5 practical tips for maths teachers for the design of emotion-sensitive classrooms

5 practical tips for maths teachers for the design of emotion-sensitive classrooms

“If I fill in this survey, will all mathematics classes be removed?”

That was one of the questions the participants asked most often when I was collecting my PhD data, aiming to examine middle school students’ academic emotions in mathematics classes. Many of the students completed the surveys in the hope that they would be excused from all future mathematics classes. The sad truth was that this sentence was a kind of reflection of those students’ feelings.

As described by Rosenberg (1998), emotions are “acute, intense, and typically brief psychophysiological changes that result from a response to a meaningful situation in one’s environment” (p. 250). Students experience such intense feelings during each phase of their academic lives in education, which foregrounds educators’ and researchers’ attention to work on this topical phenomenon. My study findings have motivated my continued interest in researching in this era to determine why students’ emotions matter at schools and what could be done to design emotion-sensitive classrooms.

Academic emotions are important, but why?

Imagine a fourteen-year-old child is taking a mathematics test on algebraic equations. Unfortunately, the questions are not easy, and the child cannot remember the formula. On the other hand, the child recognizes his parents’ expectations about the test, and time is passing. The heart and sweating rate of the child might increase; he might wish to have escaped from taking the test; the test might induce him to experience high stress, and all of these might reflect on his face. In short, the child is experiencing test anxiety.

As described in the given situations, emotion is a complex construct, including affective, cognitive, motivational, expressive, and physiological dimensions (Pekrun, 2006; Pekrun & Linnenbrink-Garcia, 2012, 2014). Based on Pekrun’s (2006) control-value theory of achievement emotions, students might experience various emotions due to achievement activities and achievement outcomes. These emotional experiences of students might exert an influence on their cognitive resources, motivation to learn, learning strategy use, and self-regulated learning, which have a place on their learning and achievement. The most crucial thing is that each element is reciprocally related, so the association between emotions, motivation, and learning-related variables would be dynamic. That foregrounds attention to why both educators and researchers should seek and construe students’ academic emotions.

Mathematics, in particular, has consequential effects on students’ emotions regarding the nature of the discipline, teaching quality, pedagogical knowledge and skills of mathematics teachers, and various student-related factors. Because of the rising focus on 21st-century skills and the “frightening” reputation of math classes, distinct student emotions may stem from their learning activities and outcomes in this discipline. Therefore, my research route specifically addressed students’ achievement emotions in mathematics.

A short glance at students’ mathematics academic emotions in Turkey

My research addressed the antecedents and consequences of the emotional experiences of middle school students (10-14 years of age) in mathematics. In Turkey, where the context of the study was built, mathematics is an often feared subject domain with an increased level of education (Çalık, 2014). Students often fall behind on mathematics competencies regarding Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results (OECD, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019).

In addition, students’ capability judgments towards accomplishing mathematics tasks were below, and their anxiety was above the OECD average (Education Reform Inıtiative, 2013). Those results might signify the changes in intensity and the variety of the experienced emotions in this subject domain across grade levels. As just a small part of my research, the findings indicated that 8th-grade students (13-14 years of age) tended to experience less enjoyment and more anxiety and anger than 7th-graders, which raises the first question of why such a decline occurs. Indeed, a number of student-related, teacher-related, parent-related, instruction-related, and assessment-related factors for this trend (Çalık, 2021) bring the second question to our minds: What could be done in designing emotion-sensitive classrooms?

5 practical tips for maths teachers for the design of emotion-sensitive classrooms

Here are several suggestions for designing emotion-sensitive classrooms regarding the potential sources and consequences of academic emotions based on the control-value theory of achievement emotions (Pekrun, 2006). These five tips might be beneficial for mathematics educators to improve the teaching quality of their classes. Those would also lend themselves to regulating students’ emotional experiences in mathematics.

Make a connection between the subject matter and real-life

As one of the basic process standards of NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), students should be able to recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics, which requires the connection between subject matter in mathematics and real life. When maths teachers design authentic learning environments, students in those contexts could easily identify where they might apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in mathematics classes.

In particular, problem-based and project-based learning approaches might be adopted while creating lesson plans. In those cases, students would have the opportunity to learn, apply, and assess the knowledge by dealing with real-life problems, such as teaching how to calculate means or draw bar graphs through a given real-life scenario. Such practices promote the value of learning math and improve learning motivation for mathematics.

Plan the lesson around the student-centered learning activities to contribute to students critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, research, and communications skills

In line with the connection of mathematics with real life, planning mathematics classes around student-centered learning activities would ease students’ understanding of mathematics concepts. Accordingly, constructive learning practices, including problem-based and project-based learning approaches and cooperative learning strategies, would make students active in learning processes and hold them responsible for their learning.

During the teaching process, employing learning technologies, including Web 2.0 tools (e.g., concept mapping tools, assessment tools, interactive presentations, animation and video, Word clouds), dynamic geometry software, and statistical packages, make mathematics learning more enjoyable for students. Those tools captivate learners’ attention by cultivating inquiry, critical and creative thinking skills, and collaboration among learners. Besides, students have the opportunity to express themselves in more than one suggested way and receive immediate feedback from their teachers and peers in mathematics. That might also increase their engagement, motivation to learn, and positive emotions.

Give individual, prompt, and constructive feedback to students

Mathematics teachers may provide process feedback that reveals detailed information about students’ progress on what is expected of them and what they should do to achieve the intended knowledge and skills in mathematics. For instance, rather than comparing the student with his/her peers or telling the child, “Ok! You’re correct!,” for a typical mathematics problem, the mathematics teachers might come up with a statement, such as “I noticed that you came up with an original solution for this problem which you have not tried before, just amazing!”

In other words, teachers might individualize their feedback by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the child by relating their previous projects, homework, assignments, performances, etc. However, the weaknesses might be considered “yet to be accomplished sides” rather than deficits. Otherwise, students are more likely to attribute their failure and achievement in mathematics to unstable and uncontrollable situations, which might boost the rate of experiencing negative emotions. In short, individual and constructive process-oriented feedback foregrounds attention on the efforts put in by students, which also contribute to the level of interest in mathematics.

Make students feel successful by adding their mastery experiences

Self-efficacy is one of the strongest allies of positive emotions. In mathematics, students with high self-efficacy experience more positive and less negative emotions, so adding up self-efficacy beliefs might trigger students’ positive emotions in mathematics. Particularly, helping students reach success in mathematics adds to their mastery experiences in this field.

For this aim, mathematics teachers might divide the tasks into smaller chunks and make students form reasonable goals upon completing those chunks rather than at once. For instance, by giving short homework at first, then increasing the intensity and the number, or asking students to write math dairies or journals to see what they have accomplished and learned each day. Each student can learn at their own pace; however, completion of smaller steps would make students experience success and feel more capable, which, in return, would make them more optimistic and less of a ‘math hater’.

Display high enthusiasm for teaching and be sincere while communicating with students

As a last tip to design emotion-sensitive classrooms, teacher emotions are of value. Teaching is an emotion-laden job, so teacher enthusiasm is a key element for designing supportive teaching and learning environments. As well as enthusiasm and motivation, negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and boredom, would also be mirrored by students. Students are more likely to integrate the feelings experienced by teachers and experience similar feelings.

Therefore, the experience of high enthusiasm for teaching influences not only teachers but also students in the long term. In order to increase teaching enthusiasm and positive teacher emotions in mathematics, the bond between students and teachers should be so strong that both parties (teacher and student) would enjoy the teaching and learning process. That would be provided by ensuring sincerity during communicating with students. For example, mathematics teachers who make eye contact while talking with students, call students by their names, use humor while teaching math, mind their tone of voice, and are mindful of their body language. Those tips will not only support communication between students and teachers but also reduce the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions.

Key Messages

  1. Teachers should design authentic learning environments in which students are provided with learning opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills in different disciplines and real life.
  2. The mathematics lessons should be designed around student-centered learning activities that cultivate the 21st-century skills of students.
  3. The feedback given to students should be individual, prompt, and constructive.
  4. The increase in mastery experiences could make students feel successful and foster students’ self-efficacy beliefs so they may experience more positive emotions.
  5. Teaching enthusiasm is also critical for students’ emotions, so the student-teacher interaction is of value.
Dr. Başak Çalık

Dr. Başak Çalık

Assistant Professor in the Educational Sciences Department of Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey & Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Educational Psychology Department of City University of New York, Graduate Center, US

Dr. Başak Çalık is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Sciences Department of Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey & Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Educational Psychology Department of City University of New York, Graduate Center, US. She holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.

Her doctoral dissertation was supported by the Turkish National Science Foundation International Research Fellowship Program and the Middle East Technical University Academic Research Projects Grant. The dissertation study entitled “Investigation Of Middle School Mathematics Teacher Emotions And Their Students’ Mathematics Achievement Emotions: A Mixed-Methods Study” received the METU Outstanding Dissertation Award. Dr. Çalık received the Turkish National Science Foundation International Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to continue her studies at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Her research interests include affective aspects in the teaching and learning process, academic emotions of teachers and students, self-efficacy, and teaching quality.

Profile in Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Basak-Calik

Profile in Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ba%C5%9Fak-%C3%A7al%C4%B1k-57a23687/

University Profile: https://avesis.medeniyet.edu.tr/basak.calik

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Çalık, B. (2014). The relationship between mathematics achievement emotions, mathematics self-efficacy, and self-regulated learning strategies among middle school students. (Unpublished Master Thesis). Middle East Technical University, Ankara.

Çalık, B. (2021). Investigation of middle school mathematics teacher emotions and their students’ mathematics achievement emotions: a mixed-methods study. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). Middle East Technical University, Ankara.

