Contemporary Issues in Science Learning


Question 1

a. The issue of Innate Abilities – The differences between a Passive and an Active Learner.

There are various opinions and theories for the innate abilities and many scientists have dealt with this. For example Galton believed that human intelligence was largely a matter of genetic inheritance and that natural or innate attributes were normally distributed in the population. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.13) Moreover based on his theory he believed that those who were most successful in society were those capable with the greatest innate ability. This theoretical view of human mind was linked to the practice of eugenics. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.13)

Other scientists that studied the issue of innate abilities are Spearman, Pearson and Burt. Spearman argued in 1904 that human intelligence was comprised of specific abilities underlain by a generic factor ‘g'. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14)

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Pearson developed statistical methods to try to promote research into heredity. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14) Burt continued this work with schoolchildren to confirm the existence of innate and heritable ability and to develop tests to measure it. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14)

Moreover Pavlov and Skinner dealt and supported the theory of behaviourism. Pavlov demonstrated that it was possible to teach animals new responses to new stimuli (1927). (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14) Psychologists took this observation and attempted to develop a scientific theory of learning, which focused attention on the inputs and outputs of the brain and downplayed the intervening mental processes. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14) Skinner's theory of behaviorist had a deep and long-term influence in education, and he was critical of teachers who according to his views failed to shape the learners' behavior effectively and did not build on what learners know and can do. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14)

Another theory which that it emanated through the theory of behaviourism is the theory of transmission model of learning. In this model the teacher is the dispenser of knowledge, the student the passive receiver, if the stimulation is appropriate. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14)

Glaxton dealt with the theory of transmission model of learning. Glaxton (1990) provides a summary of the characteristics of transmission theories of learning. Learners who are passive receivers of knowledge can be trained by teachers on how to apply knowledge which is objective and represents the world. Moreover learning is a process which is done according to individuals intellectual and it is not influenced by social or emotional factors. What's more those facing learning difficulties are the learners not the teachers. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.16)

In transmission model of learning the brain and mind were considered as one and the same – an information processing system that sees, then thinks and then acts. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.25)

Greenfield argues that mind and brain are tied and believes that what grows are not the brain cells but the connections between neurons, and either this mediation both reinforces and strengthens the connections or they atrophy through lack of experience. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.26) She also clausal of neuronal plasticity , an image of neural extensions and the creation of neural maps that are connected in a continually modulating dynamic interaction, which allows humans to construct ever more generalised pictures of the world. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.27)

As Greenfield describes it:

“brain cells that are involved in activities that occur most frequently will have extensive connections, whereas those that are used less frequently will pushed out of the way”.

(Greenfield, 2000, p.49)

The definition of mind that Greenfield offers is:

“certain configurations of neuronal connections, then, imperceptibly personalize the brain, and it is this personalized aspect of the physical brain that actually is mind. One's mind is quintessentially one's own.”

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(Greenfield, 2000, p.49)

Greenfield in her interview puts forward the view that feelings and consciousness are indistinguishable and clarifies that it is our emotions that are the building blocks, the basic thing. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.28) She also argues that learning is hugely modified by the amount of emotion that you have and talks of the alerting action of arousal or emotion bringing the neurons into readiness. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.29)

“Bloom (1992) shows how emotions, values and aesthetics can influence not only students' willingness or reluctance to engage in a learning task, but also the kinds of meaning that they construct.”

(Hodson, 1998, p.54)

According to the time presented, each theory has positive and negative elements. In Passive Learning the brain is viewed as a receptancle that can receive information without need of an intervening mental process. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.14).

The Constructivism theory deals with the activities which activates mind in opposition with the theory of Behaviourist which deals with mental activities.

Behaviourism and Transmission models of teaching and learning consider the learner as a passive receiver, whereas the Constructivist theories of learning consider the learner as an active constructor of meaning, thus showing the basic differences between them. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.21)

As for the innate abilities and the heredity that Galton dealt with, from my experience as a computer science teacher I believe that at some degree it is true. Having an innate ability is not enough; it is important to track a talent and with the correct mechanisms activate this talent and improve it.

I agree with what Greenfields formulates where she puts forward the view that our genes only contribute 30% towards our IQ 20% to the womb and the rest to the environment. (Greenfield, 2000, p.47)

b. The characteristics of Constructivist and Social theories of Science learning.

