Punggol Primary School
Meaning Making in Science
Teachers find that a significant number of students provide illogical, incorrect and incomplete answers in open-ended questions during pen and paper assessments. This can be due to the difficulties that students face in using scientific language and understanding the purpose of the question. An ICT facilitated learning experience that enables learning with others which simulates an open-ended question has been designed in attempt to address these difficulties. This experience leverages on ICT to provide students with opportunities to make use of scientific language in a meaningful context for deeper understanding. Students' responses are captured, analysed and coded using the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy to measure the changes in students' responses after the intervention.
Through the analysis of students' answers in Science open-ended questions, teachers generally found that students often provide only factual answers which they recalled from lessons. However, they were not able to evaluate or provide analysis of the given question. Students’ responses tend to be at the lower levels of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. This could be due to students having difficulty in understanding the objective of the question and not knowing how to identify required elements and relevant concepts needed to answer the question. In addition, science questions requires students to demonstrate higher order thinking competencies such as analyzing and exploring relations across concepts.
This research involves the provision of an authentic learning context where students were given the opportunity to make meaning from observations and the use of scientific language as they communicate their explanations to their peers about the phenomenon.
The intervention involved the use of visible thinking strategies and argumentation. In the use of visible thinking strategies, students represent their thoughts in the form of text explanation and illustrations to explain the phenomena (meaning making). Argumentation provides opportunities for students to interact with one another through the sharing of ideas. Students get to compare and evaluate their peers’ ideas against their own. To aid the students in their comparison and evaluation of students' artefacts, teachers used the “What’s right?”, “What’s wrong?” and “What’s missing?” structure.
The artefacts (students’ illustrations and text explanations) would then be used as the basis to facilitate argumentation with each other within the group and when they share with members of the other groups via cooperative learning strategy - Expert group presentation. All of these provide platforms for interaction that involve higher order thinking processes. These also promote deeper conceptual understanding and meaning making.
To support and complement the argumentation structure, ICT tools such as Google docs and blogs were used to capture the students' responses. These tools enabled students to interact in an online environment. Their thoughts were captured in the form of written text, allowing them to review the comments and use them as a platform for discussions amongst students.
To facilitate the analysis of students’ responses to open-ended questions, teachers used the levels of thinking in Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to code the students’ answers.
The research is very much guided by Anderson's and Krathwohl's (2001) theory of Continuum of Increasing Cognitive Complexity—from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills (Cognitive Process Dimension of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy). As such, students' difficulty in making meaning of scientific concepts could be due to that were at the lower levels of thinking and meaning making could be deepened when they attain higher levels of thinking. In an attempt to use Bloom's taxonomy as a proxy to students' changes in thinking through the intervention, students' inputs were coded and these codes where then inferred and categorised under the different levels of the taxonomy.
Keys (1994) highlights that students consistently used prior knowledge as a basis for reasoning and such prior knowledge is required in making and explaining predictions. With this, students' experiences in their own unique authentic environments might not be sufficient enough for them to tap on to participate in activities involving higher order thinking. As such, experiences or activities that promotes higher levels of thinking could be introduced to bring about deeper meaning making.
Alton-Lee et. al. (1992) added that the acquisition of knowledge during classroom learning activities involves the students’ minds in identifying associations and creating implications and connections with existing knowledge structures. However, such knowledge and understanding is abstract and challenging for students to work on and improve such abstract thoughts. In order for such abstract thought processes to be made concrete, the use of representations could be considered to translate abstract thoughts into actionable and improvable concrete knowledge artefacts. These knowledge artefacts could then be used to facilitate activities that promote higher levels of thinking.
How does visible thinking strategies support meaning making in science?
A class in the upper primary was selected for this study. The experimental group consisted of 34 students (both middle and low progress). They were grouped into 8 groups.
The topic of the chosen lesson was the Water Cycle; a topic which is difficult for primary school students to grasp as it is an abstract concept. This lesson was crafted to evaluate students’ understanding of the lesson taught on evaporation and condensation.
The students first watched a video on a phenomenon on a Dew Bank, a device that allows water to be collected in a desert. The students then discussed in their groups on what they had observed from the video to establish some basic understanding of what was seen. Then, they recorded their initial thoughts to answer the questions, “Where did the water that the boy drank come from?” and “How did it get into the container? Explain.” on Google form.
Figure 1: The video of a Dew Bank which was posted on the class blog.
The teacher then role modelled, using students’ initial ideas, visible thinking strategies of illustration (drawing on the board) and the argumentation structure of 'What’s right? What’s Wrong? What’s Missing?'. This was part of the teaching instruction to enable students in understanding the processes so that that they would be able to carry out argumentation meaningfully. Students then applied the strategies to further break down their initial responses (posted on Google Docs and collated into an Excel spreadsheet) to the phenomena to make better meaning through the use of scientific concepts and logical reasoning.
