Learning Science in the Schools: Research Reforming Practice

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  3. Learning science in the schools : research reforming practice in SearchWorks catalog
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During the research, one teacher had to take leave for personal reasons, and consequently was excluded from the data analysis. In the middle of the school year i. All steps were conducted by a researcher trained by the first and second author of the study. All teachers used the laboratory, lectures, and classroom discussion several times during the last school year. However, the order of these teaching components differed, as we will discuss further on in the manuscript. For instance, while the two student-centered teachers claimed to use the laboratory as a starting point of a teaching unit, the content-centered teachers took students to the laboratory after lectures, to apply the theoretical principles addressed in.

Another source of differences between the two groups was the use of hands-on activities other than the laboratory. Only the student-centered teachers claimed to use alternative hands-on activities to replace the laboratory, such as reading of original texts written by past scientists or field-trips. For all the other teaching components type of exams, material available in the laboratories, syllabus, time allotted to a teaching unit within the course the four classrooms were equivalent.

Previous studies had used the FMCE with high school and college students, and proved its validity and reliability Ramlo, The FMCE consists of 43 questions, and multiple choices range from five to nine answers. Overall, questions aim at assessing whether students are able to adopt a Newtonian framework or, conversely, rely on everyday experience-based conceptions. Questions use a natural language and graphical representations e. After it is released, it rolls up, reaches its highest point and rolls back down again.

Friction is so small that it can be ignored.

The test was translated into Italian by a bilingual researcher, and back-translated by another bilingual researcher. The two versions were compared and no significant differences were found. The Italian version was also expert-validated by two Physics teachers with more than 20 years of experience in teaching high-school students. Minor revisions in wording were suggested, with no semantically or conceptually significant departures from the original version.

The instrument taps four dimensions of science-related epistemological beliefs: source e. The instrument was originally developed for elementary-school students Conley et al. The test includes 71 multiple-choice items three alternatives and assesses the following skills: hypothesis-testing skills, credibility of source and observation skills, deduction skills, and assumption identification skills. The test is delivered in a narrative context, in which students follow the events of a group of explorers that landed on a planet to find out what happened to the first group of explorers.

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A The mechanic analyses the rivers around the village and reports, the water is not drinkable ; B the medical officer says, we still cannot tell whether the water is drinkable ; C A and B are equally credible. The test was translated into Italian by a bilingual researcher and back-translated by another bilingual researcher. The two versions were compared, and no significant differences were found. The Italian version was also expert-validated by two teachers with more than 20 years of experience in teaching to high school students.

Teachers were interviewed at a time agreed with them by a trained researcher, with no prior relationship with the teachers. At the time, when the interviews were conducted during the school-year, thus before post-test.

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Interview duration ranged between 45 min and 1 h. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The semi-structured interview included three sections: teaching experience and program, teaching method, and epistemological beliefs see Supplementary Material for the full semi-structured interview. We used the first part of the semi-structured interview in order to collect objective data about the teaching practices implemented by the participating teachers.


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Teachers were invited to think about how they taught physics in general, and the topic of force and motion in specific, and to describe a typical lesson. Then teachers were asked questions on the use of laboratory e. Finally, teachers were asked which technique was more effective and which one was less effective in promoting conceptual understanding. Questions about beliefs of science [e.

Thematic analysis allows one to search for themes across the entire data set, rather than within a data item Braun and Clarke, In this study, we searched themes across interviews, rather than, for example, counting the frequency of specific aspects within each interview. The analysis of correlational scores showed that initial levels of critical thinking were associated with conceptual understanding of physics as assessed at both time points. Science-related beliefs were associated with critical thinking skills at both time points, but they were not associated with conceptual understanding of physics.

Each variable at the post-test was associated with the initial performance as assessed at the pre-test. Use of laboratory, classroom discussion, attribution role to students, and teachers may depend on their beliefs about the nature of science, but in this study all teachers are considered equivalent. Conversely, from the qualitative analysis of the questions on the teaching approach derived from Tsai, ; Kang and Wallace, , significant differences emerged.


