Constructivism in science education | Wikipedia audio article


Constructivism has been considered as a dominant
paradigm, or research programme, in the field of science education. The term constructivism is widely used in
many fields, and not always with quite the same intention. This entry offers an account of how constructivism
is most commonly understood in science education.==Description==
Science Education is now an established field within Education, and worldwide has its own
journals, conferences, university departments and so forth. Although a diverse field, a major influence
on its development was research considered to be undertaken from a constructivist perspective
on learning, and supporting approaches to teaching that themselves became labelled constructivist. Thus, this constructivism was largely of a
psychological flavour, often drawing on the work of Jean Piaget, David Ausubel, Robert
M. Gagné and Jerome Bruner. One influential group of science education
researchers were also heavily influenced by George Kelly (psychologist)’s Personal Construct
Theory. The work of Lev Vygotsky (since being championed
in the West by Jerome Bruner) has also been increasingly influential. These workers from psychology informed the
first generation of science education researchers. Active research groups developed in centres
like the University of Waikato (Aotearoa/New Zealand), University of Leeds (UK) and University
of Surrey (UK), with a strong interest in students’ ideas in science (formed before,
or during instruction) as these were recognised as being highly influential on future learning,
and so whether canonical scientific would be learnt. This work, sometimes labelled the ‘alternative
conceptions movement’ was motivated by a series of influential publications on children’s
ideas in science and their implications for learning (and so for how teaching should be
planned to take them into account). Whilst a range of influential papers could
be cited it has been suggested that a number of seminar contributions in effect set out
the commitments, or ‘hard core’ of a constructivist research programme into the learning and teaching
of science. The perspective was also the focus of a number
of books aimed at the science education community – researchers and teachers.These papers presented
learning as process of personal sense making, and an iterative matter such that what is
learnt was channelled by existing knowledge and understanding (whether canonical or alternative),
and teaching as needing to take learners’ existing ideas into account in teaching. The research programme soon amounted to thousands
of studies on aspects of students’ (of different ages and educational levels, from different
countries) thinking and learning in science topics.==Criticisms==
There have been a wide range of criticisms of constructivist work in science, including
strong criticism from philosophical perspectives. Such criticisms have done little to stem the
influence of the perspective, perhaps because they tend not to refer to the core tenets
of constructivism as an approach based on learning theory and research from cognitive
science.==Alternative conceptions and conceptual
frameworks in science education==Learners’ ideas in science have been variously
labelled as alternative conceptions, alternative conceptual frameworks, preconceptions, scientific
misconceptions, naive theories etc. Although some scholars have attempted to distinguish
between these terms, there is no consensual usage and often these terms are in effect
synonymous. It has been found that some alternative conceptions
are very common, although others appear quite idiosyncratic. Some seem to be readily overcome in teaching,
but others have proved to be tenacious and to offer a challenge to effective instruction. Sometimes it is considered important to distinguish
fully developed conceptions (i.e., explicit ways of understanding aspects of the natural
work that are readily verbalised) from more ‘primitive’ features of cognition acting at
a tacit level, such as the so-called phenomenology primitives. The ‘knowledge-in-pieces’ perspective suggests
the latter act as resources for new learning which have potential to support the development
of either alternative or canonical knowledge according to how teachers proceed, whereas
alternative conceptions (or misconceptions) tend to be seen as learning impediments to
be overcome. What research has shown is the prevalence
among learners at all levels of alternative ways to thinking about just about all science
topics, and a key feature of guidance to teachers is to elicit students’ ideas as part of the
teaching process. The success of constructivism is that this
is now largely taken-for-granted in science teaching and has become part of standard teaching
guidance in many contexts. Previously there was a strong focus on the
abstract nature of concepts to be learnt, but little awareness that often the teacher
was not seeking to replace ignorance with knowledge, but rather to modify and develop
learners existing thinking which was often at odds with the target knowledge set out
in the curriculum.===Constructivist science teaching===
Constructivism is seen as an educational theory, and a key perspective to inform pedagogy. There are many books informing teachers and
others about constructivist research findings and ideas, and giving guidance on how to teach
science form a constructivist perspective.==See also==
Constructivist teaching methods

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