 Education Reform Initiative (2013). Türkiye PISA 2012 analizi:Matematikte öğrenci motivasyonu, özyeterlik kaygı ve başarısızlık algısı [Turkey PISA 2012 analysis: Student motivation, self-efficacy, anxiety and failure perception]. Retrieved from http://erg.sabanciuniv.edu/sites/erg.sabanciuniv.edu.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2010). PISA 2009 results: What students know and can do – Student Performance in reading, mathematics and science (Volume I). Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/48852548.pdf 289

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2013). PISA 2012 results in focus: What 15-year-olds know and what they can do with what they know. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf

 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2016). PISA 2015 results in focus. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf

 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2019). PISA 2019: Insights and interpretations. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf

 Pekrun, R. (2006). The control-value theory of achievement emotions: Assumptions, corollaries, and implications for educational research and practice. Educational Psychology Review, 18, 315–341. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-006-9029-9

 Pekrun, R., & Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (2012). Academic emotions and student engagement. In S.L. Christenson et al. (eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 259-282). Springer.

Pekrun, R. & Linnenbrick-Garcia, L. (2014). Introduction to emotions in education.

In R. Pekrun & L. Linnenbrick-Garcia (Eds), International handbook of emotions in education (pp. 1-109). New York and London: Routledge.

 Rosenberg, E. L. (1998). Levels of analysis and the organization of affect. Review of

General Psychology, 2, 247–270. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.247

Using eTwinning to improve learning outcomes when teaching English in rural areas

Using eTwinning to improve learning outcomes when teaching English in rural areas

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional education systems have been extended to include modern technology. And this has given us the opportunity to develop professional skills through eTwinning. We asked Aysen Demir Aygün to explain what eTwinning is, and how educators can use it to engage students.

General Aspects of eTwinning: The community for schools in Europe

eTwinning is the community for schools in Europe. It offers a platform for staff (teachers, headteachers, librarians, etc.), working in a school in one of the European countries involved, to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and feel, and be part of the most exciting learning community in Europe – the School Education Gateway.

Two teachers from different countries create a project idea and present it in brief to the platform. After that, the project is ready to start, and welcome new partners! Whatever your project idea, the basic aim is to create a simple, student-based proposal. Through this platform, any school in Europe can use ICT to exchange ideas with another school, establish pedagogical partnerships, and share good practices (Papadakis, 2016; Pham, Klamma & Derntl, 2012). This is a great way for professional development among teachers, especially for the ones who work in rural areas with limited resources.

The evidence from (The Center for Innovation in Education in Romania) TEHNE evaluation report suggest that:

  • 35,4% of the teachers surveyed from the rural area attended online course
  • 43,6% of the teachers investigated used the eTwinning portal for continuous professional development; after attending the eTwinning program
  • 75,2% of the teachers surveyed from the rural area are putting more accent on using ICT support tools in their teaching. (Scoda, Andreea- Diana) 

There is no time limit on eTwinning projects. Of course, the project has a time schedule but project partners can extend the date. Some projects have only three months duration some have one year. You can adapt your project according to your goals or in the event of unexpected circumstances, you may change it completely. During the pandemic, we had to take a two-month break on all projects, and later we extended the deadline.

eTwinning projects bring together language learning, digital literacy, ICT use, and science and mathematics, as well as various social sciences (European Commission, 2013), encouraging active student participation. They learn, implement, and use ICT tools and – even learn new languages – through different project types. Most importantly, pupils meet their European friends regularly, even if only online. Maybe for the first time in their lives, they meet different cultures and people. This is a wonderful opportunity.

Quality Evaluation and Awards for a Successful eTwinning

After your project has been completed and submitted, there are quality labels that indicate the project has reached a designated national and European standard.

At the first level, if you fulfill the following criteria you are awarded a National Quality Label (after applying to your National Support Service within their deadline).

  • Your eTwinning project has common goals and a shared plan
  • It is finished or in its last stages
  • You and your students have contributed to all the project’s activities
  • You and your partners have organised collaborative activities
  • You have taken into consideration data protection and copyright issues

All projects are evaluated by taking into account these five criteria. (European School Net) If your project is outstanding, teachers and students may receive the ultimate honor: the European Prize.

Teaching English through eTwinning!

Today English as a lingua franca (ELF) is a sine qua non in various aspects of life, including human relations, international, political, and business affairs, technology, and education all over the world. (Kemaloğlu, Şahin, Muazzez, 2022) That’s why English language teaching is necessary for international communication skills, the use of digital tools, and global opportunities like eTwinning projects.

As a dynamic English teacher for eight years, I have been teaching English as a second language in remote areas. As an active eTwinner, I can easily compare the effectiveness of integrating eTwinning projects with my lessons through my experiences as there is little research about English teaching in rural areas with examples.

The quality of language teaching differs significantly in rural and urban areas. Teaching a language as a second language can be harder in remote areas for pupils with prejudice against learning a language, limited resources for language acquisition, and a lack of parental interest. Even though the same curriculum and policies are implemented in rural and urban areas in education in Turkey, this system does not always match with the interests or cultural or social differences in the rural areas and fails to supply knowledge that is discernible and relevant to all students. (Çiftci and Cin, 2017 )

Also, in rural schools, we are dealing with poverty and transportation hardships. Teachers must prioritise improving relationships with families and other communities to get attention and provide financial services for education.

As Şahin (2021) states, rural teachers often get demotivated by the limited conditions of their environment identified as technological deficiencies, defects in school buildings, inadequate resources, and lack of opportunities for professional development. This makes everything harder for teachers in rural areas. But schools are a source of life for pupils. That’s why as educators we have to create healthy and fruitful teaching environments for them. According to the report published by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2012), children from disadvantaged environments can take advantage of skills and strategies learned at schools which are especially more difficult for them to acquire at their homes.

 The solution for all these challenges is absolutely eTwinning!

Before I ran my eTwinning projects, nearly half of my students got demotivated by English lessons and the use of English in practice and digital tools. However, after three years, the number of my students who were willing to speak English in front of the community doubled. eTwinning gives courage to pupils to practice English as the main focus is not the English lesson, but rather enjoying time with their peers and learning at the same time.

eTwinning in my Classroom

I keep a good number of students focused on my English lessons with interactive activities and the effective use of eTwinning. My first project in eTwinning is “Let’s be Safe Digital Users on Social Media”. I ran the project with five partners from Europe during the pandemic. Pupils researched and used social media to make it better and safer. They learned to use digital tools and be safe users at the same time. They made friends from all over Europe and started to chat in English with one another in their daily lives.

At the end of the project, they made a presentation for their peers. It gave me a chance to observe my pupils during the whole process and see how they became confident speakers!

The powerful impact of this new generation project platform changed and shaped my perspective towards eTwinning. The projects I run helped my pupils raise their awareness of English as a communicative tool rather than a subject to be studied. It improved not only their language skills but also active participation,  collaboration, self-confidence, individual and social values, and relationships with their peers and teachers around Europe.

Since I started carrying out eTwinning projects with European partners, my project language has always been English. It helps my students use English in a non-formal environment with native speakers. They meet their peers through the project and get in touch online. Some even become close friends and keep communicating through social media. This is a great opportunity for students with a limited social life in their small province. The pupils whom I work with in my eTwinning projects have developed their English speaking skills to a great extent.

Still, it has some pitfalls in rural areas. Although teachers can shape or design the activities for students according to their needs and conditions, for a pupil in a remote school, the internet connection can be problematic. In that case, virtual activities can be held with concrete materials so that students can be included. Afterwards, in their project “twinspace”, teachers or designated students can add their works in scope with the project schedule.

Student feedback on eTwinning

As they make new friends through eTwinning projects, students’ social skills develop and they gain problem-solving skills, learn to work and produce together with a team, develop a project culture, and gain ICT skills, their competence in Web 2.0 tools develops and their digital literacy increases (Acar, 2021), their self-confidence improves, and their willingness to learn a foreign language increases.

eTwinning projects motivate students and contribute to students’ language learning as well as deep learning (Demir & Kayaoğlu, 2021; Fernández & Tena, 2013; Leto, 2018).

This research shows that eTwinning has a highly positive effect upon teachers in terms of professional development – not only for their linguistic development but also digital competencies.

I’m Jale, from Turkey. I was really shy to take part in the project at first. I barely could express myself with my peers online. It was lockdown. We were all at home. During the project, we joined all online activities and really enjoyed them. I both developed my English skills and got some confidence to make presentations. It’s a great pleasure for me to be an eTwinner.

Teachers can benefit from this perception to increase motivation, broaden the students’ perspectives, and lead them to improve their interpersonal relations along with language skills (Hardré et al., 2008). In doing so, they can develop and apply novel methodologies for their students including project-based language learning. (Kemaloğlu, Şahin, Muazzez, 2022)



Even if conditions are not the same for a pupil who lives in a village or in a big city, technology helps educators involve these students through design-driven projects like e Twinning which doesn’t require physical mobility. There are no limitations in terms of content, number of participants, means of communication, languages of communication, time limits, and forms of assessment. Digital technology is seen as a means to implement various pedagogical approaches (Gajek, E.). 

