Learning to teach science using a new strategy: A case study of a primary science teacher

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Abstract

Constructivism has emerged as the dominant learning model in science educational reform. Despite this, there is a paucity of research studies on instructional strategies that might help the construction of knowledge that is in consonance with the established body of science. The use of activities based on discrepant events in teaching science at the primary level is seen as one way of encouraging this construction. Hence, Science Teachers enrolled in science methods courses / programmes at AKU-IED are exposed to this instructional strategy. The four-member team of science teacher educators, teaching on an eight-week in-service programme, chose to look at the experience of the participating science teachers critically as they were exposed to the use of this strategy for the first time. The purpose was to understand how the participants learn the strategy and use it in the primary classroom. Four independent case studies were generated -- this paper presents the case that I studied. I worked with one female science teacher from a private school in Karachi. The teacher was observed, while this strategy was taught, as she planned the lesson using this strategy and while she delivered the lesson to class five students. She was also interviewed in- depth after the practice teaching. Data shows that the teacher succeeded in delivering the lesson as planned, however, she faced some unique challenges in planning and teaching. Despite, having strong content knowledge and confidence in her teaching ability, she faced difficulty in selecting the discrepant event suitable to the content of the lesson. Analysis reveals that the discrepant event requires a special kind of “practical pedagogical knowledge” that requires both content knowledge and experience with hands-on activities. Observation also showed that, despite support, the teacher had difficulty in explaining the discrepancy in the event to the pupils. The pupils too, lacking a wider experience of life, had difficulty in seeing the discrepancy in the activity. Implications for teachers and teacher educators are discussed, as follows: Constructivism, as a learning model, has found a great deal of acceptance in Science education (Baker, 1997; Collette & Chiapetta, 1989). There is a growing recognition that educators need a wider repertoire of strategies applicable to a constructivist classroom (Bonsetter, 1998; Gunstone, et al. 1999). One promising approach is through the use of so-called ‘dissonant’ or ‘discrepant events’ (Kavogli, 1992). Discrepancy refers to a dissonant situation where the outcome is contrary to what the learner expects. This results in arousal of conflict with a consequent need for the learner to assimilate the unknown or incongruous material into his or her cognitive structure. Perplexity and contradiction play an important role in stimulating the learner’s curiosity This concept of discrepancy can be traced to the early work of Festinger and his Theory of Cognitive Dissonance in which he stated that the creation of dissonance is psychologically very uncomfortable and motivates individuals to actively reduce the level of dissonance and thereby return to a state of greater equilibrium or consonance. Current research in the area of conceptual change maintains that students’ dissatisfaction with their existing conceptions constitutes a fundamental condition in bringing about meaningful cognitive change (Posner, et al. 1982). A change is necessary to change students’ alternate frameworks and to help them to construct knowledge that is in line with the current scientific thinking. Mustafa (1998) shares her experience of working with this strategy with middle school students in her school in Karachi, “I found discrepant events very useful and motivating strategy however, it was time consuming and difficult to implement. I had difficulty in developing events suited to the learning needs of the students.” Despite the difficulty, Shakoor (1998), found discrepant events to be a viable strategy in the Science classroom in Pakistan. Shrigley (1987) finds that discrepant events fascinate children and could and should be used to teach inquiry-based science to children. Hence, this strategy is included in the repertoire of strategies introduced to teachers enrolled in the Certificate in Education (Science) offered at the Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED). As a teacher educator and a teacher-researcher I am interested in professional development of teachers and the experiences that they undergo when exposed to a teaching strategy for the first time. The Certificate in Education is an eight-week in-service program offered in five curriculum areas (Science, Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Primary Education), offered to teachers from AKU-IED Cooperating Schools. It might be worth mentioning here that AKU-IED was established in July 1993 as an integral part of the Aga Khan University, with the purpose of serving the region1. The Institute’s programmatic activities include a two-year Master of Education and in-service Certificate Programmes. The Certificate in Education (Science) has been offered almost every year to primary and secondary science teachers from all parts of Pakistan and the countries that AKU-IED serves1. This programme is taught by AKU-IED faculty along with graduates of the MEd programme. This study was initiated to look critically at the experience of primary science teachers participating in the Certificate in Education Programme offered by AKU-IED. The research question under study was: What is the experience of primary science teachers when exposed to a new teaching strategy (discrepant event in this case) and the process that they follow in using the strategy in the classroom for the first time? The four-member teaching team2 undertook to develop four independent case studies under the leadership of the author. However, this paper presents one case that I studied and developed.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2003

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