagogic Innovation: ‘Infusing’ Multiliteracies Development in Science Pedagogy

This investigation brings together new conceptualizations of relative complexity in images in school science from CI Unsworth’s current work, CI O’Halloran’s (2015) on learning the language of mathematics, CIs Humphrey (2015) and Love (2010) on improving academic literacy pedagogy in schools, and also extends CI Tytler’s (2013) representation-intensive science pedagogy to the senior high school. What distinguishes the pedagogy to be developed in this project is that the generation, refinement and evaluation of multimodal representations mirror the ways that they are used that is central to knowledge production practices in science, fostering students’ inquiry skills. The multiliteracies are not ‘overlayed’ or otherwise ‘grafted on’, but rather ‘infused’ into science teaching and learning, just as multiliterate practices are inseparable from the speculating, reasoning, contesting explanations, theory-building and communicating that characterize scientific endeavour. In conceiving teaching and learning in science in this way, the project provides new understanding of the pedagogic content knowledge required by science teachers to reconceptualise the nature and role of multiliteracies development as integral to science education.

Industry Partner Significance

The Partner Organizations are concerned with the significant achievement discrepancy between students from skilled, unskilled, unemployed and families where English is a second language compared to those from professional families, in their own communities and across the state. In their Annual Implementation Plans for 2015, all 4 schools have goals to increase the numbers of students successfully completing Year 12 Science, and all have sought to realize this through Professional Learning and Literacy Plans (PLLPs), which recognize the centrality of literacy in developing disciplinary knowledge. Principals of each school approached CI Love in 2014, through existing partnerships, to extend PLLPs to include developing new understanding of multimodal literacies. Schools have furthermore sought to develop distributed professional learning (PL) whereby Heads of Learning have the capacity to deliver high quality literacy PL to science teachers and other peers as a means of realizing strategic priorities related to discipline-based literacy and science retention, engagement and achievement. Because of their connection with each other and with the Australian Catholic University (ACU), the four schools are in a strong position to collaborate in the proposed project and, through strong existing secondary science networks, disseminate findings more widely.

Social and Economic Benefit

The declining proportions of high school students studying physics, chemistry and biology, and the possibility that the current generation might not harbour ambitions to become the innovators and creators of tomorrow (Chubb, 2012), clearly threaten the future of an Australian innovation culture and economy.

Reviving student interest in school science needs to include strategies for enhancing the success of the increased numbers of students from educationally disadvantaged populations now completing high school (Teese, 2013). Developing the capacity of these students to use the distinctive language, images, symbols and mathematical tools needed to build and demonstrate knowledge in senior science subjects will contribute to the likelihood of their success and participation in further study and subsequent employment in scientific and technological fields.