PHYSICS TEACHER TRAINING: ANALYSIS AND PROPOSALS
 
Daniel Gil-Perez  
University of Valencia, Spain
and      Anna Maria Pessoa de Carvalho  
University of São Paulo, Brazil
 

Science Education Research has shown the existence of striking differences between the goals of curriculum developers and what teachers actually practice ( Cronin-Jones 1991). Those differences have called attention to the influence teachers exert in the implementation of science curricula in high schools. The issue is a major one in a field such as physics that foresees drastic curricular changes (some of which have already been implemented) on this level. On the other hand, there is a high percentage of pupils who fail in physics and pupils' negative attitudes towards science and science learning grow steadily (Yager and Penich 1985).

Those results have broken simplistic views about science teaching as an activity which demands just a sound scientific knowledge and some experience. In other words, those results have made clear that teacher training can not be reduced to just scientific courses , as it has been usually.

A possible solution which has been tried in many countries is to complement the scientific courses with other courses about Education. Which are the results of this orientation?

As McDermott (1990) has shown, university physics courses generally do not provide the type of preparation that teachers should have:

- the lecture format of the classes stimulates passive learning; the future teachers are more accustomed to receiving than to imparting knowledge;

- the standard problems developed in the classroom lead to algorithmic, repetitive, solutions, and fail to stimulate the type of reasoning necessary to approach new situations such as unforeseen issues that students may raise.

- laboratory work calls for sophisticated material not available in secondary schools, and above all, it is restricted to mere verification, like cooking recipes, which gives a reductionist and distorted view of scientific activity.

On the other hand, courses on Education are totally separated from instruction in content, and teachers can not see the interest of those courses in the treatment of their specific teaching and learning problems.

Today, this situation is not acceptable any more since Science Education has experienced an impressive development (Tiberghien 1985, Linn 1987, Viennot 1989), as it becomes a coherent and specific body of knowledge (Gil et all 1991, Hodson 1992). The professional training of physics teachers can be centered on the treatment of physics teaching and learning problems, leading to the acquisition of a theoretical foundation of practice.

Which can be the main implications of science education on physics teacher training?

We shall refer to four points that, according to our way of thinking, are fundamental and clearly constitute a break with the simplistic views of such training. These four fundamental points are: 1) the need of in-depth knowledge of the subject matter to be taught -- knowledge that, by far, surpasses the reductionist overview usually given; 2) questioning of teachers' "common sense" ideas about physics teaching and learning, 3) the acquisition of theoretical knowledge about the learning of physics; and 4) implication in physics education researches and innovation .

1- KNOWING THE SUBJECT MATTER TO BE TAUGHT

No one questions the need for teachers to have in-depth knowledge of what they are to teach. It may seem superfluous to state this point if we take into consideration that, in many countries, teacher training is virtually limited to physics courses plus some pedagogical disciplines (Carvalho and Vianna, 1988). However, we must insist on this point for the reasons pointed out below.

Perhaps as a reaction against the exclusive attention traditionally given to specific content in the teacher preparation, proposals cropped up making these contents relatively unimportant. In most of the on-going teacher training courses, we see that activities tend to focus mainly on innovative methodological proposals, with a striking lack of emphasis on specific content. This attitude sounds like an implicit admission that initial training in this particular is sufficient. However, it is increasingly evident that this initial preparation is insufficient in fact (Krasilchik, 1995), and as Tobin and Espinet (1989) showed in their paper based on science-teacher tutoring and counseling, the lack of scientific knowledge is the main obstacle to teachers' adoption of innovative activities. Pacca and Villani (1992) came up with the same findings when they worked with Brazilian science teachers.

Apart from these points, it is necessary to call attention to the fact that something as apparently simple as "knowing the subject matter to be taught" implies in very diverse professional knowledge (Coll, 1987; Bromme, 1988): knowledge that extends far beyond that traditionally provided in higher education courses. As a matter of fact, knowing the subject matter to be taught should include (Gil and Carvalho 1994):

