Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 9, Issue 1, Article 3 (June, 2008)
Wheijen CHANG
Challenges encountered in implementing constructivist teaching in physics: A qualitative approach

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Introduction

In recent years, the development of constructivism has resulted in dramatic modifications in teaching design in many science classrooms, including the area of university physics (eg., Crouch & Mazur, 2001; Meltzer & Manivannan,, 2002). While the majority of the literature has focused on the promising results in terms of studentsí academic performance as well as affective learning outcomes from innovative teaching programs (eg., Gautreau & Novemsky, 1997; Meltzer & Manivannan, 2002), the present study reports various minor but persistent criticisms which contrast with the positive appraisal of the students. Student skepticism still exists even in a considerably successful teaching program, based on a macroscopic quantitative analysis (Chang, 2005a). These opposing voices might provide a critical message for further implementation of constructivist teaching.

Since 1999, the researcher has been designing and implementing an innovative teaching program based on the constructivist view of learning, and has evaluated the outcomes both during and after each course. This study summarizes the studentsí comments, both positive and negative, with respect to the constructivist teaching of university physics during the implementation period, from 2000 to 2004.

The context of the current study is a year-one university physics course for engineering students at Feng-Chia University, a large private university in Taiwan. The university physics course is a two-semester course, consisting of 16 weeks each semester. The course consists of three hours per week of lectures and three hours per week of laboratory sessions. The course is a prerequisite for all engineering and science students, and if a student fails to obtain the passing score of 60%, he/she has to take the course until passing grade is achieved. This requirement must be met before graduation.

The size of the lecture class is about 55-70 students. Most of the students come straight from high school. They are homogeneous in their ages (18-20) and the physics background of the Feng-Chia entrants is around the median (60% - 40%) of all high school graduates in Taiwan.

Traditionally in Taiwanese college physics courses, the physics professorsí major teaching task (including the researcherís prior teaching) in the lectures involves explaining physics principles/concepts, followed by solving manipulating-type problems, and occasionally giving demonstrations. The students are expected to listen to the lecture and copy notes in class and practice end-of chapter problems after class. Discussion in class is rare. In Taiwan, this type of transmission-style of teaching is also prevalent in high school physics classrooms; thus, the incoming students are likely to perceive this didactic teaching approach as normal (Chang, 2005b).

 


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