Two very important theories of learning that were developed are the theories of Constructivist and Social theories of learning.

The leading representative of the constructivist theory was Jean Piaget whose purpose was to understand the nature, structure and evolution of knowledge. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.18) The basic idea of his theorising is that children's thinking is different from that of adults and develops through a sequence of stages of ‘intellectual revolutions'. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.18) According to Piaget, knowledge was understood to be acquired as the result of a lifelong constructive process in which the learner tries to organize structure and restructure experiences in the light of existing schemes of thought. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.18)

The basic concept of learning according to constructivist views is that students come to science with informal concepts and theories about scientific phenomena that influence how they engage with learning experiences and what they judge to be evidence. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.19)

Gunstone (1988) in his review says that a constructivist perception of learning has implications for science education and suggests that these include rethinking the goals. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.20) Gunstone implies that the goals of science education should be determined by what is useful for students to help them function effectively. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.20)

Hodson (1998) tells us little for the relationship between mind and brain, and focus on the nature of the human mind and how people make sense. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.25) This is described by Bruner (1996) as an agentive mind; ‘Agentive' can be described as an ‘active mind' which basically means that it is the person who causes the effect and the learner is instrumental. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.25)

Constructivist theorising in the 1980s recognised a social dimension to learning. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.29) Learning was seen to depend on the context in which it occurred (Driver 1988). (Murphy et al., 2009, p.29)

Cobb (1999) supports that constructivist theories focuses on what students learn and the way they learn it. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.30) Socioculturalist theories focus on the conditions for the possibility of learning. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.30)

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One of the more important representatives of Social theories of learning was Vygotsky. Vygotsky says that language influences the structuring of thought. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.32) A key aspect of Vygotskian theory is that the day to day engagement of children and adults in shared activity. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.32) Vygotsky's theory sees instruction, both formal and informal, as central to learning and the main vehicle for the cultural transmission of knowledge. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.32) The learner works with a more skilled and knowledgeable partner in joint problem solving in the zone of proximal development (zpd). (Murphy et al., 2009, p.32)

The teacher has the responsibility for owning and communicating new ideas and cultural tools, and also has the responsibility for guiding students' development of shared meaning and appropriation for this. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.32) This teacher activity is referred as Scaffolding Learning. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.32)

Von Glasersfeld (1989) described the teacher's role in the construction of viable knowledge in the following way:

“…the teacher's goal is to gain understandings of the children's understandings …”

(von Glasersfeld, 1989, p. 14)

Driver et al. notes the following perspective about the social constructivist:

  • Knowledge emerges first between people and it is this shared understanding that is appropriate by individuals. In that sense then cognition is distributed but both social and personal construction of knowledge is involved;

  • Teachers have authority in relation to the culture and support the development of shared understanding through the process of scaffolding interactions and dialogue around tasks;

  • Students' ability to appropriate shared understanding depends on their prior understanding and commitments;

  • Students with support from experts can achieve more than they can unaided;

  • Different areas of science make different demands on students learning science.

(Murphy et al., 2009, p.33)

Both learning theories, Constructivist and Social Theories, they have offered and continue to offer a great deal to the effective learning. Each of these categories of theories has its own characteristics, and having compared them I have come to the conclusions.

The central roles in Constructivist theory are the learner and the teacher. The learner undertakes an active role to construct his knowledge and the prior knowledge he has acquired. As Hodson (1998) says about the active role of learner, learning is a purposeful activity, and from this learners have the final responsibility for their learning. (Hodson, 1998, p.32)

The importance of prior knowledge in science learning is that students play a vital role for the effectiveness of learning science. According to Hodson (1998),

“Just as existing knowledge determines the kind of scientific activity that students can engage in, so it determines the way in which they respond to new ideas and information.”

(Hodson, 1998, p.26)

The Teacher's role is also important because he/she undertakes a supportive and consultative role to the activities of learners.

In conclusion I can say that learning is recommended to the modification of knowledge. According to the Social Theories of Learning, the learning is considered as a theory of social interaction. Individuals through collaboration with others, develop skills that otherwise would be found in situation of development. Central roles are the collaboration and the language which act as tools in the formation of the identity of the individual.

