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EPOL344 Course Notes

Science Curriculum Study I

Online Collaboration Team

for VUW Diploma of Education
Edited by Blair M. Smith

July 13, 2010


c 2010, Blair M. Smith
Please copy, modify and redistribute under the terms of the GNU Free Document
Licence (GPL FDL) here:

Introduction 5
The Constructivist Paradigm and Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

1 Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 13

Module 1-2 & 1-3: Science and Safety . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Safety and Science Manual—Highlights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Module 1-4: The Nature of Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Questions Arising from the NOS Questionnaire . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
The Value of Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
The Constructivist Paradigm and Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Personal Philosophy of the Nature of Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Teaching Students About the Nature of Science . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Curriculum Study Tasks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Thematic Re-organization of the NZ Curriculum . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Forum Comments on the NZ Science Curriculum . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Studio Tasks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Studio Task 1: Is there such a thing as a Scientific Method? . . . . . 33
Studio Task 2: The Naı̈ve Ideas of Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

2 Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 39


Modules 2-1,2—A Model Lesson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

A Model for Planning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Forum 2-2. Planning Management Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Studio 2.1—Planning Learning Outcomes and Success Criteria . . . . 44

3 Module 3—Use of Assessment 46

Module 3-1—Scientific Concepts and Teaching of Science . . . . . . . . . . 46
Module 23-2—Making Use of Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Parkinson—Making Use of Information from Assessment . . . . . . . 51
Gunstone—Constructivist Learning and the Teaching of Science . . . 52
Module 3-3—Senior Curriculum and Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Module 3-4—Constructivism and Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Module 3-5—Concept Maps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55

4 Module 4—Teaching Experience 57

Module 4-1—Teaching Experience Debrief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Impact of the Knowledge Explosion in Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Module 4-2—Science in Everyday Context . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
Module 4-3—Science in a Hangi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Hangi Science Concept Map . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Māori Achievement Programmes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Four Lessons on Genetics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68

5 Constructivism and Group Learning 74

Teaching Science Constructively . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
Cooperative Group Work in Science Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80

6 Epol-344 Exam Preparation 86

Review: Theoretical Underpinnings of Learning in Science . . . . . . . . . 86

Review: A frame for learning by “doing” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88

Review: Teaching in context . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Review: Assessing student learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
Review: Managing teaching in a laboratory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96

Reflection Journal 99
Reflections on Each Week of Epol-344 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
Personal Philosophy of the Nature of Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
Reflections on the Curriculum ‘Treasure Hunt’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
Teaching “Acids and Bases”—Blog Task . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
Reflection on Fads and Trends in Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
Final Reflections for Epol-344 104
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

These are free collaborative collective course note for the 2010 online students en-
rolled in the VUW EPSY-344 course. Please copy and redistribute as you please,
respecting the GPL-FDL copyright.
Quotes from the online discussion forums have been added to these course notes.
The suggestion is to not read this book serially, but to instead scan the topics and
delve into the quoted paragraphs as your interest guides you—that way the book will
hopefully not seem too daunting to read. Also, these course notes are not intended
as substitutes for the course Module notes, textbook and readings. The idea is that
this book will serve as a reference and memory jog for all of our future work in
education, and not so much as an exam preparation guide for the course.

The Constructivist Paradigm and Science

One of the first readings (Carr et al., 1994) for the course discusses the modern
paradigm for science education. The idea is that humans construct science from
subjective observations of the external objective world.
The older paradigm viewed science as an objective activity that uncovered facts
and turned them into theories with the self-correcting feedback loop of observation,
hypothesizing, model building, experimentation, and repeated observation. Carl
Popper articulated this objective view of science with the added insight that scientific
theories could not be proven, but should at least be falsifiable (that is, can be dis-
proven, otherwise they are not classed as scientific theories).
It is interesting to note that according to some interpretations of Popper’s phi-
losophy of science the theory of natural selection is not really a scientific theory
because it cannot be dis-proven, but that does not place Darwin’s theory on the
same footing as say creationism or intelligent design. The theory of evolution as
a broader model of the evolution of life on Earth is closer to a proper scientific


theory because it includes the fossil record evidence and molecular genetics and
other explicitly described mechanisms of evolution that can in principle be falsified
as explanations of evolution. The theory of evolution is however not a complete
theory, since it is constantly undergoing modification. The same is true for almost
all scientific theories. Some scientific theories are however so mature that they have
hardly changed in many centuries. Newtonian classical mechanics is an example of
a very mature theory, though it is also supplemented slightly from time to time as
new results are proven—so we can say that we do not fully understand Newtonian
mechanics1 .
Science has traditionally advanced by virtue of our (human civilizations) belief
in the objective reality of the physical world. So how can the modern constructivist
paradigm be correct? It is worth noting that the constructivist paradigm of science
is not a theory. It is a philosophical position that informs some scientific practice and
education and sociological theory. It can be viewed not as a rival to Popper’s views
but as complementary. Popper inserted the important element of uncertainty into
sociological views of science. The idea that scientific theories should be falsifiable
means that we cannot really ever have 100% certainty about the accuracy and
completeness of any given well-formed scientific theory. This is quite different to the
situation in mathematics.
Mathematics is a logical edifice built upon reasoned axioms and proven theorems.
Mathematics involves numerical experimentation as well, and therefore incorporates
elements of falsifiability, but this is of an entirely different character to scientific ex-
perimentation. In mathematics Gödel’s incompleteness theorems can be interpreted
as providing a never-ending role for numerical experimentation and guess work in
mathematical progress, but once a mathematician chooses a particular set of axioms
then that is it! One can then either prove theorems within the consistent axiomatic
system, or if the system is inconsistent then it is useless and cannot be mathematics,
and if the consistent axioms are powerful enough then there will be theorems that
cannot be either proven nor dis-proven using the system. Science is not like this.
Mathematics is nevertheless intimately linked with science—it is a universal lan-
guage for formulating scientific theories. This is because in reality science is based
upon an objective universe of presumed unchanging laws. The problem is that the
laws of nature are unknown to any scientist. Furthermore, scientists do not have the
luxury of mathematicians in choosing a set of axioms to investigate. The postulates
of science must result in accurate predictions within given specified uncertainties,
otherwise one is not doing science. Scientific predictions are arrived at my modelling
The uniqueness of solutions to the classical fluid dynamics equations—the Navier-Stokes
equations—has not to this day been rigorously proven. In fact a solution is worth a million
dollar prize, see the Clay Maths Institute

scientific theories. So if a theory is a close approximation to objective laws of nature

then the theory will be deemed good for certain practical purposes. Any theory
so conceived by human minds is nothing but a mental construct. Constructivist
philosophers would say that the theory is socially constructed, and hence is a sub-
jective element of knowledge. This is true to some extent, but the purpose of any
scientific theory is to closely model objective reality. How then are we to reconcile
the objective purpose of science with the subjective way in which we construct the-
ories from imperfect observations? What then are the implications for teaching of
A partial answer to the first question is to keep a clear distinction between the
objective content of science and the subjective interpretations that our minds con-
ceive. The extreme subjectivist constructivist view might be that there is no objec-
tive content to science. This however ignores the fact that science seems to work
phenomenally well in making predictions about physical reality, and this would be
impossible our subjectively derived theories approximate in every more refined and
accurate ways. This is the real beauty of science that educators can draw upon to
attract students.
Despite seeming like a subjective endeavour, science is a self-correcting framework
of knowledge, made so because it demands that theoretical predictions agree with
observations, plus the demand that observations need to be reproducible. This is
vital for science as, say, distinguished from art or pure mathematics. Although
all isolated observations that scientific experiments record are disputable and have
subjective aspects, when a large group of scientists communicate and repeat the
experiments then objective data is obtained. Subjective interpretations are always
present typically, unless the data is particularly simple, but the use of mathematical
logic to derive predictions from theory is an objectively specifiable process.
Science starts out as a subjective constructivist process, but has the goal of ever
more closely approximating a presumed objective physical reality. It is not always
a continually improving discipline, indeed sometimes a branch of science may stray
further from the underlying objective laws of nature before self-correcting, but in the
long run it does improve and becomes more objective in content over time, despite
its constructivist development.
There is a problem with the constructivist paradigm worth mentioning. If knowl-
edge is constructed from our prior attempts to make sense of the world one could
ask how do we ever get any knowledge? If we have no prior knowledge then we
cannot construct any new knowledge or meaning. The answer is that all humans
have some pre-existing knowledge which could be called self-awareness or conscious-
ness or other similar terms. No one knows where or how this primal knowledge or
awareness originates. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental aspect of human existence

it seems, and we have no evidence that any human lacks such capacity. So with
this innate conscious sentient awareness humans are able to gradually build up new
knowledge and meaning.
That is probably enough philosophical background for now. Next we critique the
constructivist paradigm by addressing the questions posed in (Carr et al., 1994).

Does nature contain a definition of concepts of science which can be

uncovered through appropriate experiences? The constructivist would say,
“No, most concepts in science are gradually built up from many instances of ex-
perience that need to be tightly related before the concepts can be sharpened into
useful form.” The critic could respond by pointing out that all the many instances
of experience exist in nature—since it is nature that provides the experiences—and
if humans are also considered to be part of the natural world then in reality nature
did contain the definitions all along. It may take time for precise definitions to
emerge, and nature may be too complicated for useful definitions to emerge of any
practical value in our minds, but our collective human experience suggests that in
the long run nature does furnish appropriate scientific definitions. A wise teacher
recognizes both sides of this debate and does not insist upon teaching students that
there is one hard, fast and correct definition, but rather allows students to see the
ambiguities and fuzzy set relationships that occur in science that make it such a rich

How does science develop a statement of a concept? The authors of the

article (Carr et al., 1994) suggest that typically scientists do this collectively through
communications, such as research literature, conferences, circulated manuscripts,
and these days also by blogs and wikis. Concepts are thus built up in many steps and
layers from more elementary prior concepts. This is clearly a constructivist flavour
of development, and it accurately reflects what goes on in the science community.
We sharpen and refine concepts in order to make them more powerful, to carry more
predictive power. A vague concept is often of little practical use: for example the
old idea that angels were responsible for the gravitational force keeping us pinned
to the Earth—of what use is such a concept? Now when we identify the particular
‘gravitational angels’ as little particles called gravitons with spin=2 and zero charge
and almost zero mass, then we have something useful!
The important lesson for science teachers is to imbue students with an apprecia-
tion of the evolving nature of science. Contrary to the constructivist philosophers,
we might argue that nature does provide us with concepts and definitions and theo-
ries, but only in a raw form—like letters of an alphabet or words from a dictionary.
Our human minds need to work hard to see all the letters and words and draw them

together into theories and models that accurately predict the phenomena under in-
vestigation, and of course we then need to communicate science to each other and
interpret one another’s research and statements. So science has grand ‘final’ goals,
and ideals of crisp concepts and arbitrarily accurate models, but it often ends up
being a somewhat messy and fuzzy activity along the way to finer refinements.

Is there a single explanation for a phenomenon which teachers should

aim at? This is a slightly dopey question. The constructivist obviously points
out, “No, look at history!” Of course it does not take much humility to realize that
no one can have the ultimate answers, and so there is never a single best explanation
for anything in science. Yet, from the collective knowledge of human science at any
given point in history, there is often a best preferred explanation for any given
phenomenon, even if it is only, “we have no idea about this phenomenon right now
other than that we are sure there is a rational explanation.” A wise teacher will
not always try to teach students the preferred best explanation, since often (in the
case of fluid turbulence for example, or Lamarckian inheritance, or protein folding
to name just three examples) these current best explanations are too complicated
for many students to understand, and can better be taught slowly and gradually
by first exposing students to more fundamental concepts that are prerequisites for
understanding the full story so far. Even when students reach an advanced level
we would do well to remind them that the preferred explanations and definitions of
concepts can probably always be refined and improved. The more important goal
of education should probably be to teach students how to ask good questions! We
would like our scientists to probe nature by asking deep questions and challenging
existing explanations. It is less important to teach students the formulations of
existing explanations, unless they are presented as one way to devise more interesting

Can science provide an answer to a question? This is another dopey ques-

tion. History is rife with so-called scientific explanations that were plain wrong, as
well as mysteries that for a long time had no scientific explanation at all (human con-
sciousness still has no scientific explanation, neither does gravity for that matter).
The gravitational force is an instructive example. Newton and Kepler came up with
a description of motion under the influence of a presumed force labelled ‘gravity’,
but offered no explanation for it at all, then Einstein showed the phenomena could
be accurately interpreted as a warping of space-time. Particle physicists now think
gravity is a quantum field propagated by particles called gravitons. But really no
one at present can fully explain the existence of gravity, we do not even know what
‘mass’ is yet. What the authors of the article really mean, we suppose, is that many
folks think science can roughly explain anything, and that there is a sort of faith

that exists in the science community that there is nothing that cannot ultimately
be explained in scientific terms if only given enough experimental data and thought.
Furthermore, many people may think that all of the topics in the school science cur-
riculum are supposed to have correct explanations that teachers should be drilling
into students. Here we can readily agree with constructivist sociologists of science
who point out the incredible naı̈vety of such views. The teacher needs to take care
to correct poor scientific thinking and foster accuracy and incisive explanations and
deep questioning, but never allow students to think that there is only one correct
answer to any given question. There may objectively be a best answer of course,
but who are we to say that we know what it is?
What a minute though, doesn’t all of this conflict with what we tend to expect
from students in examination answers? We’d argue yes. There is still a level of
duplicity in the way science is taught in many schools. When an exam is graded
by comparing student answers to certain template ‘model answers’ then we are
implicitly teaching science in the old school way by expecting students to offer a
single best explanation. There are ways to avoid this without doing away with
exam assessments, for example by posing open-ended questions in exams, and by
using flexible grading schemes that award marks for carefully explained reasoning
rather than just ‘correct answers’.

When a better explanation is proposed how do scientists decide to ac-

cept it? It is worth considering the possibility that our universe is an artificially
generated dream-world. In that case there would be something akin to a pristine
tablet upon which the exact laws of our universe are written and encoded. This
would be the source code for our world. Whatever the actual case, the fundamental
working hypothesis of science is that we humans cannot find such pristine tablets of
knowledge and yet the structure of our universe is believed (yes, an article of faith)
consistent and complete, so that all of the necessary facts required for explaining
and predicting repeatable physical effects exist in nature in raw form. The job of
science is to gather data about these effects and construct theories that give ever
more accurate and complete predictions and explanations.
So we can agree with the constructivists that science is not a hallowed set of
facts and theories about the world. Science is however predicated upon the objective
existence of such pristine facts and theories that may forever be inaccessible to the
human mind and the human race as a collective. Given this it is a bit weird to read
this statement from the article’s authors,

“The false idea that science is exact and therefore that concepts in
science are unproblematic can be argued to have trapped science teaching

into a pedagogy which misrepresents both the content of science and the
process whereby this content is constructed.”

How on Earth could such a situation have ever arisen in science teaching? One can
only conclude that at some time in the history of science education things went
horribly conservative. We believe that most successful scientists have avoided such
education systems and have never in their blessed lives thought of science as ‘exact’
and ‘unproblematic’. We pity the students who ever had to sit through school classes
where such unrealistic and conservative ideological views of science education were
The three rules of thumb for acceptance/rejection of one scientific theory over
another are interesting to ponder for their teaching implications.

1. Parsimony: this refers both to the economy of a theory and it’s general
applicability. This might be hard for some students to comprehend. A nice
way of giving students an appreciation of this rule might be to get them to
look at the atomic models of Thompson and Bohr and compare the generality
of each. Another basic way of illustrating the point might be to get one group
of students to describe the trajectory of a cricket ball (just for instance) using
a sequence of coordinates that can be interpolated to make predictions; and
give another group of students the power of the classical kinematic relations
to describe the flight of the ball in a single equation. Ask the groups how they
could use their respective models to predict the trajectory of a tennis ball.

2. Elegance: this is very easy for students to comprehend. Just write the
equations for classical electrodynamics in Clifford algebra notation and com-
pare to Maxwell’s mechanical gear model for electrodynamics. The Lotka-
Volterra equations describing predator-prey population relations is another
nice example of elegance. Consider prior models of predator populations in an
ecosystem—they were probably simple seasonal models with no variable for
the prey population number.

3. Power: predictive power is slightly more subtle because it demands of stu-

dents an appreciation of what a prediction means.

Here’s another interesting, comparatively recent, comparison of models that you

might like to get a year 12 or 13 physics class to explore. The old conventional
explanation of winged flight proposed that aeroplanes are kept aloft by the pres-
sure differential caused by the airflow over the specially shaped wing surface. The
Bernoulli equations for gas dynamics show that since over the top wing the air trav-
els further and connects with the air travelling under the wing which travels along

a shorter path, so for smooth flow the air flow over the top wing must be faster,
and Bernoulli’s equation predicts that this results in lower pressure, so the higher
pressure under the wing tends to raise the wing. It’s quite amazing to think that
this effect can lift a 400 ton Boeing 747. But aeroplanes can also fly upside down!
Shouldn’t the pressure differential then send the plane plummeting to the ground?
The better theory in this case is good old Newtonian particle dynamics: the lift is
not merely caused by the pressure differential of air flow over the wing (which in
any case is highly turbulent and so Bernoulli’s equations do not hold), the main
lifting effect is the simple high speed impact of air molecules onto the lower wing
surface which is always slightly inclined ‘at a high angle of attack’ so-to-speak to
the forward motion of the plane through the atmosphere. This explanation works
for both normal and inverted flight. We say this is the “main lifting effect” but
we should expect and encourage students to further critique this model of winged
aerodynamic lift. How do birds and insects achieve lift for example?
1. Module 1—Science Content and

Modules 1-2 & 1-3: Science and Safety

This module covers one week of study on,

• Introduction: Safety and What is science and why should students learn sci-
• The Nature of science
• Introduction to Science within the New Zealand Curriculum 2008
• Issues in science teaching and learning identified by recent research.

The set tasks are,

1. Read lecture one then please work your way through the files sequentially.
2. Read lecture two after the Nature of Science file.
3. Complete the studio task for this week in the Studio folder. This will be the
first forum for the week for online students.
4. Complete the NOS Questionnaire, email answers to Azra.moeed@vuw.ac.nz

Safety and Science Manual—Highlights

Teachers need to always consider,

• what could go wrong;

Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 14

• what can be done to prevent something going wrong;

• what must be done if something does go wrong;

and be prepared and able to act appropriately in any emergency.

Some key parts of the document Safety and Science: a Guidance Manual for New
Zealand School published by the Ministry of Education are noted below.

• The legally binding Health and Safety Code of Practice is available online,

• A whole bunch of health and safety and codes of practices apply to schools,
including the HSNO Act 1996.

• Boards of Trustees are required to develop suitable health and safety policies
and practices and school staff are required to adopt them. A number of policy
requirements are mandated, such as

– Compulsory recording of any serious accidents that harm staff or students.

– All electrical accidents must be reported
– First Aid registers are required to record at least eight specific items of
information as listed on page 8 of the manual.
– Schools should have an animal ethics policy. [EDITOR: query, what is
the legal meaning of ‘should’ compared to ‘required’ ?] An animal ethics
committee may also be required if certain conditions of animal use apply
to the school.
– Teachers are considered at work during EOTC activities and full school
responsibilities apply.
– A teacher’s first duty in an emergency is to ensure the safety of the
students—which implies knowing about all school emergency policies and
– All science rooms should have a first aid kit within easy reach.
– Hazards need to be dealt with in the following precedence: Elimination–
Isolation–Minimization. This includes hazards that are possibly neces-
sary parts of a lesson.
– All science room doors should be locked (for entrance) when the room is
not in use.
– A code of conduct for students is recommended.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 15

• There are strict requirements for building safety and equipment storage.

