In international surveys, Brazilian students have been consistently ranking low in science. Continuing education for secondary school teachers is certainly a way to change this situation. To update teachers and provide teaching and learning experiences for graduate students, our department organized a “Winter Course in Physiology” where schoolteachers had the opportunity to attend lectures that were offered by graduate students and participate in discussions on teaching and learning strategies and their applicability, considering different schools and student age groups. This work evaluated the ways in which the Winter Course in Physiology improves continuing education for secondary school teachers. Graduate students prepared, presented, and discussed with the audience the concepts, content, and topics of the program, which were previously presented to the organizing committee and a supervising professor. Potential participants were recruited based on their curriculum vitae and a letter of intent. During the course, they completed a questionnaire that graded different aspects of course organization and lectures. The results indicated that the Winter Course was positively evaluated. Most topics received a grade of ≥4.0, considering a range of 1.0 (low) to 5.0 (high). In a followup, both the participants and instructors reported positive impacts on their overall knowledge in physiology. Schoolteachers reported improvements in the performance and participation of their students. In conclusion, the results suggested that the Winter Course is a good way to promote continuing education for schoolteachers and promote university outreach. It also provided an important experience for graduate students to develop teaching skills.
- secondary education
- physiology refresher course for teachers
- integrative physiology teaching
the program for international student assessment evaluates countries that collaborate through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and reports the performance of 15-yr-old students in science, reading, and mathematics every 3 yr. Based on the mean scores for reading, mathematics, and science, Brazil ranked 53rd, 57th, and 53rd, respectively, among 65 countries in 2009 (5). In 2012, Brazil's ranked 57th, 54th, and 57th in mathematics, reading, and science, respectively (4). In science, 83% of the students did not achieve level 3 (on a 1 to 6 scale), meaning that their level of science learning was between finding obvious scientific explanations (level 1) and literally interpreting data (level 2). Only 4.5% of students were level 4 or higher, meaning that they were able to critically analyze facts and data. Brazil received a score of 405 points, which was similar to Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Montenegro, Argentina, Tunisia, and Kazakhstan. In the area of science from 2006 to 2012, students who were above baseline level 2 increased by 7.3% (4).
Based on these numbers, Brazil needs to rethink its investment in education, including the amount of money invested and how this money is managed. Although over the last several years there was an increase in the number of undergraduate students from ∼1.5 million in 1990 to 3.5 million in 2000, reaching 7.3 million in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of graduate students decreased from 1.1 million to 991,000 in 2013 (3). Moreover, the student/teacher ratio in advantaged schools is smaller than in disadvantaged schools (22.9 and 31.3, respectively) (4). We consider that continuing education should be a concern for both individual teachers and the entire educational system. It is crucial that the teacher demonstrates that he/she has the opportunity to develop all of the expected competencies that are listed in local educational law from elementary school to high school. Educators are expected to master multidisciplinary subjects, but to accomplish such goals they must be tested and trained during their formation and given refresher courses to avoid the ossification of incorrect or outdated knowledge and methodologies (1).
How can the university contribute to changing this reality? The university needs to offer a variety of courses and certification programs to help teachers stay current in their profession and serve the various phases of an educator's career. This includes helping teachers expand their knowledge base, bringing fresh inspiration to the classroom, and enhancing their careers, in addition to providing the opportunity to exchange ideas with peer educators.
Over 9 yr, the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of São Paulo, organized a “Winter Course”, with the aim of updating teachers in themes that involve physiology. During the Winter Course, teachers have the opportunity to attend lectures and participate in practical lessons and activities where new methodologies are proposed for each subject. The main point is to evaluate whether the suggested methodology is applicable in the schools where they work and for the age groups of their students. They also need to learn which modifications are necessary to implement such methodologies in their daily work.
We believe that this opportunity is a key for educators to deepen their knowledge in specific areas and share experiences with students. Graduate students are responsible for organizing the Winter Course, giving the lectures, and proposing methodologies for teaching and learning.