I believe that the Social Theories of Learning can offer much more to the effective learning than the other theories of learning because they support the collaboration of learning. Hence, a well organized lesson that takes into consideration the social theories encourages collaboration between learners and generally the social interaction.

Another significant factor that influences the effective implementation of the social theories of learning is the culture. The culture of learning can be characterized as the backbone of the Fostering Community of Learners. According to Brown (1997) in order to encourage change the culture of Fostering Community of Learners enhancing newcomers to adopt the discourse structure, goals, values and belief systems of the community. (Brown, 1997, p.87)

c. My view of learning and learners; key ways in which science learning is effectively supported.

There are many different learning theories each one has strengths and weaknesses. These theories can be categorized in three approaches: Behaviourism, Constructivism and Social Theories of Learning.

All learning theories have offered a great deal in the process of learning, some more and others less, according to the time period and environment.

As I have noted, I believe that learning in science is effectively supported through social theories of learning.

In order to achieve a purpose, either these are purposes that are set by the teachers by learning purposes; the learning theories must be followed with the appropriate learning of methods and activities. The most appropriate learning activities which according to my view enhance the effectiveness of learning through the Social Theories are the metacognition, collaboration, and methods of assessment.

A significant factor that contributes to the effective learning is the skill that students should acquire on how to learn. The skill of learning to learn is well known as Metagocnition. (Brown, 1997, p.74)

This brings the learner into a central role in the teaching and learning process and as a result helps students understand their own learning. (Murphy et al., 2009, p. 20)

Another learning activity which plays a vital role in the effectiveness of learning is the Collaboration. Collaboration is a central mechanism in the social theories of learning and gives to learners the possibility to learn from each other and to get access to different perspectives and worldviews. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.34) Α very auxiliary element of Collaboration is the fact that you cannot develop shared meaning if you cannot hear other views and understand the value of them as well as advance your own. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.34)

Assessment methods are fundamental in science learning. I believe that Formative assessment promotes active learning which helps effective learning. (Individual small projects, day-to-day small exercises and tests, group projects) Formative assessment represents the methods that helps the teachers how to find ways to gain access to students' thinking in order to know where and how to go next in their learning. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.20)

Teachers' role is crucial with regard to the improvement of the effectiveness of learning. All students are different between them and have prior knowledge for several issues relative to science but it doesn't mean that the knowledge they acquire is correct. It is very often that students understood science issues differently what they actually are. All these misconceptions must be realized from teachers on time so as to assist students and inform them correctly in order to comprehend the right concepts.

Also it is important to note that teacher's role is to assist the students to develop critical thought and perception. Driver et al., (1994) notes that the role of the teacher is to pass scientific knowledge to students and help them make personal sense of the ways in which knowledge claims are generated and validated. (Driver et al., 1994, p. 60)

Motivation is also important through the process of learning. I believe that Motivation promotes effective learning. This could be achieved by promoting Practical Work which is an important element of science teaching and learning, both for the aim of developing students' scientific knowledge and that of developing students' knowledge about science. (Millar, 2004, p.18)

Question 2

a. Practical Work – Curriculum challenge

I have decided to deal with Practical Work as curriculum challenge. I believe that the use of Practical work to the process of teaching and learning is very useful and beneficial for students, especially for science learning issues.

What do we mean by saying Practical Work in Science? According to Millar (2004),

Practical Work means any teaching and learning activity which involves at some points the students in observing or manipulating real objects and materials.”

(Millar, 2004, p.2)

Practical Work has an involved role to play in science teaching and learning. Some of the main aims of Practical Work are the following:

  • Illustrate the principles behind a subject using experiences that introduce, fosters concepts and theories that have been taught;

  • Enable the teaching of procedures or skills training, and to teach skills in experimental design;

  • Introduce students to the world of scientists and engineers in practice;

  • Learning how to do research;

  • Motivate learners through interest ; (Murphy et al., 2009, p.53)

Another purpose of Practical Work is to provide the direct experiences that give real and specific meaning to abstract conceptualizations. (Hodson, 1998, p. 146) According to Hoffstein and Lunetta (1982) the aims of laboratory work often are synonymous with the aims for whole science courses. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.53)

Practical work in Science Learning increases students' motivation and offers good experiences and the feeling of excitement to students that will never forget. Motivation is one of the key reasons that educators use for including Practical Work in courses. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.56) Also, practical work can develop students' particular skills relative to science. Teachers through practical work may have the experience of rewarding. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54)

The more effective way to learn science is by doing science. Students through experiments have the possibility to learn from their mistakes. (Hodson, 1998, p. 149) It is also important to apply something you have learned through learning science to everyday life.

