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A Theoretical Framework for Contextual Science Teaching

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The contextual approach to teaching is generally recognized as a reasonable and desirable strategy to enhance student learning in science. Using several cognitive and learning theories together with various philosophical considerations, I identify five distinct contexts that are important in engaging learners: the theoretical, practical, social, historical, and affective. Based on these five contexts, I construct a model for teaching and learning, named the Story-Driven Contextual Approach (SDCA), in which the story assumes a major role in engaging the learner affectively. The teacher introduces the SDCA to students by means of a story, encouraging students to engage actively with the five contexts. In the SDCA, students function as novice researchers and the teacher as a research director.
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A Theoretical Framework for
Contextual Science Teaching 1
Stephen Klassen2
Abstract
The contextual approach to teaching is generally recognized as a reasonable and desirable strategy
to enhance student learning in science. Using several cognitive and learning theories together with
various philosophical considerations, I identify five distinct contexts that are important in engag-
ing learners: the theoretical, practical, social, historical, and affective. Based on these five contexts,
I construct a model for teaching and learning, named the Story-Driven Contextual Approach
(SDCA), in which the story assumes a major role in engaging the learner affectively. The teacher
introduces the SDCA to students by means of a story, encouraging students to engage actively with
the five contexts. In the SDCA, students function as novice researchers and the teacher as a re-
search director.
Keywords
Contextual teaching, contextual, context, story-driven contextual approach, narrative, story, theo-
retical, practical, social, historical, affective.
Contents
1. Introduction ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2
1.1 The Nature of School Science ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2
2. The Contextual Approach --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3
3. Contexts that are Important to Science Learning -------------------------------------------------------------- 4
3.1 The Practical Context ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5
3.1.1 Task Isolation versus Contextualization -------------------------------------------------------------- 6
3.1.2 The Demise of Behaviorism --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 7
3.1.3 A New Approach to Student Practical Work --------------------------------------------------------- 8
3.2 The Theoretical Context ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 9
3.3 The Social Context ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 11
3.3.1 A Theoretical Basis for Cooperative Learning ------------------------------------------------------ 12
3.4 The Historical Context ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 13
3.4.1 Content Analysis of Original Sources --------------------------------------------------------------- 15
3.5 The Affective Context and Narrative --------------------------------------------------------------------- 16
4. A Schema for the Contextual Approach ---------------------------------------------------------------------- 17
5. Conclusion ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 18
6. References ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 19
About the Author -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 22
1 Author preprint DOI: 10.1007/s10780-006-8399-8. The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com
Klassen, S. (2006). A Theoretical Framework for Contextual Science Teaching. Interchange, 37(1), 3162.
2 e-mail: dr.s.klassengmail.com
2 S. Klassen
1 Introduction
There is no denying the dry and decontextual-
ized manner in which much of science is taught
nowadays. The various reform movements in
science education, for example, scientific liter-
acy, science for everyone, critical thinking, con-
structivism, and contextual teaching can be
viewed as reactions against the present way of
delivering and organizing science education.
These movements generally seek to teach about
science as well as science content. Teaching
about science means to teach about how science
was developed and how one concept relates to
another, not the factual content of science alone.
The idea of contextualizing the material taught
has become a kind of mantra for the various re-
form movements. However, the recommenda-
tions in science education need to include more
practical strategies for improvement that are
also grounded in sound theoretical considera-
tions (Monk & Osborne, 1997, Nersessian, 1989,
Stinner, 1995). One such strategy that has
demonstrated anecdotal success is the large con-
text problem approach. In this paper, I propose
a theoretical framework to use in designing such
large contexts which I call the Story-Driven
Contextual Approach.
1.1 The Nature of School Science
The common observation of science educators
that the textbook is the dominant influence in
most of classroom teaching is borne out by the
TIMSS survey (Schmidt, et al., 1998). The seri-
ous shortcoming of the textbook-centered na-
ture of most of science education served as the
primary motivation for Stinner’s original incep-
tion of the LCPA. In his conclusion about the
overuse of textbooks, Stinner is in agreement
with many others, including, Whitehead (1929),
Siegel (1990), Monk and Osborne (1997), and
Van Berkel, DeVos, Verdonk, and Pilot (2000).
Van Berkel, et al., (2000) call Kuhn’s description
of the dominant methodology in science educa-
tion normal science education. Interestingly,
most of the above listed scholars would essen-
tially agree with Thomas Kuhn’s (1963) charac-
terization of science education but not with his
conclusions that “normal science” education is
a necessary requirement for the successful pro-
duction of scientists. Most of Kuhn’s critics, in
this regard, would agree with the earlier assess-
ment of Whitehead (1929) characterizing the
textbook as “an educational failure”.
One of the currently-dominant areas of re-
search in science education is the nature of sci-
ence. The emphasis on the nature of science
seeks to impart a more accurate picture of sci-
ence as characterized by philosophers of sci-
ence. Universally, research has shown that sci-
ence education does a very poor job at convey-
ing an accurate picture of the nature of science.
What exists, in effect, is a major incompatibility
between the nature of science and the nature of
school science. And, the nature of school sci-
ence can be identified with normal science edu-
cation as defined above.
In Kuhn’s 1963 characterization of normal
science he observes that
The single most striking feature of scientific edu-
cation is that, to an extent quite unknown in
other creative fields, it is conducted through text-
books, works written especially for students.
Even books that compete for adoption in a single
course differ mainly in level and pedagogic detail,
not in substance or conceptual structure. (1963,
pp. 350-351, italics in original)
Furthermore, Kuhn attributes this fact to an
apparent tacit agreement among scientists as to
what should be the elements of a pre-profes-
sional curriculum. Of course, this has led to the
overcrowded curriculum syndrome in which
the favorite topic of nearly everyone “has to be
included in the curriculum. However, the most
important feature of textbooks, and the only
part that many students pay attention to is the
end of chapter problems. Kuhn claims that
Contextual Science Teaching 3
These books exhibit, from the very start, concrete
problem-solutions that the profession has come
to accept as paradigms, and they then ask the stu-
dent either with a pencil and paper or in the la-
boratory, to solve for himself problems very
closely modelled in method and substance upon
those through which the text has led him. (1963,
p. 351)
The whole point of this method is to strip all
“unnecessary” material and leave only the bare
decontextualized scientific facts, theories, and
laws along with the exemplar problems that
demonstrate them.
The claim implicit in textbook-centered
teaching that the “bare facts” and exemplars are
adequate for obtaining an understanding of sci-
ence seems to be based on a transmission model
of teaching and learning. The transmission
model treats information as a commodity that
can be transmitted unchanged from the teacher
to the mind of the student through the process
of “telling”. This view goes back at least to John
Locke in the seventeenth century. Locke, in his
Essay Concerning Human Understanding
(1690/1959), metaphorically speaks of the mind
as a tabula rasa, a clean slate, which is “written”
on by the sensory experience of listening to the
teacher speak. Learning theory has departed
radically from this traditional form during the
last quarter of the twentieth century. In the vein
of Locke's metaphor, today the mind of the
learner is seen not as a clean slate, but rather a
slate on which much is already “written”, where
the learner himself or herself “writes” new
words and phrases in appropriate spots and re-
arranges phrases to make room for new ones.
Current educational literature tends to utilize
the term “traditional” to embody all those ele-
ments of practice and theory that warrant criti-
cism. I will also use the term with that connota-
tion, however, I do not mean to imply that there
is nothing about past practice that warrants con-
tinuation or emulation.
The constructivist movement has produced
the main opposition to this “traditional” view of
learning. Von Glasersfeld, a major proponent
of constructivism, states the essence of the con-
structivist philosophy when he writes:
“Knowledge is the result of an individual sub-
ject’s constructive activity, not a commodity
that somehow resides outside the knower and
can be conveyed or instilled by diligent percep-
tion or linguistic communication” (1990, p. 37).
