Whither constructivism

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    Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 400416

    Whither constructivism?A chemistry teachers perspective

    Mansoor Niaz

    Epistemology of Science Group, Department of Chemistry, Universidad de Oriente, Apartado Postal 90, Cumana,

    Estado Sucre 6101A, Venezuela

    Received 30 October 2006; received in revised form 3 October 2007; accepted 30 October 2007

    Abstract

    Constructivism in science education has been the subject of considerable debate in the science education literature. The

    purpose of this study was to facilitate chemistry teachers understanding that the tentative nature of scientific knowledge

    leads to the coexistence and rivalries among different forms of constructivism in science education. The study is based on 17

    in-service teachers who had registered for a 11-week course on Epistemology of Science Teaching as part of their Masters

    degree program. The course is based on 17 readings drawing on nature of science and a critical evaluation of constructivism.

    Course activities included written reports, classroom discussions based on participants presentations and written exams.

    Based on the results obtained, it is plausible to suggest that participant teachers experienced the following transitions leading

    to greater understanding, as they acquired experience with respect to constructivism: (a) Active participation of students as a

    pre-requisite for change; (b) Different forms of constructivism represent competing and conflicting interpretations of

    progress in science; (c) Acceptance of the present state of constructivism as a Kuhnian paradigm; (d) Social constructivismas the preferred form of constructivism; (e) Critical appraisal of social constructivism; (f) Despite its popularity, social

    constructivism does not constitute a Kuhnian paradigm (due to controversies, there is no consensus in the science education

    community); (g) Contradictions faced by constructivism in science education provide the base for its advance and evolution

    towards more progressive forms, and hence the need to consider, whither constructivism?

    r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: Constructivism; Science education; Nature of science; Tentative nature of scientific knowledge

    1. Introduction

    The decline of positivism during the latter half of

    the 20th century facilitated the development of

    constructivism in various forms as an alternative

    philosophical and educational theory (Louden &

    Wallace, 1994). Most science educators would agree

    that during the 1970s and the 1980s among other

    forms of constructivism, Piagetian and Ausubelian

    constructivism played a dominant role. Piagetian

    constructivism emphasized the need for goingbeyond expository teaching practice in order to

    facilitate development of reasoning based on the

    learning cycle. In contrast, Ausubelian constructi-

    vism promoted meaningful receptive learning based

    on prior knowledge of the students and concept

    maps. Since then, constructivism in science educa-

    tion has developed in many forms by drawing

    inspiration from various philosophical and episte-

    mological sources (Geelan, 1997; Good, 1993;

    Phillips, 1995). Of the different forms, radical (von

    ARTICLE IN PRESS

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    doi:10.1016/j.tate.2007.10.006

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    E-mail address: niazma@cantv.net

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    Glasersfeld, 1989) and social constructivism

    (Glasson & Lalik, 1993; Tobin & LaMaster, 1995)

    have enjoyed more popularity with science educa-

    tors. For radical and some social constructivists,

    experience is the ultimate arbiter for decidingbetween scientific theories and how students acquire

    knowledge. Despite the popularity, almost all forms

    of constructivism have also been the subject of

    scrutiny and critical appraisal (De Berg, 2006;

    Geelan, 2006; Kelly, 1997; Matthews, 1993; Niaz,

    2001a; Osborne, 1996; Solomon, 1994; Suchting,

    1992; Taber, 2006).

    An important aspect of the development of

    different forms of constructivism in science educa-

    tion is the need for a continual critical appraisal.

    Early debates (Novak, 1977) provided the stimulus

    for this continued progressive development. More

    recently, Nola (1997) has emphasized that popular

    forms of constructivism (radical and social) will

    have to compete and often unfavorably with rival

    views. Competition between rival theories, tentative

    nature of science and theory ladenness of observa-

    tions are important contributions of the newphilosophy of science, which has permeated science

    education research (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick,

    Bell, & Schwartz, 2002). Tsai (2006) has emphasized

    the importance of these aspects of nature of science

    for constructivism and teacher training programs.

    Fig. 1 provides an outline of the tentative nature of

    science in the two domains, viz., atomic structure

    and constructivism in science education.

    At this stage, it is important to note that the

    different forms of constructivism in science education

    have as much to do with the different psychological

    models of teaching and learning (developmental stage

    theory, socio-cultural, motivational perspectives, etc.)

    ARTICLE IN PRESS

    Atomic Structure Constructivism in Science Education

    1897 Thomson 1960 Trivial Constructivism (Piaget)

    1911 Rutherford 1970 Human Constructivism

    (Ausubel, Novak)

    1913 Millikan

    1913 Bohr 1980 Radical Constructivism

    (von Glasersfeld)

    1916 Sommerfeld

    1924 De Broglie 1990 Social Constructivism

    (Vygotsky)

    1925 Pauli

    1925 Heisenberg 1999 Pragmatic Constructivism

    (Perkins)

    1926 Schrdinger

    1932 Chadwick

    1963 Gell-Mann

    (Postulating Quarks)

    1997 Perl

    (Isolating Quarks)

    Fig. 1. Tentative Nature of Scientific Theories. Notes: (1) Under Atomic Structure appear the names of prominent scientists who made a

    significant contribution towards a greater understanding of atomic structure. Inclusion of these names follows a historical sequence

    (markers), indicating the tentative nature of atomic theories; (2) Under Constructivism in Science Education appea