• Electrical and radiative safety needs to be comprehensive, and in particular,

– Electrical equipment for school use operating at high voltage must be

limited to less than 5 mA.
– Teachers should know how to quickly cut-off mains supply and should
ensure circuits are protected by RCDs.
– Electrical equipment should be regularly inspected and maintained in
correct working order. Class 3B and Class 4 lasers are not permitted for
school use.

• Strict regulations and codes of practice also cover use of other equipment
including optical devices, burners, gas cylinders, glassware and sharp objects,
protective clothing and sound generating equipment.

– A strobe lamp and sound below 40 Hz should never be used at the same

• All schools must comply with the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and animals
should be treated with respect.

• Various common-sense codes of practice are given that cover handling and use
of micro-organisms, organic materials, plants and minerals.

• Hazardous Substances codes of practice, among many other recommendations,

include the following.

– Use of safety glasses, pipette fillers, fume cupboards, and safety screens
must be made part of routine laboratory practice where applicable.
– The appropriate material safety data sheet should be referred to prior to
use of any chemical.
– No one should be exposed to hazardous chemical concentrations greater
than threshold or permissible exposure limits.
– Data sheets can be found at www.ilpi.com/msds/index.chtml, and www.-
msdsonline.com and www.hazard.com.
– Safe storage and labelling practices cover things like,
∗ Under no circumstances should concentrated nitric or sulphuric acid
or strong oxidizing agents be stored in plastic containers.
∗ All chemical should be stored adequately labelled and according to
their compatibility (e.g., separate acids from bases and so forth).
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 16

Module 1-4: The Nature of Science

By the end of this section we should be able to: (1) articulate our personal beliefs
about the nature of science, (2) identify possible purposes for learning science and
begin to debate the merit of the arguments for each purpose, and (3) begin to
develop an understanding of the structure of the science curriculum.
Read the following definitions and consider their relevance to science teaching.

Definitions of Science

“Science is seeing what everyone else has seen but thinking what no
one else has thought.”

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowl-

edge.” —Carl Sagan.

Comments. Considering the first definition, teaching can be thought of as the

exposition part of science—showing students what the world is made of and how
things relate and interact at fundamental physical, chemical and biological levels.
The ‘thinking what no one else has thought’ aspect implies science teaching must
also involve teaching students how to think insightfully and how to ask interesting
and probing questions, and how to go about trying to answer them. This second
aspect is very difficult to master, because one generally begins with purely acquired
knowledge. Generating novel ideas and thoughts, as demanded by this definition, is
not something that can easily be automated or routinely performed, instead students
need to acquire meta-cognitive skills that enhance their ability to think in new
ways and originate new ideas. Some students will be naturally more skilled at
this and others will need extensive training to reach a stage of mature scientific
contemplation. Some of us never reach this highly mature stage but can still practice
good science.
Sagan’s view of science recognizes that science is a body of collective knowledge,
yet his emphasis is again on the thinking aspects of scientific activity. So science
is impossible without a culture or society of mind. One person can constitute such
a culture of mind, but science works best in building up an ever evolving body
of knowledge and idea generation when it involves communication between many
A flaw, or perhaps just an omission, from these definitions is any statement
about how science thinking and knowledge differs from other forms of collected and
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 17

synthesized knowledge. Science is unique in that it demands a cycle of observation–

hypothesizing–modelling–prediction–experimentation and repeated iterations. This
cycle is not always linear, continuous and smooth, and it involves a lot of messy
social interaction in some cases and mistakes and trial and error and so forth, but
the basic format of the science cycle can be seen at least in abstract form in all truly
scientific activity and research.
Next we look at the pictures in the Epol344 Book of Readings (p. 53). Then
contemplate the questions, suggested answers are given in italics.

• What image of science is portrayed here? Why? Is it “right”? How does the
view suggested here compare with the real world of contemporary scientists?
The images portray a very human image of science, a social activity, and also
an intellectual activity. Thinking of the science cycle mentioned above, the pic-
tures seem to convey an accurate impression of what science is all about. The
modelling aspects of science are captured by the ‘making predictions’, ‘solving
problems’ and ‘calculating’ images. The honesty and perseverance images are
very important and should probably be explicitly part of any students science
education. It also seems appropriate that the very first image is ‘asking ques-
tions’ since this, along with experimentation, is probably the beginning of all
science. The images could be made to reflect the real world of science even
closer if the honesty aspect could somehow be conveyed to capture the problems
of integrity—such as when science is funded by interest groups that put pres-
sure on scientists to find ‘the correct answers’—since that motive is something
all scientists, good or bad, should avoid! Also, perseverance might be better
portrayed not so much as involving tedium but the challenge of trying to ob-
tain good data in the face of frustration from equipment failure, interference,
bad judgements, poor guesswork, the need for repeated trial and error in some
cases, exhaustive search and so forth. For all of these reasons these images of
science from Relph et al. (2003) seem ‘about right’.

• Does it actually distinguish science from other ways of knowing?

Yes. The images include the unique aspects that form the aforementioned sci-
ence cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation and iteration. Perhaps
the sense of a cycle of potential improvement is not portrayed as explicitly as
it could be, though it should be seen as implicit in the role of perseverance.

We’ve read some definitions of science. Now we’d like to add a definition of a
scientist. Here is one whimsical, but we think quite accurate, definition: a scientist
is someone who, in seeking to understand the world, is so lazy that they will go to
superhuman efforts to organize and simplify their knowledge to the barest minimum
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 18

number of elementary facts possible required to explain whatever they are interested
in. So good scientists can be extraordinarily lazy people.
Jinxi had an elegant way of putting this,

“Simplifying our understanding of the world is a highly complex ac-


Questions Arising from the NOS Questionnaire

There is a fair degree of subjectivity involved in answering those questions. I [EDI-

TOR] found the very first few questions quite difficult to answer unambiguously. I
would often change my mind from ’Agree’ to ‘Disagree’ depending on how I interpret
the question and interpret the key words in context.
For the first questions: Science does aim to find out the absolute truth, but
in practice we don’t expect to attain the absolute truth about the world, in fact
most scientist would probably hope they never find out the absolute truth, since
that would bring an end to science. So there is an inherent conflict within any
pure minded scientist: they want to find out the truth about the world, and yet
they realize this is probably an impossible task. The practical compromise is to
try to improve our understanding of the world and seek to improve our theoretical
approximations to physical reality.
I had a number of difficulties with other questions that I now discuss.

• Q.2 If a scientific theory is proven right it becomes a scientific law.

To my mind this is a good definition of a scientific law, but it is incomplete
because no scientific theory can be proven ‘right’ in an absolute sense. Never-
theless, scientific laws do exist. They are agreed upon findings of science that
cover general phenomena, such as the law of conservation of energy. Within a
prescribed limited domain of application these laws can be considered as proven
exactly, but outside the prescribed limits there could be exceptions—think of the
implications of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for localized energy conser-
vation. Taking the question literally I would tend to agree strongly with the
statement, yet I think it is a useless statement because no theories can be
proven absolutely right.

• Q.3 Science neutrally assesses the risks and benefits of modern technology.
In an ideal world this statement would be true, and I would like to agree with
it. The trouble is, in the real world science is run by people, and people have
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 19

flaws and misunderstandings, and so the community of science cannot neu-

trally assess risks and benefits. The intention of most scientists is probably to
aim for neutrality, and science and political watchdog groups and ombudsmen
have a role in making sure neutrality is adhered to to a high degree, but these
systems are imperfect and cannot guarantee perfect neutrality.

• Q.4 Scientific experiments can never be measured exactly.

We can always make measurements with perfect accuracy—simply place un-
realistically large uncertainties on the results! The difficulty in making exact
measurements is not that we have uncertainties, but rather that we cannot be
100% sure about our estimates of uncertainties. So if I state that the length of a
steel ruler is 31.027±0.003 cm where my coverage factor is for 95% confidence,
then that seems like an exact measurement, but the problem is my method for
computing the uncertainty of ±0.003 cm is not perfect. It relies upon reference
to some length standard, which I have to trust has been accurately calibrated
by some laboratory, and I also have no way of knowing whether my procedure
for measurement and comparison with the standard and indeed my uncertainty
analysis calculation are flawed or not. So my statement of 95% confidence
in the result still has some unquantifiable associated error. In other words, I
might have been overly conservative so that the ±0.003 cm interval might in
actual fact be closer to 97% coverage, or there may be systematic errors that I
did not take into account that would not effect the result 31.027 but would effect
the error estimate which might actually need to be ±0.005 for 95% confidence.

• Q.7 Science can never determine absolute truth.

This statement is probably correct. But just as we cannot ever perfectly test
a theory, likewise we cannot ever prove a scientific theory is wrong unless
we know of contradictory data. So at some point in the future someone may
stumble upon an absolutely correct mathematical model of quantum gravity.
They would have no way of knowing it is absolutely true. So the key word in
this question is ‘determine’. Science could hope to find an absolute truth, but
unless it is a tautology, this putative ‘truth’ could never be humanly determined
as absolutely true.

• Q.14 Scientific experiments produce precise, accurate results.

See Q.4 comments. Precision and accuracy refer to uncertainties. We can
always be overly conservative and plonk massive error estimates onto our raw
numerical results, and thereby fool ourselves into saying we have perfect pre-
cision (no sound measurement will be able to contradict our number with it’s
huge error estimate). But when we are required to also state the confidence
level associated with these errors then we get into trouble. So perfect accuracy
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 20

is ultimately impossible due to our finite resolution of any given measurement

scale. This would be true even if quantum mechanical uncertainties were re-

• Q.16 Scientific evidence only includes data about the natural world.
I agreed with this, but I do not really know what ‘the natural world’ means.
Does it include human consciousness? But conscious thoughts are purely sub-
jective phenomena, so they cannot be fully made the subject of scientific in-
quiry. Brain scans can only go as far as correlating neural impulses and pat-
terns with first person subjective accounts of thinking. So if consciousness is
considered part of the natural world I might think twice about agreeing with this
statement. I would still agree of course, because the scientific evidence from
brain scans is then still data about the natural world. Is there anything ‘unnat-
ural’ that counts as scientific evidence? I can’t think of any scientific evidence
that would be unnatural, but again, it depends what you mean by natural, and
for that mater what we mean by ‘evidence’. If we mean ‘not magical’ and ‘not
fictitious nor imagined’ then yes, all scientific evidence is natural. Imagina-
tion is used in science to help originate new theories or formulate conjectures
and so forth, but this is not evidence, if by evidence we mean objective data.

• Q.24 There is no reason to question established scientific laws.

Taking this literally, one might say this statement is true. However, what
scientific laws are ‘established’? Probably none that we know of, although a
few, like conservation of energy or PCT invariance and the second law of
thermodynamics, are all so well established that one would only question them
when studying a novel phenomenon outside the usual domain of application of
these laws. Scientific laws are never sacrosanct for this reason, so they can
always be questioned. One has to choose one’s battles wisely though!

• Q.27 Scientific explanations are created by interpreting evidence.

I’m not sure about this. I guess some people can explain certain phenomena
without the aid of evidence, but I think this sort of person is rare.

• Q.28 When many scientific theories exist, the correct one is identified when
enough data is collected.
This statement seems tautologically true. Of course, if ‘enough’ data has been
collected naturally one unique theory will emerge as the best fit. However,
who can say it is ‘the correct’ theory? Maybe none of the competing theories
are truly ‘correct’, but only form a sequence of better approximations to a
putative correct theory (see Q.7). Taking a more relaxed interpretation of the
statement, we can still disagree with the statement because merely given that
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 21

enough data has been collected does not automatically decide which theory is
best. Data does not think, so data cannot decide. Humans (or some sentient
thinkers) are required to do science and analyse the data. Unless the data
clearly points out the relative ‘correctness’ of one of the theories, one generally
still has the hard work of analysing the data to see which theoretical model
best fits the data, this may be far from trivial, even with sufficient data. If
we take an even more relaxed interpretation of this question, and suppose the
intent is to consider when gathered data can decide between the best of many
alternative theories, then the statement is tautologically true and therefore an
inane question-statement.
• Q.29 Scientific methods are the same in every culture.
I have never thought about this carefully. Some methods of science are acul-
tural, and so are indeed the same in every culture. However, science has origi-
nated in many different cultures and societies independently, so there will also
be many culturally specific methods. These can however all be ‘borrowed’, that
is, co-opted by another culture, if perhaps found to be efficacious or just inter-
esting. So there is nothing inherently culture-dependent about science. This
is one reason why science is so powerful and important in any education sys-
tem, it transcends culture in many ways, as does mathematics, although each
culture brings to these disciplines it’s own unique approaches and insights.

The Value of Science

The module provides six reasons why science is important.

1. Economic argument: We need a supply of qualified scientists to maintain

and develop the industrial process on which national prosperity depends.
2. Utilitarian argument: Everyone needs to understand some science to man-
age the technological objects or processes they encounter in everyday life.
3. Democratic argument: In a democracy, it is desirable that as many people
as possible can participate in decision making; many important issues involve
science and technology; every-one should understand science in order to be
able to participate in discussion, debate and decision making about this.
4. Cultural argument: Science is a major cultural achievement; everyone
should be enabled to appreciate it.
5. Moral argument: The practice of science embodies norms and commitments
that are of wider value.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 22

6. Learning argument: Understanding the nature of science supports learning

of science content.

We should also add that science involves a fair amount of playfulness and fun and
can be engaged in for pure aesthetic pleasure, the Aesthetic argument. Indeed,
a huge amount of great science has originated from playful hacking with nature.
Most Nobel Prizes in science probably begin with people having fun or discovering
strange things and exploring them deeply out of a sense of curiosity.

The Constructivist Paradigm and Science

A commentary on the article (Carr et al., 1994) was given above in the introduction
to these course notes on page 5. So there is no need to discuss this article further
here. The next reading is the British report on “What should we teach about
science?” (Osborne, Ratcliffe, Collins, Millar, & Duschl, 2001). An initial three
pronged dilemma posed by the report was the identification of three competing
motives in science education, (1) the need to communicate the power of science
both as a knowledge creation and exciting activity, (2) the method of authoritarian,
sometimes dogmatic and extended education and training required of scientists,
(3) providing students with a picture of the ‘inner workings of science’. These three
goals or motives of traditional science education are not easy to blend harmoniously
together in the short time span of a typical school lesson. The report sought to find
out what really should be taught in science classes in a broad sense, independently
of any particular field of science.
The report questioned a number of learned individuals and collated their opinions
about the question title of the report. Three open-ended questions were chosen.

1. What, if anything, do you think should be taught about the methods of sci-

2. What, if anything, do you think should be taught about the nature of scientific

3. What, if anything, do you think should be taught about the institutions and
social practices of science?

After a few rounds of revision nine key themes emerged from the collective experts
on what they thought should be part of science education.

1. Science and Certainty

Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 23

2. Analysis and Interpretation of Data

3. Scientific Method and Critical Testing

4. Hypothesis and Prediction

5. Creativity, Science and Questioning

6. Cooperation and collaboration in the development of scientific knowledge

7. Science and Technology

8. Historical Development of Scientific Knowledge

9. Diversity of scientific thinking

The concluding remark of the report is worth noting,

“. . . what is needed is an education for citizenship which, as we have

argued both here and elsewhere, requires a much greater emphasis on
exploring the nature of science and its practices. And, given that this
study has shown that even within the science and science education
community there does exist a consensus about the core features of an
account of the nature of science, this research has served to remove
one obstacle to teaching about science. We see this work, therefore,
as providing a significant body of empirical evidence to buttress the case
for placing the nature of science and its processes at the core rather than
the margins of science education.” —(Osborne et al., 2001, p.82)

Personal Philosophy of the Nature of Science

An example personal philosophy is outlined in the Journal section of these course

notes on page 99.

Teaching Students About the Nature of Science

The second task is to read the Aims of the Nature of Science Strand of the NZ science
curriculum foldout. What four aspects are included in the Nature of Science? They

1. Understanding about science.

Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 24

2. Investigating in science.

3. Communicating in science.

4. Participating and contributing.

Now read the Achievement Objectives for this strand of the curriculum for Level 5.
Think about an example of how you would teach the students about the nature of
science. Add any questions arising from this task in the forum. Below are various
sample streams of thought on these topics.

Example—Communicating an Experiment

Begin by splitting the class into group teams of about 3 to 4 students.

Give each group a simple but not trivial experiment to analyse. If there
is time then the groups could be asked to perform the experiments and
collect the data, but this is not necessary. If there is insufficient time
then just provide some appropriate dummy data plus a rough outline
of the aim of the experiment. The real objective of the lesson is to get
the group to ‘write up’ their dummy (or real) experiment as if they were
publishing a scientific paper, with the intention of providing sufficient
detail so that another team could reproduce the same experiment. The
teacher should provide some general guidance on how to do this and pro-
vide some constraints to avoid excessive pedantry. The students should
be told that they will need to pass on their write-up to another group
for scrutiny. The dummy data should contain enough information for a
complete reproduction of the experiment, but the teams should not be
told what to include or exclude in their report. When they have com-
pleted their write-up the groups share their reports. It would now be
desirable to allow time, perhaps another full class period, for the teams
to conduct the experiments that attempt to reproduce the results of the
shared report. The teacher should let the groups decide for themselves
what level of communication they need to adopt.
If some teams struggle to complete the reproduction of the experi-
ment because they have failed to discuss the report with the teacher or
original team who wrote the report then this will be a good learning
lesson. Another thing to do would be to ask each team to suggest im-
provements to the original experiment and finally discuss their results
and compare them with the original experiment and then discuss the
whole exercise as a class.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 25

[TODO: discuss enhancements and specific sample experiment data. Can be tailored
to suit any curriculum level and science subject.]

Example—Understanding Science with Instrument Calibration

Tell the class that they are to investigate melting and boiling points
of various substances. The number of substances to investigate should
be small, say three, such as ice, water, paraffin wax. Arrange suitable
apparatus and small samples of materials. For an advanced class salt
could be provided to encourage students to investigate the effect of im-
purities on the m.p. and b.p., but is not necessary. The important thing
is to provide each student (or in small groups) with three thermometers,
two of which have been deliberately incorrectly calibrated. So either
alcohol glass thermometers with faulty scale markings or offset digital
thermometers are required. Bunsen burners are needed for achieving
b.p. measurements, with suitable tripods and water baths. Buckets or
thermos flasks of crushed ice should be provided so that students can
zero calibrate their thermometers. The teacher should provide minimal
instruction and just let the students freely conduct measurements, sim-
ply telling them the objective is to accurately estimate the m.p. and b.p.
of the various sample substances.
During the period, as students discover discrepancies in the ther-
mometer readings the teacher can gently guide them towards figuring out
how to correctly calibrate a thermometer by indirect questioning. Ad-
vanced classes should be guided to account for measurement uncertain-
ties in both the calibration and the m.p.b.p. measurements and should
be expected to quote results with reasonable estimates of uncertainty
and coverage factor. Advanced classes can also be shown where to look
on the Internet for expert advice on how to perform accurate thermom-
etry measurements (for example, msl.irl.cri.nz/training-and-resources/-
Alternatively, the same activity could be performed with weight/mass
measurements using deliberately mis-calibrated balance scales. Simi-
larly, another alternative is to do simple length or area or volume mea-
surements using deliberately mis-calibrated rulers or callipers. For these
measurements the class need to be given some minimal information about
reference lengths and masses.
Yet another simple alternative would be stop watch or other time
keeping instrument calibration. This will require phoning the IRL talk-
ing clock or using a computer running an NTP client as a time standard.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 26

For students familiar with basic electronics a crude voltmeter or ohm-

meter calibration is a possibility, but a reference standard voltage would
need to be arranged, although for classroom purposes it need not be
absolutely calibrated by a commercial laboratory if the cost would be
One problem with this type of activity is the inevitable boredom as
many students will quickly grasp the intent and purpose and methods,
and so forcing them to go through the whole process of calibration just
to measure something ‘obvious’ like a melting or boiling point can cause
motivation problems. So to spice up the activity a wise teacher might
introduce an element of risk (simulated of course). For example, a sce-
nario could be established whereby students need to measure something
using the calibrated instruments very precisely, if they are in error by a
significant amount they wills stand to lose something massive, such as
revenue earnings (from a shipment of massive cargo for example) or they
may even cause someone’s life to be placed in jeopardy if they perform
an inaccurate measurement. It does not take much imagination to think
up many such scenarios and ask students to play act them. A real sim-
ulated risk could be used, such as a bucket of cold water poured on a
student (or cold ice if they don’t want to get too wet)1 if they end up
risking a human life as a result of their inaccurate measurement attempt.
This could be explained as a metaphorical chill of death.
Another neat variation would be to use the same idea of introducing
the importance of calibrating all instruments used in science for quanti-
tative measurements on other messier, more complicated systems. For
example using systems involving nominal scales (where no meaning can
be attributed to differences or ratios of readings) such as measurements of
colour scale, or food sweetness, or loudness (audio decibel levels are inter-
val scaled but subjective loudness perceived by the human ear is at best
only ordinal scaled). See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level of measurement
for reference.