Learning is, in this view, a sense-making activity
by the learner whereby she or he tries to accom-
modate new information to existing mental
structures. New information is always con-
nected to similar information where conceptual
overlap or context is the dominant factor. By
this path of reasoning one arrives at the im-
portance of context to the learning process,
since information cannot exist in isolation in
long-term memory and, even in the reasoning
process, there are constant attempts to make
connections among concepts.
2 The Contextual Approach
In view of the preceding discussion, it is reason-
able to view the process of endeavoring to learn
as an attempt to find appropriate and desirable
contexts into which to fit new knowledge. Psy-
chologist Barbara Rogoff describes context as
“the integral aspect of cognitive events” (1984),
so that cognition and context are inseparable.
The current view of cognitive psychology about
the importance of context is strongly expressed
by Ryan Tweney when he writes that, “cognition
is contextually dependent and must be de-
scribed in that context before it is understood at
all” (1992). But what does the word “context”
convey in the science-educational setting?
Baker, O’Neil, and Linn explain two different
usages of the word “context”:
… the term context has different and somewhat
conflicting meanings. Some proponents use
context to denote domain specificity. Perfor-
mance in this context would presumably show
deep expertise. On the other hand, context has
4 S. Klassen
been used to signal tasks with authenticity for the
learner. The adjective authentic is used to denote
… tasks that contain true-to-life problems or that
embed … skills in applied contexts. (1994, p. 335)
Baker, O'Neil, and Linn see the knowledge-cen-
tered and the activity-centered contexts as
somehow incompatible. But in the constructiv-
ist view, knowledge development proceeds as an
activity of the learner. Hence, the argument can
be made that the two meanings of context are
not contradictory, but rather complementary
(Koul & Dana, 1997; Rogoff, 1984). This is also
born out in research reported by Ebenezer and
Gaskell (1995) who draw on the insight of Mar-
ton (1981) when they write that
… we often find variation in conceptions not
only between children but also within the same
individual. Depending on the context, children
may exhibit qualitatively different conceptions of
the very same phenomenon. Thus meanings are
context dependent. Conceptions are, therefore,
not characteristics of an individual; rather they
are characteristics of the relations between an in-
dividual, content, and context. Learning is both
context and content dependent. (Ebenezer &
Gaskell, 1995, p. 2)
Baker, O’Neil, and Linn’s dual meaning of con-
textdomain-specific and authenticcorrelate
with Ebenezer and Gaskell’s “content” and
“context”. The domain-specific context relates
to disciplinary knowledge that the learner
wishes to acquire, and the true-to-life context
relates to the learner’s use of practical abilities in
the process of acquiring knowledge or in apply-
ing that knowledge.
In considering context, it would be useful to
construct a working definition to guide further
considerations. The word context originates
from the Latin contextus, denoting the connec-
tion of words or coherence (Merriam-Webster,
2003). Originally, “context” was used, in the
linguistic sense, to mean “the parts of a dis-
course that surround a word or passage and can
throw light on its meaning” (Merriam-Webster,
2003). Often the words “environment” and
“setting” are used as synonyms for context. Us-
ing the meaning and connotations of “context”,
“environment”, and “setting”, I propose a defi-
nition of “context” as the entities that connect to
or surround a focal entity and contribute to the
meaningfulness of the whole. The “focal entity”
in the formal definition would be either a scien-
tific understanding or ability, either a concept or
a skill. Meaningfulness then arises out of fac-
tors like familiarity, social interaction, activity,
reflection, logical relation, emotional response,
and so on, and, in the sense of the definition,
these constitute a context for a concept or skill.
3 Contexts that are Important to Science Learning
The contexts relevant to learning could be
viewed either from the perspective of the curric-
ulum and the teacher or from the perspective of
the studentoriginating either with the
knowledge being taught or with the way stu-
dents learn that knowledge. The scientific
knowledge being taught may be broken into
theoretical and experimental components, or, at
a simpler level, into logical and practical com-
ponents, in the same way that scientific research
breaks into two separate, but complementary,
streams. From the point of view of the student,
“science in context illuminates the theoretical
practices of science” (Koul & Dana, 1997, p.
132) and furthermore, having the opportunity
for hands-on science investigation will help
guard against “giv[ing] up science before it
starts getting interesting” (Koul & Dana, 1997,
p. 132). Arthur Stinner has characterized the
theoretical and experimental as the logical and
evidential aspects of teaching, two components
of his LEP or “Logical-Evidential-Psychologi-
cal” model of teaching and learning (Stinner,
1992, 1995). The LEP model was developed pri-
marily to address the problem of textbook-cen-
tered science education.
Contextual Science Teaching 5
3.1 The Practical Context
The first context important for teaching and
learning that will be considered, in detail, is the
practical context. The term “practical” is used
here in the sense expressed by Derek Hodson
(1993) who used it to refer to hands-on student
laboratory work. Often, laboratory work is de-
fined, after Hegerty-Hazel (1990), as “a form of
practical work taking place in a purposely as-
signed environment where students engage in
planned learning experiences … [and] interact
with materials to observe and understand phe-
nomena” (p. 4). What counts as practical work
is relatively uncontroversial, but what the pur-
poses of practical work should be is open to a
number of differing opinions (Hodson, 1993;
Lazarowitz & Tamir, 1994). Hodson (1993) cat-
egorizes the various objectives into five broad
areas: to teach 1) laboratory skills and 2) scien-
tific attitudes, 3) stimulate interest, and enhance
learning of 4) the scientific content and 5) the
nature of scientific methodology. Categorizing
objectives in a general sense such as done by
Hodson is one approach to understanding the
purposes.
The traditional laboratory concentrates pri-
marily on what Hodson (1993) categorizes as la-
boratory skills and secondarily on improved
content knowledge. The objective of providing
improved understanding of the nature of sci-
ence methodology, in Hodson’s terms, is a re-
cent addition to objectives in the university la-
boratory. Moreover, the more traditional stu-
dent laboratory approaches have tended not to
emphasize the psychological aspects of practical
work, like motivation and interest. Contempo-
rary developments in pedagogy have confirmed
that the psychological or affective domain has a
profound effect on learning. As an aspect of
practical work, the infusion of motivational ele-
ments seems to flow naturally from sound ped-
agogical and philosophical principles. A de-
tailed discussion of the affective context is re-
served for a later section.
An alternative way to categorize practical
work is by means of a methodological spectrum.
For example, Stinner (1995) divides laboratory
activities into three types: type Iinstantiation
types of experiments that operate in “cook-
book” style; type IIresearch style experiments
that attempt to answer questions not familiar to
students in an open-ended approach; and type
IIIthought experiments that attempt to illu-
minate questions about theory by constructing
hypothetical experiments or arguments that
support or disprove various fundamental hy-
potheses about nature. In a somewhat similar
fashion, Roth and Roychoudhury list four cate-
gories of laboratory activities on a scale of in-
creasing “openness”:
0 Problem area, methods of solution, and cor-
rect interpretation given or obvious. Includes
observation and experience labs, or labs designed
to teach new techniques.
1 Lab manual poses the problems; describes
ways and means by which the student can dis-
cover relations he doesn’t already know.
2 Problems are posed by the lab manual, but
methods and answers are left open.
3 Problems, answers, and method are left open.
The student is confronted with raw phenom-
ena. (Roth & Roychoudhury, 1993, p. 129)
Approaches such as those by Roth and Roy-
choudhury or Stinner tend to be practical inso-
far that they concentrate on the degree of en-
gagement of students in practical work. In their
view, all student practical work lies on a spec-
trum whose one extreme is represented by in-
stantiation or cookbook type experiments and
the other extreme by student research work.
Another way to characterize this spectrum is by
the degree to which student practical work is
like “real” science. Cookbook labs are not at all
like scientists’ science, whereas student re-
search, if teacher-directed, can be very much
like “real” science. This type of categorization
scheme lends itself to the development of the
large context, which, itself, is an open-ended or
research-like approach.
