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In the current paper, approaches derived from behaviourist, constructivist, social constructivist, cognitive and metacognitive theories of education are evaluated using evidence of their effectiveness. Pedagogical approaches for discussion have been selected on the basis of their percieved frequency of occurance in English secondary science education according to Owen et al (2008), thus ensuring the relevence of approaches discussed. These are discussed in order of percieved frequency of occurance as follows: Passively listening to explanations and copying down notes (as both are didactic these approaches are considered together), diagrams and drawings, demonstrations, discussions, experiments and practicals, group work and role play, calculations and creative approaches.
Knowing facts and appropriately applying formulae are intrinsic parts of physics. Perhapse for this reason, physics education has traditionally consisted mostly of reading, memoriseation and didactic transmittalist approaches drawing on behaviourist theory (Mestre, 1991; Mc Dermot, 1990). It is considered a problem within physics education that students merely memorise and recall facts without being able to apply and use them (Reddish, 1994). Rote learning has been criticised for poor outcomes in helping students answer questions which attack areas from different directions, leading to poor transfer of knowledge between contexts and inflexible problem-specific proceedures (Chao-Chen & Whitehead, 2009; Mestre, 1991). It has been suggested that pressure to get results in assessments that measure knowledge as oppsoed to understanding are resulting in physics teachers becoming good at teaching memory techniques, but less good at teaching why things happen (Collins, 2011).
Whilst importance of knowledge of facts and formulas is stressed, knowledge of the importance of deep understanding in physics seems to have existed for some time (Chapman, 1955). Research consistently strengthens the position of activities promoting deep understanding over rote learning in promoting recall (Chao-Chen & Whitehead, 2009; Grotzner, 1996). The importance of being able to explain why is now more highly valued than ever in physics (Collins, 2011). Behaviourist and associative approaches arguably lead to surface learning. Since deep learning leads to better results (Mali & Okir, 2012), it could be argued that rote learning approaches based on the behaviourist paradigm are unhelpful in both deep understanding of the subject and exam results. However, there is evidence that memorisation methods rooted in cognitive theory help students assimilate information into long term memory to enable their working memory capacities to not become overwhelmed when approaching problems (Chao-Chen and Whitehead, 2009). This may arguably also apply to, and defend, wrote learning.
Didactic teaching may be theoritically flawed on the basis that students do not enter the classrom as a blank slate (Pinker, 2003) and that preconceptions will shape the meaning made by new information (Van Heuvelen, 1991). Whilst an approach based on behaviourism may recognise that prior learning exists, it fails to effectively address preexisting naive beliefs, seeming to postulate that new learned information will make extinct what existed before. Pupil's scientific misconceptions have been shown to be immune imune to traditional instruction (Lightman, miller and leadbeater, 1987), and further, pupils can recall physics facts to answer multiple choice questions whilst still mainting misconceptions (Hakipes & Eryilmaz, 2010).
Perhapse as a new content driven era of curriculum begins (Collins, 2011), recall of subject knowledge and approaches based on behaviourist learning theory may regain virtue, if not promoting deep understanding. However, approaches based on constructivist and cognitive theories also promote effetive recall as well as qualitative reasoning (Mestre, 2001; Reif, 1994). Actuve learning approaches based on constructivist theory, for example, have been found to promote excellent levels of recall (Bernhardt, 2000; Moll et al, 2009).
Collins (2011) suggests an alternative to mechanised rote learning, namely enabling students to process concepts in a deep way by considering them first pictorally, then diagramatically and finally mathematically. Constructivist theorists advocate an active approach to learning which encourages engagement with the content of an activity (Pritchard, 2005; Smaglik, 2001; Bernhard 2000; Moll et al, 2009). Outcomes such as student involvement (Holbrook, 2005) and engagement in exploring and constructing their own understanding (Reddish et al, 1997) are regarded as desirable from a constructivist perspective. Learners may be more engaged, motivated and open when they have some control over their learning (Ginnis, 2005), so as long as use of diagrams is not simple copying and memoriseation, leading to the surface learning described previous to this paragraph, they may contribute to construction of scientific concepts. Indeed, cartooning and use of diagrams have been found to be be both an enjoyable way for students to have engage with concepts and metacognitively assess their own perceptions of the laws of motion (Spevak, 2008), therefore drawing and making diagrams, if properly applied, arguably demonstrates the value of constructivist learning theory.
A counter argument to the value of constructivist learning theory is that pupils are also able to construct meaning from transmitted activities such as merely copying text or diagrams (Richardson, 2003). However, on the basis that learning is the result of ongoing changes in our mental frameworks as we attempt to make meaning out of our experiences (Osborne & Freyberg, 1985), students are forced to a greater extent to make meaning if actively considering how to draw a diagram than merely copying.
