Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Private Universe Project in Science

Workshop Eight: "Finding Solutions That Work"

Section 1 - About Workshop Eight
"Finding Solutions That Work"


What is the theme of this workshop?
The theme of this Workshop is "theory and practice: bridging the gap."

What problem does this workshop address?
There is no "magic bullet" for the problems of science education. There are, however, some clear directions to explore. What obstacles will we meet along the way as we consider the necessary changes for science reform?

What teaching strategies does this workshop offer?
Several strategies have been introduced in previous workshops. New proposed strategies should address three broad areas. They should

  1. take into account the students and the classroom;
  2. be sensitive to the teachers and the curriculum; and
  3. be useful and available to the educational community as a whole.



Section 2 - "Finding Solutions That Work"

A. The Goals for Workshop Eight

"Finding Solutions That Work" is for any teacher who wants to bridge the gap between theory and practice in order to develop useful classroom strategies for science education.


Workshop Discussion

The Content Guide for Workshop Eight lists several goals of constructivist learning. Students should:
    • acquire deep conceptual understanding;
    • question ideas;
    • use and apply knowledge;
    • reflect on how and what they learn;
    • take responsibility for their learning.
Discuss your reactions to these ideas.
How can teachers identify and implement realistic strategies that support constructivist learning?


B. Challenges

The interpretation of student ideas and the design of lessons challenging student beliefs require a high degree of proficiency in science. Videos of constructivist practice are often interpreted to be mostly about process, with little attention being given to content.


Workshop Discussion

Do you believe that knowledge of science content is an important part of constructivist strategies? Please explain your answer.
Why was the hands-on instructional activity successful with Jon (Workshop Two) and not with Karen (Workshop Five)?

Section 3 - Summary of Strategies

In Workshop Eight: "Finding Solutions That Work", we will explore the requirements for a successful science education strategy. The following are summaries of the strategies introduced in the first seven workshops.

Workshop 1: Eliciting Student Ideas

In Workshop One we discussed the common conceptions children and adults have about the natural world and how we can build on these conceptions in instruction. We suggested several strategies: interviewing, journal keeping, and interactive collaborative electronic (ICE) learning logs.

Workshop 2: Why Are Some Ideas So Difficult?

In Workshop Two we considered the strategy of "concept mapping" as a means of understanding how children make sense of their world and providing a clear picture of their thinking and understanding.

Workshop 3: Hands-On/Minds-On Learning

In Workshop Three we explored the idea of metaphors as "self-constructed truths." Metaphors encourage us, as teachers and as individuals, to express our understanding and meaning in unique and personal ways. Metaphors reflect our internal dialogue: they are the images and words we use to represent our ideas and understandings, offering us insights and new perspectives into our own understandings.

Workshop 4: A House With No Foundation

In Workshop Four we suggested using posters and small group discussions as an interesting teaching and learning strategy. Both approaches stimulate learners to be more aware of their own ideas and illustrate how these ideas change during the learning process.

Workshop 5: Can We Believe Our Own Eyes?

Workshop 6: Where Should We Start?

Workshops Five and Six both used the strategy of anchoring and bridging analogies. In this strategy we identify what the student already firmly understands (the anchoring example). Then gradually the teacher introduces new ideas (through lab activities, discussion, or other approaches) that help the student to build a bridge between the anchoring example and the target concept.

Workshop 7: Taking A Risk

In Workshop Seven we introduce the category of affective approaches by presenting the strategy of debating environmental issues. By gathering evidence, preparing an argument, and listening to the arguments of classmates, students not only learn about the science issues involved, but also learn about them in the context of emotional and intellectual commitment. The teacher can use the process both to determine students' initial ideas and assess how those ideas change.


Section 4 - Exercises

A. Exercise: Responding to Workshop Eight



Workshop Activity

Below is a compilation of statements frequently heard in constructivist education circles. Choose one statement with which you particularly agree or disagree, or one that puzzles, troubles, or encourages you. Briefly respond to it, relating it to your professional experience when possible. (The response can be either in a discussion setting or as a journal writing assignment.)


  • "The goal of education is meaningful learning."

The student must make sense of new ideas in terms of existing ones. In doing so he or she will achieve "meaningful learning." Meaningful learning results in an understanding that the student can apply to novel situations. This learning is contrasted with rote learning in which the student's grasp of the subject is limited to classroom contexts and is often of short duration. Students who are proficient at rote memorization often get the "right" answers on standard exams without really comprehending the fundamental ideas behind the answers.