The use of Practical Work has to present a lot to the effectiveness of science learning. Woolnough and Allsop (1985) believe that practical work helps students to learn science and to develop conceptual understanding. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54) It is described as a vehicle for teaching and developing high level transferable cognitive skills. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54) Murphy and Gott (1987) see practical work as a way of helping pupils to develop a repertoire of investigative strategies. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54)

It must be noted that Practical Work as a learning activity has many difficulties. According to Boud et al., (1986) one common complaint of students studying science courses is that laboratory work is not connected to what it been taught in the rest of the course. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54)

One of the elements that characterize Practical Work is the demonstration of experiments. However this activity it includes various danger and difficulties in learning from situations where experiments may well be conducted in less than perfect conditions. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54)

In order to prepare a lesson which includes as main learning activity the Practical Work some times is needed to achieve learning goals through Practical Work a very good predatory work before and during the lesson is necessary. Group work is also an essential element of practical work. These small groups of students must be very well structured so as to function effectively during the lesson.

Another problem that is very often in Practical Work is the lack of material and technical infrastructure. It is difficult to organize work in laboratory to synchronize with the timing of the appropriate topic that is covered in a lecture when there may be additional logistic difficulties due to lack of equipment or difficulties in timetabling. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.54)

The fact that during the Practical Work is carried out experiments or simulations of the experiments with the use of computer it doesn't allow dull period from the teachers. Students need more guidance during lab work. (Murphy et al., 2009, p.56)

According to Hodson (1998), students see the laboratory as a place where they are active. (Hodson, 1998, p.145) However a number of students fail to see the connection between that they are doing and what they are learning. It is here that teacher scaffolding is crucial. (Hodson, 1998, p.145)

Another major problem of Practical work as a teaching and learning activity in science has to do with assessment. McGuiness et al., (2002) wonders what exactly are we assessing when we assess students practical work. (McGuiness et al., in Wallace and Louden, 2002, p.139) There are several ways of assessing practical work. One method is to use a test based exactly on the actual processes of the experiment. Another method is to give to students a set of equipment and a problem to solve. (McGuiness et al., in Wallace and Louden, 2002, p.139-140)

Students' Portfolios is another method of assessing. By giving to students the freedom to explore they have the chance to innovate and find all sorts of things that the teacher did not realize beforehand. (McGuiness et al., in Wallace and Louden, 2002, p.145)

In conclusion, Practical Work as a learning activity in science has a significant role to play. However it has positive and negative influences. As for the activities that can be applied in Practical Work these could be experiments, use of the internet, computer simulation.

b. Science Education – What should be taught and types of activities learners may engage with.

The subject I have chosen to deal is Mixtures. The basic reason that I have chosen to describe the teaching of this subject is because it is a subject that the Practical Work learning activity can be applied. I believe that the subject Mixtures is a subject where assessment through Practical Work is feasible. It is given the possibility to students to evaluate themselves through their Group Work Experiments and present their findings to the rest of their schoolmates.

As for the learners age, these are students of the 2nd grade of high school (age of 14). This category of students are been taught for first time the lesson of Chemistry. The number of students is twenty and the time that is necessary for the lesson duration is 1 teaching period of 45 minutes. The Science Knowledge that is to be taught to the students is the concepts of Mixtures. (Leach and Scott, 2000, p.91)

The Lesson Demands are the following:

  1. Prepare mixtures of various entities.

  2. Distinguish if a mixture is homogenous or heterogeneous.

The Basic Concepts are: Mixtures, Homogenous Mixture and Heterogeneous Mixture.

In order for the students to be taught and understand the lesson with the subject Mixtures it is necessary to have acquired the following precondition knowledge:

Precondition Knowledge: Water in our life

  • Students should know the significance of water to the creation and the maintenance of life on the planet.

  • Students must acquire the skills and knowledge in order to detect experimentally the water in forms of liquids gas and solids.

  • Students should know what daily needs of society are in regard with the use of water.