Last but not least, eTwinning enables students to acquire 21st-century skills, develop a project culture, improve their use of technology, boost their self-confidence, social skills, and motivation, and ease foreign language learning. They also build communication and cooperation between schools, students, and teachers at national and international levels, bring technology integration into classroom environments, and contribute to the spread of a European culture among them.  (Gökbulut, 2023)

Key Messages

  • Students in remote areas often don’t have the opportunity to socialize, and eTwinning enables students to make new friends all over Europe.
  • Teachers can use eTwinning to work with other European teachers on a project in a range of subjects.
  • eTwinning provides students with an opportunity to practice English skills actively while developing ICT skills.
  • eTwinning develops ICT skills.
  • eTwinning is an excellent and practical tool for professional development for teachers.
Ayşen Demir Aygün

Ayşen Demir Aygün

Coordinator of eTwinning and Erasmus Projects, R&D Dept, Directorate of National Education, Türkiye

Ayşen DEMİR AYGÜN as a lifelong learner, educator, dedicated eTwinner has been teaching English for nine years in Turkey. She graduated from Hacettepe University and got her MA in Translation Studies in 2021. She has been the coordinator of eTwinning and Erasmus projects in the R&D department in the Directorate of National Education since 2018. She is a team member and content developer for the Educational Magazine of the Directorate. She volunteers in many non-governmental organisations for educational purposes and youth work.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Cin, F. M. (2017). What matters for rural teachers and communities? Educational challenges in rural Turkey. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 48(5), 686-701. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03057925.2017.1340150 

Ҫakıroğlu, E., & Ҫakıroğlu, J. (2003). Reflections on teacher education in Turkey. European Journal of Teacher Education, 26(2), 253-264. https://doi.org/10.1080/0261976032000088774

Çiftçi, Ş. K., & Demir, N., & Kayaoğlu, M. N. (2021). Multi-dimensional foreign language education: The case of an eTwinning project in Turkey. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 1-38. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09588221.2020.1871027

European Commission, (2013). Education for Change. Final Report—Study of the Impact of eTwinning on Participating Pupils, Teachers and Schools; Publications Office of the European Union: Luxembourg. https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/ec23d4e3-e305-4d1c-83da-1989d35ec7e0

Gajek, E. (2006). eTwinning Europejska współpraca szkół Polska 2006 /European Partnerships of Schools Poland 2006. Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji https://kometa.edu.pl/uploads/publication/726/263b_AA_etwinning.pdf?v2.8

Ghimire, B. (2022). Blended learning in rural and remote schools: Challenges and opportunities. International Journal of Technology in Education (IJTE), 5(1), 88-96. https://doi.org/10.46328/ijte.215

Gökbulut, B. (2023). A Study To Determine The eTwinning-Related Views Of The Teachers In The eTwinning Network Countries, And Their Digital Literacy Levels, Journal of Teaching https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/2759475

Kemaloglu-Er, E., & Bayyurt, Y. (2019). ELF-awareness in teaching and teacher education: Explicit and implicit ways of integrating ELF into the English language classroom. In N. C. Sifakis, & N. Tsantila (Eds.), English as a lingua franca for EFL contexts (pp. 159-174). Bristol: Multilingual Matters. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327977630_ELF-awareness_in_teaching_and_teacher_educationExplicit_and_implicit_ways_of_integrating_ELF_into_the_English_language_classroom

Scoda, Andreea, Diana. The Impact Of Implicating Teachers From The Rural Area In Using Ict Skills And Tools – A Milestone. Carol I National Defence University Publishing House. https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=105105

eTwinning National Quality Label https://school-education.ec.europa.eu/en/recognition/etwinning-national-quality-label

eTwinning – the Community of Schools in Europe https://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/resources/tutorials/etwinning–the-largest-commun.htm

EU report on new eTwinning group of small and remote rural schools https://school-education.ec.europa.eu/en/insights/news/new-etwinning-group-small-and-remote-rural-schools

Do current curricula hinder student understanding of complex global water systems?

Do current curricula hinder student understanding of complex global water systems?

Every day, we use water – either direct or hidden – from the moment we wake up until we go back to sleep. Water has multiple values and meanings in our communities, reflected in our languages and traditions in many spiritual, cultural, and emotional forms.1  Even though we appreciate the importance of water for life, the pressure that we put on water resources and aquatic ecosystems continues to threaten the future of our planet.2,3

We learn/teach about water as a concept from early childhood years to the end of high school. Water is considered as an important concept providing a basis for understanding of:

  •  weather and climate4
  • complexity of life and interconnectedness of the earth systems5
  • sustaining cities and ecosystems6
  • effects of water use on the environment7, economy8,9, and society10 such as water pollution, human health, food security, energy supplies, and climate change11.

Yet, we are not very good at understanding its working mechanism, engaging with water systems sustainably, or equipping educators with the necessary knowledge and skills to teach the dynamic, complex, ambiguous, and interconnected nature of water systems.

Researchers working on water concepts in science education (as well as environmental and sustainability education in general) have been providing powerful arguments about the dysfunctionality of current curricular practices that embrace a reductionist approach rather than a holistic approach to the natural systems. Current depictions of the water cycle in curricula usually focus on the phase change of water on Earth which hinders students from developing a holistic understanding of the issue, and limits progress towards the achievement of sustainable development goals including water and natural systems.

In this blog, I intend to summarise the arguments about the possible reasons students fail to develop a sound understanding of water system(s), and recap how to support middle school students’ learning based on both existing literature and our own research findings.

Students’ conceptions of the water system are generally composed of factual knowledge.

From the beginning of the integration of water into education in the 1960s,12 educational studies have consistently revealed that students have been developing only a rudimentary understanding of water and water-related concepts13,14.  

Some of the reviews in the literature reported that most elementary and middle school students have a naïve and fragmented factual conception of water-related subjects which solely require memorization.15,16 Thus, the water cycle becomes one of the challenging concepts to be fully grasped by the students in a middle school context.17 Several studies indicated that even though students can draw a water cycle which looks quite similar to the textbooks’ diagram and explain how water cycles, they fail to provide a scientifically correct answer to explain the procedures within the cycle.18,19

Research in Türkiye

In our research, we aimed to see if there are any similar patterns in a Turkish context and improve students’ understanding of water systems by examining their background. We collected data from the students who completed middle school, through conception tests (short, informal, targeted tests that are administered to help instructors gauge whether students understand key concepts), drawing tasks, and semi-structured interviews. We administered a concept inventory to a sample of 358 eighth-grade students from both rural and urban areas in five schools located in four different districts of Ankara, the capital city of Türkiye. Among them, six students were interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of their conceptions of water systems.

In terms of possessing factual knowledge, our research findings were compatible with the literature. For example, every interviewee stated that water cycles on Earth, listed the components and processes, and drew a cycle similar to their textbook, but they had limited answers about the processes in the water cycle. During the interview, we asked follow-up questions to understand the level of their procedural knowledge.

Even though they explained that water cycles on Earth using examples (factual knowledge), when we asked them if there is any starting/ending point of the water cycle, some of them said, “Yes”. Even if they said, “No”, they failed to provide a comprehensive answer for how it cycles. Further, some of the participants offered alternative conceptions such as “When water is absorbed by the soil, it is not involved within the cycle anymore”, and “Polluted water does not cycle anymore.” These responses might indicate that despite having the factual knowledge of ‘water cycles on Earth’, they still do have adequate procedural knowledge to explain how water cycles.

Students are often not able to transfer their knowledge from one context to another.

Another common finding in the literature was that even in the same course, students tend to learn things as “silo concepts”.20Students are taught about the law of conservation and mixture separation techniques in an elementary science course. In the same course, they also learn the basics of the water cycle. However, some evidence suggests that they have some difficulties integrating these concepts into explaining the water cycle.21,22

In our research, when we asked the participants, ‘What happens to polluted water in the water cycle?’, only a few students could transfer their knowledge on mixture separation to the water cycle context. Among the incorrect responses, there were some alternative conceptions such as, “Polluted water turns into acid rain”, or “Polluted water evaporates, and polluted rains make us sick”. In other words, most of the students failed to identify that (1) polluted water is a mixture, (2) evaporation is one of the separation techniques that water evaporates and pollutants remain, and (3) polluted water does not evaporate.

Curricular practices do not encourage viewing of the interactions among water systems.

Studies related to water-related subjects in education reported that curricular practices as well as science textbooks do not coherently link the interactions between water and other systems such as biosphere and anthroposphere.23,24,25  Not surprisingly, students have disconnected conceptions about the water cycle and its interactions with the other systems. These detached conceptions became evident in students’ drawings and statements pertaining to water systems.26,27 When students are asked to draw a water cycle, they usually tend to draw it without bio-spheric components.28,29 Similarly, when they are asked to draw or explain where the water comes from to their homes and where it goes after using it, they fail to fully explain the interactions between their residential area and the water system.30,31 It is argued that this disconnected nature of the curriculum has the potential to hinder students in developing a sound understanding of the water systems and their multiple interactions.32,33,34

The elementary science curriculum context, where our research was carried out, covers water-related concepts from 3rd to 8th grade with no explanation of these interactions. The curriculum involves water as a non-living substance, the percentage of water in our bodies, the importance of efficient water use, wastewater management, groundwater resources, surface water resources, phases of water, water pollution, water cycle, weather, and climate35 but it does not foster a holistic understanding of the interactions among these systems. Thus, participants of this study were expected to have a detached understanding of the interaction of these systems when they completed their middle school degree. Consistent with the literature, a few participants included bio-spheric components but none of them included human-engineered water systems in their drawings.

Students are not aware of their indirect water use, leading to underestimating their water footprint.

