Teaching and learning through the use of scientific and technological models: the case of floating and sinking phenomena

University of Western Macedonia, Greece

Supervising committee: Petros Kariotoglou, Dimitrios Pnevmatikos, Anna Spyrtou

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This research aims a) to evaluate an innovative Teaching Learning Sequence (TLS), entitled “Materials density in floating/sinking phenomena: experimental procedures and modeling”, which was developed and implemented in the context of «Materials Science» European project, and b) to describe and justify the refinements from the pilot to the normal implementation of the TLS. In particular, concerning the evaluation of the effectiveness of the TLS, we investigate the extent to which understanding of the epistemological knowledge (i.e., elements of nature of models and reasoning of the Control of Variables Strategy-CVS) can interpret the conceptual understanding of density and the interpretations of students regarding the phenomena of floating and sinking (F/S). Also, concerning the revealing and interpretation of the process of refining the TLS, the aim is to describe the refinements from the pilot to the normal implementation of the TLS, and to explore the factors that determined them. The TLS adopted an inquiry-based teaching method (IBSE) in the context of social constructivism, in the sense that the emphasis is in the learning that takes place as students work and build new knowledge in a team environment and in an entire class.

The main research tool in the evaluation of the TLS was the written questionnaire. Students’ answers in this questionnaire were categorized following Grounded Theory, taking into consideration the categories in the relevant literature. The results were used in the quantitative analysis of the learning outcomes, on the one hand in order to compare the final cognitive state of the students with their initial one, and on the other hand in order to study the relations between conceptual understanding and understanding of epistemological knowledge. Moreover, the analysis of a range of other data obtained from interviews, videos of teaching, worksheets, notes of the researchers, etc., helped us with a further triangulation of the findings that emerged from the quantitative analysis reported above, as well as to highlight the evolution of learning of three specific students. The results from this qualitative analysis contribute to the discussion on the improvement of the students' views.

The research method that was followed in order to analyze the refinement process of the TLS was based on the theoretical frame of Pickering as this was adapted and specialized in science education (objective-resistance-accommodation scheme). We consider researchers’ notes as well as experts’ and teachers’ suggestions as primary data sources in the refinement process, while students’ worksheets, pre and post questionnaires and teaching videos were taken as secondary data sources.

Concerning the evaluation of the TLS, the results showed that there was a statistically significant improvement of the students’ cognitive state which remained seven months later. Moreover, the triangulation of these results with the results from the statistical Path Analysis technique and the qualitative analysis of revealing students’ learning pathways showed the significance of teaching and understanding of epistemological knowledge in understanding density and F/S phenomena. Finally, the decisive role of a change in ontological category of the concept of density in the explanatory framework of F/S phenomena has been revealed. The types of scaffolding which appeared to help students improve their views were: a) the gradual reduction of teacher’s support during the implementation of CVS, b) the gradual introduction of models, from models that are very similar to the target they represent to models that the interest has shifted to their role in interpreting and predicting phenomena, and c) the implicit teaching of epistemological knowledge.

Concerning the refinement process of the TLS, the results showed that the refinements from the pilot to the normal implementation were fifteen in total. The majority of the refinements were connected to the epistemological knowledge. The main data source in this process was the local group researchers’ notes. The teachers who participated in the process could only play a secondary, though important role, because of the lack of experience and the appropriate background, due to the fact that they are nurtured in a centrally guided educational tradition as is the case in Greece. In addition, the majority of refinements were guided by educational factors and only a few ones by scientific factors. The educational factor guides local - guided refinements, while the scientific factor guides holistic – open refinements.

Keywords: inquiry, nature and role of models, control of variables strategy, floating / sinking, teaching-learning sequences

Publication list

Zoupidis, A., Spyrtou, A., Malandrakis, G., Kariotoglou, P. The evolutionary refinement process of a Teaching Learning Sequence for introducing inquiry aspects and density as materials' property in floating / sinking phenomena, under review.

Zoupidis, A., Pnevmatikos, D., Spyrtou A. and Kariotoglou, P. (2011). Causal relational reasoning of 5th graders using density in explaining floating-sinking phenomena, In C. Bruguière, A. Tiberghien & P. Clément (Eds.), E-book Proceedings of the ESERA 2011 Conference, Science learning and citizenship (pp. 104-109). Lyon, France: Université de Lyon.http://lsg.ucy.ac.cy/esera/e_book/base/index.html 

Zoupidis, Α., Pnevmatikos, D., Spyrtou, A., & Kariotoglou, P. (2010). The gradual approach of the nature and role of models as means to enhance 5th grade students' epistemological awareness. In G. Cakmakci & M.F. Tasar (Eds.), Contemporary science education research: learning and assessment (pp. 415 – 423). Ankara, Turkey: Pegem Akademi.

Spyrtou, A., Zoupidis, A., Kariotoglou, P. (2008). The design and development of an ICT- Enhanced Module concerning density as a property of materials applied in floating-sinking phenomena. Ιn: C. P. Constantinou & N. Papadouris (Eds.), GIREP INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, Physics Curriculum Design, Development and Validation, Selected Papers, 391-407. ISBN 978-9963-689-20-0.

Thesis full reference:

Zoupidis, A. (2012). Teaching and learning through the use of scientific and technological models: the case of floating and sinking phenomena. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Western Macedonia, School of Education, Florina, Greece.


Anastasios Zoupidis Peran 30A, 56123, Thessaloniki GREECE Tel.: +306932855531

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