Archive for the ‘Teaching and Learning in Science’ Category

Probing for Students’ Understanding in Chemistry: Using Multiple Approaches (Part Four: two-tier diagnostic test)

1. Two-tier Diagnostic Test

The other approach can be used to investigate students’ understanding is two-tier diagnostic test which was developed by David F. Treagust. This approach is powerful to encourage students’ analytical thinking on understanding the concepts. In addition, there are varied format of this instrument (Mann & Treagust, 1998), but basically the first tier of each item in the test is a multiple choice of possible answers which relates to the problem statements. The second tier of each item is composed of a multiple choice set of reasons for the answer related to the first tier which consist of one scientific concept and others alternative conceptions.

Furthermore, this instrument can be used for formative assessments, assessing students’ understanding and encouraging them to think about the concepts rather than memorize the facts (Treagust & Chandrasegaran, 2007) which could lead to interesting discussion and meaningful information of students’ understanding. Moreover, since current assessment not provide valid measures of students’ knowledge and encourages discussion, this instrument could be a solution. It is because this instrument requires the explanation and answers which is given to assess students’ knowledge. According to Taber (2000) as cited in Levy Nahum, (2004), students’ explanations of scientific concepts is evidence of conceptualise process. Two-tier diagnostic instrument could be used as effective way of assessing meaningful learning among students. As a result the information could be used to improve teaching and address students’ alternative conceptions.

In addition, according to Treagust (1988), there are three main procedures to develop this instrument:

1. The content is defined by the identification of propositional content knowledge statements of the topic to be taught (using the concept map)

2. Information about students’ conceptions which could be found through literature review, students’ free explanations, and unstructured interview)

3. Development the two-tier multiple choice diagnostic items. First tier consist of content questions which could be 2-4 choices. The second tier consists of four possible answers given to the first part. Then, correct answers for both of tiers are correct

Moreover, there are several studies which have been investigated in chemistry: (1) chemical bonding (14-16 years students, first tier True or false, second tier explanation, (2) chemical reactions using multiple representations (grade 9) (enhance students’ ability to describe and explain some chemical reactions), (3) qualitative analysis, (4) ionization energies of elements, (5) acids and bases, and (6) states of matters (Treagust & Chandrasegaran (2007). However, according to Treagust & Chandrasegaran (2007), raw score on the test could underestimate students’ knowledge, for example students who looked on deeper meaning could give the answers which are categorized as wrong answer. Moreover, sometimes it becomes more tests taking skills rather than the extant knowledge. This is an example of process of development two-tier diagnostic instrument on chemical reactions:

Stage 1. Defining the content

Chemical reactions topic is integrated in secondary school in Indonesia consist of chemical change (law of conversion of mass), equation (products and reactants), energy (exothermic and endothermic), balance the equations, and type of reactions.

Stage 2. Investigate information about students’ conceptions

There are several studies on students’ alternative conceptions of chemical reactions:

1. Students find difficulties on balancing the chemical reaction equations on the concepts of subscripts and coefficients, (Sanger, 2005)

2. Students’ alternate conceptions in chemistry on the conservation of mass, molecules, and atoms during a chemical reaction is “the total number of molecules is also conserved in a chemical reaction”, Mulford and Robinson (2002)

3. Students think that boiling is part of chemical reactions because of the bubble formations (gas) and students also find difficulties to understand different types of chemical reactions and how it’s happened which is related to chemical bonding (my experiences on teaching chemical reactions)

Step 3. Develop the two-tier multiple choice diagnostic items

Example Items 1 are modified version from existing instruments. Item No. 2 is developed by Chandrasegaran, Treagust, & Mocerino (2005) :

1. Salt (NaCl) is added into the water, and then it is heated. After couple minutes the salt can longer be seen, bubbles come out and the water will taste salty because the chemical reaction is happened.

a. True b. False


1. *The heat water break up the chemical bonding in the salt compound into Na and Cl

2. It is only solution process, because salt is soluble in the water

3. The chemical reactions is happened because the bubbles is indicator of chemical reactions

4. Water molecules surround the salt molecules and break up the salt into smaller particles

5. __________________________________________

2. The symbol for the magnesium present in magnesium ribbon is

A. Mg b. Mg2+


1. Magnesium has a charge of +2

2. The Magnesium atom is highly reactive

3. The Magnesium atom has positive nucleus

4. The particles in magnesium are neutral atoms

Furthermore, this instrument is important for my pre-service teachers as well as the teachers not only to assess their alternative conceptions but also to investigate their students’ understanding. As a result, the information from this instrument could be used to choose the appropriate teaching approaches to deal with students’ alternative conceptions.


Firstly, probing students’ understanding in chemistry need to be concerned by teachers, not only to obtain information about students’ conceptions, but also as starting point to choose appropriate teaching strategies. Information of students’ understanding could help teachers to understand the problems which are held by the students to understand the concepts.

Secondly, questioning and interview approach are powerful to probe students’ understanding through depth probing. However, these approaches require much time and substantial skills. In addition, concept map and concept cartoon are useful to stimulate students’ attention and motivation. These approaches could be applied within different procedures and purposes. The two-tier diagnostic test is not only to probe students’ conceptions and understanding, but also could be used as formative assessment and discussion topic.

Thirdly, all approaches could be used to probe students’ understanding, stimulate the discussions, motivate students’ learning, and create meaningful learning experiences. However, each approach has own characteristic, strength and limitations, therefore, teacher may choose the appropriate approach to be used in the classroom.