In addition to our direct use of water, we use water when we buy a product, use energy, and eat foods which is called indirect use of water. Our water footprint indicates how much water we use in our daily lives.36 To ensure the sustainability of global water systems on Earth, monitoring water consumption behaviour is considered essential but the concept of indirect use of water is not fully reflected in curricula, although some efforts are being made to increase awareness of this issue.37

Evidence suggests that middle school students are not aware of their indirect water use. 38,39,40 These studies report that primary and secondary students are not fully aware of their water consumption pattern, their self-report strategies are limited to their direct use of water, such as turning off the tap while brushing their teeth or taking a shower quickly, which are common suggestions in current textbooks.41 They think they use water efficiently, but this might not be an accurate assessment42,43 because most of them fail to share their strategies for reducing indirect water use, such as changing their shopping habits or eating less meat. This lack of knowledge of indirect water use also contributes to the inability to see the interactions between personal water consumption habits, local, and global water issues. In our study, the participants believed that they use water efficiently but when examples were requested of their efficient water use strategies, they provided examples of how to monitor their direct use of water in their daily lives, which was comparable with the previous studies.44 ,45,46

What teachers can do to improve students’ understanding of water systems

Students tend to explain phenomena based on either their formal educational background or daily life observations, which creates both challenges and opportunities for education policymakers and educators. Recommended within the literature are some extracurricular activities for teachers such as providing real-life experiences47,48,49, tailoring the human effect to the water cycle951, linking conceptual knowledge and practical experiences52,53, showing alternative models54,55 to enhance primary and secondary students learning’ on the complex nature of water systems.

Key Messages

  • Students need support to understand water as a system on Earth.
  • Students may struggle to grasp the dynamic and complex interactions among (in)direct water use, local, and global water issues.
  • We are failing to teach young people how water systems work, how we engage and affect those systems, and how we ensure the sustainability of these systems.
  • Revising current curricular practices and building capacity for teachers is critical in order to enhance students’ procedural knowledge and nurture their conception of systems.
Dr Sinem Demirci

Dr Sinem Demirci

Lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University

Sinem Demirci is a Full-time Lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University. Before joining Cal Poly, Sinem worked as a Postdoctoral Visiting Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Statistical Science at University College London. She received her PhD (2021) in elementary (science) education, MS (2018) in Statistics, MS (2014) in elementary science and mathematics education and BS (2011) in elementary science education from Middle East Technical
University, The Republic of Türkiye. Sinem is a teacher educator whose interdisciplinary research interests include Statistics & Data Science Education and Environmental & Sustainability Education.

This blog is based on the literature review and pilot study conducted during Dr. Demirci’s dissertation, which was also featured in her ECER presentation.

For more information about Dr. Demirci’s research interests,

Personal Website: https://sinemdemirci.github.io/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drsinemdemirci/

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2095-0674

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

[1], [6], [11] United Nations (2018). Value Water. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/hlpwater/07-ValueWater.pdf

[2] Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Galetti, M., Alamgir, M., Crist, E., … & 15,364 Scientist Signatories from 184 Countries. (2017). World scientists’ warning to humanity: a second notice. BioScience67(12), 1026-1028.

[3] Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., Moomaw, W. R., & Grandcolas, P. (2019). World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency. BioScience.

[4] Sadler, T. D., Nguyen, H., & Lankford, D. (2017). Water systems understandings: a framework for designing instruction and considering what learners know about water. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water4(1), e1178.

[5], [17] Brody, M. J. (1993). Student Understanding of Water and Water Resources: A Review of the Literature. the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, (s. 1-18). Atlanta. Retrieved April 2019, 2020 from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED361230.pdf 

[7], [22], [53] Österlind, K., & Haldén, O. (2007). Linking theory to practice: a case study of pupils’ course work on freshwater pollution. International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education, 16(1), 73-89. doi:10.2167/irg207.0

[8], [10], [41], [44] Wood, G. V. (2014). Water literacy and citizenship: education for sustainable domestic water use in the East Midlands. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham].

[9], [50] DeLorme, D. E., Hagen, S. C., & Stout, J. I. (2003). Consumers’ Perspectives on water issues: directions for educational campaigns. The Journal of Environmental Education, 34(2), 28-35. https://doi.org/10.1080/00958960309603497

[12] Ewing, M. S., & Mills, T. J. (1994). Water literacy in college freshmen: Could a cognitive imagery strategy improve understanding? The Journal of Environmental Education, 25(4), 36-40.

[13] Ben-Zvi-Assaraf, O., & Orion, N. (2005a, March). Development of system thinking skills in the context of earth system education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(5), 518-560. doi:10.1002/tea.20061

[14], [20], [21], [24], [30], [34], [54] Covitt, B. A., Gunckel, K. L., & Anderson, C. L. (2009). Students’ developing understanding of water in environmental systems. The Journal of Environmental Education, 40(3), 37-51. doi:10.3200/JOEE.40.3.37-51

[15], [26] Dickerson, D., & Dawkins, K. (2004). Eighth grade students’ understandings of groundwater. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(2), 178-181. doi:10.5408/1089-9995-52.2.178

[16] Havu-Nuutinen, S., Kärkkäinen, S., & Keinonen, T. (2011). Primary school pupils’ perceptions of water in the context of STS study approach. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 6(4), 321-339.

[18], [23], [27], [28] Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Priddy, M., Schellenberger, L., & Harbor, J. (2007). What is a watershed? implications of student conceptions for environmental science education and the national science education standards. Science Education, 91(4), 554-578. doi:10.1002/sce.20206

[19] Forbes, C. T., Zangori, L., & Schwarz, C. V. (2015). Empirical Validation of integrated learning performances for hydrologic phenomena: 3rd-grade students’ model-driven explanation-construction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 895-921. doi:10.1002/tea.21226

[25], [33] Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Pridy, M., Schellenberger, L., & Harbor, J. (2009). Water transformation and storage in the mountains and at the coast: midwest students’ disconnected conceptions of the hydrologic cycle. International Journal of Science Education, 31(11), 1447-1471. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500690802061709

[29], [31], [49] Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., Salinas, I., & Anderson, C. L. (2012). A learning progression for water in socio-ecological systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(7), 843-868. doi:10.1002/tea.21024 

[32] Ben-Zvi Assaraf, O., Eshach, H., Orion, N., & Alamour, Y. (2012). Cultural differences and students’ spontaneous models of the water cycle: a case study of Jewish and Bedouin children in Israel. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 7(2), 451-477. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-012-9391-5

[35] Ministry of National Education [MoNE]. (2018). İlköğretim fen bilgisi dersi öğretim programı 3-8. sınıflar. Retrieved from http://ttkb.meb.gov.tr 

[36] Water Footprint Network (2023). What is a water footprint? https://www.waterfootprint.org/water-footprint-2/what-is-a-water-footprint/

[37] United Nations (2023). UN 2023 Water Conference. https://www.un-ihe.org/events/un-2023-water-conference

[38], [40], [46] Benninghaus, J. C., Kremer, K., & Sprenger, S. (2018). Assessing high-school students’ conceptions of global water consumption and sustainability. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 27(3), 250-266. https://doi.org/10.1080/10382046.2017.1349373

[39], [45] Fremerey, C., Liefländer, A. K., & Bogner, F. X. (2014). Conceptions about drinking water of 10 th graders and undergraduates. Journal of Water Resource and Protection6(12), 1112.

[42] Venckute, M., Silva, M. M., & Figueiredo, M. (2017). Education as a tool to reduce the water footprint of young people. Millenium, 2(4), 101-111.

[43], [47] Amahmid, O., El Guamri, Y., Yazidi, M., Razoki, B., Kaid Rassou, K., Rakibi, Y., … & El Ouardi, T. (2019). Water education in school curricula: Impact on children knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards water use. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education28(3), 178-193.

[48] Endreny, A. H. (2010). Urban 5th graders conceptions during a place‐based inquiry unit on watersheds. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching47(5), 501-517.

[51] Ben-Zvi-Assarf, O., & Orion, N. (2005b, September). A study of junior high students’ perceptions of the water cycle. Journal of Geoscience Education, 53(4), 366-373.

[52] Jacobson, M. J., & Wilensky, U. (2006). Complex systems in education: Scientific and educational importance and implications for the learning sciences. The Journal of the learning sciences15(1), 11-34.

[55] Duffy, D. L. F. (2012). The nature and role of physical models in enhancing sixth grade students’ mental models of groundwater and groundwater processes. [Doctoral dissertation, Old Dominion University]. Old Dominion University Theses, United States.

Using ChatGPT in an educational technology course for maths teacher candidates

Using ChatGPT in an educational technology course for maths teacher candidates

There has been a lot of discussion in educational research circles about the use of AI in education, in particular, ChatGPT. We asked doctoral research assistant, Bengi Birgili to tell us about how she is using (and teaching the use of) ChatGPT in the classroom. Dr Birgili introduced a fully flipped university context from the view of a researcher instructor. In this post, she explains how she and her students used ChatGPT in an instructional technology course offered in the Spring 2023 semester. This blog post includes not only her ideas and experiences but also those of 30 pre-service teachers studying in the mathematics education department in the faculty of education in Istanbul, Türkiye.

I have been teaching an educational sciences course at the intersection of Instructional Design and Instructional Technologies and Materials Design (EDS 206) at the Department of Mathematics Education (Grade 5-8), MEF University, Istanbul, Türkiye for 2 years. MEF University is known as the first fully flipped university in the world. You can find out more about the course at the end of this blog post.

This semester, additionally, we had a new visitor to this course. ChatGPT! Yes. Let’s share our experiences in this course.


Using ChatGPT in an educational technology course

I heard that ChatGPT, developed by Artificial Intelligence Developer Open AI, was released as a prototype on November 30th, 2022. I noticed that it attracted people’s attention in a short period of time with its detailed justifications and understandable answers in many fields of information. Many instructional technologists, educational scientists, and even linguists from Türkiye have started using it. It has become popular in our country as well as all over the world.

