Backup Punggol Primary School
Meaning Making in Science
Teachers find that students provide illogical, incorrect and incomplete answers in open-ended questions in pen and paper assessments. This can be due to students having difficulty in using scientific language and understanding of the purpose of the question. A learning experience that simulates an open-ended question has been designed. This experience leverages on ICT to provide students with opportunities to make use of scientific language in a meaningful context. Students' responses were captured and analysed for evidences and the extent of levels of thinking in terms of the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy.
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 facing problems in understanding the objective of the question and not knowing how to identify required elements and relevant concepts needed to answer the question. This is also further expounded with the fact that science questions required students to demonstrate high 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 breaking down their scientific concepts, teachers used “What’s right?”, “What’s wrong?” and “What’s missing?” as a simple structure to help them organise their thoughts for meaning making. These 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) .
This research also adopted findings by Keys (1994) that demonstrated students consistently used prior knowledge as a basis for reasoning required in making and explaining predictions. 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.
Piaget et. al. (1973) also mentioned that remembering is the major psychological process involved and that it has to be seen as a complex intellectual activity which is an integral part of intelligence.
How does visible thinking strategies support meaning making in science?
A class in the upper primary was selected for this study. The experimental group consist of 34 students (both middle and low progress). They were grouped into 8 groups.
The topic of the chosen lesson was Water Cycle; a topic which is difficult for primary school students to grasp. This lesson was crafted to evaluate students’ understanding of the lesson taught on evaporation and condensation.
The students watched a video on Dew Bank, a device that allows water to be collected in a desert. Then, the students discussed in their groups on what they had observed from the video to make meaning of it. 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.
The teacher then role modelled using students’ ideas together with the class using visible thinking strategies of illustration (drawing on the board) and the argumentation structure of 'What’s right? What’s Wrong? What’s Missing?'. These were done to further break down their initial responses (posted on Google Docs and collated into the Excel spreadsheets) to the phenomena to make better meaning using 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 and text explanations(visual) and 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 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. Students then returned to their home groups to deliberate on learning points and clarify doubts. Then, the group decided if further refinement was required before publishing their final post.
Students’ initial and final posts were analysed and coded using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to ascertain the students' level of thinking.
The whole process was carried out over a week in 6 periods.
Samples of the task sheet and online Google Doc are shown below.
To analyse students' level of thinking in making meaning of Science, Revised Bloom's Taxonomy was used as a tool to code students' initial posts and final posts on the task.
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 - Remembering and Understanding. However, post-intervention postings demonstrated a move to the higher levels of thinking (Analyzing and Evaluating) with all 8 groups of students - even though teachers initially thought that the proposed lesson was too challenging for the class. In this analysis, it had been taken into consideration too that Groups 5 and 6 had attained one of the higher levels of thinking (analyzing) even at the pre-intervention stage.
For most of the groups (Group 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8), their initial posts were at the lower levels of remembering and understanding, with one group only at 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 students did not only have opportunities to revisit the Blogspot and their friends' post online, but were also provided platforms 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 on paper and they could communicate their thoughts with their peers to refine their understanding of the phenomena. These helped them to come up with a more scientifically logical response thus attaining the higher level.
As for group 5 and 6, they have already attained the higher level of thinking (analyzing) in the initial post of the pre-intervention stage showing that these groups they may need more challenging in future. However, the intervention did help them to further refine their answer to eventually attain the higher level of evaluating.
Through the use of visible thinking strategies and argumentation, students were better able to have scientific conversation and make better meaning in their understanding of the concepts of water cycle. This assisted them in the refining of their final postings of their answers.
Samples of students' responses are as follows:
(1) the illustration and text explanation,
(2) argumentation structure and
(3) 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 can revisit whenever they need 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 make better meaning in their Science Learning. It was also found that allowing students to work from home maximises curriculum time.
The teachers learned that they can 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 popplets can be used to capture both written or verbal documentations of peer's rebuttal and presentations. This further allows students to revisit their own presentations or refine their own answers. They can 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 (AfL).
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 Virtual Video (4D ICT tool) to further support our students in their learning journey of Science.
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