Successful teaching of CT skills in within the teaching of domain-specific knowledge should result in both, deeper conceptual understanding of the subject and development of critical thinking skills Tiruneh et al. Miri et al. A mixed method research model was applied: critical thinking was measured at the beginning and at the end of the school year, and teaching strategies promoting critical thinking were identified through semi-structured interviews.
According to the results, the experimental group showed a statistically significant improvement in critical thinking skills compared with the control groups. Teaching approach plays a fundamental role in mediating critical thinking improvement over time. The next paragraph will discuss the influence of teaching approach on conceptual understanding in science in general, and physics in specific.
In the past half-century, literature on teaching has largely disputed whether students learn more in an unguided or minimally guided environment in which they must discover and construct knowledge, or, conversely, whether they should be provided with direct instructional guidance on discipline-specific concepts and procedures Kirschner et al. The debate was initiated by the influence of constructivism on learning, which also produced several minimally guided approaches e. Most of these approaches are implemented in science courses, in which students are asked to discover science laws and principles by acting as scientists van Joolingen et al.
However, there are several reasons why constructivism, interpreted in this way, is not widely used in educational systems.
First, minimally guided environments may induce teachers to reduce the use of important aspects of learning, such as providing feedback. For instance, Zhang investigated the detrimental effect of withholding answers from students and found that students involved in hands-on activities with feedback provided achieved better science learning performances than students in hands-on only condition, with answers withheld, and students in the direct instruction condition.
Some authors consider minimally guided constructivist approaches as theoretically incompatible with human cognitive architecture Kirschner et al. For instance, working memory is limited, and problem-solving, a central component of constructivist approaches, places a huge load on working memory, which is not available to be used to learn Kirschner et al.
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Moreover, assuming that the way an expert works in a domain is equivalent to the way in which a novice learns in the same domain might be a fundamental error, and research has consistently shown that guided instruction leads to better learning results than unguided instruction does Kirschner et al. According to the results, they considered all experimentation as a kind of science practice; however, these two types of experimentation are also characterized by differences.
These results demonstrate how the practice of experimentation should be substantially different when the students are involved in it. Indeed, in students-led experiments it is important that the teachers take into account the pedagogical dimension. Rather than claiming that constructivist teaching approaches are ineffective, we propose to investigate how constructivist principles can be included in approaches in which the teacher is assigned a fundamental designing and managing role e.
As discussed earlier, constructivist theories recognize that students bring to science class pre-instructional conceptions on world phenomena derived from their everyday experiences, and they are not going to revise them if simply exposed to new theories, unless they are provided with reflective experiences Boddy et al. Socio-constructivist theories encourage teachers to focus more on inquiry Mortimer and Scott, and student-centered instructional practices Schneider et al. However, inquiry-based activities should be integrated with classroom talk Mortimer and Scott, All science teachers recognize the importance of experimentation in teaching, but they often fail at introducing scientific discourse in their classes.
Classroom discourse should not just be used as preparation for the experiment or as after-experiment analysis, but rather should be used to foster learning progression, to search for new knowledge or to answer new questions Bereiter, Finally, science teachers vary in the extent to which they aim at teaching content only or, conversely whether they integrate higher-order skills, such as critical thinking, in their program.
However, the laboratory is not the only hands-on activity that can be used in the classroom. Effective science teaching approaches should include for the science several types of practical activities or Making. Some examples of Making could be found in the use of ICT in the classroom, in the production of scale models and in the organization of trips with formative aims.
Hestenes et al. Rather than testing the efficacy of a research-designed intervention, we wanted to analyze difference between teaching practices influenced by real-life teaching approaches. We also included science-related beliefs and critical thinking as control variables for two main reasons: they are associated with conceptual understanding of physics, thus representing a potentially confounding variable; and a growth in these skills is desirable and an expected effect of a science course.
We applied a mixed-method with sequential design Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, ; Creswell and Plano Clark, , according to which a research question is explored with a quantitative and a qualitative method. Data streams are intermixed to benefit from the strengths of both approaches. Physics teachers were interviewed to find similarities and differences in teaching methods qualitative approach.
Students came from four different classes, from two different high schools located in a mid-size city in Central Italy. All students spoke Italian as their mother-tongue language. At the time of the study, no participant was diagnosed with a physical or mental disability, was included in a diagnostic process, or identified by the teachers as having special educational needs, thus all participants could be defined as typically developing. The two schools were located in areas characterized by a middle-high socio-economic level.
The participating schools were not following any specific program to empower relevant variables for this study and adhered to the national curriculum. Ethics approval was not required at the time the research was conducted by the University of Florence.
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All physics teachers working in the territory were contacted for a meeting with the researchers, in which the aims of the study were explained. Five teachers were considered eligible and expressed interest in participating in the study. During the research, one teacher had to take leave for personal reasons, and consequently was excluded from the data analysis.
In the middle of the school year i. All steps were conducted by a researcher trained by the first and second author of the study. All teachers used the laboratory, lectures, and classroom discussion several times during the last school year. However, the order of these teaching components differed, as we will discuss further on in the manuscript.