As a Ph.D. holder of educational sciences and a mathematics teacher; based on my limited experience, I can describe ChatGPT as a companion. Although the database has kept its information until the last updated date, it provides us with companionship in terms of sharing basic,  responding fact-based prompts, and comprehensive information. Users must, of course, be aware of the issues that have been raised about the accuracy of the AI too (or see the impact of AI for more information).

Despite this caveat, when I look at it from the perspective of an educator, I believe that teacher candidates can benefit from ChatGPT, when used for the right purposes.

In the EDS 206 course, I demonstrated ChatGPT for a week. Then, I allowed the teacher candidates to experience it for themselves. Some of them asked ChatGPT to talk about common misconceptions made by middle school students in fractions in mathematics, and some of them asked for sample questions of their lesson plan preparation. While discovering ChatGPT, they also learned new instructional design models. They put into practice what they learned in our course while interacting with it. For the accuracy of the information, they had to compare what they learned in the course with the information provided by ChatGPT. At this level, they also started to use their high-level cognitive skills. In their article writing assignments, they were free to use ChatGPT, as long as they referenced appropriately.

To sum up, by following the correct instructions, we teacher educators, can admit ChatGPT as a mentor somewhere in a teacher education program. Nevertheless, it should be used as a means, not an end.

Students’ experiences using ChatGPT

After the ChatGPT experience, I asked my students: “Can you share with me in a paragraph your first experience with ChatGPT in the EDS 206 course, and explain whether it is useful and how your learning experiences in the faculty can get benefit from it?” I made a thematic analysis of their general ideas and initial thoughts. According to the findings of the thematic analysis, I inferenced the following categories.

  1. Junior-year teacher candidates, studying in the faculty of education and a flipped university, were introduced to ChatGPT for the first time in this course. They were aware that ChatGPT is an up-to-date, innovative, and popular AI-based tool and they gained the specific awareness.

“I think #ChatGPT is a nice artificial intelligence application for people who are researchers and curious. As a teacher candidate, I was introduced to ChatGPT for the first time in EDS206 class and I saw the benefits of the application. During the lesson, my group mates and I experienced that ChatGPT can translate between languages, solve mathematical equations, and offer various suggestions on the subject….”

“I was introduced to the ChatGPT application in the EDS 206 course. In the lesson, we sought an answer to the question of how to use the ChatGPT application in education. We asked the ChatGPT application to develop a training model.”

  1. All of them found ChatGPT useful for their learning. They see it as a privileged step of being an innovative teacher. When they asked questions regarding maths education, lesson planning, teaching methods etc, ChatGPT provided them with creative and useful examples. For instance:

“…We got surprising results. We discussed these results in class. I think the answers will be useful and effective. I think the most useful feature of the ChatGPT application is that it gives creative and useful examples for desired situations….”

“…While we were experiencing ChatGPT, when we asked “What is the most appropriate teaching model that can be applied on the subject of fractions in mathematics?”, it brought out various models. Although the question we asked was very specific, it brought out more than one model and, most importantly, it explained the focus points of these models with them….”

“…. I wanted to develop a material on “Factors and Multiples” within the scope of the EDS206 course. I wanted to add examples from daily life to my material. I asked ChatGPT to provide me with examples, and source books/sites on this subject. I was redirected to many pages. When we want to make a study by analyzing many sources in education and synthesizing these sources; I can say that ChatGPT is very useful to work step by step.…” (Female, senior year teacher candidate)


  1. Almost all of the teacher candidates emphasized that ChatGPT encouraged them to use higher-order thinking skills. For example, they stated that they used cognitive skills such as analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and discussion together in the flipped class.

“….When we want to make a study by analyzing many sources in education and synthesizing these sources, I can say that ChatGPT is very useful to work step by step. On the other hand, I can say that it provides ease of learning and analyzing many pieces of literature for students. I can say that individuals who will produce a new study will have the chance to design a roadmap for basic errors, to access the materials to be used here, and to design a synthesized version of many sources if they wish. For this reason, I can say that it also provides a lot of convenience in the production of new works.”

“…. When we further advanced our question and asked it to choose one of these models and create a lesson plan that suited us, its answer really impressed me. Determining the necessary materials, which sections we will divide the lesson into, how many minutes these sections will take, and what we will do in them were explained in detail…

  1. On the other hand, only a few of them asserted the possible negative aspects of ChatGPT. Since it depends on machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, the accuracy and validity of the information given by ChatGPT must be tested and controlled from other scientific sources.

“…. Thanks to the information data in ChatGPT, it is a very useful application that allows us to save time by extracting logical answers in the context of cause and effect. If I take a negative aspect, it should not be forgotten that this is an artificial intelligence, if important information research is being conducted, ChatGPT’s responses should definitely be verified with other sources.” (Female, senior year teacher candidate)

Final thoughts

Last but not least, according to my short-term and unique experience regarding ChatGPT, I feel that the contribution of ChatGPT to teacher education is emerging. However, ethical issues should always keep the minds occupied. While discussing the benefits, the critical points and probable negative aspects should be paid attention by the instructors and teacher candidates. We think that ChatGPT will continue to be like a companion that provides motivation during individual learning or unguided instruction, and saves time  – as long as it comes from the primary right academic source.

Key Messages

  • Teacher candidates can benefit from ChatGPT, when used for the right purposes
  • Teaching students reported that they found ChatGPT useful for learning, and saw it as evidence of being an innovative teacher
  • ChatGPT encouraged teacher candidates to use higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and discussion
  • Students should be aware of the limitations of tools such as AI and the importance of verifying the information provided with other sources
  • The use of AI tools in teacher education is still emerging, and critical points should be considered by instructors and teacher candidates

References and Further Reading

About the educational science course

The educational sciences course sits at the intersection of Instructional Design and Instructional Technologies and Materials Design (EDS 206) at the Department of Mathematics Education (Grade 5-8), MEF University, Istanbul, Türkiye.

Upon successful completion of this course, students [aka teacher candidates]  are expected to be able to:

  1. explore various ways of thinking about the use of technology in education
  2. demonstrate how to use a variety of multimedia tools to enrich learning opportunities
  3.  identify appropriate teaching methods and electronic media to support objective-based lessons
  4. design learning experiences that engage learners in individual and collaborative learning activities
  5. create electronic multimedia to support specific learning objectives
  6. use technology to represent topics or concepts in a static or interactive format.

I have been offering the course with an active learning environment both in COVID-19 pandemic times and now in a hybrid format. Teacher candidates apply what they have learned about weekly instructional technological tools, participate in pre-class/individual space and in-class/group space experiences, share their experiences and thoughts during flipped class activities, sometimes evaluate themselves, collaborate, and reflect while learning instructional design theories and practicum with material design.

 At the beginning of the semester, the teacher candidates are assigned middle school mathematics content from the national mathematics education curriculum. They learn to design digital materials in order to improve their digital competencies. For example, Bubbl.us, Kahoot, Desmos, Geogebra. They prepare teaching materials for 6th grade students using the digital tools they learn about in the EDS206 related to the mathematics topic they were assigned. However, they design not only independent teaching and learning materials, but also instructional design models and so learn to integrate their digital materials into their ID models.

For more information about EDS 206 please do not hesitate to contact me.

On AI and accuracy 

The field of Artificial Intelligence is changing rapidly, and it can be difficult to keep up with the current situation. Here are some articles that we found when this blog post was published.

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about OpenAI’s GPT-4 tool

ChatGPT and facts (January 2023)

The impact of AI on content accuracy (October 2023)

ChatGPT accuracy getting worse (June 2023) 


Dr Bengi Birgili

Dr Bengi Birgili

Research Assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul.

Dr Bengi Birgili is a research assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul. She experienced in research at the University of Vienna. In 2022, she received her PhD from the Department of Educational Sciences Curriculum and Instruction Program at Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara. Her research interests focus on curriculum development and evaluation, instructional design, in-class assessment. She received the Emerging Researchers Bursary Winners award at ECER 2017 for her paper titled “A Metacognitive Perspective to Open-Ended Questions vs. Multiple-Choice.”

In 2020, a co-authored research became one of the 4 accepted studies among Early-Career Scholars awarded by the International Testing Commission (ITC) Young Scholar Committee in the UK [Postponed to 2021 Colloquium due to COVID-19].

In Jan 2020, she completed the Elements of AI certification offered by the University of Helsinki.


Twitter: @bengibirgili

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bengibirgili/


Medium: https://bengibirgili.medium.com

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Beyond Research: The transformative power of the Emerging Researcher’s Conference

Beyond Research: The transformative power of the Emerging Researcher’s Conference

EERA’s Best Paper Award is part of EERA’s strategy to promote emerging researchers and support high-quality research in the field of education. The award is specifically designed to motivate young researchers to turn their conference presentations into full papers suitable for publication in research journals.

We asked the winner of the EERA Best Paper Award, Aigul Rakisheva, to tell us about presenting her research at ERC 2022, the invitation to participate in the Best Paper Award (BPA), and the effect it had on her career and her life.

Participation in ERC 2022

The process of writing the manuscript began long before the competition. Initially, I prepared an application to participate in the conference, which resulted in two blind peer-review feedback. I am thankful for the feedback from the peer reviewers, which proved to be instrumental in effectively preparing my presentation. The feedback primarily focused on clarifying aspects of the research methodology, the conceptual framework, and adding a final section that highlights the significance of my work in the European context. While the overall feedback did not require significant changes to my work, it provided essential guidance as I continued to develop the paper based on my research.

