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Towards Evidence-Based Practice in Science Education

Grant reference: L139251003

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Book chapter details

TLRP: Designing and evaluating short science teaching sequences: improving student learning
This paper reports a study designed to provide evidence about the feasibility of designing short teaching sequences, based on insights from research and scholarship on teaching and learning science, which are measurably better at promoting conceptual understanding amongst students than the teaching approaches usually used by their schools. The research team worked in collaboration with a group of 9 teachers (3 biology, 3 chemistry, 3 physics) to design, implement, and evaluate 3 teaching sequences for use with students aged 11-15. The physics and biology teaching sequences were also implemented by other teachers (11 and 5 respectively) not involved in their design. Teachers implemented the physics and biology teaching sequences in ways broadly consistent with the planned approach. In all cases where a valid comparison can be made, students’ responses to diagnostic questions requiring the use of conceptual models to construct explanations were significantly better following the designed teaching sequences, than the responses of comparable students following the school’s usual teaching approach. The significance of these findings for research in science education, and for policy relating to science teaching, are discussed. Conclusion: In this study, responses requiring factual recall were no better from students following the designed teaching sequences, than the responses from baseline students. However, the same students’ responses were measurably better on questions requiring the use of conceptual models to construct explanations compared to baseline students. The external assessment questions used for students aged 14 and 16 in England are widely criticised as testing factual recall rather than underlying conceptual understanding. Our findings suggest that students following the designed teaching sequences were just as capable as students following schools’ normal teaching programmes at completing such questions, and were also better at questions requiring the use of conceptual models. Our findings lead us to believe that the use of such assessment questions may result in national assessment data over-estimating students’ understanding. Furthermore, the use of such assessment questions may well result in teachers under-estimating their pupils’ capacity to undertake work requiring them to use scientific conceptual models.
Original Document

Primary contributor

Author J Leach

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