Within their own groups, the students then discussed and argued amongst themselves by revisiting their initial posts using the visible thinking strategies of illustrations, text explanations and the argumentation structure to make sense of their initial posts.
Expert Group Presentations (a cooperative learning strategy) was used as a platform for argumentation. A student from each group was sent to the other groups. One expert member stayed behind to share his/her group's responses as well as to respond to queries and counter peer rebuttals from the other groups. Students would then return to their home group to deliberate on the learning points and clarify doubts. Then, the group would decide if further refinements were required before publishing their final post on the blog.
Students’ initial and final posts were analysed and coded using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. These coded texts would then be used as a proxy to ascertain the students' level of thinking.
The whole process was carried out over a week in 6 periods.
Samples of the task sheet (Figure 2) and online Google Doc (Figure 3) are shown below.
Figure 2: Task Sheet
Figure 3: Online Google Doc
To analyse students' level of thinking in making meaning of Science, Revised Bloom's Taxonomy (Figure 4) was used as a tool to code students' initial and final posts.
Figure 4: Bloom's revised Taxonomy
Figure 5: Results of students' coded texts: Initial Post and Final Post
Guided by the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy in the coding of students' responses, students' initial posts were found to mostly belong to two of the lowest levels of thinking and they are remembering and understanding. However, post-intervention postings demonstrated a move to the higher levels of thinking towards analyzing and evaluating with all 8 groups of students. This result was encouraging as the teachers initially thought that the proposed lesson was too challenging for the class. In the analysis of the results, it was also noted that groups which higher initial thinking processes such as groups 5 and 6 improved in their level of thinking in accordance to Bloom's taxonomy.
For most groups (Groups 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8), their initial posts were coded to be at the lower levels of Bloom's taxonomy which are remembering and understanding and with group 7 only at the levels of remembering. Through the intervention process, the students had more time to revisit the context via the video to deepen and refine their understanding of the scenario. The ICT tools afforded students with opportunities to revisit the Blogspot and their friends' post online and also provided platforms for students to have more conversations with their peers (via group and peer rebuttals). In their conversations, they were allowed to illustrate (visual and text) their thoughts into visible thinking artefacts and they could use these artefacts to communicate their thoughts with their peers in order to refine their understanding of the phenomena. These processes enabled the students to carry out higher ordered thinking and it resulted in a more scientific and logical response.
As for groups 5 and 6, they had started off at a higher level (level 4 - analysing) compared to their peers as found from their initial post at the pre-intervention stage. This showed that these groups might be able to handle more challenging scientific questions for future lessons. Within the context of this CoP programme, the intervention further developed them and the two groups attained higher levels of thinking (level 5 - evaluation).
Through the use of visible thinking strategies and argumentation, students were better able to have scientific conversations and made better meaning in their understanding of the concept of water cycle. These strategies assisted them in the refinement of their final posts.
Samples of students' responses are as follows.
Figure 6: The illustration and text explanation
Figure 7: Argumentation structure
Figure 8: The initial and final posting
Students often only remember facts and have difficulties with higher order thinking skills. The activities planned provided opportunities for the groups of students to interact with one another’s ideas. This would engender the higher order thinking processes when students compare and evaluate other’s ideas against their own. This would require students to make their thinking visible to others through their illustration. In turn, this created a platform for the interactive and argumentative processes to take place. The illustration, text explanation and the argumentation structure helped students to put forth their ideas visually and make meaning of their answers. Coupled with the use of the online tools, these helped make students thinking clearer to others.
From this research, the use of visible thinking strategies has benefited this class of students in making meaning in Science and helped them in the answering of open-ended questions. Students used the strategies to break down the questions to aid them in understanding the questions before answering them. Students were also able to evaluate and refine their answers as evident in the data collected from this study.
The use of ICT tools (Google Docs, Excel spreadsheet) provided the students with a platform for discussion and collection of data where they could revisit whenever they needed to beyond the classroom (home or via their smartphones) ; both for the students and the teachers. The Blogspot enabled the teacher to put up videos for discussion, allowing students to revisit the video to collect data and complete the task. These ICT tools enabled students to revisit the site to revise and improve on their responses and made better meaning in their Science Learning. It was also found that allowing students to work from home maximised curriculum time.
The teachers learned that they could benefit from the use of initial posts (online) to better pitch learning materials and vary the intervention further to better meet the different learning needs of the class.
Teachers also realised that ICT tools such as Popplet could be used to capture both written or verbal documentations of peer's rebuttal and presentations. This further allowed students to revisit their own presentations or refine their own answers. They could also use it for future referencing or continue their rebuttal online at home or through their smartphones at any time that they needed to. It would also be easier for teacher to add in feedback and analyse students' understanding.
For 2015, the team plans to introduce the intervention of illustration (visual and text) to the middle level of P3 and P4 students and the intervention of both illustration (visual and text) and the argumentation structure to the upper level of P5 and P6 students. The school is currently looking into the possibility of using another ICT tool, Virtual Video, to further support our students in their journey of learning Science.
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