Probing for Students’ Understanding in Chemistry: Using Multiple Approaches (Part Three: Concept Cartoon & Concept Map)

1. Concept Cartoon

Concept cartoon could be used to probe students’ understanding through interactive pictures with limited words. According to Keogh and Naylor (1999), there are three elements on the concept cartoon: 1) visual images, 2) minimal written language, 3) present alternative concept or questions relating to one central topic, 4) applying scientific ideas within everyday situations. According to Keogh and Naylor (1996), motivate and engage students through concept cartoon is major advantage of applying concept cartoon in science classroom. Moreover, this approach stimulates and challenge students’ thinking on their alternative conceptions. Students will evaluate their conceptions through representation of different alternative conceptions in concept cartoon. As a result, they will not feel shy, fear or being judged because the character on the cartoon could be represent their conceptions. The other advantage is stimulating students with minimal prompting from the teachers to discover the acceptable scientific ideas. This is an example of cartoon in chemistry topic which can be applied through Power point presentation or using OHP.


Figure 2. Concept Cartoon on Chemistry

However, within the limitation of resources, teachers could use paper with cartoon on it. In this approach, teachers’ creativity is challenged to create the interesting cartoon and strategies to represent it. Moreover, teachers also need to be aware of misunderstanding could be happened when students only focus on the cartoons, not on the content itself. Therefore, integrate cartoon approach with questioning and discussion will help teacher to identify this problem.

2. Concept Map

Concept map is a tool to investigate organisation of learners’ cognitive structure which is developed by Novak and Gowin ( Regis, Albertazzi, & Roletto, 1996). According to White and Gunstone (1992), concept map is applied to investigate students’ thinking about the relationship between the concepts or ideas. Concept map can help students to find the relationship between the knowledge which lead to meaningful learning experiences rather than memorise the concepts (Pendley, Bretz, & Novak, 1994). Once students understand the concepts, they will find easy to create the concept map about the topic. Therefore, it helps the teacher to probe student’ understanding, especially for the big class size which takes time to evaluate students’ understanding through writing or essays. Table 3. bellow shows the procedures and the purpose of using concept map (White & Gunstone, 1992)

Table 3. Purposes, Procedures and Recommendations of Using Concept Map

Concept Maps Approach


Procedures (an Example)

Recommendations for Teachers

· Exploring understanding within the limited aspects of the topic

· Investigate students’ understanding by asking the explanation of their concept map

· Probe students’ understanding on the relation between each concepts

· Probe students’ understanding by asking them to choose the key concept

· Identify students’ learning process through changes of their concept map

· Promote the discussion


· Create cards which consist of several terms on one topic (simple topic)

· Arrange the cards which is shown the relationship

· Create the links (using lines)

· Ask student to create their own concept map

· Begin with simple topic

· Create one in front of the class as an example

· Encourage students to create all possible links

· Give suggestion on students’ first concept map which is unlikely good

· Emphasis to students there are no right or wrong concept maps

This an example of applying concept map in teaching and learning chemistry on the topic of chemical reactions for Secondary School in Indonesia.


Figure 3. Concept Map for Secondary Level in Indonesia

Probing for Students’ Understanding in Chemistry: Using Multiple Approaches (Part Two: Questioning & Interviews)

1. Questioning

Questioning approach is basic strategy to investigate students’ understanding which is widely used in the classroom practices. According to Oakes (1996) as cited in Carr (1998),” questioning can be used to extend pupils, maintain the pace of the lesson involve all pupils in the work and provide encouragement”. Questioning approach could stimulate the discussion in the classroom and clarify the students’ conceptions, attract students’ attention, and pose problems for solutions (Marsh, 2000). According to Selley (2000), questioning approach not only simply enhances the acceptable conceptions in students’ mind, but for encouraging students to really knows the reasons of concepts. However, even though it is acknowledgeable as useful approach to gain depth information of students’ understanding, but it need extensive skills such as not to judge students’ thinking by telling them they are wrong (Tytler, 2002b), waiting for the response, and respect of students’ thinking. Therefore, teachers need to design carefully their questioning techniques in classrooms so that students will express their understanding.

Furthermore, there are different types of questions that teachers can use in science classrooms (Carr, 1998) and each type is briefly described in table 1.

Table 1. Different Types of Questions

Type of questions




Stimulate the discussion through asking students’ opinions

“What do you think might be happened in this reaction?


Guide students into specific information

“Could you give an example to show…?”


clarify important points in the discussion

“Are you sure of that…”


check for student understanding

“How many mols are there in 80 gr of NaOH?


encouraging students’ investigatory skills

“If the KMnO4 solution is added to the oxalic acid, what do you think will be happened?

According to Carr (1998), questions which prompting students’ involvement, questions, and answers could engage students within meaningful learning experience. This type of questions also could help students to reflect on their existing understanding. However, the research study shows that, teacher mostly used closed questions and less reinforcement for students (Carr, 1998) which is easier than other types of questions. As a result, it is important for teachers to be aware of the advantages of others types of questions, so this approach could optimally promotes students’ understanding.

2. Interview about Events and Instances

Interview is one approach which could help teachers to monitor the learning process in the learners’ mind and students’ understanding about concepts. According to Treagust (1988), students’ interview is usual approach to obtain information about students’ alternative conceptions. Teacher could find out the students’ thinking, clarify student responses and allow the depth probing by asking questions and interview (Bell, Osborne, & Tasker, 1985; Anderson, 2004). In addition, this strategy also could identify the students’ misconceptions. One example of using interview in the classroom is instances and events interview. The interview of the instances and events is “a conversation that an expert has with one student, focused by initial questions about situations represented in as series of line diagrams [which can be used to] probe children constructions of meanings of concepts” (White & Gunstone, 1992, p.1). According to Carr (1996), interview about instances uses the cards which consist of the pictures and small words which are familiar with the students’ world, such as the picture of people’s swimming to investigate students’ understanding on the concept of floating and sinking. According to Tytler (2002), students have difficulties to apply scientific concept within daily life or out of school context. Moreover, interview about events carry out the activities which can probe students’ understanding. For example, a vitamin C tablet is dissolved in water to investigate students’ understanding on the state of matter. This approach could be applied in teaching and learning chemistry which is shown by figure 1.