Teaching Sequence

The first activity that must be done in the beginning of the teaching sequence is to make a reference to the prior lesson. He/she must make a reference to the precondition knowledge so as to remind the students what they must know so as to connect the previous with the present lesson. Also he/she must present the learning demands of the teaching sequence. This activity could be done a short presentation of the subject with the use of a video projector.

Then teaching of the new subject, Mixtures must begin. The teacher presents and explains with examples of the everyday life to the whole class what Mixtures are. Students must participate in the process of teaching as active learners and not as passive receivers of given knowledge by the teachers. He/she can use the video projector as a tool for presenting the new knowledge to students.

After the students are informed about Mixtures the next step is the activity of Practical Work. The students are separated in 4 groups of 5 students and each group carries out its own experiment.

Experiment 1: Mixtures Preparation

We put in six glass test tubes water up to the middle. After that we add in each tube small quantity of the following materials: sand, sugar, wine, ink and salt. We mix with a glass bar the content of each tube and we leave it for a while to settle. Then, we mix in a glass plate some sugar with instant coffee.

Experiment 2: Mixtures Attributes

In a glass plate we mix small quantities of solid Sal copper and solid sodium chloride. We can observe in the mixture that we have made the two different components from their colour.

During the period that the students in their groups deal with their experiment, the teacher must guides consult and help them. It is also helpful to intervene where he believes it is necessary.

When the 4 groups finish their experiments they are called to present what they have done to their schoolmates. By this way they have the possibility to assess their own work.

Finally the teacher summarises the main points of the taught lesson that was Mixtures. He/she also asks the students if they have any more questions to ask so as to answer any queries they may have.


In Set text: Hodson, D. (1998) Teaching and Learning Science: Towards a Personalised Approach, Buckingham, Open University Press.

The significance of prior knowledge in science and learning (Chapter 3).

The paradox of constructivism (Chapter 5).

Exploring and developing personal understanding through practical work (Chapter 12).

Boud, D., Dunn, J. and Hegarty-Hazel, E. (1986), ‘Teaching in Laboratories', SHRE and NFER-Nelson, London, cited in Edwards et al. (op. cit.).

Brown, A. (1997) ‘Transforming schools into communities of thinking and learning about serious matters', American Psychologist, 52 (4), pp. 399-413. (Chapter 2.3)

Bruner, J. (1996) ‘Narratives of science', Chapter 6 in The Culture of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press. (Chapter 2.4)

Cobb, P. (1999) ‘Where is the Mind?', in Murphy, P. (ed.) Learners, Learning and Assessment, London, Paul Chapman Publishing.

Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Mortimer, E. and Scott, P. (1994) ‘Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom', Educational Researcher, 23 (7), pp. 5-12. (Chapter 2.2)

Greenfield, S. (2000) ‘The child', Chapter 3 in The Private Life of the Brain, John Wiley & Sons. (Chapter 2.1)

Gunstone, R. F. (1988) ‘Learners in Science Education', in Fensham, P. (ed.) Development and Dilemmas in Science Education, Lewes, The Falmer Press.

Hoffstein, A. and Lunetta, V. (1982) ‘The role of the laboratory in science teaching: neglected aspects of research', Review of Education Research, 52, pp. 201–218.

Leach, J. and Scott, P. (2000) ‘Designing and evaluating science teaching sequences: an approach drawing upon the concept of learning demand and a social constructivist perspective on learning', Studies in Science Education, 38, pp. 115-142. (Chapter 2.1)

Millar, R.,(2004), ‘The role of practical work in the teaching and learning of science.' Paper prepared for the Committee on High School Science Laboratories: Role and Vision, June 3-4, National Research Council, Washington, DC

Murphy P., Scanlon E., and Lunn S. (2009). Block 2: ‘Learning and Understanding Science: Issues and Debates', SEH806 Contemporary issues in Science learning. Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Von Glasersfeld, E. (1989) ‘Learning as a Constructive Activity', in Murphy, P. and Moon, B. (eds) Developments in Learning and Assessment, London, Hodder and Stoughton.

Wallace, J. and Louden, W. (eds) with contributions by McGuiness, B., Roth, M. W. and Gilmer, P. J. (2002) Laboratories, Dilemmas of science teaching: perspectives on problems of practice, London, Routledge. (Chapter 2.7)

Woolnough, B. and Allsop, T. (1985), Practical Work in Science, Cambridge University Press.