Concept of Constructivism in the Teaching and Learning of Science


Introduction

Nowadays, there are many talks regarding a paradigm shift in education especially on the methodology of teaching. Teachers are moving away from the concept of traditional classroom teaching to newer ways that can better enhance students’ learning experiences (Bennett, 2005). This rings true especially in the teaching and learning of subjects such as science and mathematics. These areas of studies have become increasingly important as the world is progressing in the technology field. There are many researchers who have found out that students actually understand less than the teachers’ expectations even if they can provide them with good instructions (Bennett, 2005). This is due to the fact that students are required to carry out their own reading and make up their own meaning through the information which they can find from books. Unfortunately, even after careful examination, their understanding can be limited or wrong. Sometimes if they do get the facts right, students tend to face difficulties in retaining that piece of information for a long period of time. It will most probably be lost in their memories tuck behind somewhere in the brains. In order for effective learning to occur, teachers must tap into the students’ right schemata and enable them to connect new ideas to old ones. According to some experts, the best way to do so is allowing students the chance to get hands on experiences (Wellington & Ireson, 2012). Therefore, this research paper is going to focus on the concept of constructivism in the teaching and learning of science. It will include a brief explanation on the theory of constructivism. Besides that, this paper is also going to look at some of the advantages as well as issues regarding to this learning concept. Apart from that, a few examples on ways to implement constructivism in classrooms will be given. Finally, this paper is going to offer a conclusion explaining the effectiveness of this particular learning concept in the teaching of science.

Constructivism

Constructivism is considered to be one of the best methods in teaching the science subject because it is, basically, a theory based on observation and scientific study (Wellington & Ireson, 2012). This learning concept emphasizes on the usage of all the five senses; sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Constructivist believes that a person learns through experiencing things and later, reflects on those experiences (Hand & Prain, 1995). In order to do so, an individual will have to ask questions, explore and ponder on existing information. If he or she discovers something new, the person will, then, make connections with prior knowledge and decides whether the experience is relevant or not.

This is totally opposite from objectivism that reflects the most common teaching methodology being used currently. They believe that information can be found from books and thus, knowledge can be transferred from the teacher to the students through the implementation of a specific curriculum that covers relevant science contents (Hand & Prain, 1995). However, constructivist insists upon the existence of knowledge inside each individual and students can only make sense of the subject that is being taught by experiencing and interacting with the environment (Hodson, 2009). Therefore, meaning is constructed by the individual and not from words that are written on textbooks.

Consequently, teachers, who are using constructivism as an approach to enhance students’ learning, he or she will adopt problem solving as a learning strategy. Students have to constantly go through activities that will encourage questioning and exploring in order to gain a better understanding of what they are studying. Hence, in a classroom scenario, teachers act as facilitators or mediators rather than spoon feeding students with information (Hodson, 2009). This is one of the main differences between a traditional classroom and a constructivist classroom. Besides that, constructivists also believe that knowledge cannot be memorized and learning should be student centered (Hodson, 2009).

Benefits of using constructivism in the teaching of science

Researchers have found that there are several advantages in practicing constructivism in the classroom. Since students are encouraged to seek for answers through experiments and reflection on their own, they will be more interested in the learning process as they are more actively involved (Harcombe, 2001). In comparison to a traditional classroom scenario, normally, students act as passive listeners. This can be quite boring as students are only required to face the textbooks and try their best to memorize the content. It is scientifically proven that human being can only pay attention to a certain task for a maximum of 20 minutes (Harcombe, 2001). Ideally, students will have to do something else before they can regain their focus. However, this is almost impossible in a traditional classroom setting.

Besides that, the learning concept behind constructivism is the best way to exemplify how education works. This is because constructivist promotes thinking and deep understanding of the content that is being taught. Students will be able to retain the information longer because learning is relatable and fun (Williams, 2011). Unlike in traditional classroom, students tend to memorize this information and probably, they will forget about them once the examination is over. Since the information is no longer useful to them, it will be chucked away and replaced by newer information.