The student, however, sees practical work
from a completely different perspective than the
6 S. Klassen
teacher or researcher, in which the goals are pri-
marily to follow sometimes meaningless in-
structions and to get the “right” answers (Hod-
son, 1993; Lunetta, 1998; Petrosino, 1998). The
laboratory presents a daunting set of tasks for
the student, the purposes for which are not at all
clear in her or his mind. In the typical labora-
tory the student must a) understand the nature
of the problem, b) understand the procedure,
c) develop a theoretical perspective, d) read,
comprehend, and follow directions, e) insure
that they are getting along with their partner,
f) operate the apparatus and collect data, and g)
interpret results and write a report (Hodson,
1993). Hodson points out that the complexity
of the task is frequently beyond the capabilities
of the student, whereupon the student may re-
sort to various coping mechanisms. According
to Hodson, one way to deal with the complexity
is for the teacher to simplify and isolate the tasks
further (1993). Other researchers would disa-
gree with Hodson’s (1993) solution (Blumen-
feld, et al., 1991; Lunetta, 1998; Petrosino, 1998;
Roth & Roychoudhury, 1993; Stinner, 1995)
choosing instead to focus on producing a
greater degree of contextualization of the lab
work and on producing student motivation for
and engagement with the task. Basing the de-
sign of practical work on lists of objectives tends
to encourage breaking down the tasks into con-
stituent components, thereby compounding the
degree of isolation and decontextualization al-
ready present in much of science education.
3.1.1 Task Isolation versus Contextualization
In the face of the challenge that reforming stu-
dent practical work represents, it is a temptation
to simplify the work and break it into compo-
nents that represent the constituent objectives.
The tendency towards task isolation can be seen
as a holdover from behavioral psychology.
However, developments in psychology and phi-
losophy in the latter half of the twentieth cen-
tury show task isolation to be an unjustified tac-
tic, rooted in behaviorism.
Behaviorism, at least partly, grew out of an
empiricist philosophy of science, which held
that all knowledge originates in experience.
The empiricist view has its origins in Aristotle’s
notion, as stated by medieval scholars, nihil in
intellectu quod non prius in sensu-“There is
nothing in the mind except what has passed
through the senses.” If one accepts Aristotle’s
dictum, then it follows that the mind merely
consists of representations of sensory stimuli,
which are the result of verbal teaching and read-
ing. The implication of this early empiricist
view is that knowledge can be transferred intact
from teacher to student through the senses.
John Locke was a major proponent of early em-
piricism. What the student learns, in the empir-
icist view, is an exact representation, or at least
a subset, of what the teacher conveys, since no
further processing is involved beyond the sen-
sory transduction of information.
An implication of the empiricist-behaviorist
view is that knowledge can be “atomized” or
broken up into small, simple steps that are easy
to teach and learn. The atomistic view of
knowledge follows from the assumption that
knowledge-based sensory stimuli are associated
on a one-to-one basis with the cognitive repre-
sentations of these knowledge items. The rela-
tionship of one mental knowledge-representa-
tion to another cannot be changed at the cogni-
tive level in the behavioristic view. The influen-
tial Harvard psychologist, B. F. Skinner, devel-
oped and popularized the atomistic view of
knowledge and wrote: “The whole process of be-
coming competent in any field must be divided
into a very large number of very small steps, and
reinforcement must be contingent upon the ac-
complishment of each step” (Skinner, 1954,
p. 94). The sequence of knowledge presenta-
tion becomes very important under the assump-
tion that knowledge can be atomized and assim-
ilated piecemeal. If knowledge is structured by
the brain in the order that it is received (with no
Contextual Science Teaching 7
further internal re-processing), then relation-
ships must be pre-formed in order for that
knowledge to make sense. The sense-making,
sequential, logical structure of knowledge must
be pre-programmed into the process. Learning
is thus viewed as a linear sequential process.
Skinner details the formula for successful learn-
ing in the linear sequential view:
If a learner attains the objectives subordinate to a
higher objective, his probability of learning the
latter has been shown to be very high; if he misses
one or more of the subordinate objectives, his
probability of learning the higher one drops to
near zero. (1965, p. 30)
Finding out if the learner has missed learning
objectives is the short-range objective of tradi-
tional science instruction and has resulted in the
familiar teach-test-teach-test sequence.
As a result of the atomistic view of learning
the component skills or knowledge items may
be mastered independently and out of context as
long as they are in the correct logical sequence.
The contextualization of knowledge runs coun-
ter to the presuppositions of behaviorism since
any contextual factors are either irrelevant to the
items being taught or interfere with a narrow
and clear presentation of the knowledge item.
It should be no surprise, then, that the behavior-
istic view of learning has been characterized as
having two central assumptionsthose of de-
composability and decontextualization (Res-
nick & Resnick, 1992).
Traditional instruction values simple factual
recall through rote memorization. Simple facts
that are memorized verbatim by the student
may be regurgitated on a test and come back to
the teacher unchanged. Strike and Posner reject
rote learning, stating that
the task of learning is primarily one of relating
what one has encountered … to one’s current
ideas… . To learn an idea any other way is to ac-
quire a piece of verbal behaviour which one emits
to a stimulus, rather than to understand an idea
which one can employ in an intellectually pro-
ductive way. (1985, p. 212)
Strike and Posner’s criticism of traditional
teaching and learning is typical of the view that
has brought about dissatisfaction with tradi-
tional instruction, which, to a large degree, relies
on simple factual recall. The factors that led to
these criticisms and to the abandonment of
some of the traditional presuppositions and
methods grew out of a psychological and philo-
sophical paradigm shift around the 1970’s. The
shift generally moved from the empiricist-be-
haviorist dominated paradigm to one based on
cognitive psychology, constructivism, and the
philosophical positions of philosophers of sci-
ence, such as Thomas Kuhn.
3.1.2 The Demise of Behaviorism
The course of the psychological and educational
paradigm was greatly affected in 1959 by the un-
likely field of linguistics and the involvement of
the influential linguist, philosopher, and activist
Noam Chomsky (Corsini, 1994; Houts & Had-
dock, 1992). Although linguistics is not directly
related to science education, Chomsky’s in-
volvement was a major initial factor in produc-
ing the paradigm shift that included science ed-
ucation. Chomsky published a review of
B. F. Skinner’s book Verbal Behaviour, in 1959.
In his book, Skinner had attempted to show that
behavioristic stimulus, response, and reinforce-
ment mechanisms govern language develop-
ment. Chomsky argued that Skinner’s model
was unable to account for the complexities of
language development. Moreover, Chomsky
maintained, to say that each language element is
a response to a stimulus is a scientifically mean-
ingless claim since a stimulus can always be pos-
ited to explain any response (Chomsky, 1959).
It was easy to see, in Chomsky’s account, that if
a process of hearing and repetition were to be
the exclusive mechanism in language learning,
it would take a person an incredibly long time to
hear and repeat enough variations of grammar
and syntax in order to learn a languagemuch
8 S. Klassen
longer than is the case. Chomsky’s paper
marked the beginning of the demise of behav-
iorism and the rise of cognitive psychology.
Much later, Chomsky’s critique was challenged
(Houts & Haddock, 1992), but by then it was too
late to change a historically established fact. It
was not long before the views of cognitive psy-
chologists, among them Piaget, and philoso-
phers of science, among them Thomas Kuhn,
began to gain prominence. Behaviorism gradu-
ally diminished as a viable theory. It is generally
accepted that behaviorism has been displaced as
a viable theory (Black, 1993; Shepard, 1991;
Willson, 1991), but some versions are still active
(Houts & Haddock, 1992).
3.1.3 A New Approach to Student Practical Work
Granted that the atomization of knowledge and
tasks is a discredited approach to teaching, the
goal of achieving a higher degree of contextual-
ization is an important aspect of reform in stu-
dent practical work (Gil-Pérez, 1996; Petrosino,
1998; Roth & Roychoudhury, 1993; Stinner,
1995). Similarly, the consideration of student
motivation should also play a much greater role
in the design of practical work (Blumenfeld, et
al., 1991; Gil-Pérez, 1996; Lunetta, 1998; Petro-
sino, 1998). Roth and Roychoudhury (1993)
identify a key reason that contextualization is
linked with motivation when they observe that
“the effects of motivation and context on stu-
dent learning … appear to interact with the au-
thenticity of situations and experience” (p. 147).
