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Reflections on implementing a constructivist approach in teaching magnetism : a case study of a fifth grade classroom Gammon, Janice Maureen


Children have prior knowledge, or mini-theories about science topics presented at school before being formally taught that is constructed from their everyday experiences. Teachers generally do not take this knowledge into consideration in the planning of science units and are often confused about why their students fail to learn. Hewson (1983) suggests that students will experience conceptual change only if it is intelligible, plausible, and fruitful and that prior knowledge, which is often an alternate conception of a scientific idea, must be challenged or clarified. Schon (1984) claims that teachers need to reflect on their actions in order to understand their own as well as their students' "constructed worlds". He suggests that teachers, when they reflect, become their own researchers. This case study examines how I, a teacher/researcher, adopted a constructlvlst perspective towards teaching a unit in magnetism and how the students responded. Vignettes of selected Incidents tell the story of the difficulties that my students had learning some of the concepts of magnetism and how I reacted to the knowledge that they were having difficulty. The unit in magnetism was taught to my class of thirty-two students (10/11 year olds) at an elementary school in a community in British Columbia using a constructivlst teaching sequence developed by Driver (1986).The lessons in magnetism were video-taped and both the students and I kept a journal. To elicit students' ideas about magnetism a diagnostic test was given at the beginning of the unit. A continuing record of students' ideas was kept throughout the study and at the end a post diagnostic test was given to see which, if any, alternate conceptions persisted. It was found that teaching with a constructivist approach had its' difficulties. Reflecting, for myself and my students, took practice and taking students' ideas Into consideration, both in the planning and teaching stages, may have taken more time than many teachers have available. However, the knowledge that I gained about my students' beliefs, through the process of reflecting, was valuable in planning lessons that both challenged and clarified the students' alternate conceptions. Teachers are recommended to take their students' ideas into consideration in lesson planning and to use activities that will encourage conceptual change. However, teachers should consider the time factor and the difficulties in reflecting before using a constructivist approach in teaching science.

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