I remember that we were always taught simpler processes first, these graduating into progressively more difficult ones. The teacher was responsible for deciding how simple or complex the task was to be. The curriculum material was determined by the authors of the latest relevant textbook, more experienced teachers or other people who were classed as experts in the scientific field. The curriculum material was never in my view devised as a result of studying how children actually learn.
So, the teacher was a dispenser of knowledge and the student, me, was the passive receiver. In this transmission model nothing intervened between stimulation and response. Therefore if the stimulation was successful with some learners, me, then it logically followed that any problems for other students must rest with them (lack of inherent ability) and not with the teacher.
This traditional version of education is known as 'instructionism' (Sawyer, R.K. 2009) or 'transmission method' (study text) and its purpose was to prepare students for the industrialised economy of the early 20th Century.
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Historically, it was argued by Galton that intelligence was genetically inherited. He used this theory in an attempt to explain differences in human intelligence stating that innate abilities were distributed normally amongst the population and those individuals who possessed the most 'innate ability' were the most successful in society. This seems to me to be an echo from Plato - The Republic when he talks about 'children of gold' (Plato - Myth of Mixed Metals). Galton's theorising led onto the practice of Eugenics (selective breeding) to attempt to produce a governing elite of the 'heritably able' to be able to redeem the social situation (Torrance 1989 Study text).
To be able to 'effectively measure' people's inherent abilities, intelligence tests were derived. This was seen to be a 'fair' method for identifying talented individuals and fulfilled the perceived need to regulate access to education. Burt worked with schoolchildren to confirm the existence of innate and heritable ability and to develop tests to measure it. These narrow tests were considered valid as performance indicators as they measured 'capacity to learn' (study text). Spearman argued in 1904 that human intelligence held an underlying factor 'g' which could be identified and was the 'ceiling' i.e. the limit on a child's future academic achievements, their occupational prospects and therefore their 'position in society'. I do not find it difficult to relate this to some of the ideas about education that were prevalent when I was at school. The tripartite system of secondary education introduced by the Education Act 1944 was based on the premise that, by the age of 11 years, it would be possible to judge whether a child was best fitted for a grammar, technical or secondary modern education, i.e. a child of gold, silver or copper/iron (Plato). Despite rhetoric at the time about parity of esteem, these three routes were never, in reality, afforded equal status. The Myth of Mixed Metals describes the possibility of 'children of silver' being born from 'parents of gold' and vice versa. This is a discussion that is still undertaken today when we wonder how much of our behaviour and ability is inherent when we are born, and how much is learnt. This is often referred to as the Nature/Nurture debate.
According to Greenfield she thinks that being excited about science is seen as secondary to knowing a lot of facts, and having what she calls 'passing exam mentality' (Greenfield interview). She values curiosity and the abilities to ask questions and spot connections over the basic accumulation of the knowledge of facts and procedures. Greenfield talks about the 'purposeful learner' who needs independence and autonomy. I agree with Greenfield when she talks about science learning involving interaction rather than just the passive receiving of information, and the way that having a purpose makes a learner more proactive. Interacting and collaborating with others in a shared teaching and learning environment is a benefit to all parties.
According to Bruner (1996) there are two 'strikingly different' ways of thinking about how the mind works. One of these is to conceptualise the mind in cognitive terms as operating like a computer in processing the information it receives.
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One of the problems associated with this view of mind is that it assumes that all information can be sorted into specifiable categories to produce intelligible outputs in terms of knowledge and skills (Bruner 1996). Information processing systems of any kind are governed by procedures that control the flow of incoming information, allow this information to be correctly categorised, with a view to its effective, future use. For this conceptualisation of 'mind', an appropriate pedagogy according to Bruner is 'drill' (Bruner 1996).
In Bruner's view the second conceptualisation of mind has meaning-making at its heart and is situated in a cultural context. It takes into account the interplay between the prior conceptions that learners bring with them into new situations and experience gained from previous learning in other contexts.
