University of Tasmania
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Learning and teaching science: linking cognitive development and curriculum design

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:42 authored by Cavell, S
It is well documented that many school students come to science class with a variety of 'alternative conceptions' and that these remain largely untouched by teaching. This thesis describes research work that determined, analysed, and developed strategies to promote students' understanding of two physics topics. This research looked at the learning and teaching of science from both a cognitive and a curriculum perspective. The principal aims of this research were to investigate students' understanding of 'light' and of 'sound' in terms of theoretical cognitive models, to design and implement instructional units on these topics that would facilitate the development of a scientific understanding, and to monitor changes in the levels of understanding, over the period of the investigation, in terms of the theoretical models. 'Light and seeing' was the focus of the preliminary investigation or pilot study; 'sound and hearing' was the main focus of the research. There were two main components of this research. The first was a psychological component that utilised a theoretical framework, based on the SOLO Taxonomy of cognitive functioning, for students' developing understanding of the concept. In the study of 'light and seeing', the theoretical model of Collis, Jones, Sprod, Watson, and Fraser (1998) was used. In the study of 'sound and hearing', the theoretical model was formulated by the researcher. The second component was a curriculum component in which constructivist Teaching Units for both topics were developed, structured in such a way as to follow the pathways postulated in the theoretical models of cognitive development. It was the linking of cognitive developmental theory and curriculum design in science education that set the present research apart from the work of other researchers. Conclusions were drawn from this research as to the usefulness of the theoretical models of cognitive development and of the Teaching Units closely aligned with the theoretical models. These can be applied both to teaching and to curriculum development. They have the potential to provide teachers with the tools to improve, not only their teaching, but also the understanding of their students, in the concept areas discussed in this thesis as well as in a wide variety of other science concept areas. The potential also exists for the use of the theoretical models for assessment purposes, and to provide profiles of student achievement.


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