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Improving Teaching and Learning Essay

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As all children’s experiences and development are individual, every child will have their own unique ‘starting point’ from where to continue their learning of a subject from. Ausubel (1968) puts forward the interesting thought that we should design our teaching to start from where the pupil is. However, as Littledyke & Huxton (1998) suggest, it is almost impossible to take into account every individual child’s educational ‘starting point. I tried to establish a ‘common starting point’ by getting the whole class to brainstorm what they knew about metal.

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This would provide me with a vague idea of the knowledge each child held and enable me to successfully plan suitable investigative activities. This matches Piaget’s (1926) notion of ‘cognitive match’. The need to pitch the learning experience at the right level, for each child. ” The teacher leads a discussion on a topic to draw out a range of ideas from this the teacher may be able to judge which children are most or least knowledgeable. However there may be several children within the class about the teacher knows very little even after the brainstorming session.

” (Littledyke & Huxford, 1998, p22) To combat this problem that Littledyke and Huxford (1998) mention I talked to children who did not take part in the whole class session individually to found out their level of knowledge on the subject. One of the objects on my display table was a magnet. Many of the children seemed fascinated by the magnet, as groups of children would constantly pick it up and play with it. After seeing this I decided I would get the children to investigate which materials are attracted to a magnet.

This seemed like an excellent idea as I had already observed that the children were interested in this subject. The investigation would be carried out in a constructivist manner, with the children working individually. From this I could see that Rodney had had no past experience with magnets and therefore had no knowledge that magnets are made of metal. All he knew was that the object he held in his hand was called a ‘magnet’ and that it stuck to metal objects. He had guessed that the magnet was made of plastic (probably due to the fact that it was coated in plastic) and constructed a misconception.

On analysing this conversation I concluded that carrying my investigation out in a constructivist manner and pitching my investigation at an intermediate level, had missed Rodney’s (and no doubt others) ‘starting point’ of subject knowledge leading him to create his own incorrect idea. I believe this evidence contradicts a constructivist way of teaching as without positively intervening, questioning and explaining to Rodney that the magnet was made of metal, more problems may have arise in the form of further misconceptions or being unable to carry out following work effectively.

Instead it matches Littledykes & Huxtons (1998) suggestion that matching every child’s ‘starting point’ is extremely challenging and if not done accurately, as shown from the evidence, can cause problems for the child. This brings to light that maybe a different teaching style needs to be adopted. Maybe I should have used the transmission approach of teaching at the beginning of the lesson and clarified vital pieces of information so that non of the children would have had misconceptions and the investigation would have succeed to the best of its ability.

This however would have been uninteresting for the children. In using a constructivist method of teaching, allowing the child to work independently building on old ideas to construct new ones, there is always a risk that misconceptions may arise. When children are discovering a convention for themselves and intervention from a more knowledgeable source is absent, children may take the information and instead of placing it in the perspective of conventional science they place it in their own logical perspective.

For example, after the investigation, I sat with each ability group and asked them to inform me of their findings. Through discussion and questioning within the group, I challenged ideas, aiding children to have access and maybe use of other children’s ideas and therefore make their own clearer. The following conversation was typical of all the groups. In conclusion, I believe that constructivism is an effective way in enabling children to build on or amend active ideas as it allows the child to undertaking ‘hands on’ activities and actually appreciate a theory in action.

This in turn could either deepen understanding or change misconceptions they may have emerged throughout the topic. Practical activities subsequently help the children to retain the information as ‘doing’ experiments, which are of interest to them, help them remember the vital information needed. These facts could then be recalled instantaneously when re-visiting and building on a similar topic, later on in the curriculum. Due to all the disadvantages mentioned earlier in my assignment, it is obvious that constructivism cannot stand-alone.

It is acceptable to use constructivist methods but they must be used in conjunction with other teaching methods also mentioned earlier. This, as teachers, is down to our professional judgement to decide when and where they should be used. The right teaching style should accommodate the right job and although constructivism is a sound way to allow children to investigate, it does not always fit the purpose of the scientific investigation wanting to be carried out. However I believe that we adopt many different teaching styles throughout a lesson without even knowing it.


ASHCROFT, K & LEE, J (2000) Improving Teaching and Learning in the Core Curriculum. London: Falmer.

ATKINSON & FLEER (1995) Science with Reason. Hodder & Staughton.

COLLINS EDUCATIONAL (1995) Nuffield Primary Science, materials: teachers guide. London

De BOO, M (2000) Science 3-6 Laying the foundations in the Early Years. ASE Hatfield.

DFEE, (2000) The National Curriculum: Handbook for Primary Teachers in England. London: DFEE & QCA.

FARROW, S. (2000) The Really Useful Science Book. London:Falmer.

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