The Energy and change resources are based on ideas of learning that have emerged from science education research in the last 40 years. These ideas emphasise the importance of student inquiry by which students can construct meaning and understanding from their experiences. This is opposite to the traditional view of teaching that assumes the mind of a student is empty and needs to be filled with science knowledge from the teacher or student textbooks. That is not to say the inquiry approach decreases the involvement of the teacher. On the contrary, the role of the teacher in guidance and facilitation becomes even more important.
In examining the nature of the learning process encouraged by these resources, you need to consider the following aspects.
Explanation follows experience
Many teachers explain scientific ideas first to their students then illustrate the ideas with practical experiences. These resources work on the reverse principle, that is, theory (or explanation) must follow experience. If students are to understand concepts, they need some concrete base upon which they can build their understanding. While it is important for teachers to provide a structure for students to carry out investigations, more effective learning will come from students' own experiences rather than from what the teacher tells them. In other words, student understanding will be developed better from concrete activity than from verbal explanation.
There are a number of teachinglearning models that provide a basis for students to construct meaning and understanding. The 5Es model is one example:
Engage Students' interest is captured and they have the opportunity to express what they know.
Explore Students explore phenomena through a set of activities, using their own language to discuss ideas.
Explain After experience, explanations and scientific terms are provided to students to help them develop their understanding.
Elaborate Students apply learning to new situations with relevant discussions using scientific language to clarify understanding.
Evaluate Students evaluate what they have learnt and understanding is assessed.
Importance of prior experience
Students come to any learning situation with a variety of previous experiences. Their minds are not similar to empty vessels waiting to be filled. Rather, students have a whole range of different ideas and misconceptions. These ideas need to be identified. Learning needs to build on existing ideas, challenging misconceptions as appropriate.
Importance of student involvement
Students need be interested and engaged if they are to learn. Relevant activities, discussion and events that spark curiosity can foster this interest. Learning is enhanced if students are actively involved. These resources are directed at increasing student involvement.
Intellectual rigour is an important issue in learning. For these resources, rigour is not measured by the amount of scientific facts that are memorised, but rather by the depth and richness of conceptual understanding. For this reason, three broad levels of conceptual understanding are outlined for each module. CASSP resources provide the opportunity for each student to progress to their highest level of conceptual understanding.
The best measure of learning is not what students remember, but rather how students apply their understanding to new situations.
Importance of student discussion
In traditional lessons, the main vehicle of teaching is teacher explanation. In inquiry learning, the teacher uses questions to help develop understanding. As students discuss ideas in small groups or as a class, they can test and refine their understandings. Ideas need to be related to evidence and views need to be justified. Questions and questioning become very important skills for an effective teacher. The other important skill a teacher needs is to be able to summarise in a coherent manner ideas generated through discussion.
This does not mean teacher explanation is not important. It is, but it needs to be used sparingly for maximum impact and effect.
To improve questioning skills, use the following simple but powerful techniques:
- Ask a balance of broad and focused questions.
There are times when it is important to use broad questions to canvass ideas, especially at the beginning of discussions. During discussions, there are times when you need to focus student thought.
- Allow sufficient wait time.
Wait time is the time you are willing to wait for students to answer a question. Research suggests that students learn better if you allow a wait time of more than three seconds.
By listening carefully to students responses, you can ask questions that build on what they understand.
Cooperative learning and group work
Working in a group or team enables students to share their experiences and to consider different points of view and solutions to a problem. Cooperative learning is an approach that encourages students to work together to help them learn better. Teams develop the social skills of sharing leadership, communicating, building trust and managing conflict. These skills take time to develop, but the longer term benefits are worth the effort.
The benefits of cooperative learning include:
- more effective learning students learn more effectively when they work cooperatively than when they work individually or competitively, and they have a better attitude towards their school work
- improved self-confidence all students tend to be more successful when working in groups and this builds their self-confidence
- better class management when students work in cooperative groups, they take more responsibility for managing the equipment.
Students need to learn how to work cooperatively. Even though in most classes there is a balance between individual, team and class activity, students still need to work together regularly to develop effective team learning skills.
Structuring cooperative learning
Use the following ideas in planning cooperative learning with your class.
- Assign students to teams rather than allowing them to choose partners.
- Vary the composition of each team. Give students opportunities to work with others who might be of different ability level, sex or cultural background.
- Keep teams the same for sufficient time for them to learn to work together successfully.
- If the number of students in your class cannot be divided into teams of equal numbers, form groups of smaller rather than larger sizes. It is more difficult for students to work together effectively in larger groups.
- Some research suggests that for lower secondary students a group size of four with a gender balance provides a good basis for cooperative learning.
Inquiry and investigative approaches to learning science
Inquiry and investigative approaches to learning science provide several benefits. Students are more strongly engaged in the learning process and their active participation enhances learning. Through their involvement in investigations, students have greater opportunities to learn important science skills and processes at the heart of scientific literacy, and they have a more authentic experience of science that helps them understand the nature of science itself.
Inquiry is driven by the spirit of curiosity and the need to understand natural phenomena through questioning and searching for answers. Inquiry-based learning is therefore student-centred. The Energy and change materials provide many suitable contexts and questions to stimulate inquiry through practical experiences, investigations and whole-class discussions. The ideas and explanations developed by students need to be brought together through whole-class discussions and synthesised into a summary that students can record as the outcome of their learning.
Science investigations are quite different to routine practical exercises where students follow the teacher's instructions to conduct an experiment to illustrate some science concept, law or principle. Investigations are authentic problem-solving practical investigations where students plan and conduct experiments to answer their questions.
Investigations typically proceed through four phases:
- planning and conducting the investigation
- processing and interpreting the data
- evaluating findings in relation to the questions posed
- reflecting on how the investigation was conducted to identify ways of improving experimental approaches and methods.
Even though it is the students who make the decisions in planning and conducting the investigations, teachers must play an active role in structuring and scaffolding learning using planning and report sheets. Astute questioning can help students think through issues such as controlling variables and making repeat measurements. In the student materials, you will see a progression from guided inquiry experiences in the first two modules on Light and Electricity to open investigation activities in the third module on Energy.
One of the major ideas embedded in the Energy and change resources is that students learn more effectively from activity and experience rather than from listening to teacher explanation. These activities may involve hands-on inquiry, discussions and information research.
All activities proceed through three simple phases:
- student activity
The introduction should be brief. It should:
- capture the interest of students by:
- relating to personal experiences
- provocative questions
- relating to previous lessons
- provocative demonstration
- relating to TV, film, recent events
- outline the activity
- explain equipment arrangements
- outline time and outcome expectations.
The student activity occupies most of the time of the activity as a whole. While students are working:
- assist groups or individuals with materials and ways of doing
- discuss ideas with groups and individuals, challenging them to think more deeply.
Conclude the activity with a discussion. Make sure that adequate time is allowed. During the discussion, ensure that:
- students share the results of the activity
- through questioning, students are helped to summarise main ideas.
Some teachers believe that in moving from teacher-centred to student-centred learning the teacher has less of a role to play in the student activity. The opposite is true. The teacher in student-centred learning needs to help to structure situations, by questions and relevant comments, in which students can learn more effectively.