Figure 1. The Cards and Activities for Interview about Instances and Events Approaches in Chemical Reactions

However, interview could lead to problems when students feel pressure to give the right answer. Therefore, there are several procedures need to be concerned for using this approach which is shown by the table 2.bellow (Carr, 1996):

Table 2. Several Procedures for Interviews



Getting Started

· Start with the neutral topic

· Explain about the reasons to the interview

· Give the positive encouragement (to get the students’ thinking not a test)

Nondirection of responses

· Positive respond for unexpected students’ answer

· Respond by repeating students’ answer to clarify

· Consider the semi-structured interview


· Don’t judge students’ answer

· Value the responses (verbal and non-verbal)

Patience in Awaiting a Response

· Take time (silence) in order to get the valuable information from students

Cross-Referencing During the interview

· Prepared response to clarify students’ ideas

Recording and Interpreting the Information

· Use the tape recorder

· Listen carefully to get the main ideas of students’ thinking

· Consider the subjectivity on interpret the data

Therefore, in the classroom, teacher should have the skills to conduct the interview with their students in order to get the real information of their student’s knowledge. In addition, it is important to establish clearly what students think and listen carefully to their responses (Bell, Osborne, & Tasker, 1985). However, although the interview has the advantage to clarify students’ understanding and depth probing (Anderson, 2004), but it is unlikely to applied by the teacher in the classroom as it is time-consuming and require substantial skills (Treagust, 1988; Othman, 2006). As a result, teachers need to be creative to create the appropriate strategies to apply interview in the classroom.

Probing for Students’ Understanding in Chemistry: Using Multiple Approaches (Part One)


Students’ understanding becomes the main concern for teaching and learning in science. The problems of learning achievement in science influence the researchers and practitioners to consider multiple approaches to investigate students’ understanding. In addition, according to Treagust and Chandrasegaran (2007), currently science curriculum concerns on the multiple aspects on students’ understanding of scientific concepts and phenomena. However, even though research studies on students’ understanding of science concept have been widely developed, but studies which focus on teaching strategies to promote students’ understanding need to be explored (Keogh and Naylor, 1999). Therefore, different approaches to probe students’ understanding have been exploring not only to solve the problem of learning achievement, but also to engage students into scientific concepts and meaningful learning experience.

Furthermore, implementations of different approaches of students’ understanding in chemistry need to be developed since many students consider chemistry as difficult subject and find difficulties to understand the chemistry concepts. However, majority teachers do not effectively diagnose students’ learning problems and to measure the effectiveness of their classroom instruction. In addition, most teachers also find difficulties both to explain science concepts and investigate students’ understanding (Treagust & Chandrasegaran, 2007; Tytler, 2002b, Mann & Treagust, 1998). Therefore, it is important for help the teachers to explore different approaches of probing students’ understanding. This paper provides the review of different approaches of probing students’ understanding, especially in chemistry subject. The approaches are:1) questioning, 2) interview about events and instances, 3) concept cartoon, 4) concept map, and 5) two tier diagnostic. These different approaches have the advantages and limitations. Therefore, teachers need to consider the appropriate approaches that could be applied in their classroom.

The Importance of Probing Students’ Understanding in Chemistry

Many students presume that chemistry is difficult subject which leads to the low achievement and motivation. According to Levy Nahum, (2004), students find difficulties to understand chemical concepts which are abstract. Moreover, according to Pendley, Bretz, and Novak (1994), the common problems in learning chemistry is because students learn by rote, students don’t understand the concepts and it’s relations, and teachers fail to give instructions of key concepts. In addition, students have difficulties to integrate any new information with their cognitive structures since the existing knowledge is integrated and resistance with their experience. Therefore, multiple approaches should engage students within meaningful learning experience through their daily lived experiences.

Besides, it is also important for teachers to realise that learners could have different understanding to those be determined by teachers (Nakhleh, 1992; Tytler, 2002a). According to Lin, Lee, & Treagust, (2005), “science teachers should have understanding about their students’ learning progress and achievement to attain their expectations for student learning achievement”. In addition, probing students’ understanding could help teacher to apply appropriate strategies and promote learning and understanding (Talaquer, 2006). However, most research studies shown that teachers didn’t give much approach to probe students’ understanding which is supported by the existing assessment which is not demand students’ explanations (Treagust & Chandrasegaran, 2007). Therefore, it is important to provide the consciousness about the importance of probing students’ understanding.

However, there are critics on investigating students’ understanding such as time consuming and meaningless since the curriculum force teachers to focus on standardise assessment. According to Tytler (2002a), there are two problems on probing students’ understanding. First, it is difficult for teacher to deal with many ideas of each student. Second, it is extremely difficult to deal with the students’ alternative conceptions and change their ideas into scientific conceptions. Furthermore, students need different strategies for different aspects of their learning (Selley, 2000), because every students has different style of learning. According to Parkinson (2000), individual’s learning style is influenced by nature and nurture. As a result, it is important for teachers to choose appropriate strategies which are effective and efficient way to probe students’ understanding and hold students’ differentiations.

Multiple Approaches

There are multiple approaches to investigate students’ understanding which are discussed in this paper: 1) questioning, 2) interview about events and instances, 3) concept cartoon, 4) concept map, 5) two-tier diagnostic. Multiple approaches are provided to give opportunity for students to learn optimally within their learning style. In addition, even though each approach has their own characteristic, advantages and limitations, but it will be prevailing to be applied complementary in the classroom to probe students’ understanding, especially in chemistry subject.

Constructivism: A Paradigm Towards Improved Teaching

Constructivism: A Paradigm Towards Improved Teaching

By: Lerry Tan Cabalinan

Preliminary: A Retrospect of My Teaching Career

I was employed at Southern Christian College, located at the southern part of the Philippines in June 2001 as Executive Secretary to our Human Resource Development Officer. My functions were mostly administrative. It was in the second semester of that year that the school needed a part time mathematics teacher to teach basic mathematics subjects in the tertiary level. Our Human Resource Development Officer (HRDO) approached me to ask if I could teach those subjects knowing that I am a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics graduate. I was hesitant to accept it because I did not have any background in the teaching profession. However, he insisted that I have to accept the teaching job because it would not only increase my salary but also it would help me grow personally. The second reason struck me most. Therefore, I accepted the teaching job.

