Effective science teaching and
Implications for teaching
A: Research into student
Findings concerning student conceptions,
especially for Physics
The link with constructivist perspectives
Conceptual change teaching approaches and
Social constructivist perspectives
B: Wider perspectives on
teaching and learning science
Longitudinal research on student attitudes to
science, over the secondary school years.
Research into effective teaching and learning
in science: The SIS Components
Research into student conceptions
Students come into our classes with a range of prior
ideas or conceptions of the physical world. They are not
Many of these conceptions differ in important ways from
the view of the world scientists have constructed. Many
are similar to views scientists held in previous eras;
Students from different countries and cultures have been
found to have very similar prior ideas. Everyday language
often supports these views of the world; and
These conceptions in many cases form useful prior
knowledge that a teacher can build on. In many
cases, however, students‟ alternative conceptions have
proved surprisingly difficult to shift, and can offer a
serious barrier to effective teaching.
Students hold theories of motion similar to earlier
impetus theories, where force is a property of an object
associated with motion, rather than something that acts
on them externally
Students think of the eye as active in „seeing‟ rather
than as a receptor of light, they think of „light‟ as an
effect rather than as an entity that travels, and they
think of color as the property of objects rather than
dependent on the light environment. They have a range
of mental models of light.
Students have a „historical‟ view of substances in
chemical change, thinking for instance that the ash left
over from burning paper, is simply the paper but in a
changed form, or is something that was trapped in the
paper and is now the residue
Students have a variety of models of current
electricity, confusing current with energy in terms of
what is „used up‟ in devices, or thinking of current as
coming out both ends of a battery and „clashing‟ to
cause light in a globe.
Students believe that heat is a substance, rather than
a form of energy, and run the concepts of
temperature and heat together, thinking for instance
that if a hot cup of coffee is divided, the temperature
is halved. These views also echo historical theories
Students have a range of mental models of the earth
in space, ranging from flatness, to hybrid models
which combine a spherical earth with an absolute
sense of „up-down‟. They will continue to believe that
summer and winter are caused by varying distance of
the earth from the sun.
A personal constructivist view of learning:
Learning involves the construction of meaning. Meanings
constructed by students from what they see or hear may be
different to those intended, and are influenced by prior
The construction of meaning is a continuous and active
process. Children, from when they are born, struggle to
construct meaning about their world.
There are identifiable patterns in the types of
understandings students construct, due to shared
experiences with the world, and due to cultural influences
Knowledge promoted in the science classroom is evaluated,
and may be accepted, accepted in a limited context only, or
Learners have the final responsibility for their own learning.
Social constructivist perspectives
Learning is a social or cultural phenomenon,
Attention is shifted to the social processes operating
in the classroom by which a teacher promotes a
The aim of science or mathematics education
becomes the establishment within the class of shared
The teacher represents the very powerful discourses
of the scientific culture, and scientific ways of viewing
and dealing with the world.
Constructivist / Conceptual
Change teaching approaches
Lawson‟s „learning cycle‟
The Generative model
The interactive approach
The 5 E‟s model
Japanese lesson plans
Most of these models involve exploring and
challenging students‟ prior ideas
Phase Description Example (Peter Hubber)
1. The teacher Clarify light concepts eg.
Preparation clarifies for him or
and herself the focus Each point on a luminous
planning of the sequence. object emits light in all
gathered and All the light from each point
activities planned. on an object that passes
through a lens, or reflects
Assessment is off a mirror, contributes to
planned. the formation of a
corresponding image point.
Phase 2. Exploration and clarification
What are the students‟ views? The teacher Post box sample
introduces activities to probe student questions:
conceptions. Questioning is an important tool.
Draw arrows to show
Examples of exploratory activities: how light from the sun
helps the student to see
Cartoons that pose problem situations, such the tree.
as asking which of a light or a loaded
skateboard will roll faster down a slope. Can a cat or owl see a
mouse in a room where
Scenarios in which students express
there was no light? Why
do you think this?
A round – robin of activities relating to the
same idea, such as a set of animal skeletons How far does light travels
or skulls that elicit student ideas about from a glowbug (a)
adaptation. During the night? (b)
During the day?
The teacher clarifies just what the range of
student views are, and what the differences
Phase 3. Challenge
Students engage with activities designed to Experiments:
challenge their intuitive views. Examples:
Can you feel
Predict – observe – explain sequences. a stare? –
Open exploration of intriguing items such as
a bird feeder, a pendulum, a candle burning
under a glass jar, balance toys. Using a
Challenge tasks such as asking students to darkroom to
light a globe using one wire and a battery explore: can
you see in
In „interpretive discussion‟ the teacher ensures total dark ?
all views are considered. It is important not to
force premature closure and to allow students
room to express and explore ideas. The
teacher presents the evidence from the
Phase 4. Investigation and exploration
The class tests the A series of structured
validity of different explorations and
answers, including the discussions; the eyes
science view, by as receptors, ideas
seeking evidence, or about dim objects,
students carry out lasers shone onto white
investigations to paper ….
explore their questions.
