CEPA eprint 4029

Defending constructivism in science education

Gil-Pérez D., Guisasola J., Moreno A., Cachapuz A., De Carvalho A. M. P., Torregrosa J. M., Salinas J., Valdés P., González E., Duch A. G. & Dumas-Carré A. (2002) Defending constructivism in science education. Science & Education 11(6): 557–571. Available at http://cepa.info/4029
Table of Contents
What Constructivism Are We Talking About?
What Is The Epistemological Orientation of Our Constructivist Approach to Science Education?
Constructivist Proposals Are Not a Recipe
After an impressive development throughout the last two decades, supported by a great amount of research and innovation, science education seemed to be becoming a new scientific domain This transformation of Science Education into a specific field of research and knowledge is usually associated with the establishment of what has been called an ‘emergent consensus’ about constructivist positions. However, some voices have begun to question these constructivist positions and therefore the idea of an advancement towards a coherent body of knowledge in the field of science education. The goal of this work is to analyse some of the current criticisms of the so-called constructivist orientations and to study their implications for the development of science education as a coherent body of knowledge.
In the early 1980s, science education was still considered a ‘preparadigmatic’ domain (Klopfer 1983), while a decade later Hodson (1992) affirmed that it was already possible to coherently integrate the different aspects of the science teaching/learning process. After an impressive development throughout the last two decades, everything seemed to point to the constitution of ‘Science Education’ as a new field of research and knowledge (Gil et al. 2000; Jenkins 2001). We are speaking of a development which, as in any other scientific field, has not had a linear character and within which have arisen and still arise fruitful controversies and more or less profound re-orientations. But this development has shown real convergence and progress – in spite of many terminological and punctual differences – in the orientation of the process of the teaching/learning of sciences. This convergence is supported by a great amount of research and innovation that can be consulted in the large number of existing journals, and which has already made possible the publication of two Handbooks (Gabel 1994; Fraser & Tobin 1998).
This emergence of science education as a scientific domain is usually associated with the establishment of what Novak (1988) called an ‘emergent consensus’ about constructivist positions, considered by Gruender and Tobin (1991) to be the most important contribution to the last decades in science education. A contribution which the American Association for the Advancement of Science has described as a real ‘paradigm change’ (Tobin 1993, cited by Jenkins 2000).
However, some voices have begun to question constructivist positions in science education, speaking, for example, of ‘Constructivism Deconstructed’ (Suchting 1992) or of ‘Rise and Fall of Constructivism’ (Solomon 1994). These very different appraisals make Jenkins (2000) ask: ‘Constructivism in School Science Education: Powerful Model or the Most Dangerous Intellectual Tendency?’
It could be thought then, that the ‘constructivist consensus’ might have just been a new fashion, a new failed slogan that would once again lead us back to the scarcely effective teaching/learning model of science through the transmission/reception of knowledge.
The goal of this work is to analyse some of the criticism that is being voiced and to study its implications for the development of science education as a coherent body of knowledge.
What Constructivism Are We Talking About?
In the Editorial of a monographic issue of Science & Education, Matthews (2000) reminds us that ‘constructivism means different things to different researchers’ and dedicates a whole paragraph to describing the ‘Varieties of Constructivism’. This ambiguity is logically seen as one of the main inconveniences of the idea of a ‘constructivist consensus’. But it should also be taken in consideration, in our opinion, when trying to ‘deconstruct constructivism’ (Suchting 1992) or when announcing the ‘fall of constructivism’ (Solomon 1994). In other words, all of us need to be accurate and precise in this debate, because there is a real danger of talking about different things.
Let us consider, in the first place, Suchting’s criticism. In his article ‘Constructivism Deconstructed’, Suchting (1992) starts saying that constructivism is ‘a doctrine which has for some time been very influential in thinking about education (… ) associated especially with the name of its originator and principal exponent, Ernst von Glasersfeld’.
Without discussing the undoubted interest of such criticisms as Suchting’s of von Glasersfeld’s philosophical theses, we wish to point out that this debate has little to do with constructivist proposals in the field of science education. In fact, Suchting’s article contains no references to researches from this field, which he appears to be ignorant of, to the extent of considering von Glasersfeld, whose name only began to be mentioned at the end of the 1980s, as the ‘originator’ (!).