  • "Teaching isn't just telling."

Teaching and learning are interactive processes in which both the teacher and the student need opportunities to talk through and check out developing understandings. Students need help changing their ideas about a topic in a way that makes sense to them. This change can only be achieved by helping the student construct a new and deeper understanding of the topic.

  • "Hands-on experiences alone are often not sufficient for meaningful learning."

Because the ideas of science often defy our intuition, unguided experiences with natural phenomena can result in misunderstandings. To reflect this point, some teachers have replaced the term "hands-on" with "minds-on."

  • "Less is more."

Teaching for meaningful learning takes time. For this reason, the pressure to cover all of the material in the curriculum may result in little comprehension on the part of the students. It is better to understand a few key concepts than to memorize, without understanding, pages of "facts."

  • "Teaching often results in unintended learning outcomes."

Unintended learning outcomes occur when students construct understandings at odds with the teacher's classroom goals. A demonstration or explanation which seems clear to the teacher can take on entirely different meanings in the eyes of the students. Students who have not achieved meaningful learning will often incorporate the language and forms of a lesson into their old ideas without making a fundamental change in their old frameworks.

  • "Students must take responsibility for their own learning."

Since each student constructs knowledge in her or his own unique way, fitting new ideas among the old, only the student can take responsibility for her or his own learning. However, teachers can guide, coach, advise, and provide rich learning opportunities.


B. Exercise: Preparing for Workshop Nine

You will get the greatest benefit from Workshop Nine if you complete the following exercise.


Workshop Activity and Discussion

A number of strategies for science education have been illustrated in these videos. Add to this list any from your experience that you feel are appropriate. If you feel any of our presented strategies are inappropriate, note those as well.



Section 5 - Resources for Workshop Eight


Companies, publications, and organizations named in this guide represent a cross-section of such entities. We do not endorse any companies, publications, or organizations, nor should any endorsement be inferred from a listing in this guide. Descriptions of such entities are for reference purposes only. We have provided this information to help locate materials and information.


A. Related Resources on Decomposition

Teachers may want to explore various organizations that promote research in science education.

NARST (The National Association for Research in Science Teaching), founded in 1928, promotes research in science education at all educational levels and disseminates the findings of research in action, historical, philosophical, ethnographic, experimental, and evaluative studies. Research areas of interest to NARST include curriculum development and organization, evaluation, learning theory, teacher education, programs for the talented and the handicapped, and methods of instruction in science.

Executive Secretary, John Staver
Center for Science Education
244 Bluemont Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506-5310
Fax: 913-532-7304
E-mail: [email protected]

AETS (Association for the Education of Teachers in Science) AETS is an organization that promotes supportive ways for teaching teachers how to teach science. For information contact:

Joseph Peters, Secretary
University of West Florida
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola FL 32514


B. Bibliography on Constructivism

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Ault, C.R. 1982. Time in geological explanations as perceived by elementary school students. Journal of Geological Education 30: 304-309.

Ausubel, D.P. et al. 1978. Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Bishop, B. A. and C.W. Anderson. 1990. Student conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27 (5): 415-427.

Brumby, M. 1979. Problems in learning the concept of natural selection. Journal of Biological Education 13 (2): 119-122.

Brumby, M.N. 1984. Misconceptions about the concept of natural selection by medical biology students. Science Education 68 (4): 493-503.

Clement, J. 1982. Student preconceptions in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics 50: 66-71.

Cobb, P. et al. 1986. A constructivist alternative to the representational view of mind in mathematics education. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education 23(1): 2-23.

Confrey, J. 1986. A Critique of Teacher Effectiveness Research. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 17(5): 347-360.

Deadman, J.A. and P.J. Kelly. 1978. What do secondary school boys understand about evolution and heredity before they are taught the topics? Journal of Biological Education 12 (1): 7-15.

Driver, R. and J. Easely. 1978. Pupils and paradigms: a review of the literature related to concept development in adolescent science students. Studies in Science Education 5: 61-84.

Driver, R. et al. 1985. Children's ideas and the learning of science. In Children's Ideas in Science, Rosalind Driver, Edith Guesne and Andrée Tiberhien, eds., 1-9. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Driver, R. 1983. The Pupil as Scientist. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Duckworth, E. 1987. The Having of Wonderful Ideas. New York: Teachers' College Press.

Duckworth, E., J. Easley, D. Hawkins and A. Henriques. 1990. Science Education: A Minds-On Approach for the Elementary Years. Hillsale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Engel Clough, E. and C. Wood-Robinson. 1985. Children's understanding of inheritance. Journal of Biological Education 19(4): 304-310.

