Bèta partners
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Aims

To realise a more motivating and more challenging science curriculum in secondary schools in order to boost the enrolment of students in science & technology in higher education.

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Argument for inclusion

Integral approach to innovative content and teaching of science and technology; win-win situation for both secondary schools, universities and S&T companies.

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Educational partners

Polytechnic University INHOLLAND, Polytechnic University of Amsterdam and  22 secondary schools

Other partners

NEMO the Amsterdam Museum of Science and Technology, Regional TechnoCentrum Amsterdam, VHTO girls & science     

Age/classes

13 - 18

Thematic orientation

Science and technology

Main Focus

Interdisciplinary projects to develop insight in the interrelationship between the sciences and technology

Duration of activity

From 2004 onwards

Resources

All participating institutions make a financial contribution.
Subsidy granted by Platform BetaTechniek. Additional funding by the municuipality of Amsterdam and the SURF Foundation.

Website

www.betapartners.nl

Contact person

Mr. Cor de Beurs,  e.: debeurs@science.uva.nl   t.: +31 20 5255964

Context and conditions

The Beta partner project is a project based on collaboration of 4 institutes of higher education and 22 secondary schools that focus on science. Beta partners is a regional network in the Amsterdam region wherein secondary schools cooperate with universities, polytechnical colleges, industry and  Science Centre NEMO.
Science education faces serious problems. Part of the problem can be ascribed to science teaching itself. Students lack interest in science and technology because traditional science curricula deal with classical themes and theories and seldom relate models and theories to real life issues and active problem solving. Another problem is the growing lack of science teachers. A lot of science classes in secondary education are taught by teachers without proper science credentials.
The objective of the Beta partners network is to raise interest and enthusiasm among pupils in secondary education for science and technology and related professions. This is achieved by improving the science curriculum and its teaching at the schools and by offering challenging out of school learning arrangements.

Activities and Contents

The Beta-partners network has initiated a wide range of activities.
For lower secondary teaching materials have been developed that are available to all participating schools in digital form. In cooperation with NEMO, the science museum, the project ‘Science Centre at School’ has been developed. Students design exhibits about topics related to science and technology. A special program has been designed to stimulate interest in science and technology among girls. In cooperation with industry, activities concerning career choices in science and technology have been developed.
In upper secondary an increasing number of students have taken part in science labs, coursework labs, master classes and forms of e-learning in science, e.g. webclasses.
For teachers master courses have been organised.

A few of the activities in the Beta Partners network will be described in more detail:
its lab
The its lab is one of the initiatives in the Beta partner project. (itsinformatics, technology and science)
In three connected its labs in Amsterdam the initiative offers science labs, design labs and master classes for students age 14 – 18. The labs are located at the institutes for higher education: the University of Amsterdam, the Free University of Amsterdam and the Polytechnic University of Amsterdam.
In March 2005 the University of Amsterdam and 3 secondary schools started an its pilot lab. It offered practical courses on chemistry, providing more equipment than schools could offer. The evaluation among 66 participating students showed excellent results. Based on this evaluation the capacity was expanded: in 2007 the its lab courses were attended by more than 700 students, at age 15 and above. The target for 2010 is that the its labs in Amsterdam will be visited by more than 6000 students yearly.
In November 2007 its organized lab activities for the participants of the European Union Science Olympiad (EUSO). One of the themes was ‘chemistry of cooking’.

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Chemistry of cooking in the its lab

From 2005 till 2007 the Free University was very successful in offering a great variety of master classes for students from upper secondary school level.
Based on the success of these projects the municipal council of Amsterdam decided in December 2007 to support the its lab initiative with an additional € 1.500.000.

Methodologies

Beta Partners uses an interdisciplinary approach to developing Science&Technology education. The main strategy is to make secondary schools part of an integral network of schools, universities and industries that jointly take responsibility for developing the teaching and learning of S&T:

  • Cooperation between S&T-teachers of secondary schools and between teachers in secondary education and higher education. Aims: develop educational materials, professional development , inspiration.
  • Career orientation: to inform students in secondary education about  S&-studies in higher education and careers in S&T.

An important reason for the low percentage of students in secondary education that take up science is that the curriculum is not appealing to students. It does not relate to real life and to the wide range of career options in science and technology. The curriculum doesn’t provide enough choice and challenges for students and does not have enough depth. The innovation of the science curriculum is hampered by the lack of qualified science teachers. To tackle these problems the BetaPartners network has established the its academy.
its academy
The its academy is another initiative in the Beta partner project. In the its academy school teachers and university staff members work jointly on  developing and teaching (new) subjects in Science, Computer Science and Mathematics for students in upper secondary education. In September 2007 the its academy started with 10 participating schools of secondary education. In this mobility project PhD students, postdoc’s from higher education and teachers from upper level secondary schools are exchanged. PhD students and postdocs are supporting teaching at secondary schools and teachers from secondary schools participate in curriculum development and its lab activities at the institutes for higher education.

Another 14 schools will participate from September 2008. Aim of this initiative is to stimulate the mobility of teachers from higher education to secondary education and vice versa; to raise the quality of Science and Technology education and above all to inspire students and teachers.

Integrated with courses in the its academy, labs and master classes are offered for students in the its labs.

For further information: www.itsacademy.nl

Curriculum relevance

The aim is to strengthen the coherence of the curriculum within the science subjects and between the subjects, for instance by developing examples of good practice.
By cooperating the schools can offer their students more modules which gives students more freedom of choice within the curriculum.

Other outcomes

  • on line experiments
  • e-learning classes about topics that are part of the curriculum of higher education
  • master classes e.g. chemistry & crime, game development, time, energy
  • designing exhibits about Science & Technology in cooperation with Science Museum NEMO
  • specific information sessions and materials about S&T for girls and their parents
  • workshops for teachers and ed-tech’s
  • teaching and learning materials (mini modules) for lower secondary e.g. informatics, integrated science, advanced mathematics
  • its-lab activities about new developments in S&T e.g. new materials (matter), robotics, DNA, GPS, forensic research, blue energy, sport and drugs

Mutual benefits

Secondary schools improve the content and teaching methods and higher education gets more students in S&T.
Benefits for schools:
- improvement of the content of the curriculum
- improving and diversifying teaching methods e.g. blended learning: classroom activities, e-learning and lab activities
- training on the job is a boost for the professional development of teachers
Benefits for higher education:
- an increased influx of students in Science and Technology studies
- more insight in knowledge and skills of future students
- improved accessibility of the curricula, specially in the first year of higher education

Evaluation /feedback

The main criterion for success is an increase of the percentage of students taking up Science and Technology subjects in upper secondary and higher education. The goal is to realise a minimum increase of 15 % compared to the year 2005. The first batch of secondary schools show an increase of 30 %  in upper secondary. For higher education its too early to expect any results by 2007.

Limits and possibilities

Participation in BetaPartners is a two-way process: rights and duties of all partners are laid down in a contract. There is a limited number of secondary schools that can participate.

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