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  8. Although all four teachers showed the use of some typical constructivist teaching techniques, the two GCA teachers claimed to have a more substantial focus on the conceptual construction of concrete meanings of physics. In other words, the teachers aimed at explaining phenomena that students can observe in everyday life.

    Importantly, no teacher mentioned the explicit teaching of higher-order skills, which is probably associated to the lack of growth in critical thinking skills over the school year in the students of our sample Miri et al. Most teachers would say that the laboratory is important in science teaching, but they might differ in the role attributed to it in their lesson plan. Moreover, their actual use of laboratory in their teaching practices might depend on availability of instruments and thus, change from school to school. Therefore, we asked teachers to describe their ideal teaching approach.

    Learning science in the schools : research reforming practice in SearchWorks catalog

    CCA teachers consider the laboratory as an important aspect of physics teaching too, but they believe that the starting point of teaching should be the lecture. GCA teachers organize the laboratory activity in brief, qualitative observations, always fostering individual reflection and collective discussion, acknowledging the importance of integrating inquiry-based activities with classroom talk Mortimer and Scott, In this way, they go beyond the distinction between laboratory and classroom teaching, with these two becoming mere physical places, rather than methods.

    In this perspective, GCA teachers, unlike CCA ones, believe that the mistakes made by the students represent the starting point of a lesson. Of notice, students derive their pre-instructional concepts from everyday experiences and will not revise them if simply exposed to new theories, unless they are provided with reflective experiences Boddy et al. Another important source of differences between the two teaching approaches identified in this study lies in what role teachers attribute to students in science learning.

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    GCA teachers are aware that students need to be guided throughout all the steps of science learning. Past studies have shown that constructivist approaches with minimally guidance by the teacher are not effective in promoting conceptual understanding of scientific concepts Kirschner et al. To determine the equivalence between groups at the beginning of the school year, we conducted a series of t -tests for independent samples, with group as independent variable and pre-test scores in science-related beliefs, critical thinking and conceptual understanding of physics as dependent variables.

    Whereas traditional t-tests for independent samples allow to refuse the null hypothesis, the TOST procedure allows to verify equivalence between means. Complex-samples GLM allows to control the effect of data nested within clusters in our case, classrooms , and thus to test group differences with adjustment for clustering by classrooms Aerts et al. Educational studies have often do deal with clustered data. Clustered data arise when the data from the whole study can be classified into a number of different groups, referred to as clusters, and observations within a cluster are more alike than observations from different clusters Galbraith et al.

    Modeling approaches are particularly useful when there are other covariates that need to be included in the analysis Galbraith et al. Classroom was included as cluster variable to account for random effects. Group was included as factor to analyze differences between teaching approaches in post-test scores.

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    Outcome variables were post-test scores in science-related beliefs, critical thinking, and conceptual understanding of physics. Pre-test scores in science-related beliefs, critical thinking, and conceptual understanding of physics as covariates, to account for initial differences. The group variable explained post-test performances in conceptual understanding of, but not in science-related beliefs.

    Post-test scores in science-related beliefs, critical thinking, and conceptual understanding of physics were all associated to their respective pre-test scores. Whereas both teaching approaches may be effective in promoting a learning of theoretical principles and laws, the GCA approach is more successful in promoting conceptual understanding of physics concepts. The questions were derived from past studies Lederman et al. Teachers might hold sophisticated beliefs about the nature of science, but these do not automatically transfer to their practices Yoon and Kim, Moreover, teachers reported similar teaching practices, which are generally associated to general principles of constructivism use of laboratory, importance of discussion, assigning an active role to students, and the like.

    For example, all teachers affirm that when they teach physics to students they start to explain to them the real events that each student knows. Thus, on surface, all teachers believed that they were teaching according to constructivist principles. Differences emerged when teachers were asked about their practices when teaching about force and motion Mansour, , that is, when their teaching approach was inquired more in depth.

    The thematic analysis revealed the presence of two main teaching approaches, one defined as guided-constructivism approach, and the other one as content-centered approach. In this study, GCA teachers assigned a seminal role to the laboratory, as it gives rise to the whole teaching module.