Since then, I have been teaching basic mathematics subjects. As the days passed by, I found out that I have a passion for teaching and everyday it is growing. Every time I am in my class, I teach them the best I can embracing appropriate teaching strategies and methods for the optimization of the learning process. Such approaches were acquired in the seminar-workshops organized by our school and outside organizations such as the Australian funded program-the Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM). In my classrooms, I engaged my students in so-called “technical interest”, as described by Habermas (Grundy, 1987). It is one of the fundamental human interests which influence how knowledge is constructed. My students were directed and lectured in a teaching-learning process that involves motivation, presentation of the subject matter, utilising quizzes and examinations as ways to evaluate their progress.

Despite my half a decade of teaching experience, it seemed that something was still lacking. I felt that I needed to do and explore more on teaching aspects especially related to student learning. From the start of my teaching career I already knew that teaching mathematics is a tough job. It is a challenge for a teacher to let students feel and like mathematics and make it as interesting as their other subjects. Students label mathematics as a dreaded disease. They feel that they have no freedom to express their own ideas or opinion in a mathematics classroom. Those are alternative conceptions that affect students’ learning. Another aspect that affects students’ learning is the language and culture (Tytler, 2002). In our country, even though English is our second language and our medium of instruction, still, students find it difficult to deal with the subject matter in a classroom and sometimes I ended up lecturing in our first language that is, Pilipino or Tagalog.

Reflecting on all those fundamental aspects that affect students’ learning, I realized that I don’t only need to explore teaching aspects and effective students’ learning but also for me to reform and change my practices and views from being a traditionalist teacher to a postmodern one. It is hard to accept but it is the reality, I viewed mathematics as a memorization of formulas and science as accumulation of facts (Treagust et al, 1996). We are not yet half way with our SMEC 611-Learning in Science and Mathematics unit endeavours at SMEC but my learning started to unfold “my being a teacher”. My horizon and views on students’ effective learning and mathematics and science subjects are beginning to broaden. The desire and eagerness to learn more about student learning, understanding, prior knowledge, and conceptions especially about science and mathematics, constructivist perspective on learning, probing understanding, and teaching approaches are growing significantly. I want to share everything I gained here at SMEC with my colleagues, especially in the Teacher Education Department.


Education is very important to one’s life. It is an essential tool for everyone to be prepared for the future. It is about lifelong learning. Education exists to prepare children for their broader adult roles in the society and it provides knowledge, awareness, training, and skills needed by people in adult life. It is the teacher that helps learners in such preparations. As nurturers we need to change our views and improve our teaching practices for the better that is, embracing new and improved approaches so that our students will be equip with necessary learning and understanding to face the world. Whatever will be the future of our students reflects not only what the school is but the teachers and administrators also. We should bear in mind that the essence of successful instruction and good schools comes from the thoughts and actions of the teachers and school leaders (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 1998).

I am writing this paper as a “wake up call” not only for myself but also for my colleagues at Southern Christian College especially in the Teacher Education Department who are reluctant for change. I know to change is difficult and some people often resist it; however, as teachers at Southern Christian College we are committed to take initiatives to improve student learning and teacher performance. As teachers, we are expected to take on the role of being a lifelong learner to keep abreast of our field and maintain and further develop our expertise.

This paper is my means to encourage my colleagues that one way to change is to embrace a constructivist epistemology of teaching and learning, a view that acts as a powerful theoretical referent “to build a classroom that maximizes student learning” (Tobin & Tippins, 1993, p. 7 as cited in Treagust et al., 1996). Also, this paper provides my colleagues an understanding and knowledge why it is important to know what students know prior to commencing a new topic in science and mathematics and some ways in organising the teaching and learning process for improved learning.

Students’ Prior Knowledge: Teachers Should Know

There are a lot of challenges in teaching mathematics. One challenge is to know what the prior knowledge is of our students and how they acquire it before we commence a new topic. Our students bring with them an array of prior knowledge and conceptions of the world in coming in to our classes (Tytler, 2002), “they are not empty vessel”(p. 15). Gunstone (1995) emphasized that, “the ideas and beliefs which students holds about learning/teaching/appropriate roles are themselves personal constructions derived from previous experience”(p. 9). It is essential for teachers to be aware of and utilise the prior knowledge of students and have some insights into students’ understandings. Such understanding can be categorised as rote, observational, insightful, and formal (Buxton, 1978). Or it can be relational understanding-knowing what to do and why or instrumental understanding–rules without reasons (Skemp, 1976). But whatever kind or level of understanding our students’ have, it is still essential to establish clearly what the students’ think and should attend carefully to their responses. In this sense, teachers can use the information of students’ prior knowledge to create instruction which can avoid the misunderstanding of concept.

Looking for patterns of students’ prior knowledge and understanding is a constructivist approach to teaching. Teachers should be aware of thinking patterns that students typically use for them to anticipate and appreciate their students’ understanding (Dominick & Clark, 1996 as cited in Killen, 2003). Teachers should teach students appropriate thinking skills for them to think constructively rather analytically (De Bono, 1996 as cited in Killen, 2003) since constructive thinking focuses on depth of perception, organization of thinking, creativity, information, emotion, action, and interaction. This notion supports what Bodner (1986) said about constructivist model of knowledge that is “knowledge is constructed in the mind of the learner” (p. 873). Points of constructivism had been mentioning above, so, we need to go further in this aspect for have a deeper understanding.

Aspects of Constructivism

Constructivism is a powerful contemporary paradigm of making sense of how students’ learn and based on the works of psychologists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. It is a theory of about knowledge and learning which well developed in the recent years. Bryman (2001) asserts that in constructivism social phenomena and their meanings are not only produced through social interaction but are in a constant state of change or revision. In this perspective, learning constructs new presentations and models of reality as human meaning-making endeavours.

