The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education

By Kenneth Tobin | Go to book overview

11
Secondary Science Teachers and Constructivist Practice
James J. GallagherRecently, I saw the following inscription on a bumper sticker: SUBVERT THE DOMINANT PARADIGM. I asked myself if that bit of contemporary popular philosophy had any relevance to our work in science teaching. To examine the question, I asked, "What is the dominant paradigm in secondary science teaching?" Since that question shaped much of my research over the past 10 years, I gave the following answer:In the dominant paradigm in secondary (and tertiary) science
Teaching is equated with transmitting information to students.
Learning is equated with acquiring that information, quite frequently by memorization.
Assessment of learning is summative, to determine which students have been successful in acquiring the information.

This paradigm is so commonly practiced in secondary school and university science classes that other paradigms are of only minuscule influence ( Gallagher 1989). For most secondary science teachers in the United States, the behaviorist-positivist tradition, which underlies this paradigm, has been deeply ingrained in their own education, both in science and in teaching. This tradition has been such an integral part of the scene in education in the sciences from primary school through college as to render alternatives such as constructivism, strange and often unwelcome.

In the behaviorist-positivist tradition, knowledge is viewed as a commodity to be transmitted to students whose responsibility is to learn it in a way that is faithful. Learning is often viewed as receiving and storing knowledge, and little thought typically is given to the processes by which "acquisition" occurs. The task of the teachers is usually viewed as transmitting scientific knowledge to students, whose responsibility is to learn it ( Gallagher 1989).

Given the pervasiveness of this tradition in science education in the United States and many other parts of the world, it should be no surprise that it is difficult for teachers to make the transformation from behaviorist- positivist teaching to practice that is consonant with constructivism. In our

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