Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 3, Issue 1, Article 1(June, 2002)
Winnie Wing-Mui SO
Constructivist Teaching in Primary Science
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Constructivist Theories

Fischler (1999, p.173) stated that teaching should not be regarded as an arrangement of instructional strategies, but more a situation in which learning processes need to be recognized and supported. This important knowledge base of teaching creates demands on the teachers as they need to be sensitive to students' learning difficulties; be patient through the process of students' construction of new knowledge; take into account the students' existing knowledge; create a classroom climate in which students are willing to express and discuss their ideas; create situations in which students can present their own opinions; and, to accept a teaching role that is not so much that of a communicator and an examiner, but more as a person who advises and helps students to develop knowledge (Scott, Asoko and Driver, 1992)

Cognitive theories of learning have exerted a powerful influence on policy and research relating to the education of students (Stoddart, Connell, Stofflett & Peck, 1993). Learners are increasingly viewed as active participants in the learning process, actively constructing meaning through experience. For this reason Solomon (1997) believed that how teachers teach children is as important as what teachers teach. Since the didactic approach to teaching has been shown to be ineffective in developing students' conceptual understanding (Carin, 1993), there has been a call for a shift in the focus of instruction from mechanical drill and practice towards teaching for understanding. Learning involves the active construction of meaning by the student and is not something that is imparted by the teacher (Driver & Oldham, 1986).

The call for more ecologically valid research served to bring on the widespread acceptance of psychology's metaphor of learning as knowledge construction in the 1980s and 1990s (Mayer, 1996). The constructivist view is one of the traditions in educational psychology that rest on the views that a learner's existing ideas are all important in responding to, and making sense of, stimuli. The learner makes sense of experience by actively constructing meaning (Osborne & Wittrock, 1985). When answering the question of whether constructivism is primarily an epistemology or a pedagogy, von Glasersfeld said that constructivism confronts questions of knowledge - what knowledge is and where it comes from. He therefore considered this is an exercise of epistemology (von Glasersfeld, 1993). However, two years later, von Glasersfeld (1995) stated that the constructivist view is an attempt to explain a way of thinking and makes no claim to describe an independent reality, and he preferred to call it an approach to, or a theory of, knowing. He tried to avoid the terms "epistemology" or "theory of knowledge" for constructivism though he had previously used both.

Constructivist theories draw heavily on the work of Piaget and Vygotsky which emphasized that cognitive change only take place when previous conceptions go through a process of disequilibrium with the new information (Slavin, 1994). Constructivist theories of cognitive development emphasize the active role of learners in building their own understanding of reality. Leinhardt (1992) stated that the essence of constructivist theory is the idea that learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own. The constructivist theory in education rooted in neo-Piagetain thought is Personal Constructivism (Von Glaserfeld, 1989). Solomon (1987) and Millar (1989) have taken Personal Constructivism further to Social Constructivism that believes learners internalize the interpretations in terms of their previous experience and culture. Spivey (1997) argued that the social constructivist have focused on the cognitive as well as the social. Cobb (1996) stated that although von Glaserfeld defined learning as self-organization, he acknowledges that this constructive activity occurs as the cognizing individual interacts with other members of a community. (p.37) And the sociocultural and cognitive constructivist perspectives each constitutes the background for the other (Cobb, 1996, p.48). On the one hand, an individual constructs meaning as new information should interact with one's existing knowledge, and learning should be personal and subjective and exists in one's own mind. On the other hand, though knowledge is personally constructed, the constructed knowledge is socially mediated as a result of experiences and interaction with others in that social context. And learning science was believed to involve more than the individual making sense of their personal experiences (Wilson, 2000).

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