Constructivism is a post-structuralist psychological theory (Doll, 1993) that interprets learning as a recursive, interpretive and building process interrelating with the social and physical world. It also depicts how structures and deeper understanding emerges from a learner as she/he struggles to create meaning. The central organizing principle can be generalized across experiences.

Clements and Battista (1990) emphasized that constructivism is different from traditional instruction and a curricula view of teaching and learning that is based on the students submissively “absorbing” the content or subject matter introduced by others; e.g. authoritative adults, and that teaching is just a transmission of a set of established skills, ideas and concepts.

Furthermore, tenets of constructivism are introduced to further understand students’ learning and their understanding especially with relation to their previous knowledge before a new topic will be introduced. These tenets are also embraced by some proponents:

· Children create or invent knowledge (Clements & Battista 1990).

· Learning should not be regarded as an implanting process (Tytler, 2002).

· Children create new knowledge by reflecting on their mental and physical actions (Clements & Battista 1990).

· Learning is a construction of personal meaning (Tytler, 2002).

· No one true reality exists, only individual interpretations of the world (Clements & Battista 1990).

· Learning is a social process in which children grow into the intellectual life of those who surround them (Bruner, 1986 as cited in Clements & Battista, 1990).

· Learners have the final responsibility for their own learning (Tytler, 2002).

Since knowing what students’ prior knowledge is very much essential to constructive teaching – learning process, we also need to know and understand different constructivist views on learning for us to have a bigger picture of our students’ thinking and understanding in our classroom.

Constructivist Perspectives on Learning

Tytler (2002) introduced three perspectives. He named the first as the personal constructivist perspective. In this view, learning outcomes depend not only on the learners’ learning environment set but also on their knowledge as well. It involves construction of meanings. Learners construct meaning starting from the day they are born and through out their lives, since it is a continuous process.

The second view that Tytler (2002) discussed in his paper is the radical constructivist perspective. In this perspective, knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, and whatever knowledge we build up should be regarded of as having an adaptive function to help us face the world rather than as the discovery of underlying reality (Von Glaserfield, 1993, 1996 as cited in Tytler, 2002). It denies the possibilities that knowledge is directly transmitted between teacher and learner.

The third perspective is the social constructivism. Tytler (2002) stressed that “a social constructivist position focuses our attention on the social processes operating in the classroom by which a teacher promotes a discourse community. This discourse community occurs when students and the teacher ‘co-construct’ knowledge” (p. 19). Teachers need to function in a classroom as much the same way as the learners do.

Constructivist Approaches for Teaching: Way for Improved Learning


Embracing constructivist approaches to organise teaching of one specific topic in mathematics is one way to improve students’ learning. Tytler (2002) referred these approaches as Constructivist/Conceptual Change (C/CC). In all the learning cycles and models Tytler mentioned, the more profound and interactive cycle introduced by Glasson (1993, as cited by Tytler, 2002) is what I considered more applicable in teaching mathematics. The emphasis of this cycle (Figure 1) is more on social constructivist views into the vitality of language in building conceptions, and the ensuing requirement for clarification and negotiation.



Figure 1. The Glasson’s Learning Cycle

In these cycle, students’ prior knowledge of the subject matter or content are challenged by the teachers by intentionally urging them to explore an event on which their predictions are based, even if such events are possibly not correct. After the exploration, a discussion follows for the students to reevaluate their prior knowledge. In this process for improved learning, students can incorporate exact copies of teacher’s understanding. For the part of the teacher, it explores his/her role in as to how his/her knowledge, understanding, experiences, and philosophy of mathematics support students’ improved learning.

Sample Lesson Plan in Mathematics Using Glasson’s Learning Cycle

Year Level : First Year Secondary Students

Section : Heterogeneous Class

No. of Students : 40

Prior knowledge required : Fundamental operation of numbers, Fractions,


Lesson 1: Topic Title: Percent

§ Teaching Strategy Applied: Glasson’s Learning Cycle

To teach this lesson using Glasson’s Learning cycle: exploration,

clarification and elaboration.

§ Exploration

The teacher begins exploring students’ view about percent by engaging the students in the following activity:

Students will be divided into heterogeneous and cooperative learning groups of 5.

Each group will be given words such as fraction, decimal, and percent.

Students are required to define each word based on their prior knowledge.

After 10 minutes, one representative from each group will present to the class about their output.

§ Clarification

After the presentation, the teacher will establish the concept about the topic. Then he/she will provide motivating experiences related to the topic. After which a discussion will follow for the students to reevaluate their ideas. Then the teacher will interpret and clarifies students’ views.

§ Elaboration

To elaborate further students’ understanding of the topic, students are again divided into groups (same group in the first activity). They will imagine a restaurant as their setting. Each group will be given a set of menu-for their imaginative meal and paper bills (play money)-as their budget. Each member of the group will have an opportunity to order whatever they desire from the menu. Have the students calculate the bill for his or her imaginative meal:

find the cost of the meal,

the amount of a tip,

(They can argue among themselves whether to give or not

to give a tip and how much is considered a reasonable tip)

sales tax, and the

total cost.

Another discussion will follow by:

Asking the students how they used and linked their previous knowledge with the new concept to answer the questions in the activity given.

Discussing with the students on the data and results. Let the class assign to each member of their group the task to share the result. Each member can choose what problem they would like to discuss and share results.

Asking the students how they interpreted the problem. Let them say step by step the procedures they use in finding the answer. Explanations should include the proper use of terms on the concepts of percent.

Asking the students to discuss the relationship between fractions and percents.

Asking the students what they learn today and how does it relate to their lives right now.