Another benefit of constructivism is the belief that learning is transferable (Kress, Charalampos & Jewitt, 2006). This does not mean the transferring of information from the teacher to students. It has got something to do with the underlying principles of constructivism whereby students are shown techniques such as the ability to ask questions and to reflect on content which they have learnt. These techniques of promoting curiosity and intrigue can be brought forward by the students in their learning of other subjects as well as later on in their real lives (Williams, 2011).

Apart from that, constructivism also creates satisfaction in students. Since students achieve the end of a learning lesson through exploration and questioning, this gives them a sense of ownership to what they have learnt (Kress, Charalampos & Jewitt, 2006). At the end of the day, students feel that they have accomplished something and this will serve as a motivator for them to continue their interest in learning (Kress, Charalampos & Jewitt, 2006). Intrinsic motivation is proven to be extremely powerful in engaging students’ enthusiasm and excitement in the learning process in comparison to extrinsic motivation such as praises or rewards (Psillos & Niedderer, 2002).

Finally, constructivism can also promote good communication and socializing skills (Psillos & Niedderer, 2002). In a constructivist classroom environment, students are encouraged to work in groups in order to collaborate and exchange ideas. Therefore, it is almost compulsory for students to develop skills in articulating their points of view or to ask appropriate questions while completing a school project. They must also learn ways to negotiate with other team members to come up with a solution amicably. This set of skills is very useful in real life scenario especially in working environments when they need to cooperate with others (Psillos & Niedderer, 2002).

Issues and criticism regarding constructivism in the teaching of science

Although many people believe that constructivism is positive in general, however, it has, also, received a few criticisms. First of all, pessimists have argued that progressive educational theories including constructivism are considered to be elitist (Treagust, Duit & Fraser, 1996). They are convinced theories propose by constructivist will only benefit students from privileged background such as committed parents, home environment that is conducive for learning and excellent teachers (Treagust, Duit & Fraser, 1996). Since students from a constructivist classroom are required to explore for the answers themselves, this criticism is not entirely wrong. Students who are at a disadvantaged economically may find themselves dropping behind or outcast due to the lack of resources for example, the accessibility to a computer and the Internet.

Besides that, critics have also argued that constructivism prefers those who are socially adept. During group work, some students who are smarter, more popular or able to voice out their ideas better will gain more advantage over the others (Jain, 1999). Therefore, the learning occurs only to those few students who choose to participate actively during group discussions. Eventually, those who take a back seat will be left out from the learning process. Other than that, critics also believe that ideas from every single student will not be heard (Jain, 1999). This is because the majority will rule over the disagreeing party.

Finally, one of the major criticisms receives by constructivism is the lack of evidence that this learning concept really works (Roth & Tobin, 2005). In a constructivist classroom, students also play a role in the ways they are evaluated. Teachers can assess the students through various channels like initiatives, personal investments, research reports and creativity. Certain criteria of evaluation that are perceived to be relevant by some teachers may be irrelevant to others. Without proper examination, critics argue that students’ progress cannot be measured properly (Roth & Tobin, 2005). This argument is supported by the findings of government research that students from constructivist classrooms are found to be lacking in certain skills in comparison to those who are from traditional classrooms.

Implementation of constructivism in the teaching of science

As it is mentioned earlier in this research paper, in a constructivist classroom, students are encouraged to ask their own questions, allow forming multiple interpretations of the learning process and inspiring group work. Therefore, while forming a lesson using this approach, a teacher must take into mind that learning should be constructed, active, reflective, collaborative, inquiry-based and evolving. In creating a good lesson plan using this learning concept, teachers can use the 5 ‘E’s model (Hodson, 1998).

For first part of the lesson, teachers should try to engage their students to the instructional task (Steffe & Gale, 1995). In this stage, students try to make a connection with their past and present learning experiences. Activities that encourage students to ask questions, use problem solving and think about a surprising event will engage them to focus on the task at hand (Steffe & Gale, 1995). Teachers can use concept cartoon-style drawings to present the different conceptions on science. For example, two persons are sitting on the boat and one of them says that they will fall off the face of the Earth if the row to the end of the river while the other argues that they will not. This will lead to the teacher’s intention of introducing the subject of gravity.

