HDip Ed, Physics Methodology





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HDip Ed, Physics Methodology





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Question: Should practical workshops be an integral part of science methodology in the HDip?


The question, as I see it, being asked here is whether or not trainee science teachers would benefit from a greater emphasis on lab and practical experience and training in the HDip course. I feel that this issue needs to be explored in context, therefore I will, briefly, look at the purpose and practice of experimental work in the school curriculum and the difficulties faced by novice teachers in the implementation of the curriculum aims and objectives, as laid down by the department of education, as well as the broader implications for society at large. The views and conclusions which I outline here are ones I have formed, over the course of this HDip year, based on my classroom experiences and background readings.


Education today, and science education in particular, is moving more and more towards the constructivist approach to teaching and learning. The constructivist approach is based on the theories of the cognitive psychologists, in particular those of Jean Piaget and Jerome S Bruner. The theories underpinning the constructivist principle maintain that meaning is not something which can be given, but is constructed by us in our own way based on our current understanding. Piaget maps the course of cognitive development of the child in four phases or stages, which are age dependant. Bruner states that the child builds concepts through a series of representations with which they translate their experiences into a model of the world. The significance of theses theories for the educator lies in their assertion that the child comes to the classroom with preformed conceptions of the world, based on their own experiences, many of which are erroneous. These misconceptions are often very deep rooted and can only be shaken by provision of contradictory experiences. The constructivist theory would, therefore, strongly emphasis the need for practical and experimental work in science classes, as can be seen in the new science syllabi at primary, junior and senior cycle levels.


At primary level the newly introduced compulsory science curriculum approaches science study in the context of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) with strong emphasis on investigation and experimental work. Primary students are encouraged to construct ideas and concepts which are based on their experiences and encounters of reality. Following on from this, the new Junior Cycle curriculum has reduced the course content to facilitate implementation of a POE (Predict + Plan, Observe, Explain) approach. This favours investigatory and experimental processes and encourages the development of scientific skills in: use of apparatus, observation, communication (the language of science), scientific method, data analysis and problem solving. The senior cycle science syllabuses are designed to incorporate pure science, applied science, social, political and economic implication of the sciences and be practically and experimentally based in their teaching.


From the point of view of both pupils and teacher, practical classes in science have a lot to offer. One of the major concerns facing teachers of science at junior level is finding ways to increase the uptake of the sciences at senior level, and beyond. The sciences, particularly Physics, and to a lesser extent Chemistry, are widely regarded as being difficult subjects. The majority of pupils have been influenced, by prevalent societal attitudes, into believing that physics and chemistry at leaving cert level are too difficult for them, hence the poor uptake of these subjects. The old fashioned ‘chalk-and-talk’ approach to teaching only serves to increases these views of science as being dull, boring and difficult. It is the task of the young and novice teacher to dispel these myths and foster the development of the scientists of the future. In a world which is becoming more and more reliant on science and technology, the fall off of the numbers pursuing the physical sciences at a higher level could be regarded as slightly alarming!


In these terms, the significance of experimental work in secondary school science has a huge importance. Hands on experience helps to demystify the scientific world, dispelling the myths of it being too difficult. Abstract scientific concepts, which can be very difficult to comprehend in a purely theoretical framework, are often easily understood when