I had been teaching in traditional methods for years and I believe that applying in my classroom the learning cycle introduced by Glasson, it is one way to step forward to postmodern approach of teaching and learning. Even criticism to these approaches is noted, that it is better for the students not to challenge their prior knowledge but rather let science or mathematics ideas grow alongside such knowledge until their greater usefulness is evident, I am still affirmative that this cycle is much more applicable for improved learning.

As to aspect of improved teaching, I believe that I presented in this paper the fundamental aspects and theories of constructivism that my colleagues need to know, for them to acquire some insight into improving teaching. With the approaches discussed, one thing that my colleagues should consider is the prior knowledge or concepts our students have, because these are critical elements and should be taken as a starting point (Tylter, 2002).

I further believe that if the teachers’ knowledge and skills improve, the students will also improve. The college will be transformed into a learning community where it creatively adapts to the never-ending changes in education and society (Hardy, 2004). Successfully addressing teachers’ needs for new and improved teaching approaches can effect significant and long-term school change. As Wooden (1997: 143, as cited in Hiebert, Gallimore & Stigler, 2002) stressed:

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur….Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.”


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Clements, D. H., & Battista, M. T. (1990). Constructivist learning and teaching: Arithmetic Teacher, 38(1), 34-35.

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Tytler, R. (2002). Teaching for understanding in science: Student conceptions research, & changing views of learning. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 48(3), 14-21.

The Combination of the Data Logger and the 3E Model as an Afford to Create Meaningful Learning

The full text with figures and tables could be uploaded on my files. Thanks for Siti who wants to share with me..

The Combination of the Data Logger and the 3E Model as an Afford to Create Meaningful Learning

By: Siti Shamsiah Binti San


For the past four decades, “the research regarding students alternative conceptions were inspired by Ausubel (1969)” (as cited in Treagust et al., 1996, p. 1). Ausubel said, “The most important single factor influence learning is what the learning already knows. Ascertain this and teach…accordingly” (as cited in Treagust et al., 1996, p. 1). In addition, other researchers that exist before Ausuble also held ideas regarding the importance to elicit students’ idea as a starting point to introduce a new topic (Treagust et al., 1996).

Even though, there are lots of research that emphasis on the importance of using students’ prior knowledge to commence a new topic, teachers in many classrooms still teach the students in a traditional way. In the traditional classroom students receive the knowledge passively; and students may find the science conceptions are something that not related to their daily life experiences. This approach obviously denies students abilities to develop their own understanding and discourage students to engage with teaching and learning activities.

From my pervious experience as a student, I had experienced a traditional approach of teaching and learning especially in science classroom for a long time of period. This teaching approach was very dominant during my studies in secondary and tertiary levels. Usually science teachers or lecturers were delivered science concepts without considered the students prior knowledge as they embarked on new topic. They made an assumption that the students’ mind were liked an “empty vessel” and they responsibility were to fulfill the “empty vessel” with the science concepts.

Unfortunately, the same teaching approach also applies in science laboratory sessions. As a student, I had to perform the experiments which were, fully guided by the “recipe books” or so-called the laboratory manuals to prove the theories that I had learned during the science classes. Therefore, every times I performed the experiments I kept on asking myself why I had to do this experiment because I hardly to make connections between the concepts that I had learned in the science classroom with the activities that I performed in the laboratory. Furthermore, the process to perform the experiment is tedious especially to assemble the apparatus and to record the data. Sometime, I took more time to assemble the apparatus and record the data rather than analysis or interpret the data. Therefore, the existing of technology such as data logger is very helpful to make laboratory sessions more effective and convenience.

However, the existing of sophisticated tool to assist meaningful learning becomes useless if it is not use accordingly. From my past experience, the data logger is used to collect the data in a simple way but at the same time the students still have to follow the steps that stated in the laboratory manual to conduct the investigation. They do not have the opportunity do design their own investigation. Once again, the investigation is carried out to confirm the theories that had learned in science classroom. In my opinion, the usage of data logger will be meaningful if it is combines with appropriate teaching approach that consider students’ existing ideas about the science conceptions. Then, the students have the opportunity to develop their on understanding based on what they already know and give an opportunity to them to enhance their knowledge according to what they had learned through the lesson.

In this paper, I would like to discuss the advantages of using data logger to assist students during the laboratory session and the effectiveness of using constructivist learning model which is the 3E Model. The combination of these two elements perhaps can make the teachers to switch from a dull teaching approach to an interactive teaching approach.

The Introduction of a New Learning Approach

The 3E model for the Constructivist Learning

The 3E model is abbreviation of The Engaging, Empowering, and Enhancing Model. This model is combination of the three learning model which are The Generative learning Model developed by Cosgrove and Osborne (1985), The Interactive Learning Model by Biddulph (1990), and Japanese Science Activity Structure developed by Lin et al. (2000) (as cited in Tytler, 2002b).

This model consists of three major phases which are engaging, empowering, and enhancing that aiming to promote active learning in science classroom (Table 1: The Steps in the 3E Model).

Table 1: The Steps in the 3E Model




· Teacher play a crucial role to engage the students by asking questions or by showing interesting pictures to gain background knowledge of the students about a topic.

· Teacher does brainstorming of the idea with the students.

· Students actively work within their group members to brainstorm the ideas or seek possible answers for the questions that have been asked.


· Students have the authority to clarify their own understanding.

· Students have to work together in group to design their own investigation.

· Teacher will provide all the materials that needed to run this activity.

· Students do the discussion based on their finding.

· Students have to answer the questions that provided by teacher.

· In this phase teacher provide the surrounding that required the students to think critically.


· Teacher raises questions that related to daily events and it is focuses to enhance student understanding.

· Students find the answers by browsing the encyclopedia, internet and from other materials.