Feldstine, J.N. 1983. Concept mapping: A method for detection of possible student misconceptions. In International Seminar on Misconception and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics in Ithaca, NY, Joseph D. Novak and H. Helm, eds. Cornell University Press.

Fensham, P. J., R.F. Gunstone and R.T. White, eds. 1994. The Content of Science: A Constructivist Approach To Its Teaching and Learning. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

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Gabel, D.L. ed. 1994. Handbook of Research on Science Teaching and Learning. New York: Macmillan.

Gilbert, J.K. and D.M. Watts. 1982. Concepts, misconceptions and alternative conceptions: changing perspectives in science education. Studies in Science Education 10: 61-98.

Gilbert, J.K., R.J. Osborne and P.J. Fensham. 1982. Children's science and its consequences for teaching. Science Education 66(4): 623-633.

Good, R.G., J.E. Trowbridge, S.S. Damastes, J.H. Wandersee, M.S. Hafney and C.L. Cummins. 1992. Proceedings of the 1992 Evolution Education Research Conference. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University.

Greene, E.D. 1990. The logic of university students' misunderstanding of natural selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27(9).

Gunstone, R. 1987. Student understanding in mechanics: a large population survey. American Journal of Physics 55: 691-696.

Hawkins, D. 1974. The Informed Vision: Essays on Learning and Human Nature. New York: Agathon (Schocken).

Hawkins, D. 1990. Defining and bridging the gap. In Science Education: A Minds-On Approach for the Elementary Years, E. Duckworth, J. Easley, D. Hawkins and A. Henriques. Hillsale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hewson, M. and P.W. Hewson. 1983. Effect of instruction using students' prior knowledge and conceptual change strategies on science learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 20(8): 731-743.

Hewson, P.W. 1981. A conceptual change approach to learning science. European Journal of Science Education 3: 383-396.

Hills, G.L.C. 1989. Students "untutored" beliefs about natural phenomena: primitive science or commonsense? Science Education 73(2): 155-186.

Jungwirth. 1975. Preconceived adaptation and inverted evolution: a case of distorted concept formation in high-school biology. The Australian Science Teachers Journal 21(2): 95-100.

Kargbo, D.B., E.D. Hobbs and G.L. Erickson. 1980. Children's beliefs about inherited characteristics. Journal of Biological Education 14(2): 137-146.

Kinnear, J.F. 1983. Identification of misconceptions in genetics and the use of computer simulations in their correction. In Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics, H. Helm and J.D. Novak, eds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Kinnear, J.F., M.D. Martin and J.D. Novak. 1982. Use of computers in concept development and reasoning skills in genetics. Research in Science Education 12.

Lawson, A.E. and L.D. Thompson. 1988. Formal reasoning ability and misconceptions concerning genetics and natural selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 25(9): 733-746.

Leach, J. et al. 1993. Children's ideas about the nature of science from age 9 to age 16. In Proceedings of the Third International Seminar: Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics, J. Novak, ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

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Lightman, A. and P. Sadler. 1993. Teacher Predictions vs. Actual Student Gains. The Physics Teacher 31(3): 162-167.

Linn, M.C., C. Clement and S. Pulos. 1983. Is it formal if it's not physics? (The influence of content on formal reasoning.) Journal of Research in Science Teaching 20(8): 755-770.

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Lundeberg, M.A. 1990. Supplemental instruction in chemistry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27(2): 145-155.

Matthews, M.R. 1989. History, Science, and Science Teaching. Interchange 20(2): 1-111.

Matthews, M.R. 1994. Science Teaching: The Role of History and Philosophy of Science. New York: Routledge.

Minstrell, J. 1982. Explaining the "at rest" condition of an object. The Physics Teacher, (Jan) 10-14.

Mintzes, J.J., J.H. Trowbridge and M.W. Arnaudin. 1991. Children's biology: studies on conceptual development in the life sciences. In The Psychology of Learning Science, S.M. Glynn, R.H. Yeany and B.K. Britton, eds. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Novak, J. D. and D.B. Gowin. 1984. Learning How to Learn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Novak, J. D. and H. Helm. 1983. Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Novak, J. D. 1987. Proceedings of the Second International Seminar: Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Novak, J. D. 1993. Proceedings of the Third International Seminar: Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

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Pfundt, H. and R. Duit. 1991. Bibliography: students' alternative framework and science education.


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