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Manchester Institute of Education

Interdisciplinary mathematics, science and technology

Organiser: Andy Howes


Royal Society vision project: Literature review for curriculum, assessment, inter-disciplinary and i

Funder: Royal Society
PI: Andy HowesJulian Williams
Grant: £13,500
Duration: 2013

The Royal Society commissioned a literature review and vision study to inform its development of a vision for school science and mathematics. A draft executive summary of the project report (under review) follows.

This paper reviews the educational literature on curriculum, assessment and integrated, interdisciplinary studies in STEM in order to inform a strategy for the next 20 years development of science in schools. It is comprised of (i) a literature review, and (ii) a provisional vision statement. It is generally agreed that all children should have learning opportunities, and education should prepare for adult life in general and citizenship and work in particular. In the STEM educational research communities a broad consensus has also developed around the importance of extending curriculum aims, objectives, and assessment beyond the facts and procedures traditionally emphasised: these should include intellectual challenge, problem solving, metacognition, dialogue and critical thinking. But this consensus has not been established in society at large.

Research in education has demonstrated that curriculum and assessment together shape and largely determine what can be taught and learnt. There is evidence that systemic reform can lead to some improvement in learning outcomes, e.g. in making STEM more accessible through improving attitudes to STEM, in improving problem solving and modelling competences, and in raising achievement through certain kinds of formative assessment and dialogical classroom approaches.

In addition there have been many enriching small scale curriculum and assessment developments that have been researched that have shown substantial gains in terms of knowledge and dispositions. These include innovations in teaching real problem solving from within the disciplines, teaching STEM for understanding of society, teaching STEM in integrated ways, using advanced and digital technology, and drawing on interdisciplinary project work.

Importantly also, new assessment practices have been shown to be successful in improving reliability and validity of assessment of a wider range of learning outcomes. Most of these studies in curriculum and assessment, however, indicate systemic obstacles to this e.g. teaching to the test, institutional arrangements or teaching practices that limit or even negate the benefits of the innovation. Furthermore few innovations studies have achieved large scale implementation or evaluation.

Looking to international comparisons based on global assessments, one sees some relevant patterns: we see that socio-economic development is a major correlate of ‘high performance’, as is a culture of high regard for education, highly educated and relatively trusted teaching professions, and policy support for professional cultures of self-improvement. There is less consistency in correlations with ‘traditional’ versus ‘social democratic’ cultures, the compulsory curriculum for mathematics and science, and even outcomes from the different measures of performance.

In conclusion, we find that there are promising reforms that might be embedded in system practices and that have potential to make a transformative impact on learning outcomes for STEM, but there are very significant obstacles to be overcome in achieving this at policy, professional, and institutional levels of the education system. Nevertheless on this knowledge base, in a spirit of optimism, we envision what this transformation might involve.

We suggest that school science/STEM disciplines should broaden their appeal, considering what they can do for learners’ own creativity and personal development. We argue for a space for innovative learner-centred project work from age 5 to 18, culminating in a portfolio that makes visible who they are and what they have done in their schooling: a place where STEM can prove its educational value.


This was an EU Comenius funded project in which mathematics and science researchers and teachers across six countries are working to develop materials that link learning in mathematics and science.

This project worked in the period 2009-11 to provide teachers with rich tasks to develop interdisciplinary approaches that bring together mathematics and science. The materials support students in exploring meaningful problems in a European context in ways that develop their scientific problem solving and inquiry skills. They are innovative and important for teachers and students across the EU as they promote the application of mathematics and science in understanding the world in which we live. Extensive use of technology through a number of specially designed applets, or research environments, is made in supporting students with their exploration of important issues in our ever-changing world.

The materials were developed across six nations with the project team working in partnership with mathematics and science teachers to ensure the adaptability of the tasks in different nations. The result is a new approach to the development of important mathematics and science skills that students taking part and their teachers found highly motivating.

As one science teacher enthusiastically commented, “I hadn’t expected the students to connect the concepts they saw in both subjects without prompting. However, they explained things such as equilibrium (of heat transfer) using ideas of flow in and out from their mathematics lessons without me mentioning it.”


PRIMAS is an international project within the Seventh Framework Program of the European Union. Fourteen universities from twelve different countries are working together to further promote the implementation and use of inquiry-based learning in mathematics and science. PRIMAS provides materials for direct use in class and for professional development. In addition, we run professional development activities and support professional networks in each of the partner countries. PRIMAS also works with stakeholders such as policymakers, school leaders and parents to create a supportive environment for inquiry-based learning.


LEMA (Learning and Education in and through Modelling and Applications) was an EU Comenius funded project in which mathematics educators from six countries worked to produce materials to support teachers’ professional development.

The overall aim of the project was to facilitate a change in teachers’ classroom practices so as to include mathematical modelling activities.

To this end, providing teachers with appropriate and relevant tasks to use with pupils is necessary but not sufficient. To provide further support LEMA developed a professional development programme for teachers, together with supporting materials.