Subsequently, I presented my research at the ERC 2022 conference. The disparity in educational outcomes between urban and rural students remains a pressing challenge not only in my home country but also in various regions, including Europe. The study aimed to explore the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in addressing this issue. By investigating the 2018 PISA data, the research sought to identify how ICT impacts Kazakhstani students’ academic performance in Reading, Math, and Science, potentially bridging the urban-rural education gap. This research adopted a fully quantitative approach, utilizing data from the 2018 PISA assessment, which includes a diverse sample of Kazakhstani students from both urban and rural schools. The statistical analysis revealed that access to ICT resources in schools is vital in improving students’ learning outcomes. Additionally, students’ interest in ICT and their perceived competence in using ICT are significant factors contributing to their academic success.

An invitation to participate in the Best Paper Award

About a month after presenting my work, I received a call inviting me to participate in the Best Paper Award (BPA) competition. Initially, I felt concerned that my manuscript was not fully prepared, and I doubted if I could meet the short time frame and the rigorous review process. However, after careful consideration, I realized that participating in the competition would be beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, the set time frame would motivate me to expedite the completion of my manuscript. The additional expert review would be invaluable in improving my paper, making it more robust and suitable for submission to a reputable journal for consideration.

Additionally, selected authors can submit their work published in the international peer-reviewed European Educational Research Journal (EERJ) and Studia Paedagogica journals which I believe to be a great opportunity. These platforms offer scholars an excellent opportunity to share their findings on local or national European studies, further amplifying the impact and relevance of their research within the scholarly community.

The process

Participation in the competition involves a months-long journey, during which emerging scholars tirelessly work on their articles, adhering to deadlines. During this process, I sought formative feedback, further enhancing my work and providing clear direction for improvement. I also engaged in discussions with my co-author Dr. O. Toskovic, which proved immensely beneficial in refining my ideas, strengthening my arguments, and ultimately producing a more polished and impactful paper. The iterative nature of incorporating feedback has been crucial not only for my paper but in my growth as a researcher and has allowed me to continually strive for improvement.

Winning the Best Paper Award

Winning the Best Paper Award increased the visibility of the study within the academic community. This award not only acknowledged the significance of our work but also drew attention from researchers and other emerging scholars. This recognition has paved the way for further dissemination and opportunities for my research to make a broader impact.

I encourage future participants in the Best Paper Award to embrace the spirit of competition and rise above any self-doubt that may hinder their progress. While it is natural to have uncertainties about the quality of the work, remember that what truly matters is the invaluable feedback you receive and how you utilize it to fuel continuous improvement. Embarking on the journey toward excellence entails an unwavering commitment to growth and lifelong learning.

Key Messages

  • Engaging with ERGs/ERCs provides valuable networking and collaborative opportunities with fellow researchers and education experts.
  • Participating in ERGs/ERCs can enhance the visibility of researchers’ work, potentially leading to broader dissemination and increased recognition.
  • Involvement in ERGs/ERCs cultivates better communication skills and boosts emerging researchers’ confidence as they interact with peers and present their work to diverse audiences.
  • ERGs/ERCs create a nurturing environment that encourages constructive feedback, paving the way for ongoing research enhancement and continuous improvement.

Read more

Aigul Rakisheva

Aigul Rakisheva

Third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA

Aigul Rakisheva is a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA.

She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership Department with Global Studies in Education concentration. Aigul is actively engaged in research and teaching activities at UIUC.Her research focuses on Virtual Exchange, Information and Communication Technologies, and Initial Teacher Education, contributing to various research projects in these areas.

 For more information about Aigul’s academic work and research interests, please visit her university researcher profile: https://blogs.illinois.edu/view/8837/329025165


Is the self-efficacy of maths teachers related to teaching competency?

Is the self-efficacy of maths teachers related to teaching competency?

The role of teachers is one of the essential elements that ensure the proper functioning of the education system and the world for students’ benefit.  In addition to guiding them academically, teachers can influence children’s future, making them better human beings. A teacher can instill content knowledge, life skills, good dispositions, traditional values, and modern-day issues to students.

Teaching mathematics goes beyond the knowledge capacity of teachers and pre-service teachers. In other words, equipping students with different 21st-century skills and attitudes is the main goal of teaching mathematics, rather than transferring content knowledge. The confidence teachers have in their planning and implementation skills affects their teaching and learning objectives in online education. A number of problems can arise in the classroom if the teacher is lacking in confidence. A teacher may have comprehensive mathematical knowledge and skills yet have low self-confidence while lecturing. They may not be able to use their expertise and abilities adequately in the classroom teaching process, leading them to perform their profession poorly. The self-confidence of the teacher is important in terms of providing more effective teaching to their students.

 What is the meaning of maths self-efficacy?

As defined by Bandura (1997), mathematics self-efficacy is one’s beliefs or perceptions concerning their abilities in mathematics education. Mathematics self-efficacy is operationalized as a belief which should be internalized by teachers and pre-service teachers. On the other hand, teaching competencies can be defined as the knowledge and skills that they must perform in their profession effectively and efficiently. Without sufficient knowledge, enthusiasm, and self-efficacy in these areas, it is unlikely that future elementary teachers will be able to provide effective instruction (Battista 1986; Stevens & Wenner, 1996; Tosun, 2000).

Mathematics self-efficacy is different from teachers’ mathematics competencies. Teacher competencies refer to a teacher’s professional knowledge and expertise, while teacher self-efficacy is tied to a more general concept. Teacher self-efficacy is more than having technical experience and skills; it also includes confidence that one has in putting this knowledge and competencies into practice. Having this confidence helps to provide an effective teaching environment in the classroom and to manage the negativities that may be encountered in classroom management by strengthening the student-teacher relationship. Gavora (2010) pointed out that a teacher’s high self-efficacy enables them to use their professional knowledge and skills successfully. Students learn more from teachers who have high self-efficacy (Zuya et al., 2016).

In line with Küçükalioğlu and Tuluk (2021), mathematics teachers with high self-efficacy were observed to have a positive effect on students’ mathematical achievement. Therefore, the self-efficacy of mathematics teachers seems to be the determining factor in their way of teaching and behaviour in class. According to Bandura (1995), teachers with low self-efficacy tend to create an environment that has an adverse effect on students’ mathematical achievement. I would add that if a teacher does not attend their lesson prepared for the misconceptions about the related content that students may encounter, they may not notice the student’s current misconception, which may lead to the student’s learning based on faulty thinking and understanding.

The association between mathematics education, self-efficacy, and teaching competency

The question of how the mathematics competencies and self-efficacy of teacher candidates who grew up with technological advancements (i.e. the flipped learning approach) have been a matter of curiosity. What are the teaching competencies and self-efficacy of elementary mathematics pre-service teachers in teacher education at a foundation university?

When we look at the studies carried out to date in general, we can say that most of the studies (e.g., Çakıroğlu & Işıksal (2009); Gülten (2013)) examining the variables focused on gender, age, and grade level were conducted on pre-service teachers and teachers as study groups. Reviewing the previous studies, we observed that most of them were carried out in state universities, and that teacher education programs involved preservice mathematics teachers who were exposed to insufficient practicum. Having analyzed the literature, there was no research carried out on pre-service teachers who have been educated in a foundation university in Istanbul!

 Considering that practicum courses attended by freshmen years were intensively included in the internship in order to improve pre-service teachers’ mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics teaching competencies, examining the relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics teaching competencies aims to bring a different perspective to the related literature.

Our research into self-efficacy and mathematics

We conducted a study with second, third, and fourth-grade teacher candidates at the department of Middle School Mathematics Teaching at MEF University in Istanbul, Turkey, in the 2021-2022 academic year. When we analyze the scores obtained through the questionnaires (Özgen & Bindak, 2008 for self-efficacy;  Esendemir et al., 2015 for teaching competency), we can say that the self-efficacy of pre-service mathematics teachers is higher than their competence in teaching mathematics. There is a relationship between pre-service mathematics teachers’ mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics teaching competency. The results revealed that there is a statistically significant and positive relationship between the pre-service mathematics teachers’ self-efficacy and their teaching competencies. This result means that as mathematics teacher candidates’ teaching competencies increase, their self-efficacy also increases (Check for the full manuscript of the graduation thesis).


We mentioned that instructors have responsibilities such as educating learners, conveying their knowledge, guiding students’ futures, and preparing learners for life. We have proven that the effective provision of this environment is related to teachers’ self-efficacy and mathematics teaching competencies. So, what can we do to create this environment?
We suggest that various activities and practices related to self-efficacy beliefs and teaching competency should be included in teacher training programs so that teacher candidates can use their teaching skills effectively in the classroom. So, what various activities can encourage the efficient use of our skills in the classroom? For example, it may be beneficial for pre-service teachers to create awareness by preparing a presentation on mathematics teaching competency, especially for the “Methods” course, which is one of the field courses, before starting their professional life.
In order to increase the awareness level of elementary school mathematics teacher candidates studying in education faculties, seminars can be organized about the perception of mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics teaching competency as an important factor in success.                   

Key Messages

  • Teachers’ self-confidence and self-efficacy skills are significant factors in providing more effective teaching to their students.
  • Pre-service mathematics teachers’ self-efficacy was higher than their mathematics teaching competencies.
  • Mathematics teachers’ self-efficacy seems to be the determining factor in their teaching styles and behaviour in the classroom and affects their teaching quality.
  • There was a significant and positive relationship between the pre-service mathematics teachers’ self-efficacy and their teaching competencies.
  • Teachers’ self-efficacy and teaching competencies should be sufficient for teaching in order for them to begin their professional careers properly.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Büşra Uysal

Büşra Uysal

Büşra Uysal is a mathematics teacher. She graduated from MEF University, Istanbul. She gained teaching experience in both systems including face-to-face and online systems intensively. She received a Mentoring Certificate (2020-2021) and has been a supervisor for university students. In the scope of the “University within School” project, she did tutoring lessons with students. Her professional interests are to provide students with mathematical thinking skills and to create effective classroom environments where students can discover information and share their ideas freely.

