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Improving Quality of Science Teacher Training in European Cooperation

  Assessing Science for Understanding (CZ) Training Module Based on Socio-cognitive Constructivism (CY) European Dimension in Integrated Science Education (LT) Development Procedural Skills in Science Education (BG) Using Laboratory to Enhance Student Learning and Scientific Inquiry (TR)  
Unit 1 - Constructivist Science and Laboratory Education Resources Unit 2 - Constructivist Science Teaching Techniques Unit 3 - Scientific Process Skills and Scientific Inquiry Unit 4 - Meaningful Learning, Nature of Science etc.

Unit 1
Constructivist Science and Laboratory Education Resources

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Constructivist Science and Laboratory Education Resources


Scientific knowledge is comprised of two distinct, yet interrelated, components: theory and empirical evidence. Understanding the interrelations between these two components is crucial to the understanding of what science is and how it works (Havdala and Ashkenazi, 2007; Kuhn & Pearsall, 2000).

The Theory of Constructivism

The single statement that captures the essence of constructivism is that knowledge is constructed in the mind of the learner. This statement can be expanded to five other propositions or postulates of constructivism, from which implications for lab work will be derived (Shiland, 1999):

  1. Learning requires mental activity. The process of knowledge construction requires mental effort or activity; material cannot simply be presented to the learner and learned in a meaningful way.
  2. Naive theories affect learning. New knowledge must be related to knowledge the learner already knows. The learner has preconceptions and misconceptions, which may interfere with the ability to learn new material. These personal theories also affect what the learner observes. Personal theories must be made explicit to facilitate comparisons.
  3. Learning occurs from dissatisfaction with present knowledge. For meaningful learning to occur, experiences must be provided that create dissatisfaction with one’s present conceptions. If one’s present conceptions make accurate predictions about an experience, restructuring (meaningful learning) will not occur.
  4. Learning has a social component. Knowledge construction is primarily a social process in which meaning is constructed in the context of dialogue with others.
    Cognitive growth results from social interaction. Learning is aided by conversation that seeks and clarifies the ideas of learners.
  5. Learning needs application. Applications must be provided which demonstrate the utility of the new conception.
    Students are players and protagonists during teaching activities through a continuous process of discovery, investigation, research and synthesis. Students attempt to give answers to multiple questions arising from the observation of scientific phenomena or from the solution of problematic issues. In this context, the building of concept maps allows students to become aware of their knowledge building processes whilst also representing the knowledge synthesis operated by students (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).
Science laboratory and learning environment

Science laboratory activities are structured around the search for coherent and correct answers to questions aroused in students through random or programmed observation (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).

The questions asked spontaneously by students are not “basically different” from those that guide and urge investigations, discoveries and definition of scientific theories. Evidently, in view of the very young age of the students, questions arise from within a context of factual experiences where real knowledge may still coexist with misconceptions and fantasy (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).

Science teaching with a laboratory teaching method orientates the search for answers and coherent and correct explanations through learning processes in which students work and interact to gain the new knowledge that will allow them to read the cause of scientific phenomena or the explanation of observed situations (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).

In this teaching practice students and teachers play well-defined roles, that is to say invert the direction of traditional transmissive teaching, creating a learning-teaching process in which the student is given a central role as protagonist and the teacher a second-level role as organizer, guide and facilitator of teaching processes.

Designing the learning environment

Designing a science laboratory means to elaborate teaching practice and teaching role in a constructivist approach in which knowledge gained by students is an active process. The teacher prepares and organizes materials, procedures and relevant contexts to urge and guide self-learning processes (Berionni and Baldon, 2006):

With his/her expert map, the teacher defines:

Once activities start, the class of students becomes the protagonist and each student is the main actor in a knowledge process that generates significant learning whenever students structure, integrate and reconfigure their previous knowledge. The teacher recedes from the foreground and only provides inputs, stimuli, suggestions to strengthen and direct the thinking procedures and strategies activated by the students (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).

Promoting and addressing knowledge processes

Receding from the foreground means for the teacher to avoid giving explanations, examples and direct answers, whilst guiding students towards active processes, such as analysis, observation, comparison, and the search for alternative routes in problem-solving (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).

Knowledge is considered an active, unique and personal process for each student through interaction and social cooperation with the other students of the class in a perspective that refers to social constructivism paradigms (Varisco 2004). Consequently, the teaching activity is expressed according to three guidelines:

The science laboratory becomes the learning environment where students work together, helping each other, and learning how to search for and use tools and resources in problem solving situations. The teacher facilitates, encourages, promotes activities in which students interact, design, express and discuss solutions, ideas and theories (Berionni and Baldon, 2006).

