Book review: Advancing science teaching and learning through theorizing, modeling, experimental research, and data analytics
By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University
Science Teaching and Learning: Practices, Implementation and Challenges
Paul J. Hendricks, Editor
Nova Science Publishers
2020 171 pp.
The organizations, corporations, and countries that can acquire human talent in various science disciplines may attain competitive advantages over others. They may contribute to the solving of hard problems. They may create monetizable products and services related to innovations. They may cobble capabilities that others may not. Science is a superpower that may be deployed to solve mass-scale challenges and meet the needs of society (and humanity). How to develop science knowledge and skills becomes an important question. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, in combination with other academic learning, is critical to societal advancement and the well-being of citizenry.
Paul J. Hendricks, editor of Science Teaching and Learning: Practices, Implementation and Challenges, focuses on some effective practices for science teaching and learning from K12 through higher education.
On the Light Spectrum through House Paints and Dyed Wool
Mónica Baptista, Iva Martins, and Teresa Conceiçãos “STEM Integration: Evidences of Students’ Learning” (Ch. 1) introduces two STEM activities to students in the 3rd and 4th grades in a cluster of schools in Portugal: one involving the color of the students’ houses and one about dyeing wool. Both lessons focused on light and electromagnetic radiation. The “color of our houses” was based in the region of Portugal with white house exteriors, with an inquiry-based learning question: “Why are the houses in our region white?” Then, there was a problem-centered assignment about how to dye wool, a practice also not uncommon in Portugal. These assignments were designed to tap into learner curiosity about the natural world and align with the local realities of the learners.
Figure 1: Homes in Obidos, Portugal (by Jon_Michael on Pixabay)
The researchers examined a collection of student writing related to both assignments and analyzed them based on the following categories: “(1) knowledge about the topic under discussion, (2) real-world problem solving, (3) design” (or their application of knowledge to the issues) (Baptista, Martins, & Conceiçãos, 2020, pp. 8-9).
The co-authors describe an experimental setup originated by students from some of their notes:
From this excerpt, it is possible to observe that students were able to plan an experiment, including the control of variables like the distance at which the cans are placed in relation to the lamp, the measurement of the initial temperature of each can, as well as the temperature control at defined times, in order to be able to compare the results (Baptista, Martins, & Conceiçãos, 2020, p. 10).
This chapter also shows reproductions of student data tables and data patterns based on light absorption or light reflectance based on the color of the cans. The reasoning from the experiments were then applied to why homes in the region have been painted white (to reflect light and to control for internal temperatures), at least on this dimension. The next step in the learning sequence involved field trips to various locations to experience the differences in temperatures. Then, a local engineer worked with the students to help them design home replicas while applying “their mathematic knowledge to understand the proportions of the houses, the areas, etc.” (Baptista, Martins, & Conceiçãos, 2020, p. 14). The images show the charming notetaking and crafted mini-homes as materialia from the learning.
Likewise, the wool dyeing learning sequence includes various lessons: differentiating between natural and synthetic materials, using natural dyes (“onion peel, sugar-beet and spinach) and commercial food colorings (p. 14)..and assessing effects of vinegar as a fixative agent on the dyeing process (p. 15). The students worked on documenting their efforts step-by-step. The students also made observations at each step. Later, the students built small looms to weave their wool and to see visual patterns mathematically. This project also seems to have a close fit to the developmental needs of learners at that age. Both projects involved group work, so soft skills development also occurred.
The first chapter describes elementary school STEM learning informed by a national curriculum for elementary school learning with science starting in the first grade and focusing on “History, Geography, Biology, Natural Sciences” to convey “a progressive comprehension of the inter-relations among Nature and Society” (Baptista, Martins, & Conceiçãos, 2020, p. 7). At the present moment, there is not a consensus-accepted set of assumptions about what integrated STEM education is and what principles undergird and inform it. For some, a STEM approach may mean various teaching methodologies and types of teaching (like problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and others). The political environment informs how the teaching manifests.
Technology-Enriched Learning Opportunities for the Gifted
G. Sundari Pramathevan and Barry J. Fraser’s “Technology-based Science Teaching among Gifted Females in Singapore: Attitudes and Learning Environment” (Ch. 2) presents researched based in a secondary school. The essential question explored whether laptop provisioning for learning in a science classroom made a difference in student attitudes, in particular, four attitude scales (Attitudes to Computers, Task Value, Self-efficacy, and Self-regulation) and six learning environment scales (Investigation, Task Orientation, Collaboration, Differentiation, Computer Usage, and Formative Assessment). The research was conducted in a population of 722 students, with 343 in regular science classrooms and 379 in technology based science classrooms [in a one-student one-laptop program (p. 39)]. This work does not clearly explain how the technologies were harnessed for the teaching and learning, nor how they controlled for differences in the teaching in the different classroom contexts.
In Singapore, described as a smaller country without much in the way of physical natural resources, “its economic and financial stability relies largely on its people” (Pramathevan & Fraser, 2020, p. 33). It has an interest in developing the talents of its citizenry both for economic well-being and for the identification of merit-based leaders (p. 34). Since 1984, Singapore has had a Gifted Education Program, to identify the 0.5% of students “who were the most outstanding from each academic year level” based on standardized test performance.