A further way that pupils can develop and restructure their knowledge is through experiences with phenomena (Driver, 1989). Demonstrations are often used in teaching science (Nott, 1996; Parkinson, 1999; Wellington & Ireson, 2012). It has been suggested that novel or extreme stimuli result in demonstrations in the brain forming more vivid memories (Ginnis, 2005). Whilst the brain may be biased towards processing certain types of stimuli such as multisensory, unusual or dramatic (Sylwester & JooYun Cho, 1993), it has been noted that when viewed passively, demonstrations have limited vaule (Moll, et al 2009; Bonello & Scaife, 2009), suggesting that active engagement in the experience should be promoted to enable restructuting of knowledge, further adding to the value of constructivist theory in promoting learning within science.
Exploratory talk and teacher intervention is important in helping pupils reconstruct knowledge (Driver, 1989). Teacher guided discussions are commonly used in science education (Wellington and Ireson, 2012; Yoon, 2005; Nott, 1996). The importance of talk and discussion in science education has been acknowledged (Fairbrother, 2000, Kind & Taber, 2006). Indeed, there is evidence that relevent questions assist in addressing misconceptions and developing pupil understanding (Watson, 2007; Krummet et al., 2007). Further, co-constructive teaching involving negotiation of concepts as opposed to simple evaluative statements have been found to be effective in enhancing student learning, demonstrating the importance of this type of pupil-teacher interaction (Toczek, 2009). These three studies (Watson, 2007; Krummel et al., 2007; Toczek, 2009) suggest that teachers can assist pupils socially construct ideas about science, negociating shared meaning of scientific concepts.
It has been suggestested that sceince teaching fails to be relevant to daily life, with the subject put first and application being an afterthought (Holbrook, 2005). The notion of contextualising science education suggests a need to acknowledge the previously mentioned view that children are not blank slates and come with preconceptions based on the society around them (Pinker, 2003; Van Heuvelen, 1991). Application of physics and science to the real world has been cited as important (McDermot, 1990; Hatch and Smith, 2004), probably because of the abstract nature of physics concepts and the accompanying difficulty of helping children form and develop constructs around them. Placing physics concepts, such as force, in practical settings, such as car crashes, through discussion has been found to foster scientific knowledge (Driver et al, 1996, p. 148). Indeed, it has been propsed that science should be taught by basing topics on societal situations followed by development of conceptual understanding which allows students to appreciate relevance (Holbrook, 2005). This may suggest that social construcivist approaches such as discussion and placing knowledge in context are helpful in contributing to successful learning in school science.
Practical work is commonly used in science teaching (Nott, 1996; Parkinson, 1999; Wellington & Ireson, 2012). Examples of practicals in physics education include building rockets and using cars on a road to measure motion (Przywolnik, 2005). Practical work using bicycle science has been shown to encourage conceptual change in physics (Taylor, 2001). Practical and experimental in which pupils participate actively will be considered as distinct from passive demonstrations. Whilst experimental and practical work can take many guises, the current paper considers practical or experimental enquiry oriented approaches to science education.
The promotion of inqury oriented approaches has been recommended on the basis that it leads to a solid grasp of scientific concepts (McDermot, 1990; Mestre, 1991; Parkinson, 1999). It has been argued that inquiry oriented approaches drive pupils to construct mental framewords describing their experiences (Haury et al, 1993) and are thus powerful in driving meaningful learning. Whilst there is evidence that the active nature of enquiry activities lead to learning (Moll et al, 2009; Rosebery et al, 1990; Chira, 1990; Reddish et al, 1997), it is not just the action of performing an investigation or experiment and encouraging students to make their own meaning accordingly that is important. There is strong evidence which suggests that reflection and discussion are also neccessary in fostering scientific ideas (Schwartz et al, 2000; Khishfe, 2008). This suggests that pupils rely on negotiation of meaning with others in addition to their own experiences, providing further evidence of the validity of the social constructivist theory of learning.
