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Does practical work work? : a study of the effectiveness of practical work as a teaching and learning method in school science

[journal article]

Abrahams, Ian; Millar, Robin

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Please use the following Persistent Identifier (PID) to cite this document:http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-132550

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Abstract Many within the science education community and beyond see practical work carried out by students as an essential feature of science education. Questions have, however, been raised by some science educators about its effectiveness as a teaching and learning strategy. This study explored the effectiveness of practical work by analysing a sample of 25 'typical' science lessons involving practical work in English secondary schools. Data took the form of observational field notes and tape-recorded interviews with teachers and students. The analysis used a model of effectiveness based on the work of Millar et al. (1999) and Tiberghien (2000). The teacher's focus in these lessons was predominantly on developing students' substantive scientific knowledge, rather than on developing understanding of scientific enquiry procedures. 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. There was little evidence that the cognitive challenge of linking observables to ideas is recognised by those who design practical activities for science lessons. Tasks rarely incorporated explicit strategies to help students to make such links, or were presented in class in ways which reflected the size of the learning demand. The analytical framework used in this study offers a means of assessing the learning demand of practical tasks, and identifying those which require specific support for students' thinking and learning in order to be effective.
Classification Curriculum, Teaching, Didactics
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
Page/Pages p. 1945-1969
Journal International Journal of Science Education, 30 (2008) 14
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500690701749305
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)