Government seems to play an important role in the definition of the curriculum, across levels and subjects. The coauthors write:
The Ministry of Education of Singapore designs the science syllabus which extends from the primary to the pre-university levels, with the syllabus at the lower levels providing a bridge and foundation for the pursuit of scientific studies at upper levels. This syllabus is based on a Science Curriculum Framework that provides a balance between the acquisition of science knowledge, skills and attitudes, as well as technological applications, social implications and the value aspects of science (Ministry of Education, 2016c, as cited in Pramathevan & Fraser, 2020, pp. 37-38).
For the gifted, the syllabus is “made more advanced to match their intellectual abilities,” and more opportunities are made for their intellectual explorations (Pramathevan & Fraser, 2020, p. 38).
The co-researchers describe detailed ethical acquisition of consents from the university, school principal, parents/legal guardians, and students (Pramathevan & Fraser, 2020, p. 41). They conduct a fairly thorough review of the literature. They found the different classroom modalities had statistically significant effects on the dependent variables “as a whole” based on a MANOVA test (p. 53), with those in the technology enhanced classrooms showing higher positivity. And then per scaled item, there were statistically significant differences on seven scales. Those in technology-based science classrooms “had higher scores for Attitudes to Computers, Self-Regulation, Investigation, Task Orientation, Collaboration, Computer Usage and Formative Assessment” than those in the unenhanced regular classrooms (Pramathevan & Fraser, 2020, p. 54). There were not statistically significant differences for Differentiation, Task Value, and Self-Efficacy measures. The various scales were also assessed for the magnitude of differences.
This work left a reader wanting more details on how the respective laptops were integrated with the curriculum. What software programs were used, and how? What supported did the gifted female students receive? What were some challenges in supporting the technology classrooms?
Partnering with Scientists to Dispel Negative Stereotypes
Figure 2: Imagining Scientists (by Mohamed_Hassan on Pixabay)
Garry Falloon’s “The Problem of Perception: Challenging Students’ Views of Science and Scientists through School-Scientist Partnerships” (Ch. 3) describes endeavors to break privately-held negative stereotypes of scientists believed by learners (and the general public) by bringing scientists into the learning spaces. While school-scientist partnerships (SSPs) can be effortful to set up and maintain, such partnerships are thought to generally benefit science learning. Falloon writes:
This study used the Draw-a-Scientist Checklist (DAST-C; Finson et al., 1995), a short response questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews to explore the impact of a six-month SSP on the views of science and scientists held by 164 year five and six students (9 – 10 year olds) in a provincial New Zealand primary school. It profiles before and after partnership perceptions, and discusses possible reasons for changes linked to specific aspects of the partnership” (p. 70)
To set up this work, the researcher offers a thorough review of the literature about various SSP programs and their varying effects. Then, he follows with a history of the DAST instrument, focused on various “attributes” of scientists. From the research, the information was categorized into various themes (physical characteristics, cognitive characteristics, “employment or activity (work) characteristics or environment,” personal characteristics, and “the contributions of scientists.” In each thematic area, sample keywords were extracted. The coders separated the keywords into sentiment categories: positive, negative, and neutral categories. (pp. 83-85) These impressions were captured both pre- and post-partnership with the scientists.
The post-partnership questionnaire analysis found “a significant decrease overall in boys’ negative or stereotyped perspectives…even as the number coded as positive did not increase proportionately... This appeared to reflect a ‘neutralization’ in boys’ perspectives…rather than a major shift from negative to positive views. Girls’ perspectives on the other hand, reflected amore noticeable shift towards positive views, post-partnership” even as they held more neutral or positive perspectives of scientists initially (Falloon, 2020, p. 87). This work includes more nuanced commentary of the visual depictions by the students and their self-written explanations about their drawings.
“Learning Boxes” for Discovery Learning in the Sciences
Figure 3: “Learning Box” (by Vadim_P on Pixabay)
Hülya Aslan Efe, Nazan Bakir, and Rifat Efe’s “The Effects of Discovery Learning Supported with Learning Boxes on Students’ Academic Achievement, Competences for Learning Science and Science Attitude” (Ch. 4) describes a 10-week experimental study involving a control group of 5th graders studying health sciences traditionally vs. an experimental group studying sciences using material “learning boxes” and a “discovery learning” pedagogy. This research was conducted in a secondary school in Diyarbakir-Ҫinar district in Turkey in Fall 2016-2017. To understand the context, the Ministry of National Education aims to raise citizens “who are capable of self-expression, questioning the rapid changing world, innovative, producing original ideas, researching, group-building and group work” (MoNE, 2017, as cited in Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 112). The traditional learning approaches are seen as more passive. Discovery learning emphasizes more intrinsically motivated learners who engage in active learning, analytical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. For this study, learning boxes are…
…educational materials that educational professionals use to create written, visual and audio materials to support learning by doing and experiencing. They are boxes designed to provide students with learning opportunities to develop different perspectives. The written, visual and audio materials in the learning boxes contain both a general overview and in-depth knowledge (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, pp. 114-115).