Phase 5. Application and extension
The science ideas are established and Further
extended. There may be discussion activities
and debate concerning the merits of the
Phase 6. Reflection and revisiting
Students are encouraged to Discussion of what
evaluate their learning by changes had
comparing their ideas with occurred in student
their earlier view and to views of vision and
reflect on the strategies they light.
used to learn – supporting
Provide opportunities for students to make their own ideas
explicit: Use students' own language, give them
opportunities to share ideas, and encourage clarification of
Provide experiences which relate to students' prior ideas
('start from where students are at'): Encourage students to
extend their knowledge of phenomena, provide
opportunities for them to make links between phenomena,
and provide experiences which challenge their ideas.
Give opportunities for students to think about experiences:
Provide opportunities for imaginative thinking, encourage
reflection on alternative models and theories
Give opportunities for students to try out new ideas:
Allow students to gain confidence in trying out new
ideas in a variety of contexts, both familiar and new.
Use a variety of teaching/learning strategies.
Encourage students to reflect on changes to their
ideas: Encourage students to be aware of advances in
their thinking and provide opportunities for them to
identify changes in their ideas
Provide a supportive learning environment: Encourage
students to put forward their own ideas and to listen to
each other. Avoid always creating the impression that
there is only one 'right answer'.
The nature of classroom discourse
Rusting nail task - students had put nails in different
Teacher.. So - what 1 want to do - put on the board, is perhaps put down
your ideas of what it was about the places that made your nail go rusty.
What do you think it was - thinking about the places - that made your nail
Fiona: Condensation might.
Teacher: Condensation - right [writes it on the chalk board]. Dawn?
Dawn.. Could it be like - climate like - if it's hot or cold?
Teacher: Hot or cold. Do some other people think that hot or cold might be
something significant, in making something go rusty? Hot or cold - is that
an idea - yeah? Hot. Which? Both of them or just one? Dawn.. Both
Teacher: Haley's saying perhaps cold.
Is multi-voiced in that it involves a number of different speakers and
includes references to other students' ideas.
The teacher invites ideas through open questions and attempts to
clarify meanings through asking follow-up questions.
The students make spontaneous contributions to the discourse and
often articulate their ideas in a tentative, provisional way rather than
present them as 'finished thoughts'.
Overlap of contributions, abbreviated utterances and interanimation of
ideas between teacher and students.
Ideas are offered and received as 'thinking devices' rather than as
Gathering ideas together
Teacher: Right we've got a lot of things at the top here. Now - what I'd
like you to do first of all is to look at these suggestions - because - is
there anything that some of them actually have in common - have we
actually repeated ourselves with any of the things that we've got on the
board at the moment? ... Kevin, first of all then - what d'you think we've
repeated ourselves with? Kevin: Erm -rain, damp ... then cold.
Teacher: Rain, damp.
When Kevin suggests 'rain, damp ... then cold' Lynne ignores 'cold' and
selects rain and damp'; a number of students call out 'and cold, and
condensation' and Lynne selects from these responses 'condensation'.
At this point moisture, condensation, rain, damp, and wet are all
underlined on the board and Lynne asks what they have in common.
She is searching for the term 'water'.
Teacher: ... what have we got in common perhaps with all the things we've
underlined. What is it Kevin? Kevin: They're all wet.
Teacher: Well - they're all wet - so what do we mean by wet then? Is there
something else about wet?
Students: No - wet [other mutters] Teacher: What is wet perhaps?
Student: [chorus] Water!! [laughter]
Teacher: Water? So is that the key thing? Ketan what do you think? Is
water the key thing here that's linking all of these... Ketan: Yes.
Teacher: You've said rain, damp, moisture, wet, oh ... condensation and
what I'm asking you is 'what do you mean by that?' So what is the common
link perhaps? Ketan: S'all different forms of water.
Teacher: Water. Yeah? Anyone disagree with that? That sound
reasonable? OK, so we've all of those things we can link up and say that
water is important.
In this brief sequence the teacher has the clear
aim of reformulating „condensation', „moisture'
and the other terms as 'water'. In a bid to
achieve this aim, the teacher: selects from
student responses; poses a series of
instructional questions; initiates a confirmatory
exchange with a student. Each of these
interventions … draws heavily upon the
teacher's authority and it is the teacher who
dominates the discourse; the students'
responses tend to be in single words.
Turning students on to Physics
How do we do this?
A recent Swedish study
Britt Lindahl in 2003 completed a longitudinal
4 year study of student responses to their
secondary school subjects, from the time they
finished primary school to when they chose
their senior subjects.