Example—Investigating Science with Imaging Games

For this activity a computer is desirable, but a simplified version of

the lesson could be done with pencil and paper. If the teacher does not
have access to appropriate software or computer programming skill then
a cool variation would be to design a physical experiment using tennis
balls or marbles as the probe projectiles, and the object to be imaged
Nothing that violates school policy of course.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 27

could be hidden by a black screen or wall. The students would fire the
projectile though a small hole in the screen without being allowed to look
though it. Of course contrarian and wise-ass students would be asked to
suspend their judgement for the sake of simulation purposes!
So the idea is to simulate a system that cannot directly be observed.
The aim is to figure out the shape of the hidden object by observing
what happens to visible projectiles as they scatter off the object. The
computer version is simple. A pen and paper version would need to
involve some preparation of data. Students could also make up object
themselves and figure out how to simulate scattering data and then let
other students try to figure out the shape of their sample object. For
the physical version of the game it would be best to keep the scattering
2-dimensional by using a large flat table.
For Level Six or lower classes the hidden objects will probably need
to be very simple, either square or circle or toroidal cross sections, and
at first only the cross section shape (one-dimensional projection) needs
to be considered for simplicity.
Advanced students could be given clues about how to numerically re-
construct the shape of the object. Less advanced students can be asked
to deduce a simpler methodology that may just allow the rough size
(extent) of the hidden object to be approximately determined. There
are many ways to do this, one is to use brute force methods such as
comparison with scattering results from known sized objects. Another is
to use simple shadow projection. Sophisticated basic image reconstruc-
tion algorithms, such as Radon transforms, could be introduced to gifted
students and Level Eight students.
More advanced students might be able to cope with the complication
of gravity on the flight of tennis balls used as probes for 3D imaging,
which would probably take at least three class periods.
When summarizing and concluding the lesson the teacher can in-
troduce the technologies of X-ray imaging, computed tomography, and
maybe even high energy particle accelerators. Comparisons with the
very different methods of optical imaging could be discussed with more
advanced students.

Example—Participating in Science with Country Pollution Level Com-


Here data on levels of pollutants need to be gathered for various

countries or cities. It would be nice to use real data. However, for
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 28

teaching purposes a couple of fake data sets should be provided and

students should not be able to tell they are fake. The point is simply
to provide many data sets that are clearly from different sources. The
measurement uncertainties and methods of data collection should be
clearly indicated along with the numerical data. Advanced students
should be left alone to interpret all of this auxiliary information and
handle it accordingly. For example, some of the dummy data sets should
be made so poor that students will naturally think of rejecting them
from the inter-comparison.
The students should be asked to examine all of the data sets and
analyze them with the intention of forming some scientific conjectures
and comparisons between countries, possibly even to rank the countries
or cities from most heavily polluted to least. This can be done in groups
or individually.
The methodology for data analysis should be only very vaguely de-
scribed by the teacher, and refined by class or group discussion with
teacher input, as the lesson proceeds, and as students discover difficul-
ties with some data sets.
Before class wide discussion the groups of students should be asked
to prepare a brief presentation of their analysis, then the teacher should
summarize the activity and consolidate the main lessons about data anal-
ysis, rejection, comparison statistics and so forth.

Curriculum Study Tasks

After following the direction in the Curriculum document for Module 1, and after
reading the Living World achievement aims and level objectives in the NZ Science
curriculum, we see the following questions. Sample answers are given after each in

1. What do you notice about the complexity at each level?

The complexity increases as we go up levels, and each successive level complex-
ity builds upon the lower level objectives. Thus living requirements graduate
into life processes which up another level become structural features of or-
ganisms, up another level awe add functional features, and diversity of living
processes are added, and the high level 8 objective looks at processes on many
levels such as organism–environment interactions, genetics and evolutionary
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 29

2. Read the achievement aim for Living World Strand for Life processes. When a
student completes their secondary schooling, if they have taken biology would
the aim of the strand be achieved?
Yes, it seems reasonable to expect that a completion of the achievement objec-
tives at each level would end up in a student having a good understanding of
the overall achievement aims for the Living World strand of the curriculum.
Partly this is obvious since the Achievement Aims are sufficiently vague as
to be difficult to avoid some sort of appreciation of after completing all the
detailed Achievement Objectives. So the curriculum does appear to be at least
well designed enough to be consistent.

3. Why do you think it is important for the teacher to follow the curriculum
instead of teaching a topic from a text book?
This is a leading question which I dispute! Seriously though, there is nothing
wrong with a teacher teaching a topic from a textbook, provided it has some
relation to the grand plan of the schools interpretation of the science curricu-
lum. What would seem a bit weird would be a teacher who solely teaches lessons
out of textbooks with no appreciation of the learning goals of the curriculum.
Maybe they have a ‘better’ curriculum in mind, but sadly that would be a legal
obligation problem! Teachers do have social obligations to practice certain pro-
fessional standards and not deviate too much from the curriculum, and they
will always have the opportunity from time to time to participate in curriculum

Thematic Re-organization of the NZ Curriculum

Next we look at Rex Bartholemew’s thematic re-organized curriculum document.

The task is to complete the following little assignment:

1. Pick another strand, this time choose your senior specialist subject (Physics/Chemistry
etc. if you are a biologist choose Planet Earth).
OK, for this sample we’ve chosen physics.

2. Starting from the achievement aim (first column) follow through the same
objective for each level, up to level 8.
Assume we’ve done so.

3. Is there a similar pattern?

Yes. For physics the increasing stages of complexity are as follows,
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 30

• Exploration and description of simple patterns in physics.

• Level 3 & 4 extend to description and identification of trends in patterns
and effects of forces, the concept of energy is introduced explicitly.
• Level 5 extends to description of changes in energy and forces, and in-
cludes applied physics explorations (in technology or biology). New con-
tent introduced includes electrical circuit phenomena.
• Level 6 extends level 5 to both trends and relationships and extends skills
to problem solving tasks. Also the topics are extended slightly by intro-
ducing atomic and nuclear physics. Applied physics skills are extended
to investigative activities. Problem solving is extended to include data
analysis skills.
• Level 7 extends explanatory skills to cover unfamiliar phenomenon and
include quantitative explanation. Applied physics skills are extended to
explanatory activities.
• Level 8 extends quantitative explanations to cover complex situations.
Applied physics extends to cover astronomy and skills involving an ability
to relate physical ideas to applied physics issues.

4. For each level, can you think of the content you might teach to achieve that
particular objective?
Here are suggestions for the Physics Levels:

• Level 1 & 2: Exploration and description of simple patterns in physics.

One of the patterns I [EDITOR] like is simple harmonic motion. This
pattern is seen in waves of many kinds. Vibrations of string, spring mo-
tion, violin strings and other string instruments, water ripples, light in-
terference patterns, and many others. Many fun lesson plans could be
based around this content.
• Level 3 & 4 extend to description and identification of trends in patterns
and effects of forces, the concept of energy is introduced explicitly.
Continuing the wave motion theme. There are energy loss trends in all
real examples of wave motion. These are due to damping forces, which
are generally frictional in nature (complex electromagnetic interactions,
often referred to as contact forces.) This sort of content (investigating
damped motion and frictional effects) covers both the extension to trends
in patterns and the concept of energy an contact forces required at this
• Level 5 extends to description of changes in energy and forces, and in-
cludes applied physics explorations (in technology or biology).
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 31

We could continue with the wave motion theme, but for a change let’s
consider some quite different physics content. How about the effect of
switches in electrical circuits. This topic would cover the notion of changes
in energy and forces, as well as the new content at this level. Conserva-
tion of energy is also involved through the basic circuit laws—Kirchoff ’s
laws (the junction rule and loop rule).
A suitable related technology application of physics worth exploring at this
level could be computer network basics, such as signal routing and logic
gates. These can make for a lot of fun game-based lessons.
• Level 6 extends level 5 to both trends and relationships and extends
skills to problem solving tasks. Also the topics are extended by introduc-
ing atomic and nuclear physics. Applied physics skills are extended to
investigative activities.
The extensions at this level seem quite pronounced. To cover all of them
lets consider a few additional physics subjects. At this level the rela-
tionships between position, velocity and acceleration of ballistic projectiles
should be easy to introduce with minimal calculus tools. There is a wealth
of interesting problem solving involving simple particle kinematics in the
presence of gravitational fields. To avoid the doldrums of traditional kine-
matics lessons we could make most of the lessons activities where students
need to solve real problems to achieve some sort of automated game so-
lution, such as setting up a tennis ball ‘gun’ to hit targets first time up
without any trial and error. Similarly billiards games could be set up to
investigate simple 2D collisions.
If Geiger counters and safe radioactive sources are available students
could investigate the tolerance that simple organisms (safe bacteria, fungi,
or plants) have when placed near a source. This activity would span a week
maybe, during which other investigations could be done. Food sterilization
technology perhaps could be investigated, if not demonstrated.
• Level 7 extends explanatory skills to cover unfamiliar phenomenon and
include quantitative explanation. Applied physics skills are extended
to explanatory activities. Problem solving is extended to include data
analysis skills.
Most students beginning this level will be unfamiliar with Poisson statis-
tics, and so this topic could be introduced along with further investigations
of radioactivity and atomic energy level transitions. An interesting related
technology that could be explained using radioactivity and atomic energy
levels could be cell death due to radioactivity. What energy dose typically
destroys a cell? Why are there lethal dose thresholds? What possible ex-
planations are there for radiation tolerance? Many of these question can
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 32

involve quantitative analysis. There are of course endless questions worth

asking that a skilled teacher can elicit from students. The answers may
take longer than the lesson time allotted to fully explore!
• Level 8 extends quantitative explanations to cover complex situations.
Applied physics extends to cover astronomy and skills involving an ability
to relate physical ideas to applied physics issues.
The previous level discussed radioactivity, so let’s choose a different topic
for this level discussion. What about optics? Specific content here could
include explanation of light interference effects, diffraction gratings, and
so forth. There is plenty of scope for imagination here in lesson planning
and activity creation.

Forum Comments on the NZ Science Curriculum

The Editor did not have many questions arising from the initial study of the NZ
science curriculum. Below are some thoughts posted by our colleagues.
One issue is the vagueness of the achievement aims and objectives. This is a good
thing in the Editor’s opinion. It gives teachers much room and flexibility to concen-
trate on providing science students with a rich and rewarding educational experience
at secondary school One problem with this is the external assessment regime which
still seems to demand that students answer fairly black & white questions, and does
not appear to give students much chance to demonstrate their scientific thinking
skills—which one might think would be the aim of a science education! Instead the
external exams are somewhat traditional and place undue emphasis on rote learning.
It is entirely possible that a student schooled in the curriculum skills will achieve
tremendous external assessment results, but this would be a side-effect. Many stu-
dents might struggle to achieve good exam grades without reducing themselves to
studying by rote. This places a dual burden on teachers: on the one had a rich and
varied educational experience is demanded by the curriculum, with many vague and
holistic goals and aims, on the other hand the pressure to help students do well in
external assessments might lead to poor teaching methods such as dreary drills and
verbatim ‘blackboard notes’ instruction and so forth.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 33

Studio Tasks

Studio Task 1: Is there such a thing as a Scientific Method?

Start by reading, “Being Scientific”, Epol344 Course Reading 6 (p. 54 of your book
of readings). The questions posed and some sample answers are given below.

• Write three reasons why you think teachers would do this activity with their
year 9 class.

1. It gives students some hands on experience in making real measurements

and data analysis, which are two crucial skills in all sciences.
2. The students are gently introduced to hypothesis formation and testing,
another critical attribute of all science.
3. The activity is probably engaging and semi-fun, or at least can be made
to be engaging and fun with the right teaching emphasis and extensions.

Here is another reply from Diana,

“(1) Using and introducing scientific equipment that may be new

to learners. (2) Highlighting aspects of safety in science. (3) Car-
rying out an experiment and making observations including logical
and systematic work ”

• What do you think are the limitations of this activity?

It is a little “one dimensional”, the aim is too obvious and the results are
intuitively obvious. So it lacks the element of surprise that often makes science
especially fun and interesting. The instructions are very prescriptive, which
is not necessarily bad, but it leaves little room for students to make mistakes
and explore their understanding of experimental processes.
Here is another reply from Diana,

“The experiment yields only single results or single comparison

so there is a long set up time and many observations but it misses
ways to incorporate learning more from a lesson such as this in a
valuable time period. The students may in fact know the answer
so the hypothesis is not disproved and there is little scope for fur-
ther engagement or interest in this task. The experiment provides
some opportunity for collaboration with others to observe, record
and plot the results but no real commencement or introduction of
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 34

critical thinking or reasons to debate this experiment on a (year 9

suitability) level provoking deeper understanding. The hypothesis is
not created by the students so they are not as engaged. The activity
provides a chance to handle equipment and safety is introduced but
limited opportunity to improve all the students skills over the course
of this experiment, some may become bored.”

• Would you call this activity a science investigation? Why?

Yes. Students are investigating properties of a liquid. However, due to the
above limitations, it is not as open-ended as one might hope for a good quality
science activity. It is at best only weakly investigative, but this will depend
very much on the initiative of the students, some may really ‘go for it’ and
extend the overly structured activity beyond just doing what they are told.
Again, here is Di’s reply,

“The present experiment is a simple practical experiment with

an aim, hypothesis, method, observation, recording of results and
conclusion, but not so much an investigation because the results
are likely to be already known or at least easy to predict. This
experiment seems to follow a perhaps older learning tradition of
what I found referred to as ‘rhetoric of conclusions’ and is not learner
centred or inquiry or discovery focused.”

• Thinking back to your residency science workshops, is there one scientific

No, there are many broad methods useful in scientific investigation. Pure
theory is one. Experimentation is another. There are many varieties of exper-
imentation, too numerous to list. Computational experimentation is another
distinct form of investigation, useful when physical materials are not available
or too hazardous or expensive to use for real.

• What were some of the types of investigations we did?

During the residency we did some practical experimentation (the effects of
heat and pressure on enclosed volumes using the candle and dyed water and
boiled egg); we did some theorizing (thinking about energy transformation
with the eight task stations as props; we also did some fact checking or memory
enhancement with the flip card game (also called ‘reading the literature’ in
professional circles); and we did some concept mapping, which is not a formal
scientific activity but is something that all scientific thinkers do on a daily
basis, whether formally or not.
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 35

• In the studio forum for this week, discuss how you could make the activity
described here into an open ended investigation?
We could challenge the students to look for ways to confound their expec-
tations. What happens if the heat source is moved further way from the
container? Is there an asymptote whereby with a very weak flame the time
to reach boiling is almost indistinguishable? What happens if impurities are
added like salt or sugar or oil? What about adding dirt or other solid or liquid
insoluble impurity? What about predicting the time it would take for a in-
termediate sized container to boil, or a much larger container? Does the time
taken increase linearly with the volume? These are all questions that extend
the activity.
To make the activity open-ended from the beginning, the teacher could merely
present the students with the equipment and ask them to do something with
scientific merit! Then ask students to bounce some ideas around. Someone
is highly likely to think of the boiling point measurement, and it would be
up to the teacher to give the go ahead to start on any suitable suggested
experiments. This might take up more period time, but would be worth it
owing to the mental exercise involved.
I’m not sure if Azra had something else in mind to make the activity more
open-ended. . . ?
Here is another nice answer from Diana,

“An open-ended investigation includes identifying possible prob-

lems and learners proposing their own hypotheses to come up with
experimentation, therefore giving a chance for experimental design.
Open ended also helps with individual learning and proceeding with
different rates of progress, therefore is a flexible and dynamic rather
than a static approach, I found a reference to the fact the existing
experiment is a ”rhetoric of conclusions” and therefore is not learner
driven. I am sure that this experiment could be made open ended
and still suit Year 9 students and not swamp them.
“This experiment measures only a comparison between boiling
time for two volumes of water. By designing a similar experiment
for boiling water with the addition of further variables and allowing
the student to be given contact with the materials and come up
with some discovery themselves, the experiment will include more
features of making science more exciting around discovery. Variables
to be added could be sugar but other solutes such as salt could be
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 36

“In the introduction links could be made to prior knowledge and

an explanation that instead of boiling pure liquid water, if we add a
solute to it, the resulting solution behaves differently when heated.
Also the concept of entropy could be introduced before or after the
experiment to allow further understanding.
“The teacher could follow up the intro with questions and an-
swers for why this may be or get the class to jot some ideas down
around elevation of boiling points and time taken, and discuss or
provoke thinking around some real examples such as adding salt to
water before cooking pasta, and what the students may have already
“The learners may come up with some reflection or understand-
ings around the idea that the molecules in a liquid solution are less
organized as compared to those in pure water; this is because the so-
lute molecules or ions are free to move about randomly. As a result,
the water molecules are more disorderly in a solution as compared
to pure water.
“It is probably important to ensure any discussion is not based on
misconceptions at this stage so that the experiment and hypotheses
have real meaning and learning so this sort of discussion is useful
early on.
“When the practical stage is reached the teacher can give the
opportunity for the students to organize the equipment and methods
they need themselves and work at their own pace and with their
own experimental design. That means the aims could be slightly
different or varied and this would in turn allow more hypotheses to
be included and evaluated. If the students weigh the solutes and
record these measurements as well, they will be able to experience
for themselves more understanding about solutions and experience
learning inquiry as well benefit from increased autonomy for the
overall experiment.
“In summary the experiment although not much more compli-
cated than the original one actually can allow for a more complex
set of variables: in a continuum of different types of solutes, different
amounts or ratios of solutes and liquids, different overall volumes.
The students learn more, have more challenge from their multi level
observations or for those that cannot work as quickly, the experi-
ment can be scaled down and be slightly less ambitious (perhaps
only introduce two extra variables).
“Once the conclusions are reached the class could end with dis-
cussing both elevation of boiling point and conversely depression of
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 37

freezing point, leading on to possibilities to experiment with more

conversions or knowledge around solid, liquid, gas phases and future
learning opportunities.”

Studio Task 2: The Naı̈ve Ideas of Children

This reading (Ross, Lakin, & Callaghan, 2000b) was a delight to review. Some
questions were a little bewildering or required a second glance even for an educated
adult, other were so simple and yet revealing when considering the naı̈ve answers
given by some children. The questions posed in the Module notes were: What
examples provided in this reading did you find interesting? Choose one of the
examples, in your view what may have led to students holding these alternative
ideas. Discuss your ideas in the online forum. Below is an extract from discussion
of some of the questions.

• The Temperature Question: Mixing hot and cold water is lovely and sim-
ple. It is particularly cool to wonder about children who predict a 70◦ − 10◦ =
50◦ result in the second instance. They are at least applying some analyti-
cal thought to the task, and only lack the correct understanding of intensive
properties, which after all is quite an advanced concept. So they should be
initially applauded perhaps for obtaining an interesting answer, before being
guided to the correct approximation of (70◦ + 10◦ )/2 = 40◦ .