Student motivation is clearly enhanced by their
perception that practical work is authentic in
the sense of being like the work done by practic-
ing scientists. The authenticity of student work
is increased by its degree of open-endedness, as
was illustrated earlier in Roth and Roy-
choudhury’s classification scheme for practical
work. Blumenfeld, et al., (1991) shed further
light on authenticity by pointing out that prac-
tical work needs to be driven by motivating
questions, problems or issues. In this way, stu-
dents are aware, from the start, of the purpose of
the work and thereby are rescued from the di-
lemma of being confused about the purposes for
practical work in the first place (Hodson, 1993;
Lunetta, 1998; Petrosino, 1998). The driving
situation for practical work is not only the “mo-
tivation” for the student activities that follow, in
the sense of providing anticipation, but also
provides motivation, in a deeper affective sense,
for the students. For these reasons, motivating
questions or themes are central to the design of
practical tasks.
Another important aspect to developing an
overall philosophy, approach, or theoretical
structure behind practical work is the driving
metaphor for student learning in the laboratory
situation. A recurring metaphor in science ed-
ucation is that of student as early scientist.
Much has been written to support the conten-
tion that there are similarities (or differences) in
the thinking of students and early scientists.
Recently, the “theory theory” movement
(Brewer & Samarapungavan, 1991; Gopnik &
Meltzoff, 1997; Schwitzgebel, 1999) contends
that, essentially, the differences in theorizing be-
tween scientists and students are only differ-
ences of degree, not differences of kind. Gil-Pé-
rez and Carrascosa-Alis (1994) rescue the meta-
phor from serious challenges by proposing a
similarity between students engaged in authen-
tic practical work and novice researchers. In-
deed, if this metaphor is applied at the university
level it stops being a metaphor, becoming, in-
stead, a plausible model of the role of the stu-
dent. A plausible or realistic model in any the-
ory presents an interesting situation. Models in
theories have the role of representing problem-
atic phenomena in terms of better-understood
schemata. When the model becomes realistic it
assumes, or nearly assumes, identity with the
situation it is supposed to represent. According
to philosopher Rom Harré (1961), a model be-
comes realistic when its parent theory achieves
Contextual Science Teaching 9
a high degree of maturity, acceptance, and con-
firmation. In our case, since we are in the pro-
cess of constructing a theoretical framework,
Harré’s commentary can be noted as an encour-
aging perspective.
The model of student as novice researcher
helps to clarify the ambiguity in the purposes for
student practical work. In the large context, un-
der the guidance of the instructor, students gen-
erate their own questions and problems to in-
vestigate, and they design their own procedures.
In this respect, the process is more like that of
scientific research, where a research team func-
tions under the leadership of a research director
(the teacher). This type of classroom activity is
characterized by Ebenezer and Fraser (2001) as
“common knowledge construction” (p. 513)
and they maintain that
… to arrive at common knowledge, … we must
think of the science classroom as a forum for sci-
entific discourse. To characterize such a class-
room, the teacher should entertain qualitatively
different conceptions from students; assess stu-
dents’ conceptions; … help students collect evi-
dence to support knowledge claims; allow stu-
dents to generate, formulate, and evaluate their
arguments and other students’ arguments; and
help students make decisions among competing
knowledge claims so they may come to an agreed
upon “outcome space.” (p. 513)
The objective is to transform the classroom into
“a forum for scientific discourse” so that stu-
dents can function as novice researchers.
Ultimately, the practical context is meant to
replace traditional “labs” in the “normal sci-
ence” curriculum. Students who are potential
scientists benefit from practicing as novice sci-
entists, since they are only one step removed
from being apprentices. Even students who
have no intention of becoming scientists benefit
from participating in an authentic activity that
includes creativity and some intellectual chal-
lenge beyond guessing what the lab manual
wants.
3.2 The Theoretical Context
As in scientific research, in the large context
there is an opportunity for both the experi-
mental approach and theoretical model for a
problem to be worked out. There is good rea-
son for the practical and conceptual aspects of
science education to operate side by side. The
reasons go back to the insight that observations
in science tend to be theory-laden.
According to cognitive psychology, under-
standing is a mental process of perceiving and
knowing. Sensory stimuli, such as sight, as-
sume a secondary role. N. R. Hanson suc-
cinctly expressed the subordinate nature of sen-
sation to thought when he wrote,
People, not their eyes, see. Cameras and eye-
balls, are blind. Attempts to locate within the or-
gans of sight (or within the neurological reticu-
lum behind the eyes) some nameable called ‘see-
ing’ may be dismissed. That Kepler and Tycho
do, or do not, see the same thing cannot be sup-
ported by reference to the physical states of their
retinas, optical nerves or visual cortices: there is
more to seeing than meets the eyeball. (1958,
pp. 6-7)
What Kepler and Tycho Brahe understood
about the heavens was not dependent primarily
on the observations that they used in their work,
which were the same, but on their understand-
ings about those observations. That Kepler and
Brahe, using the same data, came to different
theories suggests that the process of under-
standing takes place beyond sensory perception.
Cognitive psychology turned the attention of
learning theory decisively to the active cognitive
processes of the individual, and early propo-
nents of this view, for example, Hanson, saw ev-
idence for active cognitive processes in the his-
tory of science.
Other early views of cognitive processes, like
that of Chomsky about inherent learning abili-
ties, implied that science understanding, like
language understanding, stemmed from a com-
plex cognitive structure. Piaget was sympa-
10 S. Klassen
thetic to Chomsky’s thesis about language learn-
ing and pointed out (1968) that his work, like
Chomsky’s, rejected the empiricist-behavioris-
tic view. Piaget reflected that “I find myself op-
posed to the view of knowledge as a copy, a pas-
sive copy, of reality” (1968, par. 24). The em-
piricists considered logic as a linguistic conven-
tion whereas Chomsky saw language as based
on innate reason (Piaget, 1968). Cognitive
structures, such as language learning ability,
were seen by Chomsky as innate to the learner.
This early static view of cognitive abilities may
be similar to the notion of innate abilities such
as “scientific ability”.
Piaget’s view of science learning, however,
emerged as a much more dynamic entity. The
alternative view of Piaget, which did much to
promote the cognitive-psychological and con-
structivist paradigms and the emerging philoso-
phy of science, is articulated by Piaget in the fol-
lowing excerpt:
The current state of knowledge is a moment in
history, changing just as rapidly as the state of
knowledge in the past has ever changed and, in
many instances, more rapidly. Scientific
thought, then, is not momentary, it is not a static
instance; it is a process. More specifically, it is a
process of continual construction and reorgani-
sation. This is true in almost every branch of sci-
entific investigation. (1968, par. 3)
Piaget and other members of the new cogni-
tive, constructivist, and philosophical para-
digms saw a similarity between historical
knowledge developments and knowledge struc-
tures of the mind as no accident (Duschl, Ham-
ilton, & Grandy, 1990; Piaget, 1968). The his-
torical development of scientific knowledge was
postulated to hold valuable information as to
how knowledge developed in the individual. In
this sense, the historical recapitulation thesis is
not unreasonable, seeing that both the science
student and the scientist use dynamic cognitive
processes to assimilate information about the
world. Although the scientist is a highly excep-
tional and gifted individual, she or he employs
cognitive processes similar to everyone else, ac-
cording to cognitive psychology.