She followed 80 students using yearly
interviews, and questionnaires, and test
What follows are quotes and paraphrases of
They are very disappointed the first year at lower
secondary when they meet science teaching where
they are supposed to sit still and listen, copy the
blackboard and fill in stencils.
As they have little experiences of physics and
chemistry from lower grades they say they perceive it
is so new, so strange, so difficult and so serious all at
once. They compare with other subjects such as
English and geography which started like a game and
the difficulties have come gradually.
As they experience science as difficult, they also
think they are not good in the subject, and then it
becomes much more difficult and so on. This can be
the beginning of a negative spiral between attitudes
and behaviour which can be difficult to break.
Student sense of control
They perceive both physics and chemistry as
authoritarian subjects with the message “it is like this,
learn it because it is right, here is nothing to discuss”.
They also perceive all lessons are so predictable; first
the teacher talks, then the pupils work. When
analysing all the interviews it is so obvious to me that
science teaching has to be more varied. Some pupils
like one way of working, others like other ways, but
all dislike doing it the same way all the time.
Sometimes they all want to discuss, work together in
groups, and to pose and work with questions from
their own area of interest. In other words, they want
to have more influence on their learning like they
have in other subjects.
Sense of where physics can be
Before the interviews in Grade 9, I read all
transcriptions and the pupils were also allowed listen
to this part of earlier interviews. Both I and also the
pupils were very astonished that their dreams from
Grade 5 or 6 have been more or less repeated every
year. If so many decide their future so early and
science is so unfamiliar to them, perhaps it is not
strange that they do not choose science. Another
problem is that they do not know very much about
different professions within science. When talking
about chemistry most of pupils can only give me two
reasons for learning it. The first is to get good marks
and the second is to become a chemistry teacher.
Anja .. is always discussing ideas. Her parents are
scientists and brother and sister too. She has from the
beginning told me that her dream is to be a doctor, and
therefore she will choose science for upper secondary
school. But when I met her in Grade 8, she told me she had
changed her mind. Her dream was still to be a doctor but
she could not think of taking science so it would be
impossible. She hates science and the way it is taught. She
said she likes to discuss and she wants to learn more about
human beings, not about dead things.
Erik is a calm and confident boy. First time I met his class in
Grade 5, his teacher told me that this boy was one of the
most brilliant pupils in mathematics he ever had met. His
next teacher in mathematics told me the same. But Erik‟s
favorite subjects are history, English and sports. He thinks
science in school is boring but he likes to watch scientific
programs on TV.
It is not the content that is the major problem; it is more
the way it is presented in school.
Even the “safe bets” fail. For a long time we have
known that the girls are critical of science teaching but
what is clear in this study is that the boys are as critical
as the girls. The same thing is true of the well educated
The final finding is about the importance of
understanding. The pupils complain about not
understanding but they are referring to another type of
understanding than the one of formal concepts.
How do we enlist students to physics?
How do we provide an environment that is
responsive to students‟ interests and needs?
What can we offer students, through Physics,
that will be of ongoing benefit?
The SIS components
1. The learning environment encourages active engagement
with ideas and evidence
2. Students are challenged to develop meaningful
3. Science is linked with students‟ lives and interests
4. Students‟ individual learning needs are catered for
5. Assessment is embedded within the science learning
6. The nature of science is represented in its various aspects
7. The classroom is linked with the broader community
8. Learning technologies are exploited for their learning
Some critical elements
1. Encouraging students to actively engage with
ideas and evidence
1.1 Students are encouraged and supported to
express their ideas, and question evidence
1.2 Student input (questions, ideas and
expressions of interest) influences the course of
1.3 Students are encouraged and supported to
take some responsibility for the design, conduct
and analysis of science investigations
2. Challenging students to develop meaningful
2.3 Students are challenged to develop divergent/lateral
thinking to respond to science-based problems
3. Linking science with students’ lives and interests
Students‟ interests and concerns (eg. Sport and recreation,
youth media) provide the context for learning science ideas
4. Catering for individual students’ learning needs
Teachers monitor and respond strategically to students‟ range of
abilities and learning needs and preferences
5. Embedding assessment within the science learning
5.2 A range of styles of assessment tasks is used to reflect
different aspects of science and types of understanding
• 5.2.1 A range of assessment types is used
• 5.2.2 Different levels of science knowledge are assessed
(information, comprehension, application)
• 5.2.3 Different aspects of the nature of science are assessed
(knowledge, process, technology, social links)
6. Representing the nature of science in its
6.1 Science knowledge and investigative
processes are richly represented
6.2 Links are made between science, and social
and personal issues
6.3 Science ideas and processes are linked to
technologies and professions
7. Linking science with the broader community
Science activities link beyond the classroom
To sum up
There are many elements of research that
call for a richer view of science teaching and
The findings from this disparate research
point in quite compatible directions
If we want to attract students into Physics,
and support them to learn effectively,
teachers of Physics need to implement these
principles from 7-12