The present work evaluated whether the general format of the Winter Course improved continuing education for secondary school teachers. The course included theoretical and practical classes, group work or discussions, and visits to research laboratories. The participating teachers evaluated the course immediately after the course concluded and years later after their participation. The present work also evaluated whether the participation of graduate students, who organized the course, was important for improving their knowledge in physiology and performance in teaching. The graduate students evaluated their participation years after the course concluded.
The Winter Course was offered by the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. The first Winter Course was offered in 2005. During the first 3 yr, the topic was “Feeding: From Behavior to the Cell.” In the following 3 yr, from 2008 to 2010, the topic was “Physiology of Reproduction: From Behavior to Development.” Finally, from 2011 to 2013, the course was “Physiology: From Daily Routine to Extreme Situations.” All of the courses basically comprised theoretical and practical classes, group work or discussions, and visits to research laboratories. The lesson schedules for the three different courses are presented in Tables 1, 2, and 3 (these tables are an example of last year's schedule for each theme). Graduate students in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, headed by the organizing committee, were supervised by a Chair Professor to discuss the course program and lessons/activities themselves. Secondary school biology and physical education teachers were encouraged to enroll. The course was free of charge and offered over 1 wk during the winter recess (40 h).
The graduate students voluntarily prepared and presented the lessons to the organizing committee and supervising professor. The supervising professor evaluated whether the material was suitable and achieved the aim of the course. A main feature of the classes was theoretical material in addition to applicable practical lessons and/or activities that were related to the main subjects. The content of the courses should be performed easily in schools with low budgets. Other activities, such as discussions of scientific publications, case discussions, and tours of laboratories in the department, were also offered. Written material that was prepared by the instructors in each class was distributed to the participants on the first day of the course so that the participants could gain knowledge on the topic and prepare for the classes and discussions that followed.
The course was publicized through the distribution of posters at schools and also by e-mails that were sent to school headmasters. Moreover, the organizers contacted the educational secretariats of the state and city of São Paulo by phone and e-mail, which announced the course in their informative journals. We also had a website with all of the information regarding the course's motivation, objectives, duration, enrollment period, and names of the organizers and teachers.
For registration/enrollment, the potential participants sent their curriculum vitae, completed a questionnaire regarding personal data, and provided a letter of intent. This letter was used to clarify whether the candidates were working as teachers at the time of selection and whether they intended to apply the skills that were developed during the course in their own classes. Teachers who worked at public schools were preferred during the selection process because public schools typically enroll economically disadvantaged students and work with low budgets. Each selected participant was contacted by phone and/or email to confirm his/her interest.
On the last day of the course, open forums were held, allowing participants to discuss their impressions of the activities during the week and encouraging them to suggest changes that could improve the effectiveness of the project for upcoming editions. They also completed a questionnaire that graded different aspects of the course's organization, lectures, and classes. The questionnaire is presented in Fig. 1. For each year, we plotted the data that corresponded to the participants' impressions related to each class (Tables 1–3). Although every year we saw only marginal changes in the schedule that were based on the participants' suggestions, in the present work we chose to present an overall graphic analysis, from 2007 to 2013, to summarize their feedback over the years.
Another followup questionnaire was sent by e-mail to the participants who attended the course from 2007 to 2013 to evaluate whether the teachers utilized the skills that were discussed during the course in their own schools and classes. Another questionnaire was also presented to the graduate students who organized the course from 2007 to 2013 to evaluate whether their participation in the course contributed to improving their overall teaching skills. Both questionnaires allowed the respondents to choose 1 (did not contribute), 2 (partially contributed), or 3 (contributed). All of the numerical results that were derived from the questionnaires are presented as means ± SE.
The present work presents the data for the Winter Course between 2007 and 2013. Tables 1–3 show the classes' schedules for each topic for each year. In response to the feedback questionnaire that was received during the forums, the timetable changed to meet the participants' needs. We offered hands-on activities, discussions, and exhibitions in an attempt to combine theory and practice.