1.1- knowing the problems that rose the construction of the knowledge to be taught, without which, knowledge seems to have been built up arbitrarily. Knowing the History of Science, not only as a basic aspect of scientific culture, but ultimately, as a means of associating scientific knowledge with the problems that led to the building up of this knowledge (Otero 1985, Matthews, 1990, 1994; Castro and Carvalho, 1995). Above all, knowing what difficulties were faced in the building up of this knowledge; the epistemological obstacles involved; since this knowledge constitutes an essential aid to understanding students' difficulties (Saltiel and Viennot, 1985; Driver, 1994); knowing as well how this knowledge developed and how the various points came to be joined up into one consistent body of knowledge, and , consequently, avoiding static and dogmatic views that distort the very nature of scientific work (Gagliardi and Giordan, 1986);

1.2- knowing the methodological orientations employed in the construction of knowledge. In other words, knowing how researchers approach problems, the most notable features of their activity, and the criteria used to validate theories. This knowledge is essential to the appropriate orientation of laboratory practices, to solving problems, and to the students' construction of knowledge (Gil et alli,, 1991);

1.3- knowing the Science / Technology / Society interactions. This is essential to give a correct image of physics, since scientists' work is not carried out apart from the society in which they live -- it is affected by the problems and circumstances of the historical moment -- and their actions clearly influence the surrounding physical and social environment. It may appear superfluous to insist on this point, but when we analyze our university teaching, we see that it is reduced to the transmission of conceptual content, devoid of the historical, social, and technological features that marked mankind's development;

1.4- acquiring some knowledge of recent scientific developments to transmit a dynamic, non-closed view of physics. It is likewise necessary to acquire knowledge of other related areas to be capable of approaching the "frontier problems", the interactions among the various fields, and unification processes.

1.5- knowing how to choose appropriate content, accessible to students and capable of arousing their interest and given a correct view of physics.

1.6- being prepared to deepen the knowledge acquired during the initial teacher training courses contemplating the scientific advances and curricular changes.

2 - KNOWING TEACHERS' SPONTANEOUS IDEAS ON PHYSICS AND ON TEACHING AND LEARNING PHYSICS

Recent research in science education shows that teachers have ideas, attitudes, and behaviors related to science teaching based on a lengthy "environmental" training period -- the period in which they themselves were students (Hewson and Hewson, 1988). The influence of this incidental training is enormous because it corresponds to reiterated experiences acquired in a non-reflexive manner as something natural, thus escaping criticism.

In fact, as Bell and Pearson (1992) have pointed out, it is not possible to change what teachers and pupils do in the classroom without transforming their epistemology, their conceptions about how knowledge is constructed, their views about science. This is not just a question of the well-known extreme inductivism denounced so many times previously. We have to pay attention to many other distortions (Gil 1993; Hodson 1993; Meichstry 1993; Guilbert and Meloche 1993), as, for instance:

2.1- Extreme inductivism, enhancing 'free' observation and experimentation ('not subject to aprioristic ideas') and forgetting the essential role played by the making of hypotheses and by the construction of coherent bodies of knowledge (theories). On the other hand, in spite of the great importance assigned to experimentation, Science teaching remains purely bookish, quite frequently, with little practical work. For this reason, experimentation keeps the glamour of an 'unaccomplished revolution'. This inductivist vision underlies the orientation of learning as discovery and the reduction of science learning to the process of science.

2.2-A rigid view (algorithmic, exact, infallible... dogmatic). 'Scientific Method' is presented as a linear sequence of stages to be followed step by step.

Quantitative treatment and control are enhanced, forgetting -or even rejecting- everything related to invention, creativity, tentative constructions. Scientific knowledge is presented in its 'final' state, without any reference either to the problematic situations which are at its origin, its historical evolution or to the limitations of this knowledge which appears as an absolute truth not exposed to change.

2.3-An exclusively analytical vision which enhances the necessary division and simplification of the study, but neglects the efforts of unification in order to construct wider bodies of knowledge, the treatment of 'border' problems between different domains. Going in the opposite direction, today there is a tendency to present the unity of nature, not as a result of scientific development but as a starting point.

2.4-A merely accumulative vision. Scientific knowledge appears as the result of a linear development, ignoring crisis and deep restructuring.

2.5- A 'commonsense' view which presents scientific knowledge as clear and 'obvious', forgetting the essential differences between the scientific strategies and the common-sense reasoning. This view is characterized by quick and very confident answers, based on 'evidences'; by absence of doubts or consideration of possible alternative solutions; by the lack of consistency in the analysis of different situations; by reasoning which follow a linear causality sequence. The 'conceptual reductionism' of most science teaching contributes to this common sense view forgetting that a conceptual change can not take place without a simultaneous and profound epistemological and attitudinal change.