It has been suggested that to be relevant, learning in science should address societal issues (Holrook, 2005; Osborne and Dillon, 2008). Role play and group work approaches are a good way of addressing such issues (Nott, 1996; Parkinson 1999. Pp96) and consequently, are becoming more common in science education (Wellington and Ireson, 2012). It has been suggested that role play promotes understanding of different arguments and positions, additionally facilitating conceptualisation of ellusive physics concepts (Prywolnik, 2005). For example, approaches which incorporate cooperative learning have value when teaching absract concepts such as Newton's laws of motion (Spevak, 2008). Second teaching, where the collective knowledge of a group is used to mentor pupils, has been shown to be useful in helping non-traditional pupils achieve in physics (Novemsky, 2007). The success of cooperative learning and second teaching, which has basis in Vygostskian theory, means that it may be argued that a social constructivist paradigm is useful in generating approaches to physics pedagogy.
Discussion enables pupils to think and behave like scientists, the impportance of which has been acknowledged (Grotzner, 1996). Toplis (2011) notes the importance of developing new pedagogies to develop evidence based argument skills and ability to discuss implications of science. It has been proposed that strategies should be taught along with physics subject matter itself (McDermot, 1990; Mestre, 2001; Corcoran et al., 2009). Concept mapping, a metacognitive tool (Wellington and Ireson 2012, p.6), has been found to facilitate participant's reflection and reorganisation of understanding and conceptual change relating to how science works (kattoula et al, 2009). Metacognitive tools may also have pedagogical value in science.
We now consider doing calculation as an approach. Traditionally approached with a drill and practice method, physics has unfortunately been considered to be merely formulas (Hammer, 1989; Van Heuvelen, 1991). Despite being able to solve problems, students fail to understand basic concepts (Mazur, 1997). Physics teachers may fail to make an impact on the way their students think about the world as drill and practice method â€žmechanises the mind" (Hammer, 1989). As some of the goals of science education are developing scientific literacy (Fensham, 1997), functional understanding of science (Jenkins, 1997) and public attitudes towards science (Thomas, 1997), this behaviourist approach may be regarded as unhelpful.
If the approach of â€ždoing calculations" is considered as â€žproblem solving", cognitive theory arguably has relevence. Problem solving is advocated as a method of teaching science (Holbrook, 2005; Parkinson, 1999). However, it has been postulated that traditional physics teaching serves to encourage overly simplistic problem solving (Van Heuvelen, 1991). Researchers have advocated building a qualitative schema of problems, using diagrams and explanations before proceeding to a mathematical representation (Van Heuvelen, 1991). This approach leads to expert learning of the problem, which is better than the surface learning provided by numbers alone (Mestre, 2001). Development of expert-like schemas has been found to be important in helping pupils solve problems (Sahin, 2010). Thus, this cognitively based approach arguable has more value than behaviourist drill and practice methods.
Examples of creative approaches to physics and science education include cartooning (Spevak, 2008) and creating podcasts (Jarman and McClune, 2012). Both of the above may be considered active learning activities. Although only a small scale study, Jarman and McClune (2012) concluded that valuable opportunities for learning existed in researching, discussing and transforming scientific information (Jarman and McClune, 2012). The successful use of cartooning diagrams has already been discussed in this paper (Spevak, 2008). Whilst only two studies, these provide further evidence of the pedagogical virtue of constructivist active learning approaches to physics.
Whilst pedagogical approaches based on constructivist learning theory fare favourably according to physics and science education research evidence, It may be argued that a realist perspective is essential for science and that the ultimate goal of activtiy in science to to help students form a view based on sound scientific knowledge (Hodson, 1998 pp. 45). In science, there needs to be absolute knowledge and it has been argued that constructivist pedagogy in its purity does not allow this (Richardson, 2003). In fact, the constructivist approach by its nature may lead to more misconceptions if teachers are not vigilant (Hodson, 1998 pp. 45).
Commonly used rote learning and didactic approaches rooted in behaviourist and tranmittalist methodology have been evaluated harshly in the light of evidence in the current paper. Active engagement approaches rooted in constructivist theory were found to be more effective in promoting deep learning, as well as the recall offered by behaviourist approaches. Approaches rooted in social constructivist theory were also found to be effective in fostering understanding. Finally, cognitively based approaches to physics teaching were found to have value over behaviourist approaches. In addition to their lack of effectiveness in promoting deep understanding and promoting concepual change, approaches rooted in behaviourism have also been found to be less popular amongst pupils (Owen et al., 2008).
Physics is seen as the hardest of the three school sciences (Barmby and Defty, 2006), perhapse because students are not able to see physics happening, and much of what they are taught remains abstract and learnt by wrote (Collins, 2011). The current paper concludes that the observed decline in popularity of Physics (Owen et al, 2008) may be combatted and science teaching given more much needed relevance and application (Holbrook, 2005) through the adoption of more effective and popular (Owen et al, 2008) pedagogical approaches rooted in constructivist, social constructivist, cognitive and metacognitive theory.