A child`s logic - not to be dismissed
Young children often come to school with their own ideas about various scientific phenomena: they may think that the heart is pointed in shape, for example, or that clouds, fire and cars are living things because they move on their own.
But, although incorrect, instead of being disregarded by teachers, these notions can be used as a springboard from which the children can explore the phenomena further and eventually reconstruct their ideas.
After all, their reasoning may be wrong, but not irrational: it usually reflects a degree of logical thinking.
This was the approach taken recently in schools by a number of student teachers from the university, as described by Suzanne Gatt of the Faculty of Education in her presentation to the CASTME conference.
The approach was based on the SPACE research project carried out in the UK in the early 1990s, which described children`s thinking about topics ranging from Earth and space to the processes of life. The researchers developed interventions aimed at helping the children understand the concepts.
The approach is called "constructivist" because it is an exercise in the construction of knowledge through the learner`s active participation, thinking the concepts through and making sense of his or her experience.
The teacher first motivates the pupils by using tools such as demonstrations, film clips, press cuttings and so on.
The next step is for students to express their ideas about the topic being tackled, through discussion, writing or other techniques. The teacher makes no comment at this stage.
The pupils are then shown that there are a variety of ways in which they can consider the phenomena, leading to an evaluation in which they are led to be dissatisfied with their existing conceptions. They are allowed to arrive at their own conclusions, rather than being given the correct answer by the teacher.
The new ideas are then applied to a variety of situations so that they can be reinforced and assimilated.
The final stage is where pupils look back on their learning, comparing their old ideas with their new views so as to become aware of their own change of conception - making it more likely that they will hold the new notions permanently.
The student teachers applied this approach to the teaching of sound, living processes, centre of gravity and magnets, involving the pupils in hands-on activities such as trying to balance various objects, drawing the organs which they think the body is made up of and looking up information in books.
"It is important to experience constructivist learning in order to be able to realise its effectiveness," Ms Gatt told the conference.
"Being involved in the design, planning and use of the schemes was in itself an experience of constructivist learning for the student teachers.
"It was also an exercise through which our primary pupils have experienced quality science teaching. This is in line with the target for primary science as stated in the National Minimum Curriculum."