The views of learning of Piaget had a pro-
found influence on Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn states:
“Part of what I know about how to ask questions
of dead scientists has been learned by examining
Piaget’s interrogations of living children”
(Kuhn, 1977, p. 21). One of Kuhn’s major con-
tributions was to challenge the separation of
philosophy and psychology (Giere, 1992). Two
notions on which philosophy of science and
cognitive psychology came to agree were in the
notions of theory-ladenness and the importance
of context. The philosophy of science, espe-
cially in Kuhn’s formulation, saw all experi-
mental observation as being theory-laden. Ac-
cording to Kuhn's thesis, the paradigm deter-
mines how a community of scientists will see the
world, what questions they will find interesting,
and what kinds of solutions to problems are
possible. The understandings of a paradigm
dictate the interpretation given to observations
and even what kinds of observations can be
made (Kuhn, 1962/1996). Hanson stated as
early as 1958 that “a theory is not pieced to-
gether from observed phenomena; it is rather
what makes it possible to observe phenomena as
being of a certain sort, and as related to other
phenomena” (p. 90). More recently, the philos-
opher of science Paul Churchland writes that
theory-ladenness is natural to all cognitive ac-
tivity (1992).
A moderate interpretation of theory-laden-
ness is that all observation must take place from
a particular conceptual perspective in order for
meaningful interpretation to take place. In this
form theory-ladenness is a fairly unproblematic
assumption and has important consequences
for student work. One would expect that in or-
der for students to develop an understanding of
science the theoretical aspects could not be di-
vorced from the practical aspects. In line with
this insight, Derek Hodson maintains that “stu-
dents can only develop their procedural
knowledge and process skills within particular
theoretical contexts” (1993, p. 111). Gil-Pérez
(1996) further proposes as a fundamental as-
sumption in science education that learning sci-
entific knowledge, learning about the nature of
Contextual Science Teaching 11
science, and doing science are inseparable. One
might say that in order for significant learning
to take place students must engage in practical
work together with the manipulation of ideas
(Lunetta, 1998).
The “manipulation of ideas” of the theoreti-
cal context is meant to replace paradigm exem-
plars of the type that students learn in normal
science education. As was discussed earlier,
normal science education relies heavily on end
of chapter questions to provide student learning
experiences. These problems are usually con-
trived and remote from students’ life experi-
ences. In contrast, problems in the theoretical
context emerge as a natural necessity in the
course of investigations. Ideas or concepts take
on meaning as they are naturally generated by
the context. The theoretical context, however,
is dependent on the practical context to provide
a well-rounded learning opportunity. As in the
practical context, students are cast into the role
of being novice researchers.
3.3 The Social Context
The process of learning also contains a number
of important contextual factors or influences.
Many psychologists and educators have pointed
out the importance of the social element in pro-
moting learning. Especially influential in advo-
cating the positive social influence on learning
is the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978)
who developed a cognitive theory of learning,
before his premature death in 1934, which pos-
tulates a social context of varying strength that
facilitates learning, which he called the zone of
proximal development. According to Vygot-
sky, students, when they operate within their
“zone of proximal development”, facilitate the
learning of concepts and the solving of problems
in a particularly efficient manner. Canadian
science educator Jeffrey Bloom (1992) compares
the manner in which students learn science in
groups to the manner in which scientists “do
science”. In both situations, common beliefs of
the social group contribute to its cohesiveness.
The resulting social structure reinforces the de-
velopment of a “school science” or Kuhn’s “nor-
mal science”, as the case may be, where anoma-
lies or contradictions can place stresses on either
the school or professional scientific social struc-
ture by introducing divergent views.
Again, the analogy of student as novice re-
searcher requires that the school experience
should contain real-life elements implying that
learning together with others should be a major
element in classroom activity. The term “coop-
erative learning” is generally applied to groups
of students from the same class working to-
gether (Herreid, 1998; Johnson & Johnson,
1989). Cooperative learning, as a movement,
began with the American desegregation process
in junior high schools (Slavin, 1980). One of the
major goals then was the facilitation of positive
ethnic relations. Since then, other potential
benefits of cooperative learning have come to
light and dominate the reasons for employing
the technique. Cooperative learning has grown
to be a major educational movement in its own
right and may be one of the most investigated
classroom methods in educational research
(Herreid, 1998). David and Roger Johnson of
the University of Minnesota are probably the
most cited in the field of cooperative learning
and their five elements of cooperative learning
are universally quoted when introducing the
topic. The five essential elements of successful
cooperative learning as formulated by Johnson
and Johnson (1989) are 1) positive interdepend-
ence 2) individual accountability 3) face-to-face
promotive interaction, 4) use of teamwork
skills, and 5) group processing.
In a cooperative learning group, each mem-
ber must believe that she or he cannot succeed
without the other members and that others can-
not succeed without her or him, yet any group
member cannot ride on the coattails of another,
and each one must make a genuine contribu-
tion. Face-to-face interaction makes possible
oral explanations of how to solve problems and
generally fosters a supportive atmosphere. As
12 S. Klassen
the group members learn to work together, they
will develop skills in leadership, organization,
communication, and conflict management. As
the work progresses, it is essential that the group
assesses how well they are doing and whether
they are likely to meet their goals.
Although cooperative learning is a very ac-
tive field with numerous published strategies on
its implementation, incorporating it would ben-
efit from knowledge about its theoretical foun-
dations. A theoretical basis for cooperative
learning is found in the work of the Russian psy-
chologist Lev Vygotksy (Doolittle, 1997), whose
major works were not published until after his
death in 1934. Vygotsky was the primary origi-
nator of social constructivism, a theory of learn-
ing that assumes the importance of social factors
in knowledge acquisition (Matthews, 1994).
3.3.1 A Theoretical Basis for Cooperative Learning
The most well-known component of Vygot-
sky’s theory of learning is his zone of proximal
development. Vygotsky, like other cognitive
psychologists and constructivists, believed that
“concepts are not ready made” (Vygotsky,
1934/1986, p. 161). In their view, the learner
actively constructs concepts as the result of so-
cial interaction. The student’s potential for
cognitive growth is limited, on the one hand,
by what the student is able to accomplish on
her or his own and, on the other hand, by what
the student is able to accomplish with the help
of a more knowledgeable individual. This
range of learning ability is known as the zone
of proximal development. Vygotsky illustrated
his zone of proximal development by adminis-
tering tests to children either without any in-
tervention or with some hints or clues. He de-
scribes what happened:
Having found that the mental age of two children
was, let us say, eight, we gave each of them harder
problems than he could manage on his own and
provided some slight assistance; the first step in a
solution, a leading question, or some other form
of help. We discovered that one child could, in
cooperation, solve problems designed for twelve-
year-olds, while the other could not go beyond
problems intended for nine-year-olds. The dis-
crepancy between a child's actual mental age and
the level he reaches in solving problems with as-
sistance indicates the zone of his proximal devel-
opment. … Can we really say that their mental
development is the same? Experience has shown
that the child with the larger zone of proximal de-
velopment will do much better in school. This
measure gives a more helpful clue than mental
age does to the dynamics of intellectual progress.
(1934/1986, p. 187)
The gap in difficulty between what the student
could do on his own to what “he” could do with
assistance corresponds to the zone of proximal
development. The normal process of learning
in Vygotsky’s view is a development from per-
forming difficult tasks with assistance to per-
forming the same level of task independently.
When the student moves from the assisted end
of the zone of proximal development to the in-
dependent end, development is greater than if
the student were to attempt learning activities
entirely on his or her own. Vygotsky’s theory
tells us that the primary benefit of cooperative
learning will be to enable students to master per-
forming difficult tasks or understanding con-
cepts. Any implementation strategy must
therefore seek to structure tasks so that there is
adequate opportunity for students to work with
others during the learning process.
The benefit of cooperation in assisting learn-
ing is a relatively uncontroversial fact. The ben-
efits are likely to accrue not only in the form of
improved learning of academic content, but in
the learning of scientific and life skills related to
social organization and leadership. In our con-
text, making use of the assistance to the learning
process naturally provided by cooperative learn-
ing requires careful attention to the structuring,
organizing, and evaluating of group activities
that are a part of the large context.
Contextual Science Teaching 13
3.4 The Historical Context
When concepts being considered are not at the
forefront of research, but rather, a part of
“school science”, then the historical background
becomes an important factor, as has been
pointed out by numerous educators (Matthews,
1994; Monk & Osborne, 1997; Stinner, 1995;
Stinner & Williams, 1998, Winchester, 1989).