• The Light Seeing Question: This is cute. Until about the 15th century
many learned philosophers used to still think that we see due to vision spirits
or what-have-you emanating from our eyes. So young children who still have
this naı̈ve view can be comforted by explaining to them what adult historical
intellectual company they share.

• The Gravity Question: this is a short and sharp little problem. The direct-
ness of the possible answers and the world-view one needs to adopt to get the
correct answer is lovely in it’s simplicity and perhaps surprise to youngsters.
The difficulty might lie in convincing them (young children) about why they
correct answer is correct, rather than just telling them the answer and having
them merely accept it upon authority. It requires some abstract thinking and
ideas about pictorial models, and of course involves a 2D representation of
something only astronauts and space tourists ever see as a whole in real life
(the Earth suspended in space).

• The Food Question: this was quite complex. A correct answer from the
multiple choices depends upon one’s ability to parse the terms fuel and mate-
Module 1—Science Content and Pedagogy 38

rial correctly, and of course overcome natural prejudices about what makes us
heavy after eating food. Excretion and exercise are the natural socially primed
answers to weight loss. But that is not what the question asks upon careful
reading. It takes quite an analytical mind to eliminate the incorrect choices.
The first option (a) is even a little ambiguous. It is true that using up food
will result in conversion of mass to energy. Similarly choice (e) is inviting but
misleading. The questions asks not about how energy leaves the body though,
it asks us about what happens to the (possibly chemically rearranged) atoms.
I enjoyed the complexity of this question, hence the multiple discussions about
it that could ensue in a classroom debate about the ‘correct’ answer.
2. Module 2—Science Lesson

Modules 2-1,2—A Model Lesson

Task 2.1—A Model for Planning

When planning we refer back to the curriculum document to make sure that the
lesson/activity we are planning is suitable for the right strand, achievement level,
achievement objective and the learning outcomes are specific and measurable. Your
task is to follow the systematic process used to write the model plan you will be
looking into the mind of Azra as she prepared the plan.
As an example exercise:

1. Open the curriculum fold-out to level 5 and go to Material World, Achieve-

ment objective, Properties and change of matter. Investigate the chemical and
physical properties of different groups of substances, for example, acids and
bases, and metals.
2. Consider what key science ideas are involved with acids and bases e.g., acids
and alkalis are chemical (material) groups with common properties.
3. Now we have to decide what we expect the students to know at the end of the
lesson (Learning Outcomes). These have to be specific and measurable. e.g.
recognise that indicators are chemicals that change colour in acidic/alkaline
Carry out an investigation to make Camellia petal indicator.
Use this indicator to test four household chemicals to determine if they are
acid or bases.
Make observations.

Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 40

Write a report.

4. Look at the Nature of Science achievement objectives. We could choose to

integrate any of the four AOs. In this lesson I have chosen “Investigating in

5. For this lesson I have decided to use Investigating and at level 4. (The reason
I have chosen level 4 is that my class at this stage are not up to level 5)

Now think about the following questions:

• Which scientific skills can we teach in this lesson?

• What Key competencies do we need to develop that we could do through this

lesson (page 12–13 of NZC)?
Azra’s model plan considers that participating and contributing are appropri-
ate here.

• What skills do I want to integrate here?

Azra’s plan would like the students to observe changes, she wants to develop
their skills of systematically record observations. The curriculum is seamless
and it is our job to bring the students up to the level and extend those who
are able and need to be challenged. So it might be worth looking at level 4
and see if any AOs from there could be appropriate. You have seen me use a
level 4 NOS objective but remember if you choose a different level you need
to have a reason for it.

Forum 2-1—Comments and Questions arising from the video “A Model

Lesson”. In light of the rapidly approaching TE when you will be critiqued on
managing practical work—post comments on Azra’s lesson management. Consider
the issues raised above, which will be the focus of your associates comment on your
teaching, and aim to make positive suggestions on how one of the issues was handled
well or could be handled differently. Keep your initial comments to about 50 words
but take time to read and respond to other folks comments too.
Here are some of the forum comments: First from Michael,

“It was good to see that instructions were issued prior to allowing the
students to leave their seats and that they were required to wear safety
glasses however Azra was not wearing any. I think that it is best to
develop high safety standards from the start. It is better to be cautious.
I would have requested that the drink bottle be removed and that the
Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 41

students wash their hands post the trials. The pouring of hot water into
the test tubes was not a good example!”

From Rewa,

“I liked the way in the introductory discussion about what an indi-

cator was that Azra took a ‘wrong’ answer and turned it around to help
her get the ‘right’ answer. This helped progress the lesson, related the
indicator concept to something they all knew and would demonstrate to
the students that any answer is appreciated and adds to a discussion.”

From Hannah,

“I enjoyed seeing how the instructions were explained clearly, one

step at a time to the whole class, and how they only had the necessary
equipment for that step in their possession at the time. That way all
the groups in the class could keep up and none would rush ahead or play
around with other things and become off task.”

From Leah,

“I expected that safety precautions would be modelled—using safety

goggles, using a glass rod to push petals in, pouring hot water from
beaker using tongs or silicon grabber. I thought it was interesting that
the broken test tube was not cleaned up immediately, but understand
that it would have disrupted the flow of the instruction. In this case, I
would have thought students would be asked to stay seated until it could
be cleaned up.”

From Blair:

“On Behaviour Management: I was impressed by the short sharp

way in which Azra handled mistakes and confusion and poor behaviour.
The kids were probably behaving extra well for the camera, but even
when they were silly Azra was able to easily put them in line with a
single word or a single stare. There was no embarrassment induced, one
hopes, and the kids got the message. There was no time wasted with
Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 42

Forum 2-2. Planning Management Issues

We were asked to discuss potential management issues. The online Forum was set
up with three strands—one for each lesson plan. We were to select two plans to
critique and write an entry discussing potential management issues. Discuss the
management issues with at least two other students by responding to their forum
entries and exchanging ideas.

Critique of the “Weather–Wind” Lesson Plan. Below are some comments.

From Blair:

“I couldn’t think of any ”management issues” with this lesson plan.

“I’m not sure why a key activity would be ”Everyone display their
title page”, what’s the point of that?
“Why should they need to be told to copy things into their book? I
would hope students would take responsibility for such stuff and maybe
even be informally assessed for it?
“I’m not sure ”drawing onshore and offshore breezes” counts as a
learning experience, unless they can explain what’s going on.
“I couldn’t find the exact wording of any of the AO’s in this plan
in the NZC. Does this matter? Probably not. It’s not a management

Critique of the “Cells” Lesson Plan. Below are some comments on this dummy
lesson plan.
From Rewa:

“I think an important management issue if ensuring the correct use

of the microscopes. These are Form 3 students who have had one (or
two) lessons on microscopes and will not remember everything. Perhaps
a quick revision check-list this would minimise the number of broken
slides and time spent setting up the microscope.
“A second issue is the use and disposal of the students own cheek
cells. Clear instructions should be issued on how to collect the sam-
ple, handling of the equipment and sample and disposal/cleaning of the
equipment used”

To which Azra added:

Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 43

“You have picked up on two important point, one that student need
reminder of prior procedural skills and it is a good idea to go back and
reteach these before proceeding with making slide. Cheek cell slide are
tricky these days o I make skin lides instead. e.g. give students a white
board marker (green or red work well). They scribble a couple of lines
on there arm with the pen. Then you give them a piece of cellotape to
put over it and press down. They peel it off and put the cellotape on a
slide. It is already stained and ready to oberve! They get a lot of debries
(dead cells) but are looking for a complete circle with a dot, which i a
skin cell!
“If using ceek cells they mut make their own slide and in the end
wrap it up and discard it.”

Lucy’s comment:

“The cells lesson doesn’t allow sufficient time, or a plan, for the whole
class to get out the microscopes safely. They should be briefed on how
to carry then properly and sent up in small groups, to avoid dropping
them. there is also no time allowed to go over the microscope skill learnt
in the previous lesson so that they set them up safely and effectivlely. . . I
reckon she’ll have a whole lot of students looking down their microscope
and not seeing a thing!
“Also there seems to be no place in the lesson for learning how to
mount the slide properly. If they’re using glass slides there are safety
issues as they are easily broken. There doesn’t seem to be any planning
for this at all.”

From Blair:

“What about the Advance Organizer being right in the middle of the
lesson after 30 mins? Seems like either a joke or a misprint in the plan.
“If I was a relieving teacher having to use this plan I wouldn’t know
what the ‘Resource’ thing is, I guess it’s some book called ‘Third Form
Science’, but where do I get one of those? In any case, is it actually used
in the lesson? I couldn’t see where. . .
“AO’s: Where are they, what are they? What does ”N5.1” refer
to...I guess it’s the ”Nature of Science” strand, but where is ”5.1” in the
science curriculum, or am I looking at the wrong material?
“LO’s: What is ”look under a microscope at cells” good for? and
how does it relate to the AO’s?
Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 44

“In ‘Discuss Results’: what were the ‘expected results”’ ? I can’t see
that any were mentioned, so what are students expected to write for
that? I guess it refers to the ‘similarities and differences’. But what
science motivated this? What is it about plants and animals that might
account for such differences? That is not in the plan. Maybe it is in the
Resource material? Who knows.
“Finally for now, the timing seems off. 60 minutes seem to be allo-

Critique of the “Cells” Lesson Plan. Again, some comments from colleagues
From Hannah:

“I felt the main issue with this lesson plan for me was that it seemed
to be all direct instruction and group discussions based and I feel like
the kids would lose interest in the subject about 5 minutes in, which
would have a huge impact on trying to manage the class for the rest
of the session. The learning intentions were quite basic and to do with
‘describing’ and ’discussing’ but I’m not sure that many of the students
would be contributing by the end of the class.
“For the kind of subject that it is, there are so many other ways of
teaching or modelling it that could vary the delivery modes during the
class and put something in there for the visual and kinaesthetic learners
too. Or at least get the students physically out of their seats before they
all drift mentally out of their bodies!”

Studio 2.1—Planning Learning Outcomes and Success Crite-


We might recall from Epsy302 that learning objectives differ slightly from learn-
ing intentions. Learning objectives are statements of expected performance of
students—what we’d like them to learn or skills we’d like them to acquire ideally.
A Warning: There is some conflict in the literature and various courses about what
Learning Outcomes and Learning Intentions are and how they differ. For example,
in Epsy302 the Achievement Outcomes are the curriculum objectives whereas the
Epsy302 “Learning Intentions’; are synonymous with the Epol344 “Learning Out-
comes”. Whereas it is the Epsy302 Advance Organizers that are synonymous with
Module 2—Science Lesson Planning 45

the Epol344 “Learning Intentions”. So just beware of the potential confusions in

use of terminology! They are only words, their meaning seems to be quite fluid!
So our Learning Intentions (sometimes called Advanced Organizers) on the other
hand are statements about what the students should know before the lesson to
anticipate what needs to be studied, like a map of the lesson.
The task is to write two learning outcomes for the following topics. Samples are
given in below each topic.

Using a microscope At the end of this lesson the students will be able to,

1. Prepare a simple sample for optical microscopy, such as skin cells or plant
cells samples, using stains if necessary.
2. Demonstrate how to illuminate and focus so that they can sketch details
of samples.

Plate tectonics At the end of this lesson the students will be able to,

1. Identify the Earth’s major continental plates and roughly align these with
regions of volcanic activity.
2. Explain in qualitative terms the mechanisms underlying plate tectonic
dynamics and how this relates to seismic and volcanic activity.

Writing a chemical formula At the end of this lesson the students will be able

1. Balance species and charge in a given unbalanced chemical equation.

2. Explain what the equation represents in terms of physiochemical pro-
cesses, such as acid-base neutralization, combustion, and other simple
classes of chemical reaction.

This sample uses good verbs and avoids the bad verbs such as, “Appreciate the use
of. . . ” or “Believe that. . . ”. As for the usefulness of the rest of the learning outcome
statements. . . well, that is up to the reader to judge [Ed.].
An associated Reflection Journal entry is suggested: Imagine you are to teach
the topic of acids and bases in chemistry. Write five learning outcomes that you
think the students should be able to achieve in this topic. Some samples are given
in the Journal section of these course notes on page 102.
3. Module 3—Use of Assessment

The introductory lectures will not be commented on in detail here. The following
are some highlights.

• NZ is moving away from consummative towards more diagnostic and formative


• Take a look at the ABeL project (Assessment for Better Learning).

• Assessment is never perfect, so a variety of methods should be used.

• The human element needs to be considered—what use is assessment if it does

not lead to improved learning?

• Current NCEA has problems with consistency between schools, particularly

Internal Assessments.

• NCEA Achievement Levels are not great, they are a bit artificial in many

• Alignment of NCEA with the NZ curriculum is not complete.

Module 3-1—Scientific Concepts and Teaching of

Science concepts are invented to give coherence to observed examples of a phe-
nomenon. Concepts are sharply focussed by:

• selecting aspects chosen to be relevant and reproducible

• making possibilities (eg. floating / sinking) mutually exclusive so that com-

plexity is reduced

Module 3—Use of Assessment 47

• coining one term to define a whole system (floating)

• defining a whole system at one moment in time.

Concepts are reconstructed when:

• a new explanation can be found that encompasses several existing explanations

• the new idea is ’tidier’ and makes meaningful links to greater numbers of other

• the new idea is able to predict as well as explain.

The task for this module was to research the idea of ‘concepts’ and in particular the
differences between ‘scientific facts’ and ‘scientific theories’. We often see theories
taught as facts and science reduced to dogma! Our thoughts on this were posted to
the online forum. Some contributions were as follow. Rewa wrote:

“First I’d like to share some definitions I agree with:

• CONCEPT: A general idea, a generalisation. Conceived in the
mind. Derived from specific circumstances
• SCIENTIFIC FACT: an observation that has been confirmed re-
peatedly and is accepted as true (although truth is never final)—
• SCIENTIFIC THEORY: Provides a coherent explanation that holds
true for a large number of facts and observations about the natural
“The key about a scientific fact is it can be and will have been confirmed
“Whereas a scientific theory is a coherent explanation of a group of
facts and observations; that is it is a best fit explanation and can be very
robust. A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some
aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts. Theories are open
to challenge when new information becomes available.
A clear distinction needs to be made between facts (things which can
be observed and/or measured) and theories (explanations which correlate
and interpret the facts.)—www.fsteiger.com/theory.html
“As so a great article on this topic here: http://science.kennesaw.edu/ rmat-
Module 3—Use of Assessment 48

“I can see in school I thought everything I was taught was a fact, part
of the reason for this is that you had ingrained in you that teachers are
always right; that what they taught you was THE ONLY ANSWER. In
such a situation you see no reason to challenge your knowledge because
you think ‘that’s it’ for that topic ‘no more to learn there’.”

Blair’s contribution:

“One thought before I start: You cannot do anything with a fact.

It’s a kinda’ useless thing an isolated fact. Whereas a theory is actually
something useful—it takes a set of facts and makes something predictive
out of them.
“Facts: We can be pragmatic and say that science facts are just
what the majority hold to be pre-theoretical, empirical observations that
are repeatable and that are so fundamental that the no one disputes
them. In the end this is a social constructivist view, since ”what the
majority holds” or ”what we all agree on” is culturally and socially
determined. That doesn’t mean there is no objective content to science
facts: indeed I’d argue the very reason we are able to uncontroversially
identify scientific facts is because they do indeed have a basis in objective
physical reality.
“From time to time scientific ”facts” may get overturned or replaced
by ”better” facts. Like the Ptolomaic system: it used to be a ”fact” that
the Sun went around the Earth. Facts have that sort of all or nothing
flavour about them. They are either ”In” or ”Out”.
“Theory: Are more complex than facts. Theories USE facts to build
up explanations of phenomenon. Facts are like atomic bits of evidence,
whereas theories are multi-layered. They usually have some postulates
(or facts if you like, or principles) and then some mathematical (or
other?) logic to tie the postulates and principles together in order to
explain something that cannot be explained otherwise. Also, rather than
being either ‘in’ or ‘out’ all theories are never ‘in’—at least using Pop-
per’s ideas—any theory worth it’s salt should be falsifiable. The cool
thing is that although we can never trust our theories as we do trust our
facts, it turns out that theories are the far more useful constructs. I really
like that symmetry: facts are completely useless but totally trustworthy;
theories are completely untrustworthy but totally useful.
“OK, that last remark overstates the case a bit. We do trust our the-
ories in prescribed domains of application, since they are based upon the
facts. This idea of the domain of a theory or model is really important.
Module 3—Use of Assessment 49

It is why Newtonian gravity is still used for most celestial mechanics

“Now I’ll get a bit philosophical. . .
“What about human fallibility and facts? Well, some folks like to
think of facts as absolute. But that cannot be the case, ever. Never-
theless, I still hold to a philosophy of objective reality—hidden Absolute
Facts behind the things we call facts. So human derived facts can be
perhaps 99.99999% indisputable, how? Because they are based upon the
hidden Absolute Facts of physical reality. If there is no objective reality
then there can be no absolute Facts about physical reality. In that case
we would have complete socially constructed science.
“Luckily mathematics is not like that, which is why mathematics is
so useful for science.”

From Lucy:

“OK these are my thoughts. I’m actually quite clear in my mind

about this, let me know what you think!!!
“It is really a matter of classification, there are the Laws of science,
that are factual eg the Law of gravity, you drop something and it falls
down; the Law of the conservation of energy, enregy can neither be
created nor destroyed, this is a little bit more abstract but non the less
that is backed up by experimentation, and as far as we are aware that is a
fact. But it has to be said that there is room for theoretical disagreement
here, but as we stand today any disagreements are purely theoretical,
the Laws of Science are still standing firm. Scientific Laws explain things
but DO NOT describe them.
“Then there are they theories this is where understanding hypotheses
comes in, this is the arguable part of science, an hypothesis is not a law,
it’s just an educated guess based on observation. Like all guesses there
is the possibility it will be right or wrong, if a hypotheses is properly
made it will never be partly right (that would be a poor, muddled one).
Anyway Theories are simply based on one or more hypotheses that have
been repeatedly tested and haven’t yet been disproven. Theories are only
valid as long as there is no evidence to disprove it. Scientists generally
spend a lot of their working life with particular theories regarding their
field in mind.
“So there is, to my mind a very clear cut differential between facts and
theories. I think it is definitely worth being clear on these classifications
before confusing a class of 14 year olds.
Module 3—Use of Assessment 50

“To differentiate between a Law and a Theory you just ask if what
you are hearing seeks to explain why, if it does that’s a theory. Thought
there is no such thing as absolute truth in Science there are ’indisputable
observations’, and these are called facts.”

Hannah’s contribution:

“I think that the difference between facts and theories is an interest-

ing topic, and it’s not something that I’ve really delved into personally to
such an extent as to verbalise my thoughts on the matter (although now
that I am doing it for this forum I realise that, yes, I do have thoughts
about it). I think my view has changed a bit since learning about the
new curriculum and where the emphasis lies in nature of science.
“When I was at school, and most of the way through Uni, facts were
taught as facts and theories were taught as facts. My understanding
of the difference has been relatively recent compared to how long I’ve
been learning about science. I agree with Caroline that the difference
can actually be pretty clear cut with respect to what you’re teaching in
a science class. I don’t think there’s any reason why you couldn’t, at
least at some point in secondary school, explain that facts are the data
that we know is ’true’ from observation (e.g. we drop something, it falls
down, we’ve used the word ’gravity’ to explain it—this is a fact) and that
Newton’s theory was his way of ’explaining the facts’ which has stood
true until some evidence to the contrary was available. Now we have
alternative theories for the observable phenomenon of gravity (Einstein
etc.) BUT it doesn’t make gravity as a fact any less true. We’re not all
floating around until someone figures it out for real!
“I think we then encourage students curiosity like Rewa said, and
leave it up to them to decide if they want to choose to question the
validity of the ’facts’ of gravity (or anything else) based on the idea that
it’s all interpreted by humans which leaves room for bias and as such
there’s no absolute truth. Some students will get to that level, and it
would be a great discussion, but I don’t think we need to expect it from
“Between all of that I think there is ample room for conveying the
idea of facts vs. theories without their perspective of science needing
to change to it being wishy washy and nothing is really certain. The
facts are certain enough for us to trust 100% (if I go outside, gravity is
not going to ’stop’ and I won’t float away), and we just guide them by
explaining that these theories are the closest to the truth that we have,
Module 3—Use of Assessment 51

but they are constantly being tested and refined to get even closer to the

Module 3-2—Making Use of Assessment

There are two readings for this section: (Parkinson, 2004) and (Gunstone, 1990).
Highlights from these articles follow.

