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Constructivism is the concept that children construct new knowledge and make meaning out of it by assimilating, or taking in the new information with their previous schema, or what they have already learnt. This is the rationale that explains why two students may have different perceptions even when working on the same one activity. However, if this new experience does not fit the individual’s previous schema, then he or she must modify or develop a new one to accommodate it. (Gega, p. 41)
The 4 models of teaching science strategies in the early childhood context using constructivism as a referent are as namely,
a) the discovery learning approach
b) the process approach
c) the transmission approach
d) the interactive approach
a) Discovery learning
Discovery learning is the approach where each child has the opportunity to be able to manipulate materials in the classroom on an individual basis, or with a partner.
The main advantages to the utilization of this method of learning are as Harlan & Rivkins states, (1996, p.28) it encourages individuality and creativity in problem solving process, helps to gradually replace the young child’s intuitive explanations of the unknown, the play-like quality reduces inappropriate pressure on formal learning tasks, is motivating to the child,
Abruscato (p. 90) states that the use of “co-operative learning groups”, will encourage discovery learning where through the teacher’s careful observation and planning, will facilitate usage of effective questions, incorporation and integration of new technologies to contribute to the quality of the science learning environment.
Children working in groups in a multi-age classroom, and consisting of a mix of both genders, may have children at different cognitive stages of development. Gega (p. 38) states that the child who is still in the pre-operational stage, will view the concrete operations child as an influential model, and children who demonstrate abstract thinking are able to stretch the minds of other classmates still in the concrete operations mode. The collaboration among children will also help other students to be sensitive and recognize the classmate who may have limited skills but yet able to contribute to the learning of the group. (Harlan & Rivkins, 1996; Abruscato, 1992, p.74)
The disadvantages of this type of learning is that, such child-instigated experiences (Harlan & Rivkins, p.29) does not provide well for large classrooms, or in a structured school programme. It is also costly to maintain, due to reasons of staff shortage, training, and shortage of materials (Gega, p.126). Teachers who are not confident in their scientific knowledge may communicate this nonverbally to children, and there are yet many teachers who are unaccustomed to the open-endedness of this method of teaching and learning (Harlan & Rivkins, 1996).
How it may improve my teaching?
It would help my planning as a teaching professional on how to include the discovery learning in the curriculum. This can be done through the thoughtful planning of how to include “learning centers” (Abruscato, p.85) in classrooms, using textbooks as references to locate age and content appropriate media for children to work with, which allows children an underlying structure of content and provide continuity for the duration where the lesson takes place.
This also includes the teacher’s classroom management skills, which is important in managing discipline, i.e. distributing science materials, managing work space effectively, providing clear instructions to the tasks, and eliminating boring activities which children may have worked with previously.
Other skills that the teacher professional should develop is sensitivity and active listening to children’s ideas is an indirect way to maintain children’s interest, using divergent questions to promote open-ended questioning of scientific ideas. (Harlan & Rivkins, 1996).
b) The process approach
This approach is of the view that science processes are the means by which scientists seek data and construct knowledge. Teaching professionals should view it as instruments that enable children to investigate and develop critical thinking skills to make sense of their environment. It is most productive when guided with a valid conceptual framework, with the emphasis of it being taught across a wide spectrum of academic areas, and to learn to filter data which has been collected, under the guidance of a well grounded and knowledgeable teacher. (Gega, p.71)Yet, the once accepted scientific method, which was once thought objective & value free, it is not so anymore. For as Kuhn (1970, in Fleer & Hardy, p. 64-65) states, that for scientists to be accepted, knowledge is a social artefact, generated & established by knowledgeable peers, and judged by the standards of the then current timeframe. Ideologies that fall out of the accepted objective model are rejected. (Kohlstedt, 1984)
The important processes which are thought to be important to learn are as follows:
- Observing: through the use of the senses, namely, visual (dimension, chromatic, form), auditory, tactile, (stereognostic, thermic, baric, kinesthetic), olfactory, and gustatory.
- Inferring and Predicting
Among the advantages of using the process approach to learning is that the early professional who understands and appreciates science processes in a meaningful manner has much more capacity to facilitate and guide children in their thinking processes than one who does not, even when both are utilizing the same curriculum framework. This is best accomplished through seizing opportunities observed during “teachable moments”, and allowing children the freedom to develop their thinking skills in a convergent and open-ended manner. (Gega, p. 91).
As listed above, this strategy to learning, in summary, will develop the children’s processes of observation, planning investigations and creative thinking, traits which are important in a scientist. (