We must insist on the negligible influence of von Glasersfeld in the development of the ‘constructivist consensus’ in science education. Effectively, the first references to von Glasersfeld in journals such as Science Education, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Studies in Science Education or International Journal of Science Education appear … in 1988 (Tobin et al. 1988). They are very infrequent during the entire decade (three references in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, two in Science Education, two in the International Journal of Science Education and zero in Studies in Science Education). Besides, five of these seven references come from the same author, namely Kenneth Tobin. The same appraisal of the scarce influence of von Glasersfeld can be obtained considering the references included in the two handbooks published: In the one edited by Gabel (1994) we find only 8 references, 4 of them coming from the same author (Kenneth Tobin) and the other 4 corresponding to particular details. Even in the more recent handbook (Fraser & Tobin 1998) we again find just 8 references.
To speak of von Glasersfeld as ‘the originator’ is an example of a serious failure of some current criticism: they ‘aim at’ a different target and ignore the contributions to the field of science education.
We can thus conclude that the debate put forward by Suchting and other authors (Nola 1997; Hardy & Taylor 1997) is not our debate. We do not mean by this that there is no interest in studying von Glasersfeld’s work and his possible contributions to the controversy concerning constructivist proposals in the field of science education. But we cannot accept a discussion assuming, as Suchting seems to do, that we are talking about constructivism ‘in general’ and that we are ‘applying’ von Glasersfeld’s theses. What is known as the constructivist consensus in science education has its origin in many specific researches about the different aspects of science education: from concept learning, problem-solving or practical works to evaluation or attitudes towards science. These researches have been undertaken to improve the poor results of the reception learning paradigm seriously questioned by research on, for instance, ‘misconceptions’ and ‘alternative frameworks’ (Viennot 1976; Driver & Easley 1978; Pfundt & Duit 1998). They have contributed, and continue to contribute, to a coherent body of knowledge which supports the need to implicate pupils in the (re)construction of scientific knowledge in order to make possible a meaningful and lasting learning (National Research Council 1996). This is the reason why we speak of the construction of knowledge and of constructivism. So, we must stress that what we call constructivism in science education has little to do with philosophical constructivism.
Solomon’s critique (1994) has, undoubtedly, a different character: she admits that constructivist approaches in science education have their origin in research about problems related to the science teaching/learning process. In fact Solomon associates the emergence of this trend to the publishing of Driver and Easley’s article (1978) ‘Pupils & paradigms: a review of literature related to concept development in adolescent science students’. But then Solomon affirms that, in the early 1980s, ‘it was found that what we can call “the book of the theory” had been written nearly thirty years earlier by George Kelly (… ) a psychologist who studied patients locked away in the solitary world of the schizophrenic’.
Notice that Solomon does not say that Kelly’s work supported the new ideas, but rather that it constituted their theoretical base. We believe this is a serious and quite common mistake that denies the possibility for science education research to elaborate a specific body of knowledge and reduces its theoretical bases to the application of external knowledge (obtained in a quite different situation: studying ‘patients locked away in the solitary world of the schizophrenic’). We wish to clarify that, when we assert the existence of science education as a specific body of knowledge, we do not propose ignoring the contributions from other fields such as educational psychology or the history of science. On the contrary, it is the existence of a specific body of knowledge which makes the integration of such contributions possible, without making ineffective direct applications.
In our opinion, some of Kelly’s ideas (Kelly 1955; Pope & Gilbert 1983) can be thought-provoking and help in the construction of a science education body of knowledge, but it makes no sense to merely apply them to our field. However, Solomon’s critiques to constructivist approaches are centred on contributions made by Kelly and other authors such as, again, von Glasersfeld, none of whom work in science education. In particular, Solomon focuses on showing the limitations of Kelly’s metaphor ‘Every man his own scientist’ assuming that constructivism was based, essentially, on the notion of ‘the student as a scientist’. Solomon admits, also, as a logical corollary, that this means putting aside the acquisition of bodies of knowledge: ‘Constructivism, in the sense that is used within science education and in this article, has always skirted round the actual learning of an established body of knowledge’.
But the idea of the student as a scientist is a metaphor that has also been criticised by science education researchers, because it fails to correctly express what research has shown about the science teaching/learning process (Gil-Perez & Carrascosa 1994): actually, it is difficult to oppose the view that pupils by themselves cannot construct all scientific knowledge. But we do not think of pupils as practising scientists working in frontier domains: this metaphor, used by several authors has, of course, many limitations (Burbules & Linn 1991) and cannot give a useful view of how to organise pupils’ work. A metaphor that contemplates pupils as novice researchers gives a better appraisal of the learning situation. Effectively, every researcher knows that when someone joins a research team, he or she can catch up quite easily with the standard level of the team. And that does not happen by verbal transmission, but through the treatment of problems in fields where his or her more experienced colleagues are experts.