Parkinson—Making Use of Information from Assessment

• Why measure how well students do on a task—why not give them a task
and measure instead (observe) how much help they need to complete the task

• Make lesson objectives clear and transparent, so a feeling of progress and

achievement is experienced by the end of every lesson.

• Avoid asking students to copy down instructions or data. If they are not col-
lecting the data just give them the data, otherwise you are wasting everyone’s

• Whenever possible get students to work things out for themselves! Do not
spoon feed them. Trust that this will develop cognitive skills in the students
that will ultimately aid their learning more than if you try to just transmit
your knowledge. See also the Journal Reflections for Epsy302 for notes on
the difficulties of this approach.

• Get students involved—they formulate questions, they construct concept maps,

they design experiments. They do all the thinking work. The teacher merely
guides and corrects.

• Kill Two Birds with One Stone—use class time questions to educate as well
as to inform, thus formative assessment should not be seen as a burden, it can
be used as an essential part of each lesson.

• Ask open-ended questions—too many short answer questions is not very infor-
mative. We want questions that encourage students to think and talk about
science, not just give pat answers. Refer back to this reading (Parkinson, 2004)
for the full list of question categories.
Module 3—Use of Assessment 52

• Praise students for trying and attempting answers or solutions. Never deni-
grate effort.
• Use body language to give subtle hints about right or wrong track thinking.
Also use the students’ body language to gauge their level of discomfort or ease.
We want them to frown and struggle but not to squirm and melt away.
• When assessing written work provide informative comments and forget about
marking. The students can mark their own work. You should of course mark
all work and keep records for yourself. The feedback to students is most
effective in comment form, not grade form. Research proves that comments
are more effective feedback, and marks reduce the effectiveness of comments!
• Self-assessment can be effective—provided students (a) understand the learn-
ing objectives and (b) are well trained in making good judgements. Trusting
students to accurately self-assess is usually not a problem, and blatant cheating
is easy to pick up. So when it will save time use self-assessment.
• Make occasional use of deliberately incorrect work, and get student to act as
the teacher marking the work. The principle being that it is hard to spot
mistakes unless you know the subject well.
• At start of year, ask students to set themselves quantitative improvement
targets. These could be targets for summative assessment grades or homework
completions and so forth. Teachers could collect and keep these and use them
at the end of year in some way to rewards students who set good targets and
achieved or came close to them.

Gunstone—Constructivist Learning and the Teaching of Sci-


• Common misconceptions often go uncorrected with traditional teaching. Con-

structivist methods aim to teach as well as reveal student misconceptions, by
opening up their thinking processes.
• Linking knowledge gained across classes—again underdone in traditional teach-
ing, but can be done more effectively by giving students more personal respon-
sibility for their own education.
• Students from traditional schooling will be typically resistant to constructivist
learning methods.
– You first need to work out how to teach constructively
Module 3—Use of Assessment 53

– then gain student cooperation.

– These are two tasks to be considered prerequisites to actually running a
constructive learning class.

• Main aims of constructivist lessons:

1. Integrate—link prior learning to new topics.

2. Extending—learning towards new contexts.
3. Monitoring—ensuring progress and sense of achievement.

• Strategy—POE. Predict-Observe-Explain.

• Strategy—Challenge Answers. Get students to challenge solutions and

think of alternative methods of solution.

• Strategy—Translate. Get students to translate learning from one form

(text) into another (graphical).

• Strategy—Concept Maps. A good way to get students thinking and mon-

itor their learning.

• Strategy—Information Sifting. Give more information than necessary to

solve a problem, get students to identify the unnecessary data. Extension—
Do this in groups on different problems, then another group has to test the
reduced set.

Module 3-3—Senior Curriculum and Content

The task for this section is to head a document with your name, subject speciality,
and Curriculum. Then complete the following tasks.

• Write a synopsis of the topics that are taught at each level (Years 11–13) and
comment on the sequential development of concepts.

• Go onto the NZQA website and download the Level 2 (Year 12) achievement
standards in your speciality. Read the “explanatory notes” for each and com-
pare them to the curriculum statements. Draw up a brief table matching
specialist curriculum AOs with Achievement Standards. (NOTE: physics has
peculiar issues to deal with. . . )
Module 3—Use of Assessment 54

• Make a note of any topics within your speciality area that may require further
reading. Select the ONE curriculum strand you feel weakest in and make
summary teaching notes for that topic.

• When you have updated your knowledge in a particular topic, download the
examination paper for that standard and do it (simulate an exam). Then
download the marking schedule and mark the paper. This is an important
exercise to do so that you are familiar with,

1. what to teach?
2. what to assess?
3. how to assess?

For this document see ‘epol344 M3-3 SeniorSubjectStudy.pdf’ in /Personal/Study/vuw-2010/E

[TODO: post this instead on the TWiki when done.]

Module 3-4—Constructivism and Assessment

This sub-module is recorded in audio, available on the Twiki, http://geonworld.-
homelinux.net/. . . /Epol344AudioFiles.
Some comments on constructivism. First of all, the criticism of constructivism by
Matthews cited in the Epol344 module notes seem on the mark. My main concern
with constructivism is it’s unnecessary suppositions. Why do we need to assume
individuals construct their own learning and meaning, socially, contextually, cogni-
tively or otherwise? Surely some human knowledge and meaning is innate. Surely
all modes of constructivism are valid to some degree. Surely all the implications
drawn from the philosophy of constructivism have some relevance to how we learn
and how we should teach.
Comments on forms of assessment. All forms: diagnostic, formative, summative
and evidence assessments are useful and have their place. In some form assessment
is vital. What more can be said about assessment? Well, in some sense it is a
huge and inexhaustible topic. The problem is (a) what should we assess to most
effectively enhance learning and (b) what is effective learning, or what is the goal of
As a teacher my greatest concern is accurate evidence on how effective lessons
are in progressing students. But there are so many ways to define progress. Do we
focus on raw knowledge? Should we focus on creativity? Should we focus more on
technical skills? You cannot find definitive answers. The focus depends upon the
Module 3—Use of Assessment 55

student and their desires, their goals and their needs. So teachers need to understand
these characteristics of students first, before launching into a strict lesson regime.
One thing that is reasonably certain is that all aspects of learning are import to
some degree. The degree will differ from individual to individual. So the only
general advice for teachers seems to be,

1. Know your students (diagnostic) and tailor lessons to suit them (formative),
either individually or in like groups.

2. Provide diversity in the classroom so that no student is disproportionately

advantaged (summative).

3. Strive to improve teaching and the effectiveness of lessons (evidential).

The great unknown question is how to create lesson plans and implement them so
that these ideals are achieved. For novel lesson plans there is no recipe. The novice
teacher however, can—at least—draw upon a vast array of teaching resources and
proven lesson plans that already exist online or in published literature.

Module 3-5—Concept Maps

The task here is to analyse the two concept maps reproduced in the Epol344 course
Module notes. A journal entry on this is given in Table 3.1 and the comments that

Table 3.1: Analysis of students concept maps, before and after a lesson.

Before After
Minimal links Detailed links
Incorrect relationships Correct relationships
Simplistic relations Complex relations

It is a bit hard to analyze the effectiveness of the concept map for learning given
just the example in the module notes. Clearly what the concept maps show is
that progress with the particular student or students has been made. So the lesson
seems to have been effective. We can tell this by comparing the characteristics of the
Module 3—Use of Assessment 56

concept map before and after the lesson, and as analysed in brief in Table 3.1. The
first concept map is diagnostic in that it shows a few misconceptions and knowledge
gaps, and perhaps one might say a lack of effort? The second concept map is
indicative of formative assessment. It shows the students have gained a better
understanding of the circulatory system and it proves the lesson in between the
concept map attempts was reasonably effective. It also shows that there has not
been quite the extension one would expect if the students had put in even more
effort, for example the role of CO2 is missing and no attempt has been made to
consider details of the heart and lungs and other more micro-level concepts.
In summary, the concept map looks to be effective in this small example both as a
diagnostic tool and as a formative inquiry tool for assessing the progress of students’
understanding. It also points the teacher to possible extensions of the concepts that
could further enhance learning.
4. Module 4—Teaching Experience

We debrief and analyse the first teaching experience of seven weeks.

Module 4-1—Teaching Experience Debrief

For the forum we were asked to comment on the question “How did the mode of
teaching affect the learning in the classroom? Discuss the implications it had in
terms of student learning, behaviour and assessment.” Below are a few responses.
A contribution from Blair:

“I did not see any ”chalk and talk” but did see a lot of whiteboard
or youtube and talk! I think teaching to the NCEA tests was the killer
of science.
“The mode of teaching had a significant effect. For the associate
teachers the main mode was ‘chalk and talk’ (20 mins) followed often by
a short practical activity or worksheet exercise. The method was highly
successful in obtaining a breadth of coverage of topics and seemed to
prepare students fairly well for their tests and exams. However, I felt
that a lot of deep learning was avoided and the experience the students
had was less than inspired. Often they seemed bored and their questions
were suppressed. They were generally not engaged and excited as I would
hope for a science lesson.
“When challenged with difficult material requiring a bit of thought at
least one class rebelled and got very rowdy. This was actually a good sign
I thought, it showed that they were bothered by the harder challenges
offered. However their behaviour was verging on uncontrollable. This
appeared to be because of (a) the stress of the novelty of needing to
think hard and (b) the poor culture of learning and inquiry at the school.
(They largely wanted to be spoon-fed.)

Module 4—Teaching Experience 58

“The most engagement happened when practicals were run involving

lots of ‘boys toys’ type activities (rocket launching, bursting balloons,
shooting darts, and so on, all with firm science concepts in mind of

Hannah had a slightly more positive experience but with similar undertones:

“In the year 11 science class I was part of during my TE, the main
mode of teaching was very much chalk and talk. It was a class of only 11
students, at a rural area school. The students were generally quite well
behaved because of the small number, but they were also very hands-
on kids given the context of the school. I noticed early on that they
really enjoyed practical work, but would often end up having their own
conversations while the teacher talked if she talked for too long. They
were never particularly disruptive or defiant, but just got bored quickly.
Apart from standard practicals in pairs there were no cooperative group
activities, and nothing other than chalk and talk and exercises from their
workbooks. The students were all reasonably interested in science, and
as such I found it amazing that the whole class weren’t getting merits and
excellences since there were only 11 students! When I taught them I tried
to incorporate some more interactive activities and this had quite a good
effect on student engagement and behaviour, and they also remembered
the skills well when they came up again in later classes.
“The teacher did not use much formative or diagnostic assessment
because she said you know you’re just going to have to teach it all anyway.
I think she spent quite a lot of time teaching to NCEA and it seems like
so much is wasted by not taking advantage of a class that size in a rural
context where so much learning could be hands on!”

Leah noticed similar trends, but a positive difference for the teacher who had
better lesson plan structure:

“I observed two very different science/biology teachers. In year 11

science two classes working on the same unit of work both appeared to
be less motivated in science than other subjects. One teacher was very
much a lecturer, providing notes for the students to copy notes from the
board. He would interject with stories and other information relevant to
the topic, but very rarely asked the students to give examples of their
own knowledge or examples. Most of his stories were told when students
were writing, and I could see much frustration from the students when
this happened. He had so much knowledge, and so many resources,
Module 4—Teaching Experience 59

but his lesson plans were non-existent he ran the class knowing what he
needed to get through in the next few lessons and could dig out whatever
resource he needed from his computer or store room at the back of the
classroom. The lack of structure meant that the students learning was
interrupted they waited while he scrolled through files trying to find the
right video/animation/photo and they lost interest pretty quickly. There
was a lot of talking in this class, which meant constant ‘shuushhing’ but
with very little action or consequence. No learning intentions were shared
with students and there was no summary at the end of the lesson about
what had been learnt. The teacher’s perception was that the students
weren’t willing to take any responsibility for their own learning, but
he didn’t give them any opportunity to do so, constantly feeding them
information, expecting that they knew what to do with it. Very little
formative assessment was done, except the teacher assuming that not
many people knew the information because they couldn’t answer many
questions he asked. In previous unit of work the achievement rate was
“My second AT was an experienced lady who is known around the
school as a specialist classroom teacher. She gave me lots of tips and had
some great classroom routines and it was obvious that students knew
what she expected and so they knew what to expect from her. Her plans
were mostly in her head, but she still wrote a brief set of notes for each
lesson. She broke her lessons into well defined segments with one break
for 2-3 minutes if there was a lot of writing or thinking to be done.
The students were not achieving at an extraordinary level and I think
that their motivation to learn and understand was still low, even though
the routines, expectations and learning intentions were clear. Very little
organised cooperative learning was incorporated.
“Students had particular difficulty in both classes answering ques-
tions which required them to explain, discuss or describe.”

Impact of the Knowledge Explosion in Science

Consider the following opening paragraphs from an article by Patricia Harding, Leo
Vining, (Harding & Vining, 1997):

“Since the early 1950s, a general societal perception likely to have

been experienced by everyone is that we are in the midst of a knowledge
explosion in science. The result of the perceived knowledge explosion is
the rendering of the impression that scientific knowledge is temporary
Module 4—Teaching Experience 60

and unreliable. This image of unreliability leads, in turn, to teaching

methods that emphasize how science is done at the expense of scientific
knowledge. The science education literature reveals that many scientists
and educators assume that this creates problems for education by causing
existing knowledge to go out of date. For example, Glass (1970) stated:”
It can now be affirmed unequivocally that the amount of scientific
knowledge available at the end of one’s life will be about 100 times what
it was when he was born. In rapidly advancing fields of biology, for
example, textbooks are scarcely written and printed before they are sadly
out of date. (p. 39)

Another idea discussed is that since science always changes one thing we know for
certain is that science is wrong. Harding and Vining continue,

“Because of this perceived unreliability, knowledge is no longer valued

as an important part of science; it is seen as merely the ‘product’ or
‘conclusion’ of science and its value is diminished. This has led, in turn,
to approaches that aim to teach scientific methods or problem solving
skills, rather than scientific knowledge.”

Harding and Vining then go on to point out that such views are misguided and that
teaching scientific knowledge is still, and will always be, an important and vital part
of science teaching—if we value our students.
The problem with such ideas like those, that Harding and Vining critique, is that
they betray a terrible lack of appreciation of scientific progress. Science is not really
wrong, but merely incomplete. That’s a good thing when you think about it.
As a case study, Harding & Vining consider the revolution in molecular biology
from 1958 onwards. This has been a period of rapid growth in knowledge in this field.
Despite the overwhelming growth in knowledge the actual fundamental of biological
science have not really changed during this time. It is all still just chemistry and
physics. It has become more complex, but again that is good. Old theories have
not been overthrown so much as tweaked as new data has been assimilated.
So here is some panacea offered by Harding and Vining, to the above alarmist

• There is a false dichotomy in such ideas that set up a conflict between teaching
for knowledge and teaching for skills. The truth is more likely that knowing
how and knowing that are complimentary, both are necessary.
Module 4—Teaching Experience 61

• Scientific progress is more evolutionary than revolutionary, so old ideas remain

largely still highly relevant.
• Speculation at the forefront of research typically seems revolutionary and sen-
sational, but more often it turns out to be ‘merely evolutionary when reviewed
and assessed in detail.
• The knowledge explosions actually make science teaching easier, not harder.
Why? Because explanations can be made more lucid and less mysterious.
• Typically there is not necessarily ever ‘more to learn’ but rather less to learn as
science becomes synthesized and collated into better understood fundamental
principles. Progress in scientific knowledge usually makes the world easier to
• This positive view of progress in science is however not always smooth. There
are transition phases where the world may seem more complicated, but often as
knowledge increases a synthesis is reached that restores a harmony of elegance
and simplicity to our scientific understanding of the world.
• Textbooks can become shorter and simpler when they incorporate the most
recent established theories, models and knowledge. So teachers should not be
scared of teaching advanced topics–they can simplify things.
• Ideas and classic experiments that are 150 to 200 years old may seem boring
to us but we need to be aware that they can be very interesting to young
students! They can be worth teaching!
• Teaching should incorporate the excitement and thrill of scientific discovery.
– Problem: the mess and clutter of doing science from scratch can be a
distraction and can be legitimately viewed as unnecessary for the school
– So ‘cleaned up’ demos and practicals can be of value in getting the clear
principles across.
– Nonetheless, the occasional use of open-ended investigations should be
used to expose students to the gory mess and thrills of genuine scientific
• Knowledge and creativity are not in opposition, they are complimentary, both
should be fostered in the school classroom and university laboratories.
• Think about how many Nobel Prize Laureates have a vast knowledge and
appreciation of the history of their science—probably greater in extent than
we might at first guess!
Module 4—Teaching Experience 62

Module 4-2—Science in Everyday Context

This module offers a few tips for effective science teaching. The VUW module 4-2
notes are reproduced in part here.
Science skills we can choose from include,

• Planning an investigation

• Processing information

• Interpretation

• Communicating information

Some suggestions for lesson plans or broad topic selections:

1. Record pulse and tabulate data

2. Provide data to be graphed (pulse rate)

3. Plan an investigation to determine:

• Which materialis most water-resistant?

• Which material dries fastest?
• What tread provides most friction?

4. Read an article and pick out four possible problems and come up with ways
to solve it.

Keep in mind these advantages of teaching in context:

• Students are being given a problem to solve

• Students own their contexts, they are more motivated, they are more likely to
persevere and are more committed to the task

• Oral and verbal input

• Rethink and revisit their own concepts and challenge those of others

• Student teacher talking is enhanced, as teacher is able to speak and discuss

Module 4—Teaching Experience 63

• Teacher places importance on the promotion of student thinking

and some of the potential pitfalls to be wary of,

• Students taught in conventional manner may not consider this way authentic

• Pressure from associates and exams

• No encouragement from associates

• Need to stick with the strategy but improve technique

• Planning a full unit be bold and confident in carrying it through

• Issue of preparation time

• Reflection is essential

Important Tip: Constantly evaluate how you feel about your teaching and how
the students feel about their learning. Then try to improve.

Module 4-3—Science in a Hangi

We are asked to read the school journal booklet “Hangi” by Trish Puharich, then
draw a concept map illustrating the science ideas involved in a Māori hangi. Fig-
ure 4.1 is my effort.
The first journal task for this module is to reflect upon his activity. In your
view what advantage would teaching in this context have for Maori students in the
class? What message would it have for non Maori students in your class? What
other learning may arise from using this approach to teach?
Here are some thoughts:

“1. In your view what advantage would teaching in this context have
for Maori students in the class? I could be cynical and say that the
context of a hangi adds nothing to the associated science that could
not be taught using some other context. However, the truth is that the
cultural context is significant. The the advantages include connecting
Maori students with their tikanga, the consequent pride in their culture,
and embedding of feelings of comfort with the idea that their culture
can be a source of knowledge and insight. Even if the students are bored
Module 4—Teaching Experience 64

by the background story, the science context gives them reason to think
about these old traditional activities in a new, hopefully positive, light.
“2. What message would it have for non Maori students in your class?
Science is acultural. Scientific principles can be gained by studying any
culture. All cultures have things to teach us and are worth respect and
“3. What other learning may arise from using this approach to teach?
Students will find it hard to avoid forming memory links between the sci-
ence principles and the hangi experience. Especially if they are invited
to actually prepare or participate in a hangi. The brain learns primarily
when new neural connections are made or old connections strengthened,
and nothing aids formation of new connections than juxtaposing seem-
ingly unrelated things, such as cultural activities and scientific principles.

