form to the class, and a permanent record of each student’s response is recorded to help evaluate progress as well as the effectiveness of instruction.
This technology has been used successfully at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to teach physics to a range of students, from non-science majors to engineering and science majors (Dufresne et al., 1996; Wenk et al., 1997; Mestre et al., 1997). The technology creates an interactive learning environment in the lectures: students work collaboratively on conceptual questions, and the histogram of students’ answers is used as a visual springboard for classwide discussions when students defend the reasoning they used to arrive at their answers. This technology makes students’ thinking visible and promotes critical listening, evaluation, and argumentation in the class. The teacher is a coach, providing scaffolding where needed, tailoring “mini-lectures” to clear up points of confusion, or, if things are going well, simply moderating the discussion and allowing students to figure out things and reach consensus on their own. The technology is also a natural mechanism to support formative assessment during instruction, providing both the teacher and students with feedback on how well the class is grasping the concepts under study. The approach accommodates a wider variety of learning styles than is possible by lectures and helps to foster a community of learners focused on common objectives and goals.
The examples above present some effective strategies for teaching and learning science for high school and college students. We drew some general principles of learning from these examples and stressed that the findings consistently point to the strong effect of knowledge structures on learning. These studies also emphasize the importance of class discussions for developing a language for talking about scientific ideas, for making students’ thinking explicit to the teacher and to the rest of the class, and for learning to develop a line of argumentation that uses what one has learned to solve problems and explain phenomena and observations.
The question that immediately occurs is how to teach science to younger children or to students who are considered to be educationally “at risk.” One approach that has been especially useful in science teaching was developed with language-minority grade-school children: Chèche Konnen, which in Haitian Creole means search for knowledge (Rosebery et al., 1992). The approach stresses how discourse is a primary means for the search for knowledge and scientific sense-making. It also illustrates how scientific ideas are constructed. In this way it mirrors science, in the words of Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar (1982:111):