Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author. While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.
Practical science: A framework for reflection Robin Millar Department of Educational Studies University of York
Perspectives on practical work Much practical work is … ineffective in helping students to understand the concepts and theories of science. It is unscientific in that it is quite unlike real scientific activity. And it is boring and time-wasting for many students who find it unnecessary and unstimulating. It’s what science is all about really … getting on with some experiments. Science is a practical subject …. You know, end of story, I think. Science teacher, interviewed in research study by Donnelly (1995) Woolnough, 1995
Is practical work effective? • Effective for what? • What is practical work for? • What do we mean by ‘effective’?
What is practical work for? domain of objects and observables domain of ideas practical work Minds-on Hands-on The central purpose of practical work is to help students to make links between these two domains.
Teacher’s objectives (what the students are meant to learn) Task specification (what the students are meant to do) Classroom activities (what the students actually do) Learning outcomes (what the students actually learn) What do we mean by ‘effective’? To say anything is ‘effective’, we have to have some objective in mind. effectiveness (2) (1)
Effectiveness of a practical activity • The starting point for thinking about ‘effectiveness’ is to identify the learning objective(s) of the activity
Practicals have a range of objectives These fall into three main groups: • Scientific knowledge to help students develop their knowledge of the natural world and their understanding of some of the main ideas, theories and models that science uses to explain it • Practical skills to help students learn how to use a piece of scientific apparatus or to follow a standard practical procedure • Scientific enquiry to develop students’ understanding of the scientific approach to enquiry and their competence in using it in practice
What does research have to say about the effectiveness of practical work? Review of research: Millar, R. (2010). Practical work. In J. Osborne & J. Dillon (Eds.), Good practice in science teaching: What research has to say, 2nd edn. London: McGraw-Hill.
What does research have to say about the effectiveness of practical work? Type A: Scientific knowledge • The research evidence is inconclusive • Comparisons of student practical work with teacher demonstration show little difference in understanding of scientific ideas • More effective in increasing knowledge of objects and phenomena than in developing understanding of explanatory ideas Do students gain a better understanding of a topic if they have more opportunities to do practical work?
From a recent study Evidence: Observation of 25 ‘typical’ science practical lessons in a sample of schools. Conclusion: “Practical work was generally effective in getting students to do what is intended with physical objects, but much less effective in getting them to use the intended scientific ideas to guide their actions and reflect upon the data they collect.” (Abrahams & Millar, 2008: 1945)
What does research have to say about the effectiveness of practical work? Type B: Practical skills • Research confirms that students are better at using equipment and carrying out practical procedures if they have had opportunities to practice doing these, rather than just being shown how to do them. Does direct practical experience help students to develop their practical skills?
What does research have to say about the effectiveness of practical work? Type C: Scientific enquiry • The answer from research is: • Not consistently, and only slowly at best • Very variable from one topic, or task, to the next • Teaching of specific points about investigation design, or about data analysis, leads to significantly better learning than simply providing opportunities to practice Do students become better at designing and carrying out a scientific investigation through practice in doing investigative practical work?
Making practical work for effective A practical activity is more likely to be effective if: • It has clear learning objectives • and not too many of them Its effectiveness will depend on: • The design of the activity • How the activity is presented, or ‘staged’
Design and staging • Engage the students • Minds on as well as hands on • thinking about what they are doing, and why they are doing it • not just following instructions, or routines • Build bridges between the domain of observables and the domain of ideas • In the design of the activity • In the talk and discussion before and after the hands-on phase • Help students to see the purpose of the activity • what they are doing it for
purpose ≠ objective • What do I want students to learn from carrying out this practical activity? • What do I think students would say if I asked them what they had learnt from carrying out this activity? (objective) (purpose)
‘Getting Practical’ Key aim: To provide a framework for reflection on practical activities you currently use, or plan to use