The first phase of the 3E Model is ‘Engaging Phase’. In this phase, teacher has to elicit students’ prior knowledge. The 3E Model implements the personal constructivist approach which learners construct understanding based on their prior knowledge (Tytler, 2002a, p. 16). Their prior ideas becoming the starting point to start the lesson. This phase shares the common characteristics with the other learning models which are focus on obtaining students’ prior knowledge before start the lesson. Moreover, teacher has to be creative to start the lesson with interesting and challenging activity so the teacher is able to engage students through out the whole lesson as the students realize this topic is closely related to their daily life experiences.

The second phase of this model is ‘Empowering phase’. Students would plan and conduct investigation to clarify their prior ideas. This phase has the similarities with the other three models. For instance, in the Japanese Science Activity Structures (Tytler, 2002b, p. 33), “students are helped to generate hypotheses or predictions, and to work towards planning methods to investigate possible explanations” in ‘Plan investigations activity’; in the Generative Learning Model (Tytler, 2002b), students do demonstrations or experiments to clarify their ideas in challenge phase; and students carry out investigation in students’ investigation phase through The Interactive Approach (Tytler, 2002b).

This model also generated from the social constructivist view. In this second phase, the teacher work together with the students to construct the students’ understanding (Tytler, 2002a). The teacher also provides all the materials and create classroom environment that can shift from individual student understanding to the way classroom environments support the effective learning (Tytler, 2002a).

The last phase of this model is ‘Enhancing Phase’. In this phase the students reflect their own learning by presenting their finding and draw conclusions based on their finding. The teacher also raises questions that focus on enhancing student understanding. On the other hand, the students can find the answer by browsing encyclopedia, internet and other reading materials. This activity is able to help the students to relate the concept that they have learned with daily life activities.

As a conclusion, the 3E Model focuses on students’ prior ideas to start a lesson to engage students with the lesson. Then the students have the authority to construct their own understanding by involved in active learning process. Afterwards, the students actively reflect their own learning process by making their own conclusion based on what they have learned. Besides, this model is really practical to be used by teachers to avoid traditional way of teaching. Besides, the 3E model is easy to apply in normal science classrooms as well as in laboratory sessions because the steps in this model are not complicated as opposedd to other learning model. Therefore, the opportunity to stay away from one way traffic of teaching and learning activity is widely opened, it is depends on the teachers to weave the existing learning model and the technology together in order to create meaningful learning among students.

The Computer Based Learning

Refer to existing education system in my country, the traditional teaching approach still dominated in most of the teaching and learning activity. This teacher-centered approach should not only be applied in normal science classrooms but also in laboratory sessions. According to “Hodson (1990) in his research paper has been described laboratory work as often being dull and teacher direct, and highlighted the fact that students often failed to relate the laboratory work to other aspect of their learning” (as cited in Hart et al., 2000, p. 656). Moreover, “Gustone and Champange (1990) argued that laboratory could successfully be used to promote conceptual change if small qualitative laboratory task is used” (as cited in Hart et al., 2000, p. 656). “Such tasks aid in students’ reconstructing their thinking as less time is spent on interacting with apparatus, instructions, recipe and more time spent on discussion and reflection” (Hart et al., 2000, p. 656). Therefore it is important for the teachers to create environment that allow the students to engage more on discussion and reflection during the laboratory work rather than spent more time to assemble the apparatus or to understand the tedious procedure. In order to reduce time to follow the rigid procedure of laboratory work, computer based learning can be introduced.

The computer based learning is one of the ways to engage the students with the teaching and learning activity. Through this approach, the students use ICT tools to collect the data. The usage of tools such as data logger, spreadsheet, databases can give advantages to the students to spent more time to engage in activities such as analyzing, synthesizing or exploring results of the experiment on the relevant concepts rather then spend more time to assemble the apparatus and materials to perform the activity (Hart et al., 2000).

Besides, according to Steed’s study (as cited in Rodrigues, Pearce, & Livett, 2001) the emerging of technology can help teachers to create interactive and interesting learning environment and the existing of computer based learning able to help students to carry out unfeasible and dangerous experiments such as examine the nuclear reaction. By using the technology, the students can observe the nuclear reaction through computer simulation. However technology is only a tool to assist teacher in teaching and learning activities but the technology alone can not takes over the lesson because technology is as an enabler. Therefore, in order to improve the laboratory work, new teaching approach that considers students’ pre-conceptions, the constructivism theory, and the usage of technology should be address seriously.

Data Logger as Enabler: In conjunction with the ICT era, “scientists are always looking for new ways in which to pursue and expand scientific boundaries and as a result are developing new technologies. These technologies are often adapted for the classroom. Data logger is a technology which scientists have developed and is gradually being used more and more in the classroom” (Data Logging, n.d).

“Data logging involves the use of sensors, attached to the computer, to gather information and store it electronically in the form of graphs and tables. A data logger is another name for an interface box. The interface box is a portable and self-contained device. It connects to the sensors and records and monitors the readings from the sensors. The interface box is then connected to the computer and the information is transferred to a piece of software on the computer. The information is then downloaded and normally displayed in a graphical format for analysis. There are two types of interface boxes or data loggers, USB data loggers and hand held data loggers” (Data Logging, n.d). (Figure 1: The schematic diagram of data logger layout).

In this experiment, data logger is used to ensure the students engage more on the analyzing and interpreting the data rather then focus on assembling the apparatus and recording the data. As opposed to traditional way to measure temperature, the students have to assemble the thermometer and monitor the changes of temperature regularly (Figure 2: Traditional way to investigate the fermentation process). Whereas, by using the data logger the students do not have to observe the change of temperature manually because all the data is transferred to the computer automatically. Besides, the students might get the data from the computer in different forms for examples bar graphs, tables, and line graph (Figure 3: The investigation of fermentation process by using data logger).

“Computers or other gadgets are highly attractive to students and they readily adapt to become effective users of various devices that many older individuals find particularly confronting. This interest of students in modern interactive devices, and their ability to absorb themselves in solving problems they find relevant” (Roberson, 2004). The usage of data loggers in science classroom can actively engage the students to embark on scientific investigation especially teenagers that eager to explore new things.