These boxes are engaged individually and in learning groups, with social constructivist practices in teaching and learning (vs. rote memorization). The learning boxes were created “to link textual theoretical knowledge with the application of knowledge” (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 118). The learning in the experimental group is based on work by Jacobsen, Eggen, & Kauchak (2002) in the following steps:
“1. The teacher presents the samples.2. Student explains the samples.3. The teacher presents supporting examples.4. The student explains different examples from his/her previous knowledge and relates them to the first one.5. The teacher gives examples and reveals examples that are not appropriate. 6. The student matches the samples and detects the difference.7. The teacher asks the student to emphasize the nature and principles of the examples.8. The student identifies and establishes the relationship.9. The teacher asks the students to find new examples.” (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 120)
Students engage with their teacher in sense-making. They work together with their peers to engage the box contents. They engage in evaluative thinking, and they communicate what they understand. In some of the photos in the chapter, they also create notes about their insights and post these on a bulletin board.
Using multiple established and standardized assessment tools, the researchers found that higher performances in the pre-test condition predicted higher performance also in the posttest (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 124), which is intuitive and expected. (The control group had a higher performance baseline on pre-tests than the experimental group.)
The use of discovery learning and “learning boxes” had a statistically significant impact on learning in the experimental group. There was “a statistically significant difference between the pre-test and post-test academic achievement…in favour of the post-test” with the thinking that discovery learning has “a positive effect on success” (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 126). The co-researchers suggest benefits to active learning and the physically handling of the materials in the respective learning boxes (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 127), to create a sense of reality around the abstractions of much of science. Those in the experimental group had more positive attitudes towards science, especially the female learners. The teaching, which involves having students make questions about their learning, is also seen to help with the integrating of knowledge (Efe, Bakir, & Efe, 2020, p. 129).
Using a Nature of Science (NOS) Flow Map
Jun-Young Oh, Yeon-A Son, and Norman G. Lederman, in “An Integrated NOS Map on Nature of Science Based on the Philosophy of Science, and the Dimensions of Learning in Science” (Ch. 5), open with a historically informed but contemporaneous sense of scientific knowledge:
Scientific knowledge is tentative (subject to change), empirically based (based on and/or derived from observations of the natural world), and subjective (involves the personal background, biases, and/or is theory-laden); necessarily involves human inference, imagination, and creativity (involves the invention of explanations); and is socially and cultural(ly) embedded (as observed by Lederman, et al., 2002, as cited in Oh, Son, & Lederman, 2020, p. 149).
An understanding of what this knowledge is and how it is arrived at over time and through various methods is a critical part of scientific literacy. The co-authors aim to create a map of the nature of science, and they begin with Thomas Kuhn’s explanation of scientific revolutions, with the idea that scientific paradigms emerge socially and are challenged by anomalies which break the paradigms over time. With sufficient accumulations of such anomalies, scientists question the paradigm, and newer ones emerge. Fields then advance incrementally but also with discontinuities. Various subjectivities in personalities and cultures inform scientific advancements, not universal methods per se. The coauthors bring in other notables in various sciences as they lay the groundwork for science understandings.
These researchers coalesce a diagram that shows the relationships between the tenets of the nature of science (NOS) and Kuhn’s Scientific Revolution ideas (p. 155) and then add on the idea of “KSAs” [knowledge, skills and attitudes (sometimes abilities)] to inform the building of learning science (Oh, Son, & Lederman, 2020, p. 155). The experience of the nature of science is critical, not the memorization per se. The “KSAs” that they describe are a complex set of capabilities, including “understanding of NOS and technology, science content, and unifying themes or concepts,” “bodily kinesthetic skills (gross, find (sic) motor, and eye-hand coordination) as well as training of the senses” and “inference, data analysis, and hypothesizing” along with organizational skills; and “habits of mind cultivated by scientific investigators for maintaining the integrity of the inquiry and the validity of the information” (p. 156). In integrating their research, this team offers a map of the tenets of NOS and the dimensions of learning in science, requiring nuanced capabilities, beginning with differentiating between observations and inferences from those observations (p. 160). The nature of science (NOS) can be broken down into KSAs, such as in a table (p. 161).
This chapter brings in the qualitative aspects of scientific inquiry, an approach which has long been denied by hardline objectivists. One quibble: If the NOS flow map is a core focus of the work, it should be drawn more professionally instead of having poor typography and layout, incoherent uses of color, and unaligned lines.
Paul J. Hendricks’s Science Teaching and Learning: Practices, Implementation and Challenges (2020) contributes some strong cues for improvement of science teaching and didactics in its five chapters. The respective researchers who contributed to this collection maintained high standards in their work and documented their ideas closely. The Preface itself was clunky to read, and there were typos now and again in this book. However, the strength of the research helps a reader partially ignore some of the lapses.
About the Author
Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer / researcher at Kansas State University. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Nova Science Publishers for making a watermarked review copy of this book available.
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