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A study of students' construction of science knowledge: talk and writing in a collaborative group

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Background In Taiwan, traditional college science teaching concentrates on the direct transmission of knowledge or facts from instructors to students and thereby involves non-interactive teaching activities. Some researchers recommend that college faculties should be moving away from lectures as a means of instruction and increasing opportunities for students' discussion of experimental results and issues related to content and the nature of the discipline. Purpose The purpose of the present study was to examine students' construction of science knowledge through talk and writing activities performed in a collaborative learning group. The research question was to explore the effects and to ascertain how talk and writing affect each other in students' knowledge construction. Programme description The context of this study is a physical science method course designed especially for secondary science preservice teachers, as part of the teacher education programme at a Taiwan university. The course module is composed of three components, including text, experiments and activities, and problems. The experiment and activity are intended to be the main vehicles for the learning, and embedded concepts or principles in a given science procedure that students could follow, investigate and complete. Sample The primary researcher with his class of 19 college students participated in this study. There were eight males and 11 females, ranging in age from 19 to 27 years. These 19 participants were selected for the two-year teacher education programme of the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences in the university. All hoped to be science teachers in secondary schools in the future. Design and methods This study used an interpretative methodology. The interpretation was based on student perceptions of what had been achieved. The constant comparative process was utilized for collecting and analysing data. The data sources included students' journals, questionnaires and interviews. Finally, a grounded theory was derived from the research data. Results The following four key elements were identified in the research. First, the majority of students perceived the teaching-learning process as rich, interesting and superior to traditional science teaching, and less than a quarter of students regarded the new approach negatively or were confused by the new approach. Secondly, talk and writing in a collaborative group mutually stimulated students to construct knowledge for themselves. Writing helped students to talk clearly and constructively, whereas talk helped students to make explicit what was implicit in their writing. Third, talk and writing facilitated students' understandings of science concepts and helped them to generate their explanations. Fourth, students' attitudes towards learning evolved from being passive to an active and open-minded attitude. Drawing from these four results, a grounded theory for social construction was elicited. Conclusions A grounded theory for social construction, including both talk and writing strategies being developed, would be helpful in future science teaching and learning. Hence, the existing teacher training courses were recommended to incorporate social constructivist teaching strategies, which stress both talk and writing activities in a collaborative group.
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Keywords: Science teaching and learning; Social construction; Talk in group; Teacher education; Writing to learn

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Chung-Yuan Christian University, Taiwan, ROC

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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