School science, unlike professional science,
tends to be curriculum-dominated and text-
book-centered. This is one of the main reasons
that students tend to see science as “boring” or
irrelevant. School science lacks the vitality of
investigation, discovery, and creative invention
that often accompanies science-in-the-making.
For these motivational reasons and for various
scientific, pedagogical, cultural, and philosoph-
ical reasons, it is desirable to integrate the his-
torical element into science teaching. Indeed, I
would argue that the desirability of the appro-
priate use of the historical approach should be
taken for granted. The humanizing and clarify-
ing influence of history of science brings the sci-
ence to life and enables the student to construct
relationships that would have been impossible
in the traditional decontextualized manner in
which science has been taught (Cohen,
1950/1993; Jung, 1994; Kipnis, 1996; Koul &
Dana, 1997).
Pedagogical considerations necessitate
adopting the contextual view of knowledge ac-
quisition and provide not only a firmer basis for
justifying the inclusion of history of science, but
also a basis for developing an approach for using
that history in teaching. However, the develop-
ment of any pedagogical approach that is meant
to utilize history of science cannot proceed
without considering what interpretation of his-
tory is to guide the selection and adaptation of
historical materials.
History of science is subject to a broad spec-
trum of possible interpretations. On the one
end of the spectrum is what Herbert Butterfield
(1931/1959) called the whig approach to history
in which history of science is viewed in light of
current knowledge. Implicit in this approach is
the assumption that current knowledge is supe-
rior to the knowledge of past scientists. Various
terms have been applied to the “whig” approach,
including vertical history (Mayr, 1990), and an-
achronical history (Kragh, 1987). The whig ap-
proach to interpreting history has been much
criticized as an illegitimate view of the history of
science (Butterfield, 1931/1959; Mayr, 1990).
Critics of the whig approach object to applying
current days’ standards to history because his-
torical figures operated in a different environ-
ment with different assumptions and standards
than they do today. On the other end of the
spectrum of approaches is the localized view in
which history is interpreted only in light of the
knowledge and context of the time and place in
question. This approach, referred to as hori-
zontal history by Mayr and diachronical history
by Kragh, has been criticized on the grounds
that history cannot be interpreted when com-
parisons to the larger context cannot be made
(Mayr, 1990; Kragh, 1987). Furthermore, it has
been claimed that purely diachronical history is
uninteresting to the non-specialist in that it is a
chronology of events restricted to the local con-
text (Mayr, 1990; Kragh, 1987).
Beyond the spectrum of historiography for
historians of science, which runs from the whig
to the localized extremes, there are also internal
histories of science written primarily by scien-
tists, some of who participated in the events
about which they wrote many years later. Such
histories of sciencewritten by scientists for
scientists and science studentsserve a differ-
ent purpose from specialist histories written by
historians for historians or students of history.
Since the development of internal history is not
subject to the same criticism as it would be
within the disciplinary environment of history
and since it serves different purposes, it quickly
takes on a static nature. The purposes of such
histories are to provide legitimization for the
science, to aid in the socialization of novices,
and to pass on exemplars that will be used as
models for problem-solving (Kragh, 1987). In-
ternal history provides an official version of the
14 S. Klassen
roots of the discipline that tends to romanticize
the events and portray science as an inevitable
consequence of the force of progress. Each
event is portrayed as if it were a certain outcome
of the carefully-chosen preceding events. What
the reader of such history likely does not know
is that many historical details, some of them ar-
guably relevant, have been omitted. Internal
history of science has been called ideological, of-
ficial, or mythical history (Kragh, 1987). Ex-
posing students only to this version of history
encourages a distorted view of the nature of sci-
ence and may have unintended consequences.
Recently, Pedro Goldman, chair of the Division
of Physics Education of the Canadian Associa-
tion of Physicists, shared with me his observa-
tion that many younger students will not con-
sider pursuing studies in physics because they
believe that all the discoveries in physics have al-
ready been made and that physics is boring be-
cause there is nothing new. Such a view is likely
the outcome of the portrayal of physics, through
its mythical history, as the inevitable outcome of
the force of progress. Ideological histories often
will not include alternative explanations of phe-
nomena, alternative theories, failed experi-
ments, the inevitable sense of uncertainty, and
episodes of debate and controversy. Internal
histories, because they tend to be, in a way, per-
sonal, do not portray history of science in the
manner advocated by Ian Winchester“warts
and all” (1989).
As an example of the pervasiveness of
pseudo or mythical histories of science, I refer to
the popular and widely-used video series, The
Mechanical Universe and Beyond. In episode
24, the topic “Particles and Waves” is intro-
duced. In interpreting Robert Millikan’s exper-
iments performed up to 1916 to measure the
photoelectric effect the narrator of the video
states:
When he measured the energies of electrons
ejected from various metals by different frequen-
cies of light, Millikan verified that while each
metal has a different work function, Planck’s con-
stant has the same universal value for all of them.
But this explanation of the photoelectric effect
not only confirmed Planck’s theory, it showed di-
rectly that bundles of energy already exist in the
electromagnetic field. (California Institute of
Technology, 1987)
However, this popular presentation of his-
torical events misrepresents Millikan’s motiva-
tion. Millikan did not set out to verify, even in-
directly, Planck’s radiation formula or Ein-
stein’s photon concept, which he did not accept.
He simply sought to establish the mathematical
form of the relationship between ejected elec-
tron maximum energy and incident light fre-
quency, not any particular theory behind the re-
lationship (Kragh, 1992). Helge Kragh agrees
with Thomas Kuhn that such quasi-histories of
science are intended to “make students believe
that they are participants in a grand historical
tradition which has progressed cumulatively
and according to definite methodological
norms” (Kragh, 1992, p. 359). As I postulated
earlier, such distorted views of the history of sci-
ence may serve to produce negative attitudes to-
wards science in young science students.
Although there is the potential for produc-
ing ideological and mythical histories of science
that encourage misconceptions about science
and history, there is also the possibility of har-
nessing history for the sake of conceptual clari-
fication. On the one hand, school science has
produced what might be called conceptual distil-
lation, largely a distillation of history of science,
which, like mythical history, fosters a distorted
view of science. On the other hand, a balanced
view of the origins of concepts can be utilized
for conceptual clarification in the way that the
physicist Maxwell explained long ago: “science
is always most completely assimilated when it is
in the nascent state” (1873/1904, p. xi). One
way that history of science can illuminate cur-
rently-accepted concepts in science is to attempt
to reconstruct the development of these con-
cepts. In order to be truly useful, such a history
must include the struggle to explain newly dis-
covered phenomena by means of competing
theories. Seeing how scientists put forth alter-
native explanations and finally settled on one
explanation and how that explanation had to be
Contextual Science Teaching 15
modified as time went on will be useful in help-
ing students come to a deeper understanding of
current theory.
In view of the preceding discussion, history
of science that is to be used for pedagogical pur-
poses must tread a fine line through the pitfalls
of extremes that could conceivably arise in in-
terpreting history. Obviously, the origins of
ideas must relate to the current understanding,
which is the point from which history must, of
necessity, be approached in education. How-
ever, a merely logical reconstruction of past
events that produces pseudo-history, as in the
example above, must be avoided. History must
be placed in its original context, while relating it
to our current views, in a manner that respects
the originators and portrays them in a fair and
balanced way. The objective of accuracy or
faithfulness to the historical record must, in
turn, be balanced against the demands of a cur-
riculum that limit the depth to which the history
can be probed. Lastly, it should be realized that
the place of history is not only to make a con-
ceptual point but also to introduce the human-
istic element into the process of learning sci-
ence. Portraying scientists as human beings
and giving students the opportunity to become
affectively involved in the story of science are
worthy goals in themselves.