I tend to agree with Bruner's second conceptualisation of mind and also Greenfield's views on 'neuronal plasticity' and 'personalisation' of the brain as it grows. Greenfield states that the influence of culture on how we learn is 'hugely significant' to how a person interprets the world about them and information they receive. She believes that meaning making is seeing one thing in terms of another, so from that it follows that different people understand things to different degrees because of their own personalised connections.
Instead of fretting about whether somebody has an innate ability or not, we should assume that they have this fabulous brain that is very adaptable and more what the constraints are, what the cultural blocks might be on people, but also on how they can actually put things together to have an interesting idea rather than just know facts (Greenfield Interview).1075
At one time, especially in the 1960s, Piaget's work was viewed by many as providing the essential foundation for good practice. He emphasised the active role that children need to play in learning, the role of practical activities of various kinds in facilitating learning, and the importance of children's stages of development for what they are able to learn. However it was not long before the kinds of practice with which Piaget's work had become associated - such as discovery learning - were criticized as ineffective, and his work blamed for having had a damaging influence. Moreover, this damage was seen by some as stemming not just from Piaget's specific ideas, but also precisely from the fact that they were theoretical rather than attuned to practical requirements in the real world.
Constructivism has dominated understanding about learning in science for several decades. According to Hodson, constructivism evolved from the early 1970s and used Piaget's theories as its base. He argues that individuals generate their own understanding and that an individual's prior knowledge determines the sense that they make from new experiences.
He talks about as well as meaning-making interacting with cognitive restructuring, ideas also have to make sense in affective terms i.e. knowledge doesn't just have to make logical sense it also has to 'feel right' - students have to feel 'comfortable' with it. To facilitate a cognitive approach a wide range of approaches can be adopted. These include the use of perception, language, problem solving, memory, decision making and imagery. In the area of student learning, metacognitive awareness, is an awareness of one's own thinking, feelings and emotions (study text).
In recent years the cognitive behavioural approach has extended into constructivism with its focus on ways in which individuals construct their understanding of the reality in which they live (study text).
Children come to science with their own personal, informal concepts and 'theories' about scientific phenomena that influence how they engage with learning experiences and what they judge to be evidence (study text).
………..the mindscape of a child is patchwork and piecemeal. It consists not of a single integrated theory but an assembly of minitheories, each generated to provide successful engagement with a particular kind of scenario (Claxton 1991).
Greenfield's study of brain functions provides a description of her view of the physical basis of mind that concurs with key features found in constructivist theorising. Greenfields account of the personalised nature of mind, for example, challenges the view of human potential as genetically fixed and reinforces the view that understanding is constructed and not innate.
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McLeod 1998 argues that there are three basic assumptions that underpin constructivism. The first of these is that the learner has a 'reason' and is therefore purposefully engaged in making sense of their world. He calls this learner an 'active knower'. The second of his assumptions is that the primary means through which the person constructs an understanding of the world is through language. It would therefore naturally follow from this that constructivist therapists would be particularly interested in linguistic products such as stories and metaphors, as an effective means of constructing experience. McLeod's third assumption echo's Piaget's theory, and Greenfield's study in that he argues for the notion of a developmental dimension to the learner's capacity to construct their world.
These views are supported by Hodson who states that learners are active constructors and reconstructors of their own understanding, that learning is a purposeful activity and that the learners themselves hold the final responsibility for their own learning. Hodson goes on to say that learning depends as much on what the learner brings to the task as to what the teacher builds into it.
He expands on this theme by saying that the restructuring of mental representations is a continuing process.
This view is wholeheartedly supported by Greenfield who talks about neuronal plasticity i.e. ability of the brain cells to forge multiple connections. ….the brain cells that are involved in the activities that occur most frequently will have extensive connections, whereas those that are used less frequently will be pushed out of the way, and their targets will be taken over by their more hardworking neighbours (Greenfield interview).
This concept of neuronal plasticity provides a rationale for the belief in the lifelong learner.