The situation changes, of course, when problems which are new for every member of the team are treated. In this case, the progress – if there is any – becomes slow and sinuous. The proposal to organise pupils’ learning as a knowledge construction corresponds to the first situation, that is to say, to an oriented research, in fields very well known by the ‘research director’ (the teacher), and where the partial and embryonic results obtained by pupils can be reinforced, completed or even questioned by those obtained by the ‘scientific community’.
What is known as a constructivist approach to science learning responds to the characteristics of oriented research, a research where results obtained by different teams are steadily compared and where teams count on the feedback and help of experts.
To sum up: against the metaphor which presents pupils as simple receivers and which views them as autonomous researchers (Pope & Gilbert 1983; Solomon 1994) or practising scientists (Burbules & Linn 1991), we propose the metaphor of ‘novice researchers’, which takes into account the limitations pointed out by Burbules and Linn of the ‘practising scientist’ idea and coherently integrates Vigotsky’s contributions concerning the ‘potential development zone’ and the role of adults in education (Howe 1996). What we call a constructivist approach in science education is a proposal that contemplates active participation of students in the construction of knowledge and not the simple personal reconstruction of previously elaborated knowledge, provided by the teacher or by the textbook. As Hodson (1992) has stated, ‘Students develop their conceptual understanding and learn more about scientific inquiry by engaging in scientific inquiry, provided that there is sufficient opportunity for and support of reflection’.
This synthesises many researches on science learning already summarised in two handbooks (Gabel 1994; Fraser & Tobin 1998) and must not be considered, we insist, the simple ‘application’ of von Glasersfeld, Kelly or any other philosophical or psychological doctrine. On the contrary, it connects with what some of us wrote as long ago as 1978, when we did not even know the term constructivism: ‘the aim is to place students in a situation where they can produce knowledge and explore alternatives, overcoming the mere assimilation of knowledge previously elaborated’ (Furi6 & Gil 1978). Even though we spoke about ‘producing’ and not about ‘constructing’ knowledge, a paragraph like the previous one is much nearer to current constructivist proposals in science teaching than Kelly’s or von Glasersfeld’s contributions (despite their coincidence in the use of expressions like ‘construction of knowledge’). And the same applies, for instance, to the ‘generative learning model’ (Osborne & Wittrok 1985) which, although it uses a different terminology, constitutes a proposal coherent with what we understand by the construction of knowledge in science education. We agree, for this reason, with Ernst’s (1993) or Matthews’ point of view: ‘It is clear that the best of constructivist pedagogy can be had without constructivist epistemology’ (Matthews 1997).
Therefore, we consider that Solomon’s argumentation against constructivist approaches in science education has some serious limitations because it criticises contributions from other domains, which she extends to science education. Besides, she ignores many contributions which are related to the acquisition of established bodies of knowledge, as for instance, Viennot (1989, 1996) or McDermott et al. (1996). All this research and innovation, which has been collected in international journals, collective books (Tiberghien et al. 1998) and in the Handbooks (Gabel 1994; Fraser & Tobin 1998), is what allows us to speak of a convergent consensus in science education.
However, the debate these kinds of articles generate is of great interest because it is related to the reticence of many science teachers toward constructivist proposals, incorrectly interpreted as the acceptance of the metaphor of ‘students as scientists’.
Papers like Solomon’s show, also, the risks of a theoretical foundation of science education reduced to a simple ascription to an external theory. It is necessary to build a specific science education body of knowledge. We do not mean by this, we insist, that we ignore the contributions from other domains that can, of course, inspire, question, etc., the work carried out in science education, but which cannot be just ‘applied’ to it. Moreover, it can be reasonably assumed that the contributions made by research concerning the problems posed by the science teaching/learning process, even if they are specific, cannot be radically contradictory to the findings of educational psychology, genetic epistemology, or neuroscience. We may mention, in this respect, that advances in neuroscience seem to support, according to some authors (Anderson 1997; Roth 1998) constructivist approaches, and at the same time they show the limitations of the transmission and processing of information models.
