Context Based Approaches in Teaching of Primary Science

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This chapter provides a theoretical rationale for creating technology-rich, constructivist learning environments that use context-based teaching strategies in classrooms and engage students in student-centered, personally meaningful, authentic, and collaborative learning. It also provides examples of schools that have experimented context-based teaching in science in classrooms, and a curricular example that teachers can modify to increase student understanding of any curricular area. Finally, it provides online resources and a podcast that provide teachers with additional ideas for making their lessons more interesting and engaging, empowering, and enlightening classrooms.

There have been many studies that indicate context-based approach is essential in order for student learning to take place. Research reveals that teaching Strategies are necessary in schools for teachers to effectively increase student achievement. The focus of this research study is to examine effects of context-based approaches in teaching science in Classroom. The review of literature will look at several factors related to teaching strategies. Those factors include the Traditional view of teaching science, problematic questions that arise in this research, importance of context-based teaching, in classroom. The review of literature will also include a discussion about how teachers can encourage character and social development of students, and the current brain-based research, which suggests and encourages context-based teaching, which promotes success of students, teachers, and improves communication standard among them.

Context-based approaches to teaching science in primary school have become widely used over the past two decades. They aspire to foster more positive attitudes to science while, at the same time, provide a sound basis of scientific understanding for further study.

One of the most distinct trends of the last two decades in science curriculum development across a number of countries has been to use contexts and applications of science as a means of developing scientific understanding. Teaching in this way is often described as adopting a context-based approach. The trend toward the use of context-based approaches is apparent across the whole age spectrum from primary through to university level, but is most noticeable in materials developed for use in the secondary age range.

Traditional Teaching Style of Science

Over the last two decades reports have traced students' increasingly negative attitudes to Science in Australia over the primary years of schooling, and the associated decrease in student participation in post-compulsory science (Goodrum, Hackling, & Rennie, 2001; Tytler, 2007). This decline in interest in Science in the early years of primary education is of particular concern, since it is in these years that attitudes to the pursuit of science subjects and careers are formed (Speering & Rennie, 1996). A number of studies have explicitly linked this decline in student interest with the nature of the traditional science curriculum and its inability to make science meaningful and interesting to students (Fensham, 2004; Lyons, 2006). By making Science more relevant to a broader audience we can prepare prospective science degree students and professionals, as well as contribute to improved scientific literacy for all students.

Context-Based Approach

Context-based approaches are approaches adopted in science teaching where contexts and applications of science are used as the starting point for the development of scientific ideas. This contrasts with more traditional approaches that cover scientific ideas first, before looking at applications. But literature has a different meaning for context-based teaching. Whitelegg and Perry (1999) say that context-based learning can have several meanings, "at its broadest, it means the social and cultural environment in which the student, teacher and institution are situated…a narrow view of context might focus on an application of a physics theory for the purposes of illumination and reinforcement. (p. 68)

In the classroom, the use of context-based approaches might mean, for example, that students study medical diagnostic techniques in order to develop their understanding of electromagnetic radiation and atomic structure, or look at a range of different fabrics and their uses to introduce ideas about materials and their properties. A further feature of context-based

approach is that, due to the nature of the material being studied, they tend to employ wider range of teaching strategies (e.g. small-group discussions, role-play, student presentations) than is normally associated with conventional science courses.

"How do you and your friend get to school this morning?"

"You probably used various forms of transport between you"

'Speed is the rate of change of distance moved with time.' (Judith Bennett, 2003)

These two pieces came from the opening lines of chapters on forces and motion in two different books of secondary level course, one written in 1970s and the other in 1990s. They provide good enough example to illustrate a major turn over in approaches to teaching science in that period. This turn over sheds light on the use of context-based teaching and applications as the beginning for developing scientific knowledge, understanding and comprehending it.

The question arises that where this concept of context-based writing does came into being? The term context-based appeared to have been applied to some of the scientific activities in classroom for around fifteen years ago when such activities were described as an attempt to make science relevant and understandable to the young ones. They were used for young students to links between science and their daily life. So this is how context-based approaches in teaching science were originated, to make students understand, create relevance with their everyday life, and comprehend the meaning more easily. So the origin of context-based approaches was desired by teachers to make the lessons they were teaching interesting and easily understood by their students. But the research reveals that the strongest factor was the active engagement they desired from their children. Context-based approaches have also emerged in response to the concern of many countries over the teaching of physical science subject.

One of the characteristics of curriculum development in recent years has been an increased emphasis on using contexts and applications as a means of developing scientific understanding. Nationally and internationally, context-based programs have been implemented in an attempt to engage students in science through connecting the canonical science with the real world. The study found that by providing students with the opportunity to write, fluid transitions between concepts and context were an outcome of context-based learning.

Many schools using context-based approach report positive effect on students. The context-based approach in teaching science is gaining popularity day by day. Holman and Pilling concludes that such a method seems to be successful in enhancing students' interest in science, and understanding of science though they expressed some doubts over how successful it is in developing students' abilities in problem-solving (Holman and Pilling, 2004).

Examples of Context-Based Teaching

New approaches to the teaching of Science have been tried in the last ten years and research has been undertaken to look at ways of improving the way in which we teach school Science (Millar, Leach, & Osborne, 2000; Roth, 1995; Tobin & McRobbie, 1995). Examples of Context-based teaching can be found everywhere now. In particular, chemistry teaching is one area that has undergone significant reform in an attempt to make Science more relevant for all students (Barber, 2000; Beasley & Butler, 2002; De Vos, Bulte & Pilot, 2002; Gabel & Bunce, 1994; Gutwill-Wise, 2001; Ramsden, 1992, 1997; Tobin & McRobbie, 1995). Context-based Science has been implemented in international Science programmes (e.g. Chemistry in Context in the USA, Salters in the UK, Industrial Science in Israel, Chemie im Kontext in Germany and Chemistry in Practice in The Netherlands) throughout the last decade and has been trialed more recently in Victorian and Queensland classrooms in Australia. This new context-based approach to teaching science was designed to address issues such as students' lack of engagement in science and decreasing participation rates.