In science education, the constructivist view is that learning is generally carried out on an individual, almost personal basis and has very little of a social element to it. This was addressed by Driver et al. who used Vygotskian theorising as their base, and advocated a view of learning that involved both social and individual processes. This was termed social constructivism. Driver et al. argued that the social plane, is involved when students are introduced to the concepts, symbols and conventions of science, but still relies on individual meaning-making. From a social constructivist perspective the teacher is portrayed as both the expert who introduces the student to the science social plane, and also the guide who scaffolds the individual child's meaning-making in the 'zone of proximal development'.
The isolation of students from the social world and the perceived goals of science education are seen to limit the potential for authenticity in formal science learning. Ann Brown emphasises a more social aspect in her theorising. She adopts a sociocultural view of learning that differs from social constructivism by way of this emphasis. In her approach, the active, strategic nature of learning, she calls it 'agency', and collaboration between learners, are brought together in communities of learners.
Brown draws on Vygotskian theorising advocating the construction of knowledge, but she argues for a view of expertise as distributed and emerging between people (Brown, A. course reader). For Brown learning has to be situated in tasks that are both personally and culturally authentic i.e. have meaning and relevance to the students, and also allow learners to engage in practices that can be related to those practiced by scientists.
c. Ways I think science learning is effectively supported…………
Driver argues that when teaching science, providing children with physical experiences that they have to question, encourages learners to develop new knowledge. He advocates practical activities supported by group discussions as the basis for these pedagogical practices. It would follow from this then that classrooms for these activities would be places where students would be working collaboratively, in social groups. They would be actively and independently engaged in attempting to understand and interpret phenomena. The teacher would be present as a facilitator, to provide scaffolding and to encourage reflection.
The most appropriate form of scaffolding depends of course on the nature of the task, the learners and the situation. It also changes with time as learners gain experience with the task. Early scaffolding steps are finding connections between what is to be learnt and what students already know and have experienced, establishing a context that is meaningful and relevant to the students.
If teaching is to lead students towards conventional science ideas, then the teachers intervention is essential, both to provide appropriate experiential evidence and to make the cultural tools and conventions of the science community available to students.
A social perspective on learning in classrooms recognizes that an important way in which novices are introduced to a community of knowledge is through discourse in the context of relevant tasks - get the students ideas - what do they think. Identify any misconceptions, introduce discourse as a way of explaining scientifically (using correct scientific language) e.g. ray of light.
The processes by which new ways of explaining are developed by students can involve dialogic interactions between the teacher and individuals, or small groups of students. In these interactions, the adult (or a more competent peer) provides what Bruner (1996) called 'scaffolding' for the student's learning as they construct new meanings for themselves.
Research has shown that simply performing scientific activities without structural support from teachers leaves students with a scant understanding what science is actually all about.
All science investigations are deeply rooted in complex problem areas. To be an effective mechanism for supporting learners these problems need to be authentic from the point of view of both the learner and from science itself. If this is not the case and the problem fails to be accepted as authentic by all parties, then it would be both unsuitable for facilitating learning in science and seen as not relevant by learners.
Ann Brown course reader ch2.3 describes support for learners in the role of fostering a community of learners (FCL). Here the learners role is far from a passive one. They take responsibility for their learning, thinking and making decisions about the direction their learning will take with complete autonomy. She describes the zone of proximal development as having three key parts which are overseen and coordinated by all members of the zone community. The three key parts are 1. Research 2. Share information 3. Perform a 'consequential task' (e.g. test or quiz).
a. Rationale for my choice of authenticity in science learning
According to (Sawyer R.K. 2009) there are three benefits to engaging learners in authentic practices. First, learning to participate in a particular practice may be valuable to a population of students because they will engage in that practice outside of the learning environment. Second, engaging learners in authentic practices can provide a meaningful context that may increase their motivation to learn. It may also improve their learning of content by focusing their attention in ways that will enhance their ability to apply what they have learned in the future. Third, engaging learners in authentic practices can assist them in understanding the structure of knowledge that is particularly relevant to the domain under study.
There are however challenges that arise when designing authentic learning experiences for students. Pedagogical challenges arise when helping students deal with the complexity of authentic practices and helping them to understand the rationale for the elements of these practices.