2.6- A 'veiled' and elitist view. No special effort is done to make science meaningful and accessible; on the contrary, the meaning of scientific knowledge is hidden behind the mathematical expressions. In this way, Science is presented as a domain reserved for specially gifted minorities, transmitting poor expectations to most pupils and favouring ethnic, social and sexual discriminations.

2.7- An individualistic view. Science appears as the activity of isolated 'great scientists', ignoring the role of cooperative work and of interaction between different research teams.

2.8- A socially 'neutral' view. Science is presented as something elaborated in 'ivory towers', forgetting the complex STS relationships and the importance of collective decision making on social issues related to science and technology.

In contrast to this vision of science out of context, today there is an opposing tendency, in secondary schools, towards a 'sociological reductionism' which limits the science curriculum to the treatment of STS problems and forgets the search for coherence and other essential aspects of science.

This teachers' spontaneous epistemology constitutes a serious obstacle to the renewal of science teaching in as much as it is accepted uncritically as 'common-sense evidence'. However, it is not difficult at all, to generate a critical attitude towards these others commonsense views: For instance, when teachers have the opportunity for a collective discussion about possible distortions of the nature of science transmitted by science teaching, they easily become aware of most of the dangers (Gil-Pérez, et al 1991). In other words, the real danger seems to be the lack of attention to what is usually given as common-sense evidence.

This way teachers begin to question the idea that science teaching does not demand any specific training, being enough the scientific knowledge acquired at the university, some experience and common-sense. They became aware of the need of acquiring a specific theoretical body of knowledge about the physics teaching/learning process.

3 - ACQUIRING THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE PHYSICS TEACHING/LEARNING PROCESS

We have to refer here mainly to the constructivist approach, which is considered today as the most outstanding contribution to science education over the last decades (Gruender and Tobin 1991, Moutmer 1995), integrating many research findings. Teachers need to understand, very particularly, that:

3.1- pupils can not be considered as 'tabula rasa', They have preconceptions or 'alternative frameworks' which play an essential role in their learning process ( Viennot 1979, Driver.1986), obliging guiding science learning as a 'conceptual change' (Posner et al 1982) or, better, as a conceptual and epistemological change (Gil and Carrascosa 1990, Dusch and Gitones 1991);

3.2- A meaningful learning demands that pupils construct their knowledge (Resnik 1982);

3.3- To construct knowledge pupils need to deal with problematic situations which may interest them; that obliges them to conceive a science curriculum as a program of activities (Driver and Oldman 1986), that is to say problematic situations that pupils can identify as worth thinking about ( Gil et all 1991; Astolfi 1993);

3.4- The construction of scientific knowledge is a social product associated with the existence of many scientist teams; this suggests organizing pupils in small groups and facilitating the interactions between these groups (Wheatley 1991) and the scientific community, represented by the teacher, by texts, etc

3.5 - the construction of scientific knowledge has axiological commitments: we cannot expect, for instance, that pupils will become involved in a research activity in an atmosphere of 'police control' (Briscoe 1991). This has stimulated research on classroom and school atmosphere (Welch 1985), pupils' (and teachers') attitudes towards science (Schibecci 1984; Yager and Penick 1986) and STS relationships: The construction of knowledge has to be associated with the treatment of problematic situations which appear as relevant and interesting to pupils (Gil- et al 1991), enabling them 'to assume the social responsibilities of attentive citizens or key decision makers' (Aikenhead 1985).

The most important thing is that all these contributions constitute related components of an integrated body of knowledge which is generating the emergence of a constructivist teaching/learning model, capable of displacing the usual transmission/reception one. But, how can teachers acquire, effectively, this theoretical corpus of knowledge to be able to replace the reception learning paradigm by the constructivist one? We shall refer to this problem in the next paragraph.

4 - TEACHERS' INVOLVEMENT IN PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH AND INNOVATION

We have already referred to the ineffectiveness of simple transmission of knowledge, through manuals or courses, in the training of teachers. Such procedures have failed to prepare teachers for new, constructivist oriented, curricula (Briscoe 1991). For many, this constituted an unpleasant surprise: How is it possible that motivated teachers, who participated voluntarily in seminars and courses with the intent of mastering new methods and renewing their teaching, go on teaching as they have always done adapting the innovations to the traditional ways? Teachers themselves are frustrated when they have to affirm that things do not work better than formerly, despite the innovations.