In Queensland, the new Chemistry syllabus using the context-based approach has been on trial in schools since 2002, and the trial-pilot syllabuses in chemistry and physics were published in September 2004 by the Queensland Board of Senior primary School Studies. Despite recent changes, with the current syllabus mandating the inclusion of only one context (or one Extended Experimental Investigation (EEI)) in the Queensland chemistry syllabus, teachers may choose to continue to teach all science units in context. Context-based approaches represent a significant change in the teaching of chemistry.

Problem Questions

Many people involved in curriculum development and teaching believe that there are considerable benefits associated with context-based approaches. However, it raises a number of interesting questions:

Does teaching science through the use of everyday contexts help school students understand science any better?

Does teaching science in context improve school students' attitudes to science?

Are there differences in the effects on girls and boys, or on students of different ability?

This chapter examines in detail the research evidence on the effects of context-based approaches to the teaching of science. In particular, it looks at the effects on students' understanding of science and on their attitudes to science.

Positive and Negative Effects of Context-Based Teaching

Primary Science teaching around the world has been undergoing radical changes over the past decade. As most states move towards a context-based secondary syllabus, there is a danger that tertiary science teaching will be left behind.

Although there are drawbacks to contextual teaching in the tertiary environment (such as lack of preparation time, the breadth of physics concepts covered, and stretching the boundaries of one's own understanding as a teacher), the benefits for students' interest and motivation, as well as their learning outcomes are significant.

Over the last decade, the syllabi for primary school science around Australia have been evolving from an approach based around set conceptual content to one in which the concepts are taught using a contextual approach. The advantages of contextual teaching are that students can link science to their lives in the 'real world', and are usually more motivated. In the US, school students taking a context-based course outperformed those students studying more traditional courses. This success was attributed, at least in part, to higher levels of interest and motivation amongst the students, together with their perception of the relevance of the topics (Sutman and Bruce, 1992; Gutwill-Wise, 2001). However, there can be an apparent mismatch between the teaching styles that school students experience (and their prior knowledge) with expectations of tutors in universities, and this has been identified as a possible cause of students' difficulties in understanding thermodynamics (Carson and Watson, 1999).

Whitelegg and Parry (1999) discuss the advantages of teaching physics in context, both by applying previous knowledge to real life situations, and by initially learning physics through analyzing these situations. Although the latter option has obvious advantages for student perceptions of the relevance of a course, it is pointed out that there is an inherent danger that students will be unable to generalize their knowledge outside the context in which it was initially learned.


Teachers can create technology-rich, constructivist learning environments that engage students in student-centered, personally meaningful, authentic, and collaborative learning that is inquiry-based, requires informed decision-making, views mistakes as opportunities for growth, and values information exchange among all learners. One plausible way to achieve this goal is to use context-based teaching in classrooms. This article provided a theoretical rationale for such an approach. It also provided specific examples of context-based approaches being used in different schools these days, specific steps a teacher should take to create similar curricular lessons, as well as examples a student could use in understanding of any curricular area. Finally, it provided numerous positive and negative effects it has on pupils and teachers as well and online resources that provide teachers with additional ideas for making context-based teaching studies usable in their engaging, empowering and enlightening classrooms. It is also claimed that the approach can enhance - or, at least, not adversely affect - students understanding of science ideas.

Work Cited

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Biggs, J. (1999) What the student does: teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research and Development 18(1), 57-75.

Carson & Watson, (1999). Chemical education: Towards Research-Based Practice. Accessed: April 16, 2010. From: 23VbCeM17QC&pg=PA350&lpg=PA350&dq=Carson+and+Watson,+1999&source=bl &ots=Bd051tQtOr&sig=JWZeYuupeInjdaIze5aUysoHRYI&hl=en&ei=2o_IS92lMpWjO LjI7LgN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CCQQ6AEwCQ#v=one page&q=Carson%20and%20Watson%2C%201999&f=false

Fensham, 2004; Lyons, (2006). Context-based chemistry: creating opportunities for fluid transitions between concepts and context. Accessed: April 16, 2010.From:

Gutwill-Wise J.P., (2001), The impact of active and context-based learning in introductory chemistry courses: an early evaluation of the modular approach, Journal of Chemical Education, 78, 684- 690

Goodrum, D & Rennie, L 2007, Australian School Science Education: National Action Plan 2008-2012, Volume 1, The National Action Plan, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Canberra.

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Holman J. and Pilling G., (2004), Thermodynamics in context: a case study of contextualised teaching for undergraduates, J. Chem. Educ., 81, 373-375.

Hackling, M. W. (2006a). Research Report 1: Case study teachers' experience of Primary Connections. Canberra: Australian Academy of Science.

Judith Bennett. Teaching and Learning Science. Context-based Approaches to the Teaching of Science. Accessed: April 17, 2010. From: Cn0C&pg=PA99&lpg=PA99&dq=context- based+approaches+in+teaching+primary+science&source=bl&ots=eZSJG0iC7c&sig=z3 Ml8P_Hdvo4_fg4s1KdotSE518&hl=en&ei=aqnIS- 75HoevOKqWgNcM&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CBoQ6AEw Aw#v=onepage&q=context- based%20approaches%20in%20teaching%20primary%20science&f=false

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