Practical challenges also arise in the implementation of authentic practices. First, teachers may have never incorporated such practices into their instruction in the past or even engaged in the practices themselves. Second, teachers have limited time and resources to provide the specific learning activities that would engage students in learning in authentic ways.
To effectively respond to these challenges it is necessary to design learning experiences systematically e.g. it is not sufficient to alter one of the components of the learning environment - such as the tools learners use - without changing the tasks that structure the learning or the ways that learners interact with one another and with teachers.
There are several elements that any design must address. Firstly, the activities in which the learners are engaged, that is, the curriculum needs to be seen as authentic. Secondly, the tools and resources in the learning environment need to be appropriate to the tasks to be performed. Thirdly, the social structures that learners participate in, including facilitation and instruction by the teacher need to be acceptable to the group.
To address these challenges it would be appropriate to situate authentic practices in meaningful contexts. To provide students with a sense of purpose and to help them understand the rationale for authentic practices, the practices must be integrated into a curriculum that is motivated by goals that are meaningful to learners.
Reduce the complexity of authentic practices. The practices used by highly trained professionals are typically complicated and unfamiliar to non professionals. To reduce the cognitive load required to master authentic practices, learning environments should scaffold students by reducing the complexity of the practices, while retaining their key elements.
Make implicit elements of authentic practice explicit. During years of training, professionals internalise elements of practice and are able to execute those elements efficiently and rapidly. But if these elements remain implicit, students can never gain access to them. Learning environments should make the implicit elements of authentic practice explicit, so that they can be examined, discussed and mastered.
Sequence learning activities according to a developmental progression. To allow students to develop the skills and knowledge to successfully engage in authentic practices, learning environments should sequence activities so that they bridge from students prior knowledge, abilities and experiences to the authentic practices.
When learners are engaging in a new and unfamiliar activity such as science enquiry, they need support to make sense of the basic practices and types of representations involved in that activity. The guidelines and strategies in the scaffolding design framework are grouped according to three aspects of science enquiry that are complex for learners. These are sense-making, process management, and reflection and articulation.
Sense-making involves engaging in the basic practices in an activity - in this case, the basic practices of science enquiry. Sense-making involves the different types of reasoning that are necessary to engage in a practice. For example, in a science enquiry context, sense-making involves understanding and reasoning about data and other visual representations used by scientists (e.g. understanding important patterns in data visualizations). Sense-making also involves understanding disciplinary terminology (e.g. scientific language) and disciplinary strategies that are used throughout the practice (e.g. understanding the differences between different data analysis techniques). Learners need scaffolding for sense-making because they will not understand the strategies experts use in science enquiry, nor will they be able to make connections between their prior knowledge and the disciplinary representations they are being introduced to.
Designers also need to scaffold process management. Learners need support for engaging in, managing and negotiating new disciplinary processes, especially when those processes are complex and open-ended. Designers should structure complex tasks by setting boundaries for learners, by using different kinds of task decompositions to describe complex tasks to learners (break the task down into smaller steps) and by using functional modes in software to constrain the space of available activities that learners can engage in at any given time. Designers should embed guidance about the practices that learners are engaging in by describing the characteristics and rationales for those practices. Designers should design scaffolding procedures that automatically handle the non salient and routine components of a task that would distract learners from the more important aspects of the work they are doing e.g. automating less important parts of a task, facilitating the organization of work products or facilitating the navigation among the tools they are using and the activities they are performing. Designers need to scaffold reflection and articulation for those many learners who tend to avoid, or do not understand the importance of such reflective work. Designers can incorporate specific features in software to help learners plan and monitor their work. Many learning environments integrate specific tools to support planning and monitoring so that learners can not only reflect on the work they will be doing, but also keep track of their progress so they can continue to work productively. Similarly, scaffolding features can also support learners in articulating different aspects of the work they are doing, which also can aid with developing new understanding. Common approaches for supporting articulation involve the use of textual prompts (Davis 2003) and associated text areas that prompt learners to articulate a question to investigate and a hypothesis to that question, or to discuss what they have learned after reading some text. Finally scaffolding features can highlight the epistemic features of the practices that learners are engaging in and the products they are creating during their work (e.g. a concept map, the periodic table of elements, argument outlines etc.). Scaffolding features can make explicit the aspects and characteristics of epistemic forms to help learners work with, construct, and understand suck knowledge structures. This in turn can help learners begin to understand the products and practices in the give domain of study (e.g. understanding different knowledge structures, such as arguments or plans in scientific enquiry).