From 2007 to 2013, 144 secondary school teachers participated in the Winter Course, and 135 completed the feedback questionnaire (Fig. 1). The questionnaire ranged from 1 (not satisfied) to 5 (satisfied). The mean ± SE scores that were obtained over these years for each issue that was evaluated in the questionnaire (Fig. 1) are plotted and presented in Fig. 2, A–C. Figure 2A presents the results of the general evaluation of the course: objectives (4.79 ± 0.04), course duration (4.19 ± 0.07), attention to participants (4.86 ± 0.04), general content (4.66 ± 0.04), and general evaluation (4.70 ± 0.04).
Figure 2B presents the course program and lectures: workbook (4.67 ± 0.05), lectures (4.26 ± 0.05), topics (4.69 ± 0.05), class content (4.44 ± 0.05), basic concepts (4.52 ± 0.05), and discussions (4.42 ± 0.06). Additionally, after each class or topic discussed, the participants were asked to evaluate their clarity and relevance. The level of satisfaction often ranked >75% in these surveys (data not shown), which urged the organizers to maintain these topics and schedules in subsequent editions of the course.
Figure 2C shows the course management: publicizing (3.56 ± 0.11), secretariat communication (4.55 ± 0.08), communication with the organizing committee (4.84 ± 0.04), and infrastructure (4.62 ± 0.05).
Figure 3A presents the number of registrations and participants over the years. From 2007 to 2011, fluctuations were seen in the number of registrations, reflecting interest in the course theme. The number of registrations varied with the number of participants. In contrast, in 2012 more registrations were seen, although we did not fill the maximum number of vacancies. In 2013, the number of registrations and participants dropped significantly. Generally, the number of participants did not fill the maximum number of vacancies that were offered throughout the years.
The number of graduate students who were engaged in the course was also assessed. As shown in Fig. 3B, the number of graduate students decreased over the years, with the exception of an increase in 2010.
Figure 4A presents the followup questionnaire that was sent to the graduate students and the corresponding data. The questionnaire evaluated whether participation in the course contributed to improving their teaching skills and knowledge related to physiology concepts. We received the completed followup questionnaire from 22 graduate students (Fig. 4B). The average score for question 1 (Q1; development of teaching skills) was 2.59 ± 0.14. The average score for question 2 (Q2; contribution of participation in the course to their teaching formation) was 2.77 ± 0.13. The average score for question 3 (Q3; their own learning of physiology) was 2.54 ± 0.14.
A followup questionnaire was also sent to the secondary school teachers who attended the Winter Course from 2007 to 2013 (Fig. 5A) to investigate the impact of the course subjects on their own classes. We received completed questionnaires from 23 participants, and the results are presented in Fig. 5B. The questions assessed the use of skills learned in the course in their classrooms (Q1), students' participation in classes (Q2), students' performance (Q3), interest in continuing education elicited by the course [question 4 (Q4)], and whether the course stimulated the participants to test other teaching methods [question 5 (Q5)]. The average scores were as follows: Q1, 2.60 ± 0.10; Q2, 2.21 ± 0.12; Q3, 2.22 ± 0.14; Q4, 2.78 ± 0.10; Q5, 2.91 ± 0.08.
The present work evaluated whether the Winter Course accomplished its goals related to continuing education for secondary school teachers. The participants completed a questionnaire (Fig. 1) about different aspects of the course. The results indicate that the Winter Course was positively evaluated, and most topics received a grade of ≥4, considering a scale from 1 (unsatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied). The participants also completed a followup questionnaire that evaluated whether the course contributed to improving their own classes and students' performance (Fig. 5). Graduate students who organized the course also completed a questionnaire that evaluated whether their knowledge in physiology and teaching performance improved after the course (Fig. 4). The results indicated that the Winter Course was helpful for both participants and graduate students, in which the average grade was ≥2, considering a scale of 1 (did not contribute), 2 (partially contributed), and 3 (contributed).
During the Winter Course, the participants were encouraged to discuss and share their teaching experiences. Topics were selected according to their relevance in secondary schools, which significantly enriched their general interest and knowledge about such topics. The aim of the course is to keep these teachers updated with regard to related subjects. During the course, the participants had the opportunity to visit the library and research laboratories at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences. During the visits to the research laboratories, the faculty talked about their ongoing projects and the main research techniques used. Most of the participants had never visited a laboratory before, demonstrating their lack of practical connection between basic education and the practice of science in Brazil, in agreement with Freitas (2). These activities contributed to the high scores that were given to the Winter Course during its general evaluation. Moreover, during these activities, the participants were invited to critically discuss scientific information. We believe that this could also lead to similar developments with students in their own classrooms, helping them perform better in international surveys of competencies and abilities.