Hangi Science Concept Map

Māori Achievement Programmes

Most New Zealanders recognize a need for affirmative action for boosting Māori
education achievements. This is not social engineering or reverse racism. It is
simply a recognition that past injustices have not been fully righted and that like it
or not, New Zealand is dominated by a strong European hegemonic culture.
The second forum for this module asked us to, “share any experiences you have
had on your teaching experience where the school was addressing the issue of Māori
under achievement in the school. In your view, how successful are these initiatives
in improving student performance.”
Below are some forum contributions. First from Blair:

“The best I can say about my TE observations of Māori student

achievement focus was the Te Kotahitanga program directed by a highly
enthusiastic British ex-pat teacher. His charisma is a major part of the
success of the program and I have doubts about the programs viability if
he were to leave the school. This teacher was so thoroughly committed
to his students and the program that it is hard to see how this will
fail to reap huge benefits in the future. The program is in it’s infancy
but has clearly strong potential. But it needs to be solidified and made
independent of this one strong teacher.
“The nice thing is that the students were not all ethnic Māori. Also
the school has a strong extra-curricular and sports-oriented focus, which
Module 4—Teaching Experience 65

the Māori students particularly thrive with. Although sometimes it

seems they attend classes only for the reward of active involvement in
sports, at least this is a positive sort of extrinsic motivation. It does not
seem to translate well to intrinsic levels of motivation for subjects other
than the Kotahitanga curriculum.
“Generally throughout the school Māori achievement is not a par-
ticular issue. This is largely because of the strong sports program that
seems to manage to keep most boys focused while at school since they
know their sports rights will be removed if they do not perform academ-
ically. It is not the greatest structure, but it works ok for this school
without wildly promoting Māori achievement.
“I think better programs to promote Māori achievement could be
found. For example, Māori perspectives and contexts (like the Hangi
module activity for Epol344) on science and mathematics are not vis-
ible at this school. Yet they would be so easy to include even in the
excessively NCEA exam oriented curriculum.”

Hannah observed a gap between preaching and practice:

“On my first day of TE I had the opportunity to attend a professional

development session that was specifically about improving Maori student
achievement. He talked about a number of issues and topics which had
come up in EPSY301 and the first few weeks of coursework before the
placement. Some of these included finding authentic contexts to teach in,
differences in cultural capital, and the KEY factor in student engagement
often being the TEACHER and their relationship with the students. I
was quite surprised to find that it was new content for many of the
teachers also at the workshop, as I thought it would all be widely known.
Some of the teachers still had the idea that there was nothing wrong
with the old method of schooling where students just listened to their
teachers and did the work, and that it produced some great results. The
instructor of the workshop was quick to point out that the ones who fell
through the cracks in that system are not a part of the statistics.
“He talked about his 20 years spent in the classroom with the class
full of the worst of the worst of Maori students who caused chaos in their
other classes. He said he never once had to deal with discipline issues
because of a lot of things, such as making his role more of a facilitator,
giving the students the power to choose their own contexts and make
their own rules, and by letting them learn as Maori. He said many of his
students who were about to drop out in year 9 had made it to become
Dux by the end of their schooling, and the pass rates were tremendous,
Module 4—Teaching Experience 66

and largely due to just changing the perspective of where the problem
lies. He even said his students got to the point where if he was away, a
nominated student could run the class because they were all so engaged
with their learning that they knew what needed to be done.
“I found this session extremely inspiring, but as I progressed through
my TE I struggled to see how it was being put into practice in the school.
They have made quite an effort to develop a bicultural atmosphere with
Maori words for their ‘Whanau groups’ (houses/teams/the groups with
colors that earn points during the year!), a karakia that all classes say
at the beginning and end of the day (Ki runga, ki raro, ki roto, ki waho,
rire rire hau, pai marire), and beginning staff meetings with Maori songs.
In terms of the actual educational practice, however, there was not a lot
going on that I saw.”

Leah’s experience was mixed, the committed teachers were enthusiastic but they
were few:

“I was able to be part of several professional learning sessions, one of

which focused on connecting with Māori students. The intention of these
was to begin to develop better relationships with Māori students so that
their sense of belonging was improved. This was believed to encourage
participation, improve motivation and hopefully, see better results. The
basis was Māori pedagogies with students and teachers working together.
Staff who attended were encouraged to begin to implement Māori phrases
into their teaching, even if only in greeting—and to further relationships,
encourage Māori students to assist us with correct pronunciation and
appropriate use.
“I didn’t see any statistical data on Māori achievement, however, the
professional learning sessions were optional, and only 7 staff plus 3 stu-
dent teachers (out of 100 or so staff) attended. I was disappointed by
this—I got the impression that experienced teachers think they know
what Māori students needs are, but don’t appear to be altering their
teaching to account for it. The school currently is striving to show
better achievement results overall, however there are some questionable
methods being used. Māori culture is embraced completely in some
respects—by senior leadership team, a Tikanga Committee invites stu-
dents to bring their culture to school and be celebrated with others
and awards are given to students who show commitment, leadership, or
sporting achievements in the cultural arena.”

Mike had a dispiriting time, showing us teaching in New Zealand schools is not
Module 4—Teaching Experience 67

always smooth sailing,

“I was based at an East Coast rural secondary school. The role

was 87% Māori. There are big issues with drugs and gang clashes at
the school. In spite of the tough cultural setting all the teachers were
committed to finding strategies and content that would help these young
folk engage in their learning.
“The school is running the Te Kotahitanga program. All the teachers
had copies of Culture Speaks by Bishop and Berryman.
“Compared to a traditional multicultural school the students were
much more aggressive, noisy and active (could not sit still). All the
teachers were trying to help the students by connecting content, where
possible, with the students culture.
“Teachers knew students names and many also knew the students
parents, aunts and uncles etc. The teachers worked together on strategies
to help at risk kids.
“In spite of all of that, I would feel mentally and emotionally drained
at the end of each day. It was a constant battle to cajole and encourage
the students to actually do anything. I got the impression that some of
the students had already given up on themselves (13 year olds).
“Sorry no words of wisdom. These were tough kids with big problems.
Committed but tired and battle weary teachers.”

Rewa found some positive things happening,

“A new initiative at my school this year is its involvement in the Te

Kotahitanga project.
“Although I had come across this project in EPSY 302 I sought out
more information.
“Central to the initiative is that the ”project sought to investigate
how to improve the educational achievement of Māori students in main-
stream secondary school classrooms, by talking with Māori students and
other participants in their education”
“The initiative is in its infancy at this school but I spoke to some of
the teachers involved and learnt:
• the teachers I spoke to were very committed to and enthusiastic
about the project
• the focus was on a select small group of students—chosen by as-
sessing those who could benefit most from the project. (Kept small
to facilitate good implementation at these early stages)
Module 4—Teaching Experience 68

• the initial stages involve a lot of data gathering and discussions—

with teachers, students and parents
• part of the project involved the pairing of students (at the same
curriculum level) to support and promote each others learning
It appears to be a very focused support system for those students in-
volved and I can see it has great potential.”

Four Lessons on Genetics

The task here is to plan a unit of four linked lessons on genetics using the story The
Gene Seekers by Bill O’Brien, as the main resource.

Learning area: Natural World Year 12-13, Level


Topic: Genetic disorders I Time: 50 min

Based on NZC AO.

Learning intentions: By the end of this lesson students should be able to,

1. Describe the structure of DNA.

2. Define the terms: genes, alleles, chromosomes and related cellular genetics vocabulary.
3. Describe mitosis and meiosis and their differences.
4. Give a concrete example of variation and natural selection.

Background: This lesson assumes the students are familiar with the following topics.
Human reproduction. Basic cell biology. Basics of the theory of evolution. Basics of structure and
function of DNA and RNA and protein synthesis. Function of chromosomes. Causes of genetic
disorders and mutations.

Key words and ideas: Proteins. Nucleotides. DNA. RNA. Genes. Alleles. Chromosomes. Cells.
Mitosis. Meiosis. Mutation. Variation. Selection.

Success Criteria:
1. Write all key notes in exercise books.
Continued on next page. . .
Module 4—Teaching Experience 69

lesson plan continued. . .

2. Answer basic questions related to molecular genetics.

Homework: None.

Preparation and resources needed:

PDF slides.

Continued on next page. . .

Module 4—Teaching Experience 70

lesson plan continued. . .

Time: Teacher’s strategies:

This is an inquiry learning lesson. Students are posed questions and problems that frame
the topic of inherited diseases.
Key Concepts and Warm Up Questions:

Lesson Concepts: Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.

Idea worth mentioning:

• mRNA transcribes DNA (reads or copies the genes ∼ ‘photo negatives’)
• mRNA is read by ribosomes which act like mid-wives, attracting tRNA carrying
• consecutive tRNA attracted onto the ribosome allow the peptides to bond together
• after the peptides bond the tRNA is repelled from the ribosomes, which move along
the mRNA chain, until
• a complete protein chain is formed and folded.

Useful questions to reflect on are:

• Is the peppered moth (Biston betularia) experiment really a ‘proof’ of natural se-
lection in operation?
• ?

TODO: Examples

Teacher action: Students action:

5 min Outline the lesson. Briefly display the Answer questions on hand-outs.
warm-up questions. Hand-out sheets.
NB: “after this lesson your fingers
should be aching from note-taking”.

35 min Lecture-exposition, slide show. Furious note writing and diagram drawing.

10 min Answer questions arising. Time to ask questions.

Assessment of student learning:

Continued on next page. . .
Module 4—Teaching Experience 71

lesson plan continued. . .

Whole class discussion feedback was again positive.


Students were mildly disruptive during the question and discussion. It would have been better to
get them to write down the questions and answers in their books, rather than just read them, to
keep them busy.
Module 4—Teaching Experience 72

Lesson observations Experience on TE

Planned learning outcomes were shared with students Often seen

Learning experiences were designed to take into account the Sometimes seen
needs of the students in the class
Group work as well as individual work was carried out Seldom seen
Class work focused on ‘chalk and talk’ Often seen
Links were made between lessons and parts of lessons Often seen
Present understandings of the students on identified science Sometimes seen
concepts were sought
Science as a ‘people’ activity was explored Often seen
Contexts from everyday life were used to introduce concepts Often seen
Formative assessment was used to give students immediate Sometimes seen
feedback on their learning
Problem solving and practical investigation approaches were Seldom seen
Creativity and the use of the imagination were encouraged Seldom seen
Attitudes/values and/or feelings were explicitly explored in sci- Seldom seen
ence contexts
Links were made between learning in science and other curricu- Seldom seen
lum areas
Learning was evaluated with students against planned out- Sometimes seen
Students were involved in making decisions about the directions Seldom seen
of their own learning
Discussions about science as a way of thinking were part of the Seldom seen

Table 4.1: Summary of aspects of teaching observed on TE.

Module 4—Teaching Experience 73

proteins fats psychology knowledge
poisoning nutrition tradition
hygiene Health conversation
chemistry learning
Food Friends emotions
thermal calories laughter
Maori Hangi memories
convection Science aluminium
temperature heat
Materials metallurgy
Fire Earth
heat Energy Baskets
capacity Fuel Iron rails
safety ash heat
burns specific diffusion
First aid water manuka heat

Figure 4.1: Concept map for the science associated with a Māori hangi.
5. Constructivism and Group

Teaching Science Constructively

The Epol-344 course notes review the educational psychology theory of construc-
tivist learning. Recall from our Epsy-301 course that current educational psychol-
ogy “theories” are not scientific theories, but should rather be thought of as windows
into the world of learning.
I liked the pithy quote in the module reading,

“Constructivism is a theory of learning based on the idea that knowl-

edge is constructed by the knower based on mental activity. Learners
are considered to be active organisms seeking meaning.”

The humorous thing about this is the utter obviousness of it. People learn using
their brains (mental activity) and learners seek meaning. It’s verging on hilarity that
one needs to write that this whole “theory’ of constructivism is needed to articulate
the idea that we should consider learners as organisms seeking meaning.
The non-obvious thing about the constructivist perspective of education is really
the role of the teacher, or how the teacher is considered to be most efficient. Unless
you adopt extreme views of alternative theories of education, it is not really about
the student or learner—the learner plays a similar role no matter what the theory—
since the theory cannot tell us how we learn, it can only model and describe how
we learn. What educational theories can tell is is what methods work best for
facilitating our learning. For this role evidence becomes important and experiment
and methodological investigations can be used.
What constructivism ends up doing is providing a model or framework that
synthesizes a whole lot of learning styles and teaching methods that come closer

Constructivism and Group Learning 75

to optimising the efficiency and depth of learning compared to older traditional

methods of education and instruction. However, it does not jettison the good aspects
of tradition and finds a place for all effective teaching and learning styles, even a role
for rote learning and drills—alongside cooperative work, problem solving, discovery
learning and open-ended inquiry.
On the more controversial side of constructivism we read about claims such as,

“An individual approaches new learning situations with a prior set of

concepts, these concepts determine what is learnt and how it is learnt.”

This is a bit speculative. Our prior concepts are more likely (in the editor’s opinion)
to place limits on how fast we can learn, but not on what we can learn period. Our
prior concepts more accurately determine only fuzzy boundaries to what we can
learn and how we learn it, there is probably no black & white boundary that cannot
be crossed with sufficiently expert teaching and learning environments. You could
teach an average five year old advanced quantum mechanics, but not at a high level
of mathematical sophistication.
This is backed up by the very next claim in the module readings,

“Every situation or experience results in some learning outcome and

thus change to an individual’s conceptual framework.”

The emphasis here is on the fact that some learning is accomplished, no matter
what the experience—surely an exaggeration and liberal use of the word “learning”
but we can nevertheless appreciate the sentiment.
The next passage was worth framing,
“The teachers’ role involves a lot more than providing the activity and the materials
to do it! The constructivist teacher is constantly engaged in finding out what
the students already know, what understandings have they gained through this
involvement and encourage students to think beyond the obvious.”
Before moving on here is a nice thought provoking abstract from (Chi, 2009):

“Active, constructive, and interactive are terms that are commonly

used in the cognitive and learning sciences. They describe activities that
can be undertaken by learners. However, the literature is actually not ex-
plicit about how these terms can be defined; whether they are distinct;
and whether they refer to overt manifestations, learning processes, or
learning outcomes. Thus, a framework is provided here that offers a way
Constructivism and Group Learning 76

to differentiate active, constructive, and interactive in terms of observ-

able overt activities and underlying learning processes. The framework
generates a testable hypothesis for learning: that interactive activities
are most likely to be better than constructive activities, which in turn
might be better than active activities, which are better than being pas-
sive. Studies from the literature are cited to provide evidence in support
of this hypothesis. Moreover, postulating underlying learning processes
allows us to interpret evidence in the literature more accurately. Specify-
ing distinct overt activities for active, constructive, and interactive also
offers suggestions for how learning activities can be coded and how each
kind of activity might be elicited.”

And finally before getting onto constructivist pedagogy for science, here are two
lovely quotations, the first from a Chinese proverb,

Teachers open the door,

But you must enter by yourself.

the second from Benjamin Franklin,

Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn.

Constructivist Pedagogies

A useful short-list might include,

• POE (Predict, Observe, Explain)

• The interactive framework (focus, explore and reflect).

• Concepts maps, brainstorming, critical thinking thinking and linking of ideas

and more.

• Game playing and role playing with specific learning intention focus.

• Cooperative group activities.

• Inquiry learning—both for student and teacher.

Constructivism and Group Learning 77

• Evidence based teaching—constantly assessing what the students know and

understand, what they need help with, and what methods work best for achiev-
ing given learning ends.

and the list could go on and on.

For the Epol-344 forum we were asked to give an example of a POE lesson that
we used or could have used on our TE practicum. Here are some contributions to
the online forum.
Mike wrote about a couple of linked biology lessons focusing on properties of life.
Note that “mrs c gren” stands for, M= movement: moving around; R= Respiration:
breathing; S= Sensitivity: see, hear, smell, feel; C= Cells: typical plant/animal cell;
G= Growths: grow bigger; R= Reproduce: give birth; E= Excretion: waste and
sweat; N= Nutrition: eat.

“I took two lessons on MRS C GREN. The Acronym had changed

from when I was at school and from time to time I slipped back to MRS
GREN. The students picked me up on it once and I was able to use this
example to let them know that knowledge is evolving and is not fixed.
Our understandings and representations change as we learn more.
“In my second MRS C GREN lesson I showed the students a picture
of an eel. The photo showed the eel in a head down position and it
either looked alive or dead depending on how you looked at it. I asked
the students in their learning groups to form an opinion and to vote
alive or dead and to back that with a reason. [Predict]. The lesson
continued with an explanation for MRS C GREN [Explain] followed by
the students discussing a set of questions about eels and eel biology.
“With this new information they again looked at the picture and
explained how they could establish if the eel was dead or alive. In a
follow up lesson we anaesthetised an eel, in this situation it was not
immediately obvious if the eel was dead or alive because it did not move
or respond to external stimuli. With careful observation you could see
the heart beating, the only visible clue.
“In another lesson with discussed the theory of cells [Focus] and then
I got the students to make cells (zip-lock bags, jelly, jellybeans etc) and
we stacked them in the fridge to form a piece of ‘tissue’.
“In the next lesson they looked at their own cheek cells and at onion
cells [Explore]. At the end of that lesson we cut up their jelly tissue and
they were able to eat their ‘cells’ [Reflect].”

Lucy wrote about lessons investigating plant growth:

Constructivism and Group Learning 78

“In my year 9 Science class we planted bean seed to observe them

growing and to use the plants during our practicals. I used PEOE by
accident (though I didn’t realise that I was at the time) when we planted
the bean seeds. One student asked if it mattered which way up the seed
went in the soil. . . interesting question. . . would it make a difference to
the way it grew? We had bit of discussion about this as a class and tried
to decide whether the plant might grow ‘upside down’ if we put the seed
in ‘upside down’ , they knew instinctively that this probably would not
happen. We then wondered if it would take longer for the seed to “work
out” which way to go, and would therefore take longer before it popped
up than a seed the “right way up”. This would be the predict bit!
“We had previously looked at the attributes of living things and had
discussed the abilities of plants to be responsive to their environments,
this previous work was used to build explanations of what we predicted.
“So I encouraged them to plant their seed whichever way they chose
and to see if it was one of the first to appear as a plant or one of the last
(the observe bit).
“As there was a time gap between the planting and the observing
some of what we had learnt got lost! Though we did observe that
some seeds were slower to germinate than others, and some were big
and strong, whilst some were smaller. If I had structured the unit of
lessons better, and given more time to making and recording more de-
tailed observations (next time!) the thinking and linking of ideas could
have been stronger. This would have enhanced their learning hugely.”

Blair wrote about comparing rates of heat transfer by conduction and convection:

“The question posed to students (year 11) was ‘how efficient can heat
conduction be compared to convection heat transfer’.
“They can easily predict what will happen when an inflated balloon is
held directly in the path of a burning match. Explanations may be fairly
varied, for example, some students thought the heat expands the air
causes the balloon to burst from the pressure. Few actually articulated
the rubber skin being burnt, but many of the shy students would have
known this.
“(There’s a point about trying to get the quiet students to contribute—
not always easy to elicit in a noisy class of many extroverts.)
“Then you tell the students to fill a balloon with water, and hold it
directly in the flame again.
“They will (90% of them probably) be amazed at how resistant to
bursting the balloon now is.
Constructivism and Group Learning 79

“Discussion can ensue. Note that the experiment adds weight to the
hypothesis that the pressure causes the burst, since the same heat will
expand the air more than the water, plus the water is typically applying
less pressure or tension on the balloon skin.
“How does a teacher dissuade students that this hypothesis is the
main explanation? How about inflating a balloon with air only slightly
so that the skin tensions is about the same as the water-filled case? But
the air still could be considered to expand more from the same heat
“So try measuring or estimating the expansion: is it really enough to
pop the balloon. No! Clearly not, even on ultra fast video cam! (You do
not need a high speed camera, just use touch to check the balloon does
not suddenly inflate rapidly before bursting.
“This does not leave heat conduction away from the skin mediated by
the water as the only sole surviving possible explanation, but it is a good
candidate. I personally could not think up another plausible explanation,
but your students might do better. Then you can have oodles of fun
testing and eliminating such further hypotheses until (preferably a bit
before) the students get bored and want to move on to some other topic.”