For instance, while the two student-centered teachers claimed to use the laboratory as a starting point of a teaching unit, the content-centered teachers took students to the laboratory after lectures, to apply the theoretical principles addressed in. Another source of differences between the two groups was the use of hands-on activities other than the laboratory. Only the student-centered teachers claimed to use alternative hands-on activities to replace the laboratory, such as reading of original texts written by past scientists or field-trips.
For all the other teaching components type of exams, material available in the laboratories, syllabus, time allotted to a teaching unit within the course the four classrooms were equivalent. Previous studies had used the FMCE with high school and college students, and proved its validity and reliability Ramlo, The FMCE consists of 43 questions, and multiple choices range from five to nine answers.
Overall, questions aim at assessing whether students are able to adopt a Newtonian framework or, conversely, rely on everyday experience-based conceptions. Questions use a natural language and graphical representations e. After it is released, it rolls up, reaches its highest point and rolls back down again.
Elaborating the conceptual space of information-seeking phenomena
Friction is so small that it can be ignored. The test was translated into Italian by a bilingual researcher, and back-translated by another bilingual researcher. The two versions were compared and no significant differences were found. The Italian version was also expert-validated by two Physics teachers with more than 20 years of experience in teaching high-school students. Minor revisions in wording were suggested, with no semantically or conceptually significant departures from the original version.
The instrument taps four dimensions of science-related epistemological beliefs: source e. The instrument was originally developed for elementary-school students Conley et al. The test includes 71 multiple-choice items three alternatives and assesses the following skills: hypothesis-testing skills, credibility of source and observation skills, deduction skills, and assumption identification skills.
The test is delivered in a narrative context, in which students follow the events of a group of explorers that landed on a planet to find out what happened to the first group of explorers. A The mechanic analyses the rivers around the village and reports, the water is not drinkable ; B the medical officer says, we still cannot tell whether the water is drinkable ; C A and B are equally credible. The test was translated into Italian by a bilingual researcher and back-translated by another bilingual researcher.
The two versions were compared, and no significant differences were found. The Italian version was also expert-validated by two teachers with more than 20 years of experience in teaching to high school students. Teachers were interviewed at a time agreed with them by a trained researcher, with no prior relationship with the teachers. At the time, when the interviews were conducted during the school-year, thus before post-test.
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Interview duration ranged between 45 min and 1 h. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The semi-structured interview included three sections: teaching experience and program, teaching method, and epistemological beliefs see Supplementary Material for the full semi-structured interview. We used the first part of the semi-structured interview in order to collect objective data about the teaching practices implemented by the participating teachers.
Teachers were invited to think about how they taught physics in general, and the topic of force and motion in specific, and to describe a typical lesson.
Then teachers were asked questions on the use of laboratory e. Finally, teachers were asked which technique was more effective and which one was less effective in promoting conceptual understanding.
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Questions about beliefs of science [e. Thematic analysis allows one to search for themes across the entire data set, rather than within a data item Braun and Clarke, In this study, we searched themes across interviews, rather than, for example, counting the frequency of specific aspects within each interview. The analysis of correlational scores showed that initial levels of critical thinking were associated with conceptual understanding of physics as assessed at both time points. Science-related beliefs were associated with critical thinking skills at both time points, but they were not associated with conceptual understanding of physics.
Each variable at the post-test was associated with the initial performance as assessed at the pre-test. Use of laboratory, classroom discussion, attribution role to students, and teachers may depend on their beliefs about the nature of science, but in this study all teachers are considered equivalent. Conversely, from the qualitative analysis of the questions on the teaching approach derived from Tsai, ; Kang and Wallace, , significant differences emerged.
Although all four teachers showed the use of some typical constructivist teaching techniques, the two GCA teachers claimed to have a more substantial focus on the conceptual construction of concrete meanings of physics. In other words, the teachers aimed at explaining phenomena that students can observe in everyday life. Importantly, no teacher mentioned the explicit teaching of higher-order skills, which is probably associated to the lack of growth in critical thinking skills over the school year in the students of our sample Miri et al. Most teachers would say that the laboratory is important in science teaching, but they might differ in the role attributed to it in their lesson plan.
Moreover, their actual use of laboratory in their teaching practices might depend on availability of instruments and thus, change from school to school. Therefore, we asked teachers to describe their ideal teaching approach. CCA teachers consider the laboratory as an important aspect of physics teaching too, but they believe that the starting point of teaching should be the lecture. GCA teachers organize the laboratory activity in brief, qualitative observations, always fostering individual reflection and collective discussion, acknowledging the importance of integrating inquiry-based activities with classroom talk Mortimer and Scott, In this way, they go beyond the distinction between laboratory and classroom teaching, with these two becoming mere physical places, rather than methods.
In this perspective, GCA teachers, unlike CCA ones, believe that the mistakes made by the students represent the starting point of a lesson. Of notice, students derive their pre-instructional concepts from everyday experiences and will not revise them if simply exposed to new theories, unless they are provided with reflective experiences Boddy et al. Another important source of differences between the two teaching approaches identified in this study lies in what role teachers attribute to students in science learning.