Justification of Using Data Logger: According to Rodrigues (2001) the usage of ICT tools able to reduce monotony of repetitive experiment. Besides that “the usage of ICT also is able to enhance learning among students because it removes distracters” (Rodrigues, 2001, p. 32). Of instance, in this experiment, the students can focus more on the implication of graphical data that appear on the computer screen rather than record that temperature change every 60 seconds. Rodrigues (2001) also suggests that a benefit of the data logger with respect to conventional classroom measurement activities lies in the measurement of quantities that normally warrant complex calculation.

The other benefit cooperate with the data logger in conducting scientific investigation is more then one sensor can be used simultaneously (e.g., pH and temperature sensors). For example if the students want to observe the temperature and the pH value after 15 seconds, they can get the information directly from the computer. Therefore, the students are able to monitor the pattern of pH and temperature changes, along with the experiment. Moreover, the data that students collect is more accurate compare to if they collect it manually.

To sum up, based on the previous studies it clearly shows that the usage of ICT in laboratory works able to engage and enhance students with higher – order thinking activities such as analyzing and interpreting the information.

The Example of Lesson Plan that cooperate Data Logger with the 3E Model

This is an example of activity that can be conducted by a teacher to engage students with a topic of anaerobic respiration. In this experiment there are two variables to be measure which are pH and temperature. In order to avoid conventional way to conduct this experiment, data logger is used ensure the students can give full attention on analyzing and interpreting the data.

This lesson plan is structured to give a clear view to the readers about the steps that involved in designing a lesson based on the 3E Model. First, teacher has to include details about the topic, number of students, duration of the lesson, and learning outcomes of this topic (Table 2: The Details about the Topic) as a guidance to the teacher to start this topic. Second, teacher also has to include the information about the apparatus and materials that needed to conduct the investigation. This is very important to ensure teacher provides appropriate materials to support the learning activity (Table 3: Teaching and Learning Resources (TLR)). Thirdly, the teacher writes the activities for each of the phases as guidance for the teacher to conduct the lesson and to ensure students actively involve in the investigation. Besides, the teacher plays an active role as co-researcher to assist the students in the investigation (Table 4: Teaching and learning Activity).


The fast growing technology in this decade has influences the direction of learning process especially in science laboratory classes. The technology that available such as the data logger, makes practical work becomes more efficient as students do not have to spend more time to set up the apparatus and recording the data. Moreover, they are able to focus on other activities such as analyzing the data rather then assembling the apparatus. As opposed to conventional way to conduct the scientific investigation, the students have to struggle to set up the apparatus and monitor the progress of the experiments manually.

Furthermore, the data logger can be combined together with constructivist learning model such as the 3E Model to retain students’ attention towards the lesson. This model considers students’ prior knowledge as a starting point to embark on new science concept; the authority to conduct the investigation in order to seek for the answers; and provides activities that can related their result from the experiment with daily experience also can promote meaningful learning among students. Besides, the usage of new technology to collect the data is able to make the lesson more interactive and convenience. Therefore, the combination of these two elements can boost students’ enthusiasm towards science subject.

After a long discussion regarding the usage of using data logger with the 3E Model to conduct scientific investigation, these three simple steps in this model can make teaching and learning activity becomes more meaningful, as students become active participants in this learning process. However, in this model, teacher still play a crucial role to “promote discourse community in which students and the teacher ‘co-construct’ knowledge” (Tytler, 2002a, p. 19). Therefore, it is teacher’s responsibility to create learning environment that can retain students’ interest towards the lesson.

Based on these strong explanations on the advantages of using data logger and the 3E Model in teaching and learning activity, it depends on the teacher to choose whether their what to continue to use lame teaching approach or change to teaching approach that give opportunity to the students to explore the existing technology without neglecting students’ existing ideas as a starting point to start a lesson. Finally, sophisticated tools that can assist learning process may become useless if it is not used wisely.


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Pre-lab for yeast respiration and fermentation [Image] (n.d). Retrieved March 27, 2008, from

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Rodrigues, S., Pearce, J., Livett, M. (2001). Using video analysis or data loggers during practical work in first year physics. Educational Studies, 27(1 ), 31-43.

Treagust, D. F., Duit, R., & Fraser, B. J. (1996). Overview: Research on students’ perinstructional concpetions – The driving force for improving teaching and learning in science and mathematics. In D. F. Treagust, R. Duit, & B. J. Fraser (Eds.), Improving teaching and learning in science and mathematics (pp. 1-14). New York (NY): Teacher College Press.

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Learn from Mathematics: Lesson Plan in Mathematics Using Glasson’s Learning Cycle

Lesson Plan in Mathematics Using Glasson’s Learning Cycle

By Lerry

Year Level : First Year Secondary Students

Section : Heterogeneous Class

No. of Students : 40

Prior knowledge required : Fundamental operation of numbers, Fractions,


Lesson 1: Topic Title: Percent

§ Teaching Strategy Applied: Glasson’s Learning Cycle

To teach this lesson using Glasson’s Learning cycle: exploration,

clarification and elaboration.

§ Exploration

The teacher begins exploring students’ view about percent by engaging the students in the following activity:

Students will be divided into heterogeneous and cooperative learning groups of 5.

Each group will be given words such as fraction, decimal, and percent.

Students are required to define each word based on their prior knowledge.

After 10 minutes, one representative from each group will present to the class about their output.

§ Clarification

After the presentation, the teacher will establish the concept about the topic. Then he/she will provide motivating experiences related to the topic. After which a discussion will follow for the students to reevaluate their ideas. Then the teacher will interpret and clarifies students’ views.

§ Elaboration

To elaborate further students’ understanding of the topic, students are again divided into groups (same group in the first activity). They will imagine a restaurant as their setting. Each group will be given a set of menu-for their imaginative meal and paper bills (play money)-as their budget. Each member of the group will have an opportunity to order whatever they desire from the menu. Have the students calculate the bill for