Rewa also used balloons—to investigate buoyancy:

“On reflection I now see that I used PEOE with all the practicals
I ran with my year nines. I wasn’t doing it consciously I just found
the method a good way to get the students thinking about the particle
theory which they had just been taught by their teacher; what does it
mean in a real situation?
“One example was one lesson when they entered the class I had a
helium balloon and an air filled balloon tied to a stand on the bench.
This produced a lot of discussion. Why did one float? How does a gas
float? etc, . . .
“We predicted what would happen over time to each balloon and used
the particle theory to explain why we thought this was so. They next
day we observed what had happened and related that to our previous

Hannah toyed with POE when teaching reactions with acids and bases,

“I did not get to teach much science on my last TE, so my experience

with using these pedagogies is limited. I used a PEOE strategy when I
conducted an acids and bases practical with my year 11 class. It was a
Constructivism and Group Learning 80

fairly straightforward practical, testing a variety of substances with uni-

versal indicator and litmus paper, which was in their NCEA workbooks.
Because I didn’t just want them to do the practical I got them to divide
their tables in two and write the list of substances in there twice. In the
first half I got them to predict whether the substance was an acid, base
or neutral and what color change they would see. I asked them to think
a bit about why they were predicting that, but there wasn’t a lot of use
of explanation at this stage.
“I then got them to carry out the practical and record their results.
At the end we drew up a table on the whiteboard with the class’s results
and the students ‘marked’ their predictions based on their results. We
then had a bit of a chat about which ones people had predicted differently
and why that might have been. It was not a very involved discussion as
we did not have a lot of time left after the practical and the clean up.
“I would have liked to have taught more science on this TE, but
next TE I’m looking forward to thoroughly embracing constructivist

Tips for Running Group Lessons

• Smoothness—easy for a chalk & talk lesson, harder for cooperative group
work. Start by getting physical arrangements smooth: seating, group compo-
sition, lay out of materials, routines for dispersing and gathering groups.

• Clarity—make sure the activity has a clear goal, even if it is open-ended.

Avoid leaving the students not knowing what to do. They should be given a
focus and be able to rapidly get on with the work without fuss.

• Suitability—make sure the activity is not trivial and involves some real,
meaningful, critical thinking and learning.

• Resolution—avoid leaving the lesson dangling, make sure there is a clear

goal as above and a clear understanding of how the lesson will wrap up: group
discussion, or whole class discussion, or presentation to class, or assessment,
or other.

Cooperative Group Work in Science Education

The Epol-344 Module notes for this section are recorded on audio available on the
TWiki. This section of the course notes document makes a few additional comments.
Constructivism and Group Learning 81

The cooperative group work example project-based lesson plan given (in the
Epol-344 Module document) on the topic of geology are so clear and well-planned
that it worth re-producing it here for reference.

Rocks and Minerals: A group project for year 10

This example lesson sequence starts with an introductory Instruction session, fol-
lowed by Research, then a student Teaching session and concludes with a class
Presentation session.


You will be working in groups of four. We will choose the group randomly.
Each member of the group will have two jobs. One is to research an aspect of
this task and the other is the job of a keeping the group focused, time keeping, and
proof reading getting the gear. You will be making the decision on which aspect to
research and which other job you can do.
This project is to take four spells of class time and some homework.
There will be a group assessment of this task.

Task: Research Teach and Present to the Class

Research: One spell in the library and one period in class. Using the materials
provided in the class and from the library research one of the following You are
looking for at least one typed page of information:

1. What are Elements, Minerals and Rocks? How are these related? Find out
and define each of these. Write three examples of each.

2. Draw the diagram of the structure of Earth and Label it.

3. What are Igneous rocks? How do these form? What are the differences be-
tween Volcanic and Plutonic rocks? Give three examples of each of these

4. What are sedimentary rocks? How are these formed? Define each of these
terms: sediment, cementing, and strata. What are fossils and which type of
rocks are likely to have fossils.
Constructivism and Group Learning 82

5. What is the rock cycle? How does one type of rock change into another type?
Draw a well-labelled diagram of the rock cycle.

Teach: One period in class

Take turns explain your research to the rest of the group. Make sure that every one
understands the research that you have carried out.
If there are things that you are not able to explain clearly write them down to
discuss later.

Presentation: One spell in class

• Proof read and type or write out neatly.

• Prepare a poster that has all this information on it to share with the rest of
the class.

• Talk about your aspect of the poster to the rest of the class.

Class Activities that use Cooperative Learning

This section reproduces the Epol-344 Module document verbatim. The material
is self-explanatory and seems highly useful for teaching. It presents nine varieties
of cooperative group activities that can be adapted to suit the teaching of virtually
any topic. So here they are.

1. Jigsaw—Groups with five students are set up. Each group member is assigned
some unique material to learn and then to teach to his group members. To
help in the learning students across the class working on the same sub-section
get together to decide what is important and how to teach it. After practice
in these ”expert” groups the original groups reform and students teach each
other. Tests or assessment follows.
Constructivism and Group Learning 83

2. Think-Pair-Share—Involves a three step cooperative structure. During the

first step individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor.
Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third
step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams, or the entire

3. Three-Step Interview—Each member of a team chooses another member

to be a partner. During the first step individuals interview their partners by
asking clarifying questions. During the second step partners reverse the roles.
For the final step, members share their partner’s response with the team.

4. Round Robin Brainstorming—Class is divided into small groups (4 to 6)

with one person appointed as the recorder. A question is posed with many
answers and students are given time to think about answers. After the ”think
time,” members of the team share responses with one another round robin
style. The recorder writes down the answers of the group members. The
person next to the recorder starts and each person in the group in order gives
an answer until time is called.

5. Three-minute review—Teachers stop any time during a lecture or discussion

and give teams three minutes to review what has been said, ask clarifying
questions or answer questions.
Constructivism and Group Learning 84

6. Numbered Heads—A team of four is established. Each member is given

numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4. Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together
to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Teacher
calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give the answer.

7. Team Pair Solo—Students do problems first as a team, then with a partner,

and finally on their own. It is designed to motivate students to tackle and
succeed at problems which initially are beyond their ability. It is based on a
simple notion of mediated learning. Students can do more things with help
(mediation) than they can do alone. By allowing them to work on problems
they could not do alone, first as a team and then with a partner, they progress
to a point they can do alone that which at first they could do only with help.

8. Circle the Sage—First the teacher polls the class to see which students
have a special knowledge to share. For example the teacher may ask who
in the class was able to solve a difficult mathematics homework question,
who had visited Mexico, who knows the chemical reactions involved in how
salting the streets help dissipate snow. Those students (the sages) stand and
spread out in the room. The teacher then has the rest of the classmates
each surround a sage, with no two members of the same team going to the
same sage. The sage explains what they know while the classmates listen, ask
questions, and take notes. All students then return to their teams. Each in
turn, explains what they learned. Because each one has gone to a different
sage, they compare notes. If there is disagreement, they stand up as a team.
Finally, the disagreements are aired and resolved.

9. Partners—The class is divided into teams of four. Partners move to one side
Constructivism and Group Learning 85

of the room. Half of each team is given an assignment to master to be able

to teach the other half. Partners work to learn and can consult with other
partners working on the same material. Teams go back together with each set
of partners teaching the other set. Partners quiz and tutor team-mates. Team
reviews how well they learned and taught and how they might improve the

Source: http://edtech.kennesaw.edu/intech/cooperativelearning.htm
6. Epol-344 Exam Preparation

This is a review chapter intended as an aid to exam preparation. The editors

philosophy is that summative assessment exams are really for the lecturers benefit.
However, the student can benefit (if they care to) as well—but not by studying for
good grades, rather by studying for a review of the course. The principle is that we
should not really care about exam grades. Studying to get good grades also tends
to foster a regurgitation mind set, since that is proven to be the most effective way
to ace exams. Instead, our focus here is on mastery of all of the course material
in order to become better science teachers. As a collateral effect (if you care about
this) we should then achieve reasonably good exam grades.
So, the specific topics for review, with mastery in mind are,

1. Theoretical underpinnings of learning in science (nature of science).

2. A frame for learning by “doing” (constructivism in science).

3. Teaching in context.

4. Assessing student learning.

5. Managing teaching in a laboratory.

Review: Theoretical Underpinnings of Learning in

This section reviews the “Nature of Science” topics.

• Uncertainty—Science exists because of uncertainty. Handling certain knowl-

edge is engineering and history, not science. Unfortunately traditional school
teaching of science invokes the transmission model. That’s fine for teaching

Epol-344 Exam Preparation 87

engineering and applied science, but it is not fully compatible with the way
people learn and understand.

“Half of what I teach you is wrong. Unfortunately I don’t know

which half.”—Evening Post cartoon (2005).

• Observe-hypothesize-experiment—this traditional view of science is still

valid, but it ignores many human dimensions. The practice of science is far
more messy and non-linear. So the teaching of science does students a disser-
vice if this human aspect is not fully incorporated.

• Alternative view of science—due to Harlan (2000), “Science activity is

about understanding. Science is a human endeavour. Science is tentative and
requires debate. The physical world around is the ultimate authority by which
the validity of science theories and principles is to be judged.”

• Key Competencies—genius in technical skill does not make a great scientist.

Soft skills are also necessary for the inquiring and hypothesising aspect of
c=scientific thinking. Good examples of soft skills are the key competencies
from the NZ Curriculum: critical & creative thinking, language fluency, self-
management, relationship building, participation & contributing.

• Human endeavour—in reality scientists do a lot of “human things”. Why

is that surprising to some people? If it is surprising then it betrays a lack of
appreciation of the nature of science.

• Scientific progress—schools hardly ever teach this or even ask students to

ponder it. Yet it is philosophically interesting stuff. Important points are,

– Science seeks more parsimonious explanations.

– Science aims for improving predictive power.
– Science seeks for more elegance and coherence—dare we say beauty? One
chap named Subrahmanyan Chandresekar would! Sound dubious and
new-agey? Well, beauty does play a role. Teach this! It should really
inspire students to do well, or at least take their studies further beyond
the curriculum.

• Science is not perfect—nor is scientific knowledge comprehensive. Plenty

of things cannot be easily explained by science—consciousness, foundations of
quantum mechanics, complex non-linear systems and chaos. So it need not be
a dry subject. Teach the richness! (This also relates to the constructivist view
of learning, see the next section.)
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 88

Review: A frame for learning by “doing”

This section reviews constructivist education for science lessons. Reviewing mainly
the article by (Carr et al., 1994) in the Epol-344 book of readings.

• Motivating students—lessons should be interesting, not just fact-driven,

certainly not just teacher driven. Give students open-ended tasks to inspire
their curiosity and give them a chance to display their inventiveness.

• Real world contexts—not many things kill a science lesson more than a task
or exercises that have little obvious relation to real life. Relate your lesson to
the interests of your students. It can still be abstract and philosophical, but
make sure the focus is on something of interest to your students.

• Emphasize ‘knowing why’ and ‘knowing to’—as opposed to merely ‘know-

ing what’ and ‘knowing how’. Why? Because students are best served by
higher order thinking skills, knowing what to do rather than just knowing how
to do is superior knowledge. For example, one could be taught how to solve a
differential equation, which is fine, but what happens when the same student
is given a task to predict the behaviour of some dynamical system? Unless
they have the know to thinking skills they might easily fail to realize that they
can do the task by formulating a DE and solving it. Likewise, ‘knowing why’
is superior to ‘knowing that’—it is far more useful to know why a flint can
be used to start a fire than simply knowing that either a flint or a match can
start a fire. Why? Imagine you have no flint and no matches, and you are
stuck out in the wild waiting for rescue.

• Childhood curiosity—children are naturally interested in science. And then

they get to school.

“The irony of the current situation is that somehow we have

managed to transform a school subject which engages nearly all
young people in primary schools, and which many would argue is
the crowning intellectual achievement of European society, into one
which the majority find alienating by the time they leave school.”
—J. Osborne and J. Dillon, (2008).

I would add that this is a very bitter irony.

• Communicating science—should we be making science fun or more serious?

“Rather than asking how can we get more young people to pur-
sue science, the first question that any country must ask is whether
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 89

school science is failing to communicate why a knowledge of sci-

ence and a knowledge about science are both hard won and valu-
able in contemporary society and, if so, how can that failure be
addressed?”—J. Osborne and J. Dillon, (2008).

So yes, making lessons both more fun and more serious are ways to improve
the teaching of science. What we do not want to do is make science seem
difficult (even though it is, just as are all things, art, music, poetry, whatever)
obscure and mysterious knowledge held by only a society of elite’s and genius’.

• Solutions for science teaching—Osborne and Dillon make seven recom-


1. teaching aimed at basic science literacy

2. innovative curricula & organisation—motivational
3. resources about careers in and from science—relevance
4. a “pre-14” emphasis—practical approach
5. better pedagogies—improve student engagement
6. R&D in assessment of science learning—competencies
7. good quality teachers—up-to-date knowledge & skills

These are fine ideas, but short on specifics. How should teachers achieve such
goals? It is easy to say that we need “good quality teachers”—yeah sure!
That’d solve the whole problem. But how do we make good quality teachers.

• ‘Doing’ is not enough—the sentiment is fine, but what really attracts stu-
dents to science and helps build them into great scientists? The tasks and
activities you set need to be worth doing, they need to elicit questions and

• Is everyone a scientist?—short answer should be “yes”. But that doesn’t

mean we should teach students as if they are all going to be scientists and
technologists. Science classes at secondary school should also be interesting
to poets and musicians! Implications for teaching are that we need to get to
know our students and draw on their interests, not just teach from our own
scientific interests as educators.

• Asking questions—scientific understanding can be demonstrated by knowl-

edge of theories and concepts. But real scientific understanding comes about
also from an ability to ask good questions for oneself of nature and of oneself.
So quality teaching should reflect this and encourage students to ask good
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 90

questions: how to find good questions, how to frame a good question, and
how to go about answering them, or at least try to answer them.
• Fuzzy concepts—science is often published in clean crisp form. Students
then get the impression that science is exacting and demanding, which is so
ridiculously false that it would be laughable if not so tragically debilitating for
students. Teaching should not be afraid to delve deep into the unknown and
where fuzzy concepts abound. What is “energy”? Don’t provide a textbook
definition if there really is none. Tell the truth about it. I’d say to my students,
“I don’t know what energy really is, but it is a useful concept, let’s explore it. . . ”
• Revealing knowledge—don’t do this, or at least resist it with all your life.
Students learn deeply when they discover things for themselves. So help them
by posing good problems, and allowing them to ask questions, allowing them
to find things out.
• Aim for high standards but not perfection—science is too often regarded
as sacrosanct and pristine knowledge. This can put many good practically
skilled students off the subject. So have high expectations of your students,
but teach them that science is not perfect and yet seeks to advance all the
time. Do this by using activities, games and projects that are not pure and
pristine, yet which are still precise in aim and intent. For example, investigate
light wavelengths and relationship to perceived colour, e.g., how many primary
colours are there? No, really!

Review: Teaching in context

This is mainly a review of the article (Ross et al., 2000b) titled The naı̈ve ideas of

• Childrens’ beliefs—often developed in conflict with accepted scientific un-

derstanding. But often the child’s belief will ‘predict’ a phenomenon correctly
in a limited scope. There are usually grains of truth in what children believe—
-this makes things interesting for teachers.
• Cognitive conflict—one important and effective teaching method is to use
questions and demonstrations that cause conflict with a childs’ beliefs. This
forces them to re-think things, and, hopefully, construct new meanings for
themselves—without needing to be told the ‘correct’ answers or explanations.
• Simple examples—providing demonstrations designed to reveal such cogni-
tive conflict can be easy, here are twelve examples
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 91

1. Frozen water container: wrapped in insulation, melts faster or slower?

Naı̈ve idea: melts faster (wrapping “keeps it warm”).
2. Temperature of two mixed volumes: does temperature decrease
when one cup is divided, does it increase when a cold and hot cup are
Naı̈ve idea: temperature is divided, so decreases. Temperatures of mixture
3. Water from a candle: holding a beaker above a candle collects water
(and not so from a hair dryer), where does this water come from?
Naı̈ve idea: the water “comes from the air”.
4. Weight: what happens when a (i) mass is flattened, (ii) a grain of sugar
is crushed, (iii) salt is added to water and dissolved.
Naı̈ve idea:
5. Pump air into a football: does it get heavier, lighter or stay the same?
Naı̈ve idea: lighter, like a balloon.
6. Car exhaust gas: compare weight of collected exhaust products against
initial petrol weight. Is the mass increased, decreased or the same?
Naı̈ve idea: decreased slightly or the same, since the burning products
are all gathered back together.
7. Battery and bulb: try to make a light bulb glow with just one wire
and battery.
Naı̈ve idea: can do it. After all, aren’t most appliances connected to
mains by a “single wire”.
8. Plant or animal: sort a bunch of cards into live or dead, animal or
non-animal, plant or not plant.
Naı̈ve ideas: fires and cars are living. People not animals maybe. pupae
or spawn may be seen as “not quite yet animals”. Seeds are seeds not
plants. Trees are trees not plants. Daffodils are flowers not plants.
9. Vision: Draw lines of light to show how we see things.
Naı̈ve idea: the light comes out from our eyes.
10. Gravity: draw people hovering above a globe, which direction do they
Naı̈ve idea: all fall vertically down on the diagram, not towards the centre
of the globe.
11. Force acting: four diagrams of a ball at various stages of a ballistic
flight. Draw arrows to indicate forces on the ball.
Naı̈ve idea: force is upwards on the way up, zero at the top, and down-
wards on the flight down.
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 92

12. Food energy: How does the material that gets digested into our blood
(the atoms of the molecules) leave our body so that we don’t get heavier
all the time? (One correct response is that we breathe and sweat it out
mostly in the form of CO2 , water and hydrocarbons, also our urine, skin
flakes, etc.
Naı̈ve idea: Some gets stored. We “use it up”, converted to energy. We
excrete it out (this is not the correct answer, since we’re asking about the
digested molecules, not about the undigested stuff ).

• Teasing out these ideas—good teachers will first try to get these ideas
articulated before trying to teach children “what is right”. Sometimes it is just
the meaning of words that confuses us. Sometimes it is the deeper concepts
that are misunderstood (as in the gravity question).

• Repeating research?—No! There is no need to use your class as research

guinea pigs. By all means, do use the results of educational research, but use
them efficiently and wisely. Do not spend too much time building on students’
prior knowledge if you can simply inject a simple definition of a misunderstood
key word or simply correct a misconception. Teachers need to be able to judge
when constructivist approaches are valuable and when direct instruction will
do no harm.

• Specific elicitation techniques—various methods are useful in certain cir-


– Brainstorming, e.g., mind maps, concept maps, and so forth, to reveal

knowledge of basic facts.
– Tricky multiple choice, use questions that have choice options that play
open common misconceptions.
– Interviews, for example see the Numeracy Development Project. Similar
techniques can be used for diagnosing science knowledge and problem
solving strategy.
– Interview cards, using “instance cards” is one technique that makes di-
agnosing misconceptions reasonably easy for the teacher.
– Group questioning, for specific discrete misconceptions it is a waste of
time to conduct individual interviews, and it is effective and efficient to
question the entire class. Some whole-class methods are: word associa-
tions, five minute quiz, concept mapping, essay writing.
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 93

Review: Assessing student learning

Reviewing the article (Parkinson, 2004) in the Epol-344 book of readings.