The good evaluation of the Winter Course is likely attributable to the enthusiasm of the teachers who attended the course. The initial questionnaire was applied immediately after the course ended. The followup survey showed that the Winter Course was also graded well by the teachers, even years after their participation. Specifically, the average scores were ≥2, ranging from 1 (lowest) to 3 (highest). This shows that the skills that were covered during the course were useful for their own classes. Additionally, the teachers noticed that the grades and participation of their own students increased, and the course stimulated the teachers to search for new refresher courses and learn additional educational methodologies. These results highlight the importance of the Winter Course and motivate our department to maintain this initiative.
Importantly, one of the aims of the university is to provide community service (i.e., to transfer knowledge to society) (7). A course that is offered to secondary school teachers is certainly a good example of an extramural course. In addition to updating the participants' knowledge, the Winter Course was also an important experience for the graduate students. They had the opportunity to prepare and review the content of the course, give lectures, grade exams, and organize the entire course with support from the faculty and other personnel. This was demonstrated by the followup questionnaire that was completed by the graduate students. They gave the course a score of ≥2, showing that the Winter Course was a good opportunity to improve their knowledge in physiology and teaching performance.
A previous study discussed a course that was offered to secondary school teachers by the Department of Physiology, Medical College of Virginia (6). They sought to update middle and high school science teachers in key concepts related to physiology. Unlike this course that was offered in Virginia, the Winter Course discussed herein was dedicated to specific topics in physiology, which changed every 3 yr. The idea was to contextualize different routine topics. As a result, teachers could demonstrate to their students complex concepts in physiology and explain them using examples in everyday life. This would increase the students' interest in the subject. Despite some differences, the authors reported very similar advantages and approval from the participants.
Although the number of registrations has varied over the years, we do not ascribe these fluctuations to a lack of interest by the teachers. Our major problem during the organization period was contacting the government administration that is responsible for ratifying the course and publicizing it. Most of the participants heard about the course from previous participants and posters that were personally distributed in the schools by the organizers themselves. This was confirmed by the fact that lower grades were given on our questionnaire to publicizing the course. Despite this, although the number of registrations was always higher than the number of vacancies, the number of participants never filled all of the available vacancies. The course was offered to the teachers during school recess, and we presume that it may have been difficult for them to commit to a full-time course over an entire week. We also have to consider that it may be expensive to stay in São Paulo if you come from another city.
Another important consideration is the decrease in the number of graduate students who were engaged in later editions of the course. Being a graduate student is demanding, and the pressure to publish manuscripts is very high. However, this appears to be a contradiction because, at least in Brazil, research careers are highly connected to universities; thus, most graduate students must become educators to keep doing research. For graduate students who decide to participate in such projects, initiatives like the Winter Course reported herein are a unique opportunity for them to be exposed to what happens beyond the walls of universities.
In conclusion, the Winter Course in Physiology that was offered by the Institute of Biomedical Sciences promoted education for secondary school teachers and provided good university outreach. It also allowed graduate students to participate in a very important experience in organizing a course in physiology, which will lead them to improve their teaching and learning abilities.
No conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, are declared by the authors.
C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., J.C.-S., M.T.N., and F.A. conception and design of research; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., and J.C.-S. performed experiments; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., and J.C.-S. analyzed data; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., J.C.-S., and M.T.N. interpreted results of experiments; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., and J.C.-S. prepared figures; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., and J.C.-S. drafted manuscript; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., J.C.-S., M.T.N., and F.A. edited and revised manuscript; C.C.C.-M., L.L.R., J.C.-S., M.T.N., and F.A. approved final version of manuscript.
We thank Leila Affini, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of São Paulo, for outstanding support in organizing all editions of the Winter Course and contacting the participants and graduate students to complete the followup questionnaires.
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