On the other hand, this debate on what we understand by a constructivist approach in science education may help us to clarify what is the epistemological orientation of this approach, avoiding its incorrect assimilation to the theses of von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism. A clearer definition in this respect is undoubtedly necessary. In particular, special attention must be paid to what the history and philosophy of science show about how scientific knowledge is built. In fact, a powerful research line concerning spontaneous teaching conceptions about science (Bell & Pearson 1992; Desauteles et al 1993; Guilbert & Meloche 1993.) has shown that the understanding and taking into consideration by teachers of how scientific knowledge is constructed, appears as a conditio sine qua non – although not sufficient (Hodson 1993) – for really effective science teaching.
What Is The Epistemological Orientation of Our Constructivist Approach to Science Education?
As Bell and Pearson (1992) have pointed out, it is not possible to change what teachers usually do in the classroom (simple transmission of knowledge already elaborated) without transforming their epistemology, their conceptions about how scientific knowledge is constructed, their views about science. Effectively, teachers’ spontaneous epistemology include many distortions and reductionisms acquired acritically by social impregnation that impede a correct orientation of science teaching (Gil-Perez 1993; Hodson 1993; Meichstry 1993; Guilbert & Meloche 1993; McComas 1998). It is not a question, we believe, of engaging science teachers – not even science education researchers – in the nuances and subtleties of the epistemology of different authors. In spite of their differences, there is a common base in how authors such as Popper, Kuhn, Toulmin, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Laudan, Giere … conceive the nature of science, and it is this common base which must be enhanced, in our opinion, in order to facilitate a better understanding of the construction of scientific knowledge.
This common base can be expressed by the general rejection of an ensemble of distortions of the nature of science. This is not just a question of denouncing once again the well known extreme inductivism of many science teachers’ conceptions. We have to pay attention to an ensemble of distortions which support each other (Nersessian 1995; Gil-Perez 1996; McComas 1998) as, particularly:
Extreme inductivism, enhancing ‘free’ observation and experimentation (‘not subject to aprioristic ideas’) and forgetting the essential role played by hypotheses making and by the construction of coherent bodies of knowledge (theories). On the other hand, in spite of the great importance verbally assigned to experimentation, science teaching remains quite frequently purely bookish, with very few practical works. For this reason, experimentation keeps the glamour of an ‘unaccomplished revolution’. This inductivist vision underlies the orientation of learning as discovery and the reduction of science learning to the process of science.A rigid view (algorithmic, exact, infallible … dogmatic). The ‘Scientific Method’ is presented as a linear sequence of stages to be followed step by step. Quantitative treatments and control are enhanced, forgetting – or even rejecting – everything related to invention, creativity, tentative constructions … Scientific knowledge is presented in its ‘final’ state, without any reference either to the problematic situations which are at its origin, its historical evolution, the difficulties overcome … or to the limitations of this knowledge, which appears as an absolute truth, not subject to change. The rejection of this rigid and dogmatic vision sometimes leads to an extreme relativism, close to the radical constructivist philosophical theses. A relativism both methodological (‘anything works’, scientific activity hasn’t specific strategies) and conceptual (there isn’t an objective reality which allows us to verify the validity of scientific constructions: the only base of scientific knowledge is the consensus of researchers).An exclusively analytical vision which enhances the necessary fragmentation and simplification of the studies, but neglects unification efforts in order to construct wider bodies of knowledge, the treatment of ‘border’ problems between different domains. In the opposite direction there is a tendency today to present the unity of nature, not as the result of scientific development but as a starting point.A merely accumulative vision. Scientific knowledge appears as the result of a linear development, ignoring crisis and deep restructurings.A ‘common-sense’ view which presents scientific knowledge as clear and ‘obvious’, forgetting the essential differences between scientific strategies and common-sense reasoning (characterised by quick and very confident answers, based on ‘common-sense evidences’; by the absence of doubts or consideration of possible alternative solutions; by the lack of consistency in the analysis of different situations; by reasoning which follows a linear causality sequence…}A ‘veiled’ and elitist view. No special effort is made to make science meaningful and accessible; on the contrary, the meaning of scientific knowledge is hidden behind mathematical expressions. In this way, science is presented as a domain reserved for specially gifted minorities, transmitting poor expectations to most pupils and falling into ethnic, social and sexual discrimination.An individualistic view. Science appears as the activity of isolated ‘great scientists’, ignoring the role of co-operative work and of interactions between different research teams.A socially ‘neutral’ view. Science is presented as something elaborated in ‘ivory towers’, forgetting the complex STS relationships and the importance of collective decision making on societal issues related to science and technology. In contrast to this vision of science out of context, there is currently an opposite tendency, in the Secondary School, towards a ‘sociological reductionism’, which limits the science curriculum to the treatment of STS problems and forgetting the search for coherence and