• Definition of Formative assessment—any assessment of students that pro-

vides formative feedback that assists students in their learning. Often called
“assessment for learning”.

• Definition of Summative assessment—an assessment of students at the

end of a topic, designed primarily to compare students against each other
and to record their relative mastery of the topic. Often called “assessment of

• Effective assessment—this is diagnostic and formative. The idea should

not be to simply measure the ability of a student, but rather aim to treat
all students as special individuals and so use assessments to help them make
progress and learn.

• Ditch summatives?—All diagnostic and formative assessment can be used

in the same way as summative assessment if designed correctly. If you can
show a student has mastered a subject by teaching it to their peers, then
there is absolutely no need for a summative assessment.

• Use ipsative assessment—the real test of a teacher is to progress each

student relative to their current state of knowledge, self-belief, and ability.

• Is formative assessment truly effective—yes! The research literature

shows that proper formative assessment produces “quite considerable” gains
in achievement. This includes

– Improved exam results

– Reduced statistical spread of attainment
– Students less likely to “cruise”
– Students learn how to learn
– Promotes deeper understandings
– Improves self-esteem, self-motivation and positive attitudes towards school.

• What is crucial for these gains?–the factors that need to be present for
such gains are,

1. Feedback
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 94

2. Active involvement
3. Adjustment of teaching
4. Consideration of motivation and self-esteem (don’t crush the students)
5. Self-assessment and self-improvement.

• Rote learning fades—apparently highly effective teaching can be done by

preparing students rigorously for exams using short tests and longer mock
exams. But evidence is that this type of learning is superficial and fades
quicker over time compared to learning involved with constructivist lessons
and formative assessment practices.

• Grades are not meaningful—students traditionally get conditioned to be-

ing pleased with a grade like ‘A’ or ‘A+’ or 90%. But this type of satisfaction
has no real worth, especially if the exam uses fairly easy questions.

• Competition should be safe—normative referenced assessment is a neg-

ative type of competition. It is not very healthy. Better for all students is
“co-optition”, some competitive tasks but with groups and teams competing,
thus relieving pressure on individual students. Also, it is more useful and effec-
tive to have students compete against themselves, so to speak—the goal being
to “beat the system”—for example, setting up problems to solve as challenges,
and using games for instruction.

• Question your school—Parkinson’s parting words are about questioning the

systems in place at your school. Put them to the test against more construc-
tivist principles.

Thus far we’ve dealt with the research support in favour of stronger use of formative
assessment. But what are some of the specific techniques that we can use to conduct
formative assessment effectively in our classrooms? The following review is a start
on this teaching topic.

• Features of Formative Assessment—for effective FA you typically need,

1. Responsiveness–planned and unplanned (seizing moments).

2. Evidence to act upon, either from verbal or non-verbal clues.
3. Awareness that assessment might not always be conscious, so may require
deep reflection afterwards.
4. Sharp judgements—judicious decisions about what to act upon and when
to ignore bits and pieces.
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 95

• Methods of Formative Assessment—specific strategies you might adopt

1. Setting appropriate tasks—open-ended or closed-purpose depending on
nature of the topic. But whatever the type of task, the goals need to
be clear, the reasons and objectives for the activity need to be spelt out
clearly and any confusion allayed. So give students time to ask clarifying
questions (plan for this time).
2. Classroom discourse—open-ended but focused. Use eliciting type ques-
tions, questions that require thinking not just recall. Ask students to
prepare questions rather than only using teacher-led questions. This will
help reveal knowledge gaps.
3. Questioning tactics—Use different styles of questions appropriate to the
learning objectives. Styles include: closed ; open; probing; hypothetical
(‘what if. . . ’); reflective; prompting.
4. Written work —in science assessment these need not (and probably should
not) be lengthy essays. Short, to-the-point written assignments are what
is required. Make sure the objectives an expected level of detail in the
work is crystal clear. Feedback on the work needs to be value-added,
hence should carry new information.
5. Self and peer-assessment—best used for marking work that is not black
& white, otherwise it is just a mechanical activity. Students should be
encouraged to critique and analyse their peers’ work. The outcome and
purposes should however be clear and unambiguous. An assessment form
is one way to help structure the self-assessment task. Use reflection ques-
tions as well, “what did you find most difficult, and why?”, “did you
actually learn anything new, what was it?”.
• Feedback strategies—this is the important element missing from summative
assessment. It includes,
1. Describing clearly why a students’ answer is correct or not.
2. Letting pupils know what they have, or have to yet, achieve.
3. Providing advice or clues about better ways to do things.
4. Asking pupils to suggest improvements and refinements.
• Good Summative Assessment Practice—see the last section of (Parkinson,

That’s about it for now on formative assessment. The most important thing is
to try these ideas out and adapt them to you own teaching style and classes. Keep
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 96

records that chart the effectiveness of your methods and don’t be afraid to try out
new things and adjust your lesson plans.

Review: Managing teaching in a laboratory

This is mainly a review of the article (Ross, Lakin, & Callaghan, 2000a).

• Lesson starters—Identify learning outcomes, make them explicit and clear

to the pupils. Short and sharp beginning to each lesson. If a start activity is
planned, make sure it is fun or at least interesting.

• One Rule—behave appropriately is all that is needed. Teachers need to doa

lot however to make it very easy for students to follow this rule! For example,
establish routines, use the Four R’s (rules & routines, rights & responsibilities).
Establish all this up front at the very beginning of the year.

• Pace yourself —you can probably always deliver a lesson at a faster rate than
your students can absorb it. Going so fast will switch most students off—you
do not want this, believe us! Going to slow will have a similar effect, they will
again switch off. Better: structure lessons in a way that gives the students
some control of the pace—not allowing them to be slow and lazy, but just
giving them opportunity to make a few choices.

• Keep the students interested—DO talk at a level they can understand.

DO include all the class. DO layout the class and equipment orderly and
accessibly. DO assign student roles and responsibilities for group work.

• Keep them busy—idle students are the most common generators of disrup-
tion. So provide plenty for them to ‘get on with’.

• Know the safety rules—especially for practical lessons. Be sure that the
students know the rules too, and test them on it before conducting risky
practicals that carry an element of risk such as Bunsen burners, hazardous
chemicals, or electricity.

• Watch for critical moments—these can be critical opportunities for en-

hanced learning, or critical moments when you might risk losing control (in a
bad way). Some critical warning moments might include,

– an outside distraction occurs (it starts snowing outside)

Make it a learning opportunity, don’t fight it.
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 97

– an accident occurs (broken glass, a fire,. . . ) Make a judgement on whether

to stop the class or contain the incident locally.
– a student is hostile or disobedient.
Aim for reward to punishment ratio roughly 20:1. Seek to diffuse situa-
tions and modify behaviour positively. Be consistent and fair. Follow up
any censuring with praise for good behaviour.
– a joke is cracked.
Again, don’t fight this. Show you have a sense of humour. But don’t allow
a subject to become trivialized, unless it is trivial.
– a mad rush for equipment or something occurs.
Aim for prevention of this, with good organization and delegate & dis-
tribute tasks.
– a student does something wild (throws a ball around)
They could be bored, rather than defiant. So first, deal with the behaviour
appropriately, don’t lose your cool or risk misjudging someone. Secondly,
don’t escalate confrontations. If a quick stare or censuring body language
gesture or firm verbal warning does not calm the student then quietly and
quickly deal with it with minimum disruption to the rest of the class. In
worst cases, simply and without fuss send the offender outside to cool off.
• Lesson finishes—always allow time for a summary, even if the topic continues
for another lesson or two. The idea is to try and plant some seeds in their
brains that will germinate. Water those seeds.
• Be sensitive—a disruptive pupil may be having a bad time with family or
peers, or with parental pressure or some other ‘stuff’ going on in their lives.
You don’t have to be a counsellor, but be aware, try to develop a radar for
such pupils and give them some subtle help if possible, or a lot of help and
attention if they actively seek it. Report any serious issues you do uncover to
the head of your department.
• Act mad, never be mad—sometimes you need to put your foot on their
throats figuratively. Do this before you are actually frustrated and angry. If
you can feign anger effectively at an early intervention stage then it’ll be less
stressful on yourself.
• Ignore attention seekers—that is, ignore low-level poor behaviour and avoid
over-praising desirable behaviour. Give the message that they have to really
be good to attract your attention.
• Watch for frustration—could be bright students who are not being chal-
lenged or dull students who are getting lost. It is hard to pull them all in for
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 98

engagement, but you have to try. Use smartly differentiated lesson plans in
this case.

• Use privileges—students will respect you more if you give them responsibility
and opportunities to earn your trust.

• Seek advice—avoid going it alone with your classroom management. Get

tips from your colleagues ans seasoned experts. Their advice may not work
for you, but it is silly to .
Reflection Journal

Reflections on Each Week of Epol-344

Personal Philosophy of the Nature of Science and the Value

of Science Education

Here is one colleagues’ view of science.

“My view is that there are two aspects to the nature of science that
are distinct and yet intimately related. First, science can be seen as
an abstract activity of sentient beings, involving an idealized process of
observation and questioning, hypothesizing and model building or the-
orization, prediction, experimentation and testing followed by repeated
observation and so on. This abstraction is only an idealization in the
sense that it need not be followed linearly or strictly sequentially, thus a
scientist in practice might begin by simply conducting an experiment for
fun, or they may begin by taking an existing theory or model and adjust-
ing it out of curiosity to see what predictions might change. This would
still be science. The observation aspect of science may involve very little
data collection and could simply begin with a very high level question
such as “what are things made of?” which will then later lead to more in
depth observation and question refinement. So even this abstract view
of science is quite complex and multi-faceted.
“The second aspect is the human and social dimension of science.
Here we consider a concrete group of sentient beings, such as we hu-
mans, either cooperating or competing or individually striving to conduct
a concrete version of the abstract scientific process of questioning and
discovery of our natural world. This second aspect to science attempts
to realize the abstract ideal of science, but is not perfect. It involves
mistakes, bad guesses, good guesses, team work, dysfunctional research

Epol-344 Exam Preparation 100

groups, award winning collaborations, blunders, brilliant insights and

many such typically human, or in general, sentient madness! Some-
times scientists will work in almost total intellectual isolation, at other
times they will work in huge teams including many support engineers
and administrators. One could hypothesize that in the real world there
probably cannot ever be a civilization of perfect scientists who conduct
a social activity that has complete and perfect correspondence to the
abstract view of science just outlined above, even with all it’s implied
non-linearity and richness. However, not all of these social phenomena
are necessary parts of science. For example, one could dispense with the
dysfunction through disciplined organization and wise leadership. The
point is that all of these flaws in the realized version of science acting
in a society may not be necessary but are recognized as things that we
have to often deal with, thus they are ‘part and parcel’ of doing science
in an imperfect community.
“Moreover, the flaws in the social aspects of science could be consid-
ered a feature. To use an organic analogy—ll the mistakes, errors, cor-
ruption, mis-judgements and prejudices of real working scientists are like
the mutations and errors that creep into the genetic code of a species.
They could be viewed from a systems perspective as vital ingredients
that allow science to make great leaps amidst the mess and chaos of the
day-to-day practice of science. Was not the discovery of penicillin an
accident–a laboratory mistake.
“The value of science education lies in precisely the cultivation of
discipline and creativity that Sagan speaks of when he said, “science
is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge,” and
in the meaning behind the quote in the Epol-344 Module 1-4 notes,
“science is seeing what everyone else has seen but thinking what no
one else has thought.” The importance of this type of thinking (critical
, analytical and creative-generative thinking) is not only beneficial for
would-be scientists but for all manner of human activity. So avoiding a
science education impoverishes the human mind. Not everyone has to
be good at science or even perform scientific experiments to gain benefit
from the type of thinking and world-view that science offers. In addition
I would argue in favour of all of the arguments given in the Module
1-4 notes justifying the value of science, the economic argument, the
utilitarian argument, the democratic argument, the cultural argument
the moral argument and the learning argument. To these I would add
the aesthetic argument: that science is of at least equal value to other
human activities such as sport, leisure and recreation, because it involves
playfulness and fun and can be engaged in for pure aesthetic pleasure.
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 101

This pleasure cannot be attained without a sound science education, just

as the thrill of high adrenaline sport cannot be attained without the hard
work fitness and skills training.
‘At this moment my pithy summary of the nature and value of science
is this: that to be scientific is to want to know more about the natural
world and to strive to improve this understanding through modelling,
either qualitative or quantitatively, and in such a way that the results can
be clearly communicated, or at least with such intention. Advancing our
understanding of the natural world is sufficient value in itself to warrant
the teaching of science to as many students as possible.”

Here is an extension of that philosophy in relation to school teaching:

“Not sure If I’ll actually be allowed to stick to this philosophy, but for
what it’s worth, here is the rationale: the ideas are (1) no time pressure,
and (2) each lesson marks a psychological progress stage, so students will
always have a sense of achievement.
“After studying all this lesson planning business for the three concur-
rent courses, I’ve resolved to try to adhere to a philosophy of teaching
that seems sane to me—possibly others have thought of it all before?
Yet I haven’t seen it articulated in any of the course readings so far. It
is all too ‘50 min oriented’ as far as I am concerned, and I find myself
repelled by this artificial constraint. So here’s my alternative approach
to lesson planning.
“(1) I do not want to make 50 min lessons! This is too artificial. Also
too stressful. Instead I plan to teach topics in a fluid way. Each lesson
builds on the last, but no lesson has to be done in 50 mins. Some will
go faster, some slower, throughout the year I need to cover the required
units of the curriculum, but that’s a big picture goal, and not such a
stressful time management issue since we have a whole year to ‘tick the
“(2) Each 50 min period will be planned to have natural cut-offs,
ie. if the full topic is not completed then I will aim to have a number of
stages in the lesson where I can call it short and do a nice neat summary,
assessment, and review. Then pick up again the next day. So there is
no stress on finishing a particular lesson each day, but the students will
still get the important psychological feeling of having achieved something
and made progress.
“Probably cannot implement this approach during TE, but I’ll try.
My ‘out’ for TE is simply this:
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 102

“I’ll put ‘50 mins’ in the ‘Time:’ field of the lesson plan so that every-
one is happy. But in the plan body I’ll have stages of the lesson at which
I could ‘call it a day’ with the class and stop there and do a review.
Then the next day the same lesson plan can be pulled out and begun
from where the class left off. To make TE bearable I will simply choose
topics that I think can be covered in about an hour—which will mean
choosing really basic pieces of work and very discrete topics. When I
get into the real teaching world going solo then I can get back to deeper
lesson planning.”

Further comments: on the topic of the pressure of time in modern society, it’s worth
checking out The Long Now Foundation and their blogs and projects.
BTW: the above strategy worked only fleetingly during the editor’s seven week
TE practicum. There was too much of a ‘time squeeze’ planning for lessons day-
to-day to afford the development of twenty to forty really insightful lessons. The
students at the school were also not primed to receive lessons delivered in a radical
departure to their usual teacher’s style. On a positive note, many students clearly
showed some interest in more innovative teaching methods. So the receptivity is
there, we just need a way to infuse innovation in our future classrooms without
upsetting the crusty old administrators of our schools.

Reflections on the Curriculum ‘Treasure Hunt’

My comments on this brief curriculum study were given on page 28 of these notes.
The activity was useful because it engaged us in more than just reading. The
kinaesthetic actions of obeying the paper cut-out instructions were simplistic but
the intention was well appreciated! Physically putting the cut-out quotes alongside
the Curriculum strands really made them ‘pop out’ so it was hard to ignore the
trends and intent of the curriculum development.

Teaching “Acids and Bases”—Blog Task

First we go to StudyIt and check the subject content for NCEA Chemistry, subtopic
“Metals, Acids and Bases”. http://www.studyit.org.nz/. . . /chemistry1/4/subject-
content/. After browsing the topics we can formulate (no pun intended) some learn-
ing objecives for a sample lesson.
Here’s a sample of some suggested learning objectives:
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 103

At the end of this lesson on acids and bases the students will be able to,

1. Identify 6 out of 8 of the properties of acids and 5 out of 6 properties of bases

and explain qualitatively why they have these properties.

2. Identify acids and bases by the functional H + resp. OH − groups out of a

mixed list of various chemicals.

3. Explain the bonding changes that occur in acid+base reactions and balance
simple examples of equations for such reactions.

4. Explain the bonding changes that occur in acid+metal reactions and balance
simple examples of equations for such reactions.

5. Explain the bonding changes that occur in acid+carbonate reactions and bal-
ance simple examples of equations for such reactions.

Comments: I could not separate out the ‘explain’ and ‘balance’ aspects of the last
three learning intention/outcomes. They seem to me to be fundamentally related
that it would be pedagogically stupid to separate them, hence they go together as
one complete learning outcome.

Reflection on Fads and Trends in Education

First, beware of fads and trends that upon closer inspection have little empirical sup-
port. On the other hand, being open to new ideas in education theory is important
for development as a teacher. If you find an interesting teaching idea or pedagogical
approach to a topic then it can’t hurt to try it out. Gather some evidence and test
it against your previous methods.
Varieties of meme that I’m wary of are, (i) New Age concepts, and (ii) old age
strictures, dressed up in fancy guise that really amount to nothing new, yet which
seem to require extra effort or increase the work load for teachers.
I recently read a report about “Brain-based Learning” for example. I immediately
wondered about the worth of the research. The sentiment was good: use the latest
neuroscience research to inform teaching pedagogy. The trouble was that there was
really no depth to the report. It did not use cutting edge neuroscience findings in any
new way to improve or suggest improvements to teaching. It boiled down to some
simple principles that most people take for granted. After all, is not all education
brain-based anyway? It is darn hard to find any pedagogy or educational principles
Epol-344 Exam Preparation 104

that are not brain-based. It would be like finding a fish that couldn’t swim, or like
finding an edible fruit that wasn’t DNA-based, or a banking institution that wasn’t

Final Reflections for Epol-344

The seven week Teaching Experience practicum mid-way through this course was
quite insightful. It exposed me to the truth that science teaching in New Zealand
secondary schools has basically not progressed since the editor was at school (over
a decade ago). Cognitive constructivist practices are being used more than in the
past, but the idea, the zeitgeist, the essence of constructivist pedagogy has not sunk
in. Too many teachers are still constrained to “teach to the tests”.
Other subjects (Arts, Technology, Music, English) are benefiting from the evolu-
tion in teaching and learning theory but science and mathematics are not and are
sadly lagging behind. Instead of being excited and turned on by science and mathe-
matics students are bored in these classes. They look forward to their art and music
classes and to the extra curricular activities. They endure science and mathematics
classes for these other school activities. Even computer technology is under-used in
the sciences. The secondary school students learn more about computer technology,
and make more use of it, in their graphic design classes and English classes, which
is shocking.
This can change. It needs to change if New Zealand is to have a thriving and
vibrant scientifically literate community. Otherwise we will end up importing our
best technologists and engineers from overseas—which is not a bad thing, but still
seems sad. New Zealanders are a forward-thinking and innovate cultural bunch, but
these attributes are slowly being lost as a direct result of the failure to invest in the
scientific creativity of our children.
Hopefully these course notes will do something to inspire other teachers to enter
into science and mathematics teaching for the sheer pleasure of engaging children
in the sciences as much as the modern trends in education practice are engag-
ing students in the arts and social sciences. The editor will attempt to keep our
Epol/Epsy TWiki updated with quality teaching resources for science and math-
ematics. All readers interested in dynamic science lesson planning and delivery are
also urged to register on the many free science teaching resource websites, such as
http://www.tes.co.uk/ and http://www.teachersdomain.org/ where online commu-
nities can be tapped into and complemented with your own resources—which you
are hereby implored to share with other teachers.
References 105

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