3.4.1 Content Analysis of Original Sources
The preferred approach to history of science in
the educational setting could be described as an
authentic approach. An obvious way to provide
authentic history is to incorporate the original
writing of historical figures. However, original
writings may not always be suitable for student
use. The analysis of original texts for their suit-
ability could be regarded as a form of content
analysis. That original writings need to be in-
corporated sensitively, if used at all, is mani-
festly demonstrated by Fritz Kubli (1998, 1999)
in a study in which high school students were
asked to rate various approaches to science
teaching, including original texts, narratives,
and historical experiments. Original texts met
with general disapproval from the students.
However, others (Fowler, 2003; Holbrow, Am-
ato, Galvez, & Lloyd, 1995) have used original
texts with considerable success. In my own ex-
perience, the acceptance of original texts by stu-
dents depends, first of all, on the level of mathe-
matical difficulty and the degree of student fa-
miliarity with the mathematical notation. Mi-
chael Fowler of the University of Virginia makes
the same observation (2003). The teacher must
be aware of the mathematical preparedness of
students and make sure that original papers do
not contain mathematics that is too advanced
for students. Content analysis consists of a crit-
ical reading of the historical material to check
for the level of difficulty of the mathematics.
The level must match the mathematical prepar-
edness of the students, something about which
every good physics teacher is knowledgeable.
There are several other barriers to incorpo-
rating original sources. A second obstacle to
the effective use of original sources is possible
miscommunication due to discrepancies be-
tween the original and the contemporary mean-
ings of technical and scientific terms, for exam-
ple, the evolving meaning of “force” (Stinner,
1994). In this case, the evolution of the mean-
ing of any such term used in original texts
should be explicitly discussed with students be-
fore they read them. A third obstacle may be
unfamiliarity with an older form of the language
being employed in original texts, but that has
not dissuaded other disciplines from incorpo-
rating such texts as, for instance, the inclusion
of Shakespeare’s works in English Language
Arts curricula. The length of original texts can
become another obstacle, due to constraints of
time in teaching, and often original texts must
be excerpted. Obscure mathematical symbol-
ism may pose another difficulty and result in the
necessity to translate it into a more familiar for-
16 S. Klassen
mat for students, one that allows the mathemat-
ical techniques to remain essentially the same as
the original (Kragh, 1987). Content analysis
will consist of a critical reading of the historical
material to check for the degree of obscurity of
mathematical notation. Another possible
weakness in content is that original historical
material often appears as a chronology. Stu-
dents will, however, respond more positively to
materials presented in a narrative form (Kubli,
1998, 1999). Ideally, history must be recast into
story form, using details that are historically ac-
curate. The story is differentiated from a chro-
nology in that it contains an intentional element
(Egan, 1978; Martin, 1986; Prince, 1973; Reid,
1977). The addition of an intentional element
to historical narrative requires historical inter-
pretation because the historical facts often do
not provide motivations and reasons for occur-
rences. It may be necessary to add plausible de-
tails that do not contradict known historical
facts. Further consideration of the nature of
stories is a study in its own right and must be
reserved for another paper.
3.5 The Affective Context and Narrative
The important role played by the emotions in
learning has been recognized only recently.
Relevant, in this regard, is the research on emo-
tion and rationality by neurobiologist Antonio
Damasio. Damasio has studied human subjects
who have lost the ability to communicate infor-
mation about emotions from one part of the
brain to the other. As a result, he has been able
to support his hypothesis relating emotion and
reason, which states that the emotions act as an
arbitrator in rational decision-making and that
without access to one’s emotions, it is impossi-
ble to plan and make rational decisions (Dama-
sio, 1994). Educator Douglas Barnes demon-
strates, in a research study of student group
learning, that “unless pupils are willing to take
the risk of some emotional commitment they
are unlikely to learn” (1992, p. 87). Cognitive
psychologist Pierce Howard, in a popular review
of current neurobiological research, further ex-
plains the role of emotions in learning this way:
“Experience arouses emotion, which fixes atten-
tion and leads to understanding and insight,
which results in memory” (Howard, 2000,
p. 549).
At issue is the means by which emotion
could be aroused in an appropriate manner in
the teaching and learning situation. Although
motivation, an affective factor, is clearly also in-
volved in the practical, theoretical, social, and
historical contexts, I wish to focus on the pow-
erful ability of story-narrative to engage the
emotions. Educator Kieren Egan (1989a, b) has
long advocated the story form as a method of
engaging students’ emotions. Egan argues that
the story form of presentation of curriculum
materials stimulates the imagination and evokes
emotional response, thereby producing learning
that students more easily assimilate with long-
term memory than learning produced by drill-
ing and memorizing. The listener to, or reader
of, a story engages with the story because she or
he is encouraged to participate vicariously in the
experiences of the protagonist. The kind of mo-
tivation produced by story is intrinsic, as op-
posed to the extrinsic motivation produced by a
prescriptive teaching and learning episode
(Mott, et. al., 1999). Furthermore, the story pro-
vides an organizing structure for related
knowledge and experiences (Mandler, 1984).
Although it is evident that the story form of
narrative is involved in constructively tapping
students’ emotions, aside from Egan’s work, and
the more recent work of Kubli (1998, 1999), not
much has been written on how stories in science
may be constructed. Nevertheless, it is apparent
that a well-crafted story arouses emotions
which, in turn, contribute to the integration of
the story details with long-term memory.
Contextual Science Teaching 17
4 A Schema for the Contextual Approach
Of the specialized contexts described above,
each has involved a branch of specialization in
areas of education, philosophy, sociology, or
psychology. The complexity of contexts sug-
gests that there are at least five distinct contexts
of science learning. As I have demonstrated,
they are the 1) practical, 2) theoretical, 3) social,
4) historical, and 5) affective contexts. These
contexts, to the degree that they are present in a
learning situation, interact with one another
and cannot be considered in isolation. It is pos-
sible and, indeed, desirable for learning to take
place in more than one context at a time; for ex-
ample, a class may operate in historical, social,
practical, and theoretical contexts in group re-
capitulation of Ohm’s investigation of electrical
resistance.
Even though these contexts naturally oper-
ate together in typical learning situations, it is
the affective context, created by a story, which
can produce the incentive desired at the begin-
ning of a lesson. The story focuses attention and
motivates, which is why it is a good starting
point for any learning episode. For that reason,
I have chosen to call my theoretical framework
for contextual teaching the Story-Driven Con-
textual Approach (SDCA). The approach can
be summarized in a diagrammatic fashion (see
Figure 1). Such a diagram, while it could argu-
ably be called a “representation of the problem-
atic in terms of the familiar”, as a model might
be defined, would best be called a conceptual
scheme or, in short, a schema. The SDCA
schema is built around the definition of context
given earlier: “the entities that connect to or sur-
round a focal entity and contribute to the mean-
ingfulness of the whole.” The five contexts re-
late to the concept or ability that students are at-
tempting to learn. The learning process takes
place amid the relevant contexts and is repre-
sented by the circle in Figure 1. Students will
bring their ideas, attitudes, prior knowledge,
and experiences to the whole learning process
and, if the experience is to be considered a suc-
cess, they will leave with somewhat changed
(new) ideas, attitudes, knowledge, and skills.
The story is visualized as a component en-
tering the learning process. Two ways in which
this might be done is by means of readings or by
means of a story told by the teacher. After the
story, students are encouraged to formulate a set
Figure 1: A Schema for the Story-Driven Contextual Approach
18 S. Klassen
of related problems that they might address, or,
alternatively, the teacher might supply the ques-
tions that are to form the basis for a group stu-
dent investigation. The investigation is expected
to have more than one componentperhaps an
experimental as well as a theoretical portion.
Furthermore, in the model of student as novice
researcher, the teacher plays the role of research
leader and provides expert advice and supervi-
sion as the students begin to formulate ideas and
perform activities. The teacher is not seen as di-
rectly affecting the minds of the students by way
of an input, but as a director of activities, affect-
ing the output of the process. Placing the role
of the teacher one step removed from the center
communicates the perspective that students are
to be given a high degree of responsibility for
their own learning. Finally, the students will
present a report on their investigations. This
may be either in the form of a written or verbal
report, although, my experience has shown that
students show significantly more enthusiasm
over being able to report results to their fellow
students verbally.
