Book: The Content of Science: A Constructivist Approach to its Teaching and Learning

The Content of Science
$195, anyone?

Only selected chapters are relevant to secondary level science.
292 pages, ★★★

We were asked to read chapter 2 as part of our teacher training, but in my view, chapter 2 wasn’t the most useful chapter. (Chapter 2 talked about constructivism and how to overcome alternative conceptions, but honestly, it was a little unclear.)

Chapter 3 was a little better. It said that students need to make connections between:

  • the concepts they learn in different classes; and
  • between the concepts they learn in school and their personal experience.

I particularly liked a phrase in chapter 4 written by Layton (1991). He writes that researchers “need more emphasis on researching deconstruction and reconstruction”. This reinforces the idea that “kids are not empty vessels” succinctly (see TED talk below). I like this quote by Layton so much that I quoted it in a recent assignment.

Chapter 5 details how to design class projects. Author Cliff Malcolm proposes conducting group design projects in the five following steps:

  1. Analyse existing examples and present findings
  2. Choose components that your group wants to include
  3. Design your project
  4. Build your project
  5. Submit project and present your design to the class

The above approach, which is relevant to making 2D and 3D models, is also analogous to the methods of teaching proposed by Posner (1982), Osbourne & Freyburg (1985) and Chiappetta & Koballa, Jr. (2006), which deal with the scientific models in students’ minds. The teaching approach for teaching both tangible and intangible (scientific) models begins with exploring students’ existing conceptions. Discussion and experimentation should then be used to (a) find faults in the existing models, and (b) design an improved, more scientific model, which is shared with the class.

Summary of Constructivist Teaching Methods
Click to download PDF version.

Chapter 6, in my opinion, focuses too much on assessing students quantitatively. While it’s true that grades motivate students to a certain extent, allocating extra teacher-time to improving the accuracy of those grades has negligible effect on student motivation. This book goes much further than Oosterhof’s assessment manual in the range and extent of testing. This book advocates tallying every move of every student: how many times they raise their hands, how many times they daydream or chat; how many intelligent questions they ask their peers. Collecting this immense amount of data would require at least one teaching assistant in each class, and the results may be no more useful than the informal observations that a teacher makes instinctively anyway. Chapter 6 is assessment ad absurdum.

The next few chapters are only relevant to primary schools. Richard Gunstone, however, in the final chapter, describes his “P-O-E” method (predict—observe—explain), which, in my view, should accompany every demonstration done in science class. Over time, P-O-E is also a subtle way of introducing students to aspects of the scientific method. A study by Wittrock & Kelly (1984) showed that “before-during-after” approach (very similar to P-O-E) increased reading comprehension in English classes significantly.

Only half of this book was relevant to me so I give it only three stars. James. ★★★

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