She worked as a volunteer teacher at the Youth Education Center (Sarıyer Gençlik Eğitim Merkezi, Istanbul) within the “Social Responsibility Project” scope. In 2022, she conducted research on Pre-service Elementary Teachers’ Self-Efficacy for Teaching Mathematics & Teaching  Competency and presented at MEF University International Educational Sciences Student Conference (MEFEDUCON, 2022)

Dr Bengi Birgili

Dr Bengi Birgili

Research Assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul.

Dr Birgili is a research assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul. She experienced in research at the University of Vienna. Her research interests focus on curriculum development and evaluation, instructional design, in-class assessment. She received the Emerging Researchers Bursary Winners award at ECER 2017 for her paper titled “A Metacognitive Perspective to Open-Ended Questions vs. Multiple-Choice.”

In 2020, a co-authored research became one of the four accepted studies among Early-Career Scholars awarded by the International Testing Commission (ITC) Young Scholar Committee in the UK [Postponed to 2021 Colloquium due to COVID-19].

In Jan 2020, she completed the Elements of AI certification offered by the University of Helsinki.


Twitter: @bengibirgili

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bengibirgili/


Medium: https://bengibirgili.medium.com

References and Further Reading

Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in changing societies. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511527692

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Freeman and Company Press.

Battista, M. T. (1986). The relationship of mathematics anxiety and mathematical knowledge to the learning of mathematical pedagogy by preservice elementary teachers. School Science and Mathematics, 86(1), 10–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1949-8594.1986.tb11580.x 

Çakıroğlu, E., & Işıksal, M. (2009). Preservice elementary teachers’ attitudes and self-efficacy beliefs toward mathematics. Education and Science, 34, 151. https://hdl.handle.net/11511/52775

Esendemir, Ö., Çırak, S., & Samancıoglu, M. (2015). Pre-service elementary math teachers’ opinions about mathematics teaching competencies. Gaziantep University Journal of Social Sciences, 14(1), 217–239.https://doi.org/10.21547/jss.256787

Gavora, P. (2010). Slovak pre-service teacher self-efficacy: Theoretical and research considerations. The New Educational Review, 21(2), 17–30. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287424468_Slovak_Pre-Service_Teacher_Self-Efficacy_Theoretical_and_Research_Considerations 

Gülten, D. Ç. (2013). An investigation of pre-service primary mathematics teachers’ math literacy self-efficacy beliefs in terms of certain variables. International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 5(2), 393–408. https://iojes.net/?mod=makale_tr_ozet&makale_id=41128 

Küçükalioğlu, T., & Tuluk, G. (2021). The effect of mathematics teachers’ self-efficacy and leadership styles on students’ mathematical achievement and attitudes. Athens Journal of Education, 8(3), 221–238. https://doi.org/10.30958/aje.8-3-1 

Özgen, K., & Bindak, R. (2008). The development of a self-efficacy scale for mathematics literacy. Kastamonu Education Journal, 16(2), 517–528. https://doi.org/10.24106/kefdergi.413386

Stevens, C., & Wenner, G. (1996). Elementary preservice teachers’ knowledge and beliefs regarding science and mathematics. School Science and Mathematics, 96(1), 2–9. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1949-8594.1996.tb10204.x 

Tosun, T. (2000). The beliefs of preservice elementary teachers toward science and science teaching. School Science and Mathematics, 100(7), 374–379. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1949-8594.2000.tb18179.x

Zuya, H, E., Kwalat, S, K., & Attah, B, G. (2016). Pre-service teachers’ mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics teaching self-efficacy. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(14), 93–98. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303723566_Pre-service_Teachers%27_Mathematics_Self-efficacy_and_Mathematics_Teaching_Self-efficacy 

7 things I liked about EERA’s Summer School in Porto

7 things I liked about EERA’s Summer School in Porto

Just as each of us is unique, our PhD journeys will also be unique. However, very often, there are common elements. Engaging in networking activities with other doctoral candidates at an early stage of one’s PhD journey, therefore, proves to be a very enriching experience.

We asked Daniela Clara Moraru to share her personal experience of participating in her first EERA summer school in Porto.

To give you some background information, I have just finished the 3rd semester of my PhD programme at the University of Luxembourg. My research topic is “Perceptions and attitudes of the vocational education and training actors related to soft skills needed for employment”, a critical topic, especially in today’s context where local employers are increasingly finding it challenging to find employees equipped with industry-ready skills. 

In this context, I am very grateful to have been one of the lucky few – and the only one from Luxembourg – accepted at EERA’s Summer School 2022 at the University of Porto in Portugal. I also wish to express my gratitude to my Doctoral School of Humanities and Social Sciences for supporting my participation in this one-week intensive summer school.

I love Portugal for many reasons, the amazing food being just one of them. However, what made me place the host country as my #1 was the fact that being in a different time zone allowed me to gain 1 hour in the morning, which offered a great extra time to explore and discover the beautiful city of Porto.

As a self-funded student, the summer school was an incredible opportunity to meet and interact with other researchers who are at the same research stage as me. It helps to know that I am not the only one struggling with the research design at times, for example, in making sure that the proposed research questions and the methodology are aligned. 

This summer school was a great chance to benefit from tutoring by experienced researchers. My group tutors were Xana Sá Pinto and Joana Lúcio, who both took their job to heart. I am grateful for their generosity, encouragement and support throughout the summer school.

My doubts about one of my research questions are now gone, and I can focus confidently on the current research design. 

The organisation of the summer school was perfect! Only someone who has arranged such an event could understand the complexity of the undertaking – how many resources are required and how much time and energy is needed.

First, the logistical tasks, such as finding hotels for participants within a 10-minute metro trip from the university, arranging mealsproviding the buses for our trip to the University of Minho, assigning people to small groups by research topic and tutors to each group, planning the rooms, and so on.

Then there is the programme – arranging small hands-on group working sessions and plenary sessions featuring keynote speakers who are experts on topics of general interest for all researchers. In addition, the organisation of field trips.

Kudos to the organisation team. You’ve done a fantastic job! 

This experience was an excellent motivational factor. The PhD journey can be quite a lonely one, especially for someone like me who is a self-funded student, and motivation has its ups and downs at times.

It was extremely enriching for me to be together with other emerging researchers from a variety of countries/universities, and to learn about the diversity of their topics of research.

In addition to the learning factor, I greatly appreciate the motivation and enthusiasm I feel now, upon my return home, to further work on my research project. 

I highly valued the multicultural aspect of the training, enhanced by the diversity of participants.
Beyond our research projects, we also exchanged views about our universities, PhD programmes and supervisors. It was fascinating to discover that some universities offer different PhD programmes than those we have at the University of Luxembourg.
Our diverse backgrounds and experiences also contributed to the rich discussions and varied perspectives on the same topics of discussion, a valuable aspect of the summer school.

This event allowed us to establish direct contact with the editors of the Portuguese Journal of Education.

During our visit to the University of Minho in Braga, we were offered the opportunity to get in touch with the editorial team of a prestigious education journal indexed by Scopus.

During her sabbatical year, Board/Deputy Director, Iris Pereira, took the time to present the Portuguese Journal of Education to us, explained the publication process, and offered us tips on how to write a journal article.Thank you very much!

To sum up, the EERA summer school offered its participants incredible value. I highly appreciated the quality of the activities provided, the networking opportunities, and the motivational factor. 

I sincerely thank the entire team of EERA for another amazing job done, and I highly recommend all EERA’s events to emerging researchers. I look forward to seeing some of the participants again at the Emerging Researchers’ Conference in Yerevan, face-to-face or online. 

EERA Summer School – Porto 2023

26 – 30 June 2023 , University of Porto, Portugal

The European Educational Research Association (EERA), the Centre for Research and Intervention in Education (CIIE) of the University of Porto, the Center for Research in Education (CIEd) of the University of Minho, the Research Centre on Didactics and Technology in the Education of Trainers (CIDTFF) of the University of Aveiro and the Adult Education and Community Intervention Research Centre (CEAD) of the University of Algarve, with the SPCE – Sociedade Portuguesa de Ciências da Educação (Portuguese Educational Research Association), are pleased to announce the 2023 EERA Summer School “Participatory approaches in educational research” which will be held 26 – 30 June 2023 at the University of Porto, Portugal.

Theme and Aims

The EERA Summer School 2023 “Participatory approaches in educational research” aims to support doctoral students interested in bringing participants’ voices and actions to the core of educational research.
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University of Porto and the City of Porto

Founded in 1911, the University of Porto (U.Porto) is a benchmark institution for Higher Education and Scientific Research in Portugal and one of the top 200 European Universities according to the most relevant international ranking systems.
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EERSS 2023 Partners and Supporters

We are thankful to the following partners and supporters
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Application / Cost / Terms of registration

Applicants are doctoral and advanced research students who primarily come from or study in EERA‘s member countries. Their thesis must relate to educational research.
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EERSS 2023 Dates

15 November 2022 – 31 January 2023
Information on acceptance
1 March 2023
2 March – 15 April 2023
Summer School
26 – 30 June 2023

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Daniela Clara Moraru

Daniela Clara Moraru

CEO, Languages.lu, PhD candidate, University of Luxembourg

Ms. Daniela-Lacramioara (Clara) MORARU is an educator, author of 11 publications, and serial entrepreneur from Luxembourg. She is the founder of the main women’s association of Luxembourg: Fédération des Femmes Cheffes d’Entreprises (FFCEL) in 2004, Femmes Leaders du Luxembourg in 2007, and Inspiring Wo-Men in 2009.

