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Learning and teaching science: linking cognitive development and curriculum design


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Cavell, S 2000 , 'Learning and teaching science: linking cognitive development and curriculum design', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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It is well documented that many school students come to science class with a variety of
'alternative conceptions' and that these remain largely untouched by teaching. This thesis
describes research work that determined, analysed, and developed strategies to promote
students' understanding of two physics topics. This research looked at the learning and
teaching of science from both a cognitive and a curriculum perspective.
The principal aims of this research were to investigate students' understanding of 'light' and
of 'sound' in terms of theoretical cognitive models, to design and implement instructional
units on these topics that would facilitate the development of a scientific understanding, and
to monitor changes in the levels of understanding, over the period of the investigation, in
terms of the theoretical models. 'Light and seeing' was the focus of the preliminary
investigation or pilot study; 'sound and hearing' was the main focus of the research.
There were two main components of this research. The first was a psychological
component that utilised a theoretical framework, based on the SOLO Taxonomy of cognitive
functioning, for students' developing understanding of the concept. In the study of 'light and
seeing', the theoretical model of Collis, Jones, Sprod, Watson, and Fraser (1998) was used.
In the study of 'sound and hearing', the theoretical model was formulated by the researcher.
The second component was a curriculum component in which constructivist Teaching Units
for both topics were developed, structured in such a way as to follow the pathways
postulated in the theoretical models of cognitive development. It was the linking of cognitive
developmental theory and curriculum design in science education that set the present
research apart from the work of other researchers.
Conclusions were drawn from this research as to the usefulness of the theoretical models of
cognitive development and of the Teaching Units closely aligned with the theoretical models.
These can be applied both to teaching and to curriculum development. They have the
potential to provide teachers with the tools to improve, not only their teaching, but also the
understanding of their students, in the concept areas discussed in this thesis as well as in a
wide variety of other science concept areas. The potential also exists for the use of the
theoretical models for assessment purposes, and to provide profiles of student achievement.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Cavell, S
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