Richard White
Monash University, Australia

Although this section of the book is divided into four, all of its parts are closely related. Attitudes to science must influence, and be influenced by, beliefs about classroom practice, and both must affect and be affected by programs of training.

The four chapters in the section were written independently, by authors from widely-separated parts of the world. Such circumstances would increase the likelihood of the chapters presenting unrelated, or even opposed, pictures of what is needed in teaching and the training of teaches. It is significant that they do not; the same theme runs through the chapters by Desautels and Larochelle and by Barros and Elia as through my own with Gunstone, and is consistent with the recommendations that Gil-Perez and de Carvalho make for training.

Such agreement could lead to a bland, uncontroversial section, but instead the implications of these chapters are revolutionary for practice.

Desautels and Larochelle call for fundamental revision of the way that teachers think about science. The main need, they point out, is for teachers to appreciate that science is a human construction. Until teachers do that, they can see no point in taking students' beliefs into account in their teaching, which inevitably will be transmissive with their students docile receivers of established dogma. This is bad enough for science, physics included, but worse when it transfers to students' attitudes to all learning and to their relation to authority. Education has to be a matter of balance. Of course each generation has to acquire the knowledge of the past, but it is tragic if they take that knowledge as settled, final, and the only way of perceiving the world. It would be just as tragic, though in a different way, if they reject the knowledge as sterile, and so throw away all the understanding that their forebears have created.

Barros and Elia discuss how teachers might acquire an appreciation of the nature of science that will foster more effective teaching and learning. They list nine competencies, all of which would be helpful. The ninth is particularly challenging. Of all the professions, I suspect that teaching is the least informed by research. There is no point in complaining about this, or in exhorting teachers to take more notice of research. What could be effective is to involve teachers in research, as Gil-Perez and de Carvalho advocate. Two conditions are necessary. One is perception by teachers that they have time. Although teachers are busy, with stressful days, I have seen examples that suggest they are not so overworked that they could not, given support, reflect on their own classrooms. Instances are Swan and White (1994), Baird and Mitchell (1986), Baird and Northfield (1994), Loughran and Northfield (in press), and White and Mitchell (1994). The support is the second condition. University scholars can provide it, and at the same time would fulfil their own obligations to do research and to maintain contact with school classrooms. Their work with the classroom teachers must, however, be a partnership, not a hierarchical relationship.

Student teachers enter courses of training with attitudes in place, formed by their experiences in school and university classrooms. Their pedagogical training is one place where a beneficial shift in attitude can occur. Gil-Perez and de Carvalho emphasise this opportunity. In doing so, they make a particularly subtle point about the danger of applying the often-cited conditions that Posner, Strike, Hewson and Gertzog (1982) specified for conceptual change. Instead, they list three characteristics for programs that promise to be effective in promoting attitude change among both experienced and inexperienced teachers. The challenge for teacher educators is to design programs with these characteristics.


Baird, J.R., & Mitchell, I.J. (Eds.). (1986). Improving the quality of teaching and learning: An Australian case study - The Peel project. Melbourne: Monash University.

Baird, J.R., & Northfield, J.R. (Eds.). (1992). Learning from the PEEL experience. Melbourne: Authors (Monash University.

Loughran, J.J., & Northfield, J.R. (in press). Opening the classroom door. London: Falmer.

Posner, G.J., Strike, K.A., Hewson, P.W., & Gertzog, W.A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Science Education, 66, 211-227.

Swan, S., & White, R. (1994). The thinking books. London: Falmer.

White, R.T., & Mitchell, I.J. (1994). Metacognition and the quality of learning. Studies in Science Education, 23, 21-37.


Section D, Comments on D2,D3,D4  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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