She holds an MBA from Jack Welsh College of Business, Sacred Heart University, with a double concentration in International Business and Marketing, and a Master in Management from the Faculty of Engineering, University Lucian Blaga of Sibiu. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Luxembourg. Her research focuses on the topic: Perceptions and attitudes of vocation education actors related to soft skills for employment.

Since 2004, she is the CEO of Languages.lu, a language school and translation center based in Luxembourg. Ms. Moraru is also an international independent director certified by INSEAD (France), where she obtained a Certificate in Corporate Governance (2015) and a Certificate in Global Management (2017). She has been teaching Marketing at the University of Cooperative Education in Germany and regularly gives lectures and presentations in Luxembourg and abroad, mainly on entrepreneurship and education.

In 2013, Ms. Moraru was elected “Women inspiring Europe” by the European Commission’s European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) for her contribution to promoting inspiring female role models.

Networking for Global and Sustainability Education – UNESCO ASPnet in Estonia

Networking for Global and Sustainability Education – UNESCO ASPnet in Estonia

UNESCO is tasked to ensure that education serves the values of peace, human rights, freedom, justice and democracy, respect for diversity, and international solidarity as defined in the UN Charter and the Constitution of UNESCO. Since 1953, the organisation has offered schools in its member states the opportunity to apply to be part of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet), which supports the promotion of the UNESCO ideals. Today, the ASPnet connects more than 11,500 schools in 182 countries, and the current strategy aim for the network is to support Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). These are seen as the key instruments for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Target 4.7 with the aim of giving all learners the knowledge and skills to promote sustainable development (UNESCO, 2014).

The ASPnet has, throughout its existence, aimed to strengthen the horizontal links between schools through twinning and flagship projects which support the diffusion of participatory and critical enquiry pedagogies (Schweisfurth, 2005). The Baltic Sea Project (BSP) is one of the oldest flagship projects. Since 1989, it has united schools in the countries bordering the Baltic Sea to tackle regional environmental problems through education. Currently, in the nine participating countries, over 165 schools (mainly upper-secondary level) are involved in the BSP activities (BSP, 2022).

My research deals with the history and current state of these school networks in the context of Estonia and analyses how the process of tighter integration of the BSP network into the UNESCO ASPnet contributes to achieving a more holistic understanding of a sustainable future through enhanced cooperation between different subject teachers and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Revitalising the school network

The process of revitalising the school networks started in 2014, when the Estonian UNESCO National Commission gave the task of coordinating the networks to two separate CSOs that both work as resource centres for schools and teachers: the Tartu Environment Education Centre (TEEC) started coordinating the BSP network while NGO Mondo’s Global Education Centre restarted the UNESCO ASPnet. Both centres are highly valued actors in their respective fields in Estonia.

The integration process of the networks started in 2018 with first the CSOs coming together – the coordinator from TEEC took part in Mondo’s Global Education training with some key teachers from the BSP network and the integration proceeded with joint planning, events and new guidelines for schools. According to the renewed guidelines, all ASPnet schools are encouraged to include global and sustainability education into school development plans, school regulations, management style, and community participation. They are required to do a minimum of one international UNESCO project/campaign/program and two UN thematic days yearly.

ASPnet schools are also expected to mainstream ESD and GCED to curriculum, working plans and lessons and support cooperation between teachers. As a follow-up activity to strategy renewal, all BSP schools were awarded ASPnet membership.

Analysis of the ASP Network in Estonia

The main aim of my study was to analyse the institutional and ideational context of ESD, GCED and ASPnet in Estonia, questioning whether networking can support a more holistic, critical, and transformative GCED and ESD – dimensions which are seen as crucial in the academic literature (Bamber, 2019). I used mixed methods to gather data from the ASPnet teachers and Estonian education policymakers and experts.

A survey questionnaire was completed by 24 teachers in the network, and 20 teachers took part in a participatory workshop during the ASPnet Annual Conference. In addition, ten teachers, five policymakers and five experts and coordinators were interviewed online. A review of annual reports from schools, previous studies, and policy documents was also conducted.

Identifying silos 

The survey data, interviews and workshop conducted with the ASPnet teachers showed some silos between different subject teachers. While teachers of natural sciences (chemistry, physics, biology) linked global competence to environmental awareness, teachers of social sciences (civics, history, geography) and languages linked it to intercultural competence. While all teachers saw the need to encourage students’ critical thinking, social science teachers saw more value in introducing controversial topics to discussions as well as critical examination of topics such as capitalism, colonialism, and nationalism.

Silos also exist in an institutional context where different ministries support various aspects of Target 4.7: the Ministry of Environment supports environmental education and ESD while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives funding for GCED activities. At the same time, the joining of the networks and increased collaboration between different subject teachers has been useful in breaking down the silos and increasing cooperation. However, there is room for improvement in ASPnet at all levels, from the school to national and international levels. Activities often end up being one-off events without a profound impact on the school as a whole. Communication problems and lack of resources also hinder UNESCO ASPnet from reaching full capacity.

Opportunities and challenges

Since the restart of the network, several new educational institutions have applied to join the Estonian ASPnet (including pre-schools, primary schools, and secondary schools), which could be seen as a positive result of the new, more inclusive approach. At the beginning of 2022, the Estonian ASPnet included 60 educational institutions (7-8% of all schools in Estonia). Many schools have joined after their teachers participated in Mondo’s in-service training in GCED.

Being a member of ASPnet is seen to give prestige and legitimacy to the schools (especially in situations where schools need to compete for students), as well as more resources to work on global and sustainability education. The network coordinators motivate teachers to be active by offering recognition, awards and opportunities for student participation and their resources are appreciated by the participating teachers.

Looking at the overall context of GCED and ESD in Estonia, we can see both opportunities and challenges for the promotion of UNESCO values. The main challenges are related to the overall policy discourse, which emphasises neoliberal, nationalistic and security discourses with limited reference to global solidarity. Emphasis is on subjects tested in high-stakes exams and PISA. At the same time, the autonomy of schools and teachers gives opportunities to place more emphasis on ESD and GCED in schools where teachers are trained, resourced, and motivated. The curriculum encourages including these themes in a transversal manner, which supports the activities of ASPnet. Openness and expertise in digital learning are also assets (GENE, 2019).

The study concludes that the ideas around holistic, critical, and transformative dimensions of GCED present in academic literature need contextualising. The decolonisation discourse is becoming more prevalent in academic GCED literature, where it refers predominantly to Global North vs Global South relations, while ignoring the post-Soviet experience.

When asked about criticality, one of the Estonian teachers noted that:

“in school, we should talk more about colonialism as we were ourselves colonized only recently, but we should not be too critical of nationalism as we need to protect our minority language and culture”.

This shows how concepts like ‘colonialism’ and ‘nationalism’ can have different meanings and connotations in different contexts. The ‘west’ in this context is not a symbol of past and current injustices, but a symbol of democracy and human rights as opposed to Soviet and Russian authoritarianism and chauvinism.

 One of the biggest current challenges for the Estonian education sector is the war in Ukraine, the integration of Ukrainian refugees into Estonian schools*, continuing integration of the Russian-speaking minority into Estonian society, as well as fighting propaganda and hate speech. In this situation, GCED can have a key role to play in supporting peace, global solidarity, and human rights, but special emphasis needs to be put on critical media literacy.


* By the end of May 2022, Estonia received more than 40 000 refugees from Estonia (3% of the Estonian population), and thousands of refugee children need access to education in Estonia.

Key Messages

UNESCO school network in Estonia motivates a growing number of schools to work on global and sustainability issues

There are silos between natural and social science teachers as well as different ministries in their understanding and promotion of Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Networking between different subject teachers can lead to more holistic approach to teaching global challenges

Critical theory needs to be contextualised in the local history and experience

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Johanna Helin

Johanna Helin

EdD candidate at OISE (University of Toronto)

Johanna Helin is an EdD candidate at OISE (University of Toronto) and carries out studies and evaluations through UbuntuEDU in Finland. She has many years of experience in Global Citizenship Education from Finland, Estonia and Canada. Her dissertation research is on global citizenship education and critical media literacy in selected ASPnet schools in different country contexts.

References and Further Reading

Baltic Sea Project website (accessed June 10, 2022): https://unesco-bsp.blogspot.com/ 

Bamber, P. (Ed.). (2019). Teacher Education for Sustainable Development and Global https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/oa-edit/10.4324/9780429427053/teacher-education-sustainable-development-global-citizenship-philip-bamber 

Citizenship: Critical Perspectives on Values, Curriculum and Assessment (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi-org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.4324/9780429427053

 GENE – Global Education Network Europe (2019). The European Global Education Peer Review Process – National Report on Global Education in Estonia. Available at: https://www.gene.eu/peer-reviews

Schweisfurth, M. (2005). Learning to Live Together: A Review of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, Vol. 51 Issue 2/3, p. 219-234. DOI: 10.1007/s11159-005-3579-9 https://research.birmingham.ac.uk/en/publications/learning-to-live-together-a-review-of-unescos-associated-schools- 

UNESCO (2003). UNESCO Associated School Project Network (ASPnet): historical review 1953-2003. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000130509?6=null&queryId=4f483e5c-0778-470e-9a63-5aaac01f9c13 

 UNESCO (2014b). ASPnet strategy for 2014-2021, Global network of schools addressing global challenges: building global citizenship and promoting sustainable development.Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000231049?14=null&queryId=d968d1b3-3718-42c0-a1ea-8835499d4ccc 

 UNESCO (2018b). UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for national coordinators. UNESCO: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261994

 UNESCO (2019a) UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for members. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379707?4=null&queryId=3021db41-accf-4546-bf3f-12e6441595a9