More effective learning

28th June 1996 at 01:00
SCIENCE. Rosalind Driver, King's College London

Science is often seen as a difficult subject, especially at secondary level when many young people "switch off". In order to improve communication of scientific ideas it is important that teachers not only know their subject, but also understand the learning problems that children experience. Much recent research has addressed this issue, adding to our knowledge of how to promote effective learning in science.

Two research projects have identified children's informal ideas in science and have investigated the effectiveness of teaching strategies. The CLIS Group (University of Leeds) and the SPACE project (King's College and Liverpool University) highlighted the importance of informal talk, as well as practical experience and direct teaching, for the understanding of science concepts. The SPACE project research now underpins a major primary science teaching scheme.

The CASE project (King's College) has also focused on enhanced learning and has devised and tested lessons which stimulate general reasoning ability in young adolescents hence improving their academic achievement. A milestone in the research programme was reached when significant gains in GCSE grades were reported, not only in science, but also in maths and English. The resulting interest has led to a national INSET programme being established.

Research which has informed teachers about children's approaches to investigations, and which has led to guidance on teaching has been undertaken by the OPENS project (King's College) and more recently by the PACKS project at the Universities of Durham and York. The researchers conclude that certain investigative skills cannot be gained through experience alone and should be explicitly taught.

Research on young people's attitudes to science, particularly among girls, has highlighted the need to teach it in ways which emphasise it is a human activity rather than an abstract body of knowledge.

This has led over the years to significant changes in textbooks and to curriculum projects such as Salter's Science (York University) and SATIS (Association for Science Education), although sustaining this broader approach while teaching the national curriculum is recognised as a problem.

All these areas of research have focused on engaging children in learning science. Many have influenced teachers by involving them in the research programme. The task now is to engage more teachers in reviewing their practice in the light of current findings.

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