5 Conclusion
I conclude by referring, first, to the meaning of
history and its relation to science and then to its
relation to story. R. G. Collingwood (1945) has
argued that history is a more fundamental form
of thought than science. He writes that
the scientist who wishes to know that … an event
has taken place in the world of nature can know
this only by consulting the record left by the ob-
server and interpreting it, subject to certain rules,
in such a way as to satisfy himself that the man
whose work it records really did observe what he
professes to have observed. This consultation
and interpretation of records is the characteristic
feature of historical work. … I conclude that nat-
ural science as a form of thought exists and al-
ways has existed in a context of history, and de-
pends on historical thought for its existence. (pp.
176–177)
What Collingwood describes about scientific
work appears very much like the process of his-
toriography. Scientific records exclude the hu-
man dimension of the work that brought about
certain scientific conclusions or theories in sci-
ence. In that sense, science is a specialized ra-
tional reconstruction of history. Perhaps it
would not be an exaggeration to say that science
has become a form of dehumanized and decon-
textualized history. The only way to interest
young students in science is to portray it differ-
entlymore realistically from the human and
contextual perspective. A higher degree of en-
gagement will be achieved by including practi-
cal, theoretical, social, historical, and affective
contexts with each learning situation. Implicit
in the SDCA is the objective of humanizing sci-
ence through its history. Furthermore, the
SDCA approach attempts to make use of some
innate features of learning. Likely, Whitehead
(1929) pinpointed some innate features of
learning when he observed that all of learning is
based on a cycle of romance, precision, and gen-
eralization. In the case of the Story-Driven
Contextual Approach, the romance is portrayed
in beginning the sequence with the science
story. The stage of precision is gained by stu-
dents when they tackle difficult problems. Gen-
eralization is achieved when students summa-
rize their results, compare them to the results of
the others, and present their conclusions to a
wider audience. The stage of romance should
not be underemphasized at any student level,
since it entails the affective aspects that produce
learning that is more likely to last. Similarly, the
stage of generalization produces a type of moti-
vation that also contributes to long-term learn-
ing. However, underlying these considerations
is the story-form. In the words of educators Nel
Noddings and Carol Witherell,
we learn from stories. More important, we come
to understandourselves, others, and even the
subjects we teach and learn. Stories engage us. …
Contextual Science Teaching 19
Stories can help us to understand by making the
abstract concrete and accessible. What is only
dimly perceived at the level of principle may be-
come vivid and powerful in the concrete. Fur-
ther, stories motivate us. Even that which we un-
derstand at the abstract level may not move us to
action, whereas a story often does. (1991, pp.
279–280)
Given that stories aid understanding, cause en-
gagement, and produce motivation, and even
help us to understand ourselvesall essentials
of learninggiven that the narrative form also
enhances retention and long-term memory, and
given that models of learning are so closely
aligned with the model of the Story-Driven
Contextual Approach, the appropriate use of the
story form in science teaching can, indeed, be-
come a heuristic teaching device that is not only
attractive, but also self-sustaining.
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About the Author
Stephen Klassen is a Senior Scholar at The University of Winnipeg.
His Ph.D. (University of Manitoba) is in Science Education, and his
background is in experimental physics. Dr. Klassen’s current re-
search is in the writing, analysis, and use of history-of-science stories
in science teaching. His work, in part, is published in Science & Edu-
cation, Science Education, Interchange, and Physics Education. Since
1997, he has presented papers regularly at the periodic International
Conference on History of Science in Science Education (ICHSSE)
and has contributed significantly to its organization, especially in co-
chairing the Planning Committee. As of 2001, he has been actively
involved in the International History, Philosophy, and Science
Teaching Group (IHPST) in various capacities: presenting at most of
its conferences, assuming the role of Program Chair in 2003, and serving on its governing Council from 2010
through 2014 and the Editorial Committee of Science & Education from 2011 through 2013.
... This is possible because learners develop a degree of moral reasoning when they discuss and evaluate ethical concerns before they make informed decisions in resolving real life problems (Zeidler & Nichols, 2009). SSIs in science are vastly becoming more prominent in effective science teaching and learning as a way of acknowledging that science should be contextual in nature (Reis & Galvão, 2009;Klassen, 2006;Rundgren & Rundgren, 2010). They are fundamental in the selection of activities or tasks to be done, which depends upon the teachers' decision in the selection of material to scaffold learning (Reis & Galvão, 2009). ...
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... Grande parte da literatura na área é de natureza teórica, tentando estabelecer características de narrativas que contribuirão para o ensino do conteúdo científico e da natureza da ciência. Exemplos de narrativas que foram usadas nas salas de aula também são encontrados (Avraamidou, & Osborne, 2009;Clough, 2011;Klassen, 2006Klassen, , 2007Klassen, , 2009Klassen, & Froese Klassen, 2014;Metz, et al., 2007;Norris, et al., 2005;Schiffer, & Guerra, 2014) ...
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... The arguments for the integration of the history and philosophy of science with science curricula were made by Matthews (1994) and later elaborated by Justi and Gilbert (1999), including four dimensions: (1) teaching students about the nature of science, (2) enabling teachers to making use of parallels between the development of personal subject-matter knowledge and the historical development of subject-matter knowledge, (3) enhancing students' capacities for critical thinking, and (4) enabling teachers to address practical problems of instruction, such as the facilitation of the cross-curricular integration. While these four dimensions primarily address the cognitive and conceptual aspects of science, Klassen (2006) suggested that the humanistic element of HOS should be integrated into the science learning process, allowing students to become affectively involved in the history of science. Based on Klopfer's (1969) argument that the history of science would prepare a scientifically literate individual who develops understanding in the conceptual, procedural, and contextual aspects of science, Wang and Marsh (2002) proposed a three-dimensional framework for HOS in science teaching, which has been adopted in the empirical studies of Wang and Marsh (2002) and Wang and Cox-Petersen (2002). ...
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... Science learning encourages students to practice directly, thereby helping students build understanding of true science concepts, followed by investigations to prove scientific truth in such learning. In this approach, students are trained to do practical work to help them answer previously uncommon questions and to explain theory by building experiments in order to test hypotheses (Klassen, 2006). ...
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هدف اصلی این مقاله، بسط علایق علم و بررسی پیامدهای آن برای آموزش علوم طبیعی است. برای این منظور با استفاده از روش‌های توصیف، تحلیل، استنتاج و مفهوم‌پردازی ابتدا به علایق علم نزد هابرماس با سه وجه فنی، عملی و رهایی‌بخش پرداخته می‌شود. سپس رویکرد ماری هسه دربارۀ جنبۀ تفسیری و تأویلی علوم طبیعی مورد بررسی قرار می‌گیرد. پس از آن، به نظرات مارتین اِگِر دربارۀ علاقه کیهان‌شناختی و سرکوب آن در تعلیم‌وتربیت پرداخته می‌شود. در بخش بعد ضمن پیشنهاد رشتۀ «مطالعات علم» به‌عنوان «علایق استعلایی علم» به بسط علایق علم می‌پردازیم. سپس به پیامدهای چهار زیرعلاقۀ تاریخ علم، فلسفه علم، جامعه‌شناسی علم و روانشناسی علم، پرداخته می‌شود. در نهایت با ابتنای بر یافته‌های پژوهش، رویکرد و روش جدیدی با­ عنوان «آموزش علم علاقه‌محور» پیشنهاد می‌گردد. نتایج این پژوهش حاکی از آن است که لحاظ علایق استعلایی در کنار علایق فنی و کیهان‌شناختی در آموزش علوم طبیعی، و استفاده از آموزش علم علاقه‌محور، تصویر جامع‌تر و کامل‌تری از علم ارائه داده، ضمن تسهیل و تعمیق فرایند یاددهی-یادگیری علوم، این فرایند را با جذابیت و لذت بیشتری همراه خواهد ساخت.
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