The Implications of Constructivism for Laboratory Activities

From each of these postulates, a corresponding generalization and specific implications for modifying laboratory activities follows (Shiland, 1999):

Learning requires mental activity; therefore modify labs to increase the cognitive activity of the learner.
  1. Have the students identify the relevant variables. Students can be asked to identify controlled and uncontrolled variables.
  2. Have the students design the procedure or reduce the procedure to the essential parts. The best labs to decookbook are those that have simple procedures that are easy to explain to the students. If the procedure cannot be designed safely, then the students might be asked to explain why certain steps in the procedure are done in a certain way.
  3. Have the students design the data table. Designing data tables is an easy first step toward modifying your labs and has been mentioned as a way to move labs toward inquiry.
  4. Use a standard lab design worksheet. Have a standard format that uses the important concepts in experimental design (problem statement, hypothesis, variables, constants, data tables, summary, and conclusions).
  5. Have students suggest sources of error in the lab and modifications to eliminate these sources of error, and raise questions about the lab. Comparisons of data between groups in class and between classes may raise questions about sources of variation. Students can produce questions by substituting, eliminating, or increasing or decreasing a variable.

    Naive theories affect learning: therefore design labs to learn what these are.
  6. Move the lab to the beginning of the chapter. Moving the lab to the beginning may create interest in the material to be learned and give the teacher a chance to diagnose misconceptions the student may have. Use the lab as the beginning of a learning cycle.
  7. Have students make predictions and explain them before the lab. Having students make predictions creates interest in the outcome. In addition, have students explain the basis for their predictions using their present ideas. Ideally, the problem presented will be one which creates dissatisfaction with their present understanding. Challenge students to come up with alternative hypotheses.

    Learners must be dissatisfied with their present knowledge: therefore design labs as problems to challenge their present knowledge.
  8. Rewrite the lab as a single problem whose solution is not obvious. Solutions to the problem cannot be obvious. Change your role in the lab to that of problem poser and facilitator. Some possible topics for chemistry investigations have been given in the literature which essentially involve the statement of a given problem.

    Learning has a social component: therefore design labs to include group and whole class activities.
  9. Give the students an opportunity to discuss their predictions, explanations, procedures, and data table before doing the lab, and give them an opportunity to present their results after the lab. The process of formulating an opinion to express and share with a group promotes reflection.

    Learning needs application: therefore design labs to require students to find or demonstrate applications.
  10. Give students an opportunity to demonstrate applications after the lab. Students need opportunities to use new ideas in a wide range of contexts.
Tasks (assignments)

  1. What are the postulates of Constructivism?
  2. How can you modify the implications of constructivist laboratory activities?
Case Study

Before the laboratory session; the teacher asked the students to identify controlled and uncontrolled variables of the experiment. He also asked the students to explain why certain steps in the procedure are done in a certain way. He also asked the students to explain and compare the concepts of the experiment (interrelations, differences and similarity etc.). Why do you think so? Are you sure? Why? If the temperature had been higher what would happen? What do you infer from the result of the experiment, why? etc.

Questions to Case Study

  1. What may be the target of the teacher with the question to ask the student about the certain steps of the procedure?
  2. Why do you think that teacher ask so many questions to the students? Do you think it is necessary?

Science teaching with a laboratory teaching method orientates the search for answers and coherent and correct explanations through learning processes in which students work and interact to gain the new knowledge that will allow them to read the cause of scientific phenomena or the explanation of observed situations. And also constructivist science teaching plays a crucial role in affective science teaching.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a trainee science teacher and I am having trouble to find out student misconceptions and naïve theories. How can I improve my ability to find out student misconceptions?

Answer the question above

It is recommended to read the first chapter and try to determine the sample questions types in order to question students to determine their misconceptions and also insufficiencies to explain something.

Next Reading

Wiske, M.S. (1998). What is teaching for understanding? In Wiske, M.S. (Ed.) Teaching for understanding: Linking research with practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing.

Lazarowitz, R., & Tamir, P. (1994). Research on using laboratory instruction in science. In D.L. Gabel (Ed.), Handbook of research on science teaching and learning (pp. 94–128). New York: Macmillan.


Roger, G. and Fisher, K. M. (1999) Comparison of student learning about diffusion and osmosis in constructivist and traditional classrooms International Journal of Science Education, 21 (6), 687-698.

Wandersee, J. H., Mintzes, J. J. and Novak, J. D. (1994) Research on alternative conceptions in science. In D. Gabel (ed.), Handbook of Research in Science Teaching and Learning, pp. 177–210.

Shiland, T.W. (1999) Constructivism: The Implications for Laboratory Work, Journal of Chemical Education, 76 (1), 107-109.

Berionni A., Baldon, M.A. (2006) Concept Maps: Theory, Methodology, Technology, Proc. of the Second Int. Conference on Concept Mapping A. J. Canas, J. D. Novak, Eds. San Jose, Costa Rica.

Havdala and Ashkenazi, (2007) Coordination of Theory and Evidence: Effect of Epistemological Theories on Students’ Laboratory Practice Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(8) 1134–1159.