This ineffectiveness of the simple transmission means that other strategies of training are required. Investigations into the learning of science provide valuable suggestions of what these strategies might be.

Teachers, like students, have preconceptions. Just as pupils' learning of science is conceived of as conceptual, epistemological and attitudinal change, so should teachers' learning of didactics. Teachers' knowledge, like students', must build on the previous knowledge they have. There is a close parallel between how change occurs in conceptions of science and how it occurs in conceptions of teaching.

The conditions that Posner et al. (1982) identified as necessary for pupils' conceptual change apply equally well to teachers' didactics change:

1. The teacher must be dissatisfied with existing methods:

2. there must be a new method minimally intelligible that

3. must be plausible, even if at first it contradicts the teacher's former conceptions; and

4. it must be potentially fruitful, resolving anomalies and disfunctions and opening new perspectives for solution of teaching and learning problems.

There should not, however, be a mechanical transfer of strategies used with pupils. Constructivist theory led to some teaching strategies and addressed conceptual change explicitly and directly. Driver and Oldham (1986) summarised such strategies as sequences of 1)identifying pupils' ideas; 2) questioning those ideas, using confronting examples to produce cognitive conflicts; 3) introducing concepts elaborated by scientists, that resolve the conflicts; and 4) using the new ideas in various contexts to promote their full assimilation. If a similar procedure were applied in teacher training, we would elicit beliefs about teaching and learning, then create cognitive conflicts to prepare the teachers for new conceptions, which they would have to be shown are effective in practice.

Such a procedure can quickly produce positive results, as it relies on common sense ideas that many accept uncritically as evidence. After the first impact, however, it becomes an "evil" strategy. What is the consequence of having teachers make explicit their ideas and then questioning their validity? It generates a reserve that inhibits the desired change. In the same way, this argument allowed us to appreciate that the strategy is inadequate for changing pupils' conceptions of science (Gil et al. 1991; Gil & Carrascosa 1995), although with pupils the resistance to systematic questioning of their conceptions is not so obvious.

There is another reason why such strategies can inhibit construction of knowledge. They focus on problems, in which prior knowledge and new ideas are brought together in a tentative way. In this process the initial

conceptions might suffer change or even be questioned radically, but this is not the immediate objective - that remains the solution of the problem that has been posed.

This raises an issue concerning the cognitive conflicts: they will not mean an external questioning of the personal conceptions, nor the systematic recognition of the insufficiencies of one's own reasoning, with its consequent affective implications, but a confrontation of personal ideas, taken as hypotheses, with other hypotheses, as personal as preceding ones. We do not propose to eliminate the cognitive conflicts, but to prevent them from appearing as a confrontation between the personal wrong ideas and the scientific correct ones.

Besides, it is important to take into account that the study of preconceptions has aimed, so far, to detect what pupils, and, now, teachers too, answer in an immediate reply to certain questions; more important than that is what they should have answered if they would have time to reflect critically. Actually, if a collective work of certain depth is facilitated, teachers and pupils are able to question those conceptions uncritically assumed and to construct knowledge consistent with that accepted by the scientific community.

The foregoing considerations suggest that a more fruitful strategy for teacher change consists in involving teachers in research in their own classrooms into teaching and learning of science. In this, teachers might be major members of autonomous teams involving researchers and innovators in the teaching of science. Such a strategy would have the following characteristics:

4.1- Be conceived in an intimate connection with the teaching practice itself, as treatment of the teaching/learning problems posed by such practice.

4.2- Oriented to favour the experiencing of innovating proposals and explicit teaching reflection, questioning "spontaneous" teaching reasoning and behavior, that is, questioning the "natural" character of "what has always been done".

4.3- Designed to:

-incorporate teachers to the investigation and innovation in science teaching and, consequently,

-involve them in the construction of the specific knowledge body of science Teaching and incorporate them to the scientific community in this field.

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Section D4, Analysis of training programs for physics teachers from: Connecting Research in Physics Education with Teacher Education
An I.C.P.E. Book © International Commission on Physics Education 1997,1998
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