2b. Challenge being taken up in science education e.g. relationship between learning and teaching with reference to authenticity in science learning.
Brown recognizes that children's knowledge limits their ability to enter a community of practice of academic disciplines. To maintain authenticity, i.e. relevance and meaning in the community of scientists, and relevance in her student's learning, Brown locates the students back in time at a point where cultural understandings of scientific phenomena were closer to their own. She sees this as a way of maintaining authenticity in contrast to approaches where 'watering down the content' is seen to be the solution. In this respect her approach accords with aspects of the critiques of current school curricula.
Students in classes often do not feel a real personal desire to learn the assigned material, computer networks can help address this problem. By connecting learners to the real world, they can connect students to real problems, creating a more authentic context for learning. When learning is situated in real world settings and focused on authentic problems that have meaning for students, then students develop a much deeper understanding of the material. The internet is particularly effective at supporting the kinds of learning that research is discovering to be most effective; project based learning (Barron et al., 1998), constructionist learning (Papert, 1991), and Learning by Design (Kolodner et al., 2003). In project- based learning, groups of students work collaboratively to solve the problem posed by a driving question. In constructionist learning, learners construct their own knowledge while working in communities of learners who share discoveries and build on each others ideas. In Learning by Design, students share design ideas, ask for advice, constructively criticise other students solution procedures, and build on other students ideas in their own projects. All of these learning environments utilise the important role of social context, collaboration and discussion on learning. An example is the SCOPE (Science Controversies On-line: Partnerships in Education) project, where students learn about real, contemporary scientific controversies.
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Classrooms are places where individuals are actively engaged with others in attempting to understand and interpret phenomena for themselves and where social interaction in groups is seen to provide the stimulus of differing perspectives on which individuals can reflect. The teachers' role is to provide the physical experiences and to encourage reflection. When learners engage socially, i.e. talk or work together collaboratively, then they can construct knowledge, including knowledge about scientific matters, from this. Learners need to be familiar with conventional science models and concepts alongside the physical experiences of doing practical science. The challenge lies in assisting learners to understand scientific models for themselves, and to correctly understand how and where to effectively use them. A social perspective on learning in classrooms recognizes that an important way in which novices are introduced to a community of knowledge is through discourse in the context of relevant tasks.
The discursive practices in science classrooms differ substantially from the practices of scientific argument and enquiry that take place within various communities of professional scientists; this is hardly surprising when one considers the differences between schools and the various institutional settings of science in terms of purposes and power relationships. This disjunction has been recognized and some science education researchers are experimenting with ways of organizing classrooms so as to reflect particular forms of collaborative enquiry that can support students in gradually mastering some of the norms and practices that are deemed to be characteristic of scientific communities.
If students are to successfully embrace scientific knowledge then facilitation with a 'teacher' is essential. The teacher is viewed as a figure of authority and their job is to provide the guidance and support needed by the students to allow them to make sense of any newly introduced ideas. This involves listening to students as they try to make sense and interpret any new information.
School pedagogy must be capable of instructing students in the toolkit of the particular culture. Where learning is assumed to occur through engagement in society, pedagogy needs to be interactive to take account of individual meaning-making and allow for the production of shared task outcomes. It is the reverse of the transmission-of-knowledge view of teaching.
Schools need to recognize that they exist in societies where issues of power, status and rewards are very influential, this needs to be taken into account when educational policies and practices are drawn up.
Schooling plays a critical part in shaping a student's sense of self - that is the student's belief in his or her ability, responsibility and skill in initiating and completing actions and tasks. The way in which schools mediate success and failure is crucial to a sense of personal agency. School is an integral part of the culture, not simply a way of preparing for entry. Teachers should therefore reflect continuously on the impact of school processes and practices on young people's sense of agency and ability.