The second part of the lesson will involve the students to explore and get directly involve in finding out the answers (Larochelle, Bednarz & Garrison, 1998). In this stage, students will get the opportunity to try out with materials in order to come up with explanations to this phenomenon. Teachers can provide students with stories or videos on Newton and Galileo. Aside from that, students can also be encouraged to test out with objects of varying weights such as Styrofoam, wood and steel. During the exploration stage, it is best for the students to work together in groups.

The third part of the lesson plan is when students explain to each other and try to organize all the information and knowledge regarding the subject matter, in this case, gravity (Larochelle, Bednarz & Garrison, 1998). In this stage, students will work in groups and discuss with their peers to come up with a logical sequence of events whether the world is flat or round and weight influences the speed of gravity. This is when students get to practice their communication as well as socializing skills. Teachers will only act as a facilitator and push the students to the right direction. Students can conceptualize their ideas through writing, drawing or even videotaping their discovery.

The fourth part of the lesson plan is elaboration (Richardson, 1997). Students will try to expand their ideas from the conclusions they have gained from previous stages. Application of these concepts into the real world is an essential part in a constructivist classroom. For example, students can try to examine why some objects does not follow the law of gravity. A student may observe that two metal weighing at 1 pound each will still drop at the same speed as a piece of 1 pound metal. These types of observations will lead the students to inquire further in order to grasp a new understanding of the concept.

The final part of the lesson plan is the teacher’s evaluation on the students’ understanding of the concept (Richardson, 1997). Assessment can be carried out by the teachers throughout the whole learning process and students are also encouraged to be a part of this stage. Teachers can collect concrete evidence such as asking students to come up with a portfolio on gravity in order to determine whether they have fully understood the topic as well as an evidence to show to their parents and administrators.

Conclusion

More often than not, the concept of constructivism is often viewed negatively by parents who tend to accuse teachers as too lazy to educate their children. However, this learning concept can trigger students’ thirst for knowledge into getting a better understanding of how the world works. This innate curiosity is important especially in the teaching and learning of science. Students are responsible for what they learn by applying prior and present knowledge into understanding specific contents. Besides that, students do not just stop learning after they leave the classroom. They will continue to do so through personal observations and the intense desire to know further. All the skills which they have gotten from constructivism such as social and communication skills can also be applied in real life situations. In a nutshell, teachers should consider adopting this methodology if they want to escape from the constraints of a traditional classroom.

References

Bennett, J. (2005). Teaching and learning science. Continuum International Publishing. London.

Hand, B. & Prain, V. (1995). Teaching and learning in science: The constructivist classroom. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Harcombe, E. (2001). Science teaching/science learning: Constructivist learning in urban classrooms. Teachers College Press. New York.

Hodson, D. (1998). Teaching and learning science: Towards a personalized approach. Open University Press. Maidenhead.

Hodson, D. (2009). Teaching and learning about science: Language, theories, methods, history, traditions and values. Wiley-Blackwell. New Jersey.

Jain, L. (1999). Innovative teaching and learning: Knowledge-based paradigms. Spinger. New York.

Kress, G., Charalampos, T. & Jewitt, C. (2006). Multimodal teaching and learning: The rhetorics of the science classroom. Continuum International Publishing. London.

Larochelle, M., Bednarz, N. & Garrison, J. (1998). Constructivism and education. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Psillos, D. & Niedderer, H. (2002). Teaching and learning in the science laboratory. Springer. New York.

Richardson, V. (1997). Constructivist teacher education: Building new understandings. Routledge. London.

Roth, W. M. & Tobin, K. (2005). Teaching together, learning together. Peter Lang. New York.

Steffe, L. & Gale, J. (1995). Constructivism in education. Routledge. London.

Treagust, D., Duit, R. & Fraser, B. (1996). Improving teaching and learning in science and mathematics. Cengage Learning. Connecticut.

Wellington, J. & Ireson, G. (2012). Science learning, science teaching. Routledge. London.

Williams, J. (2011). How science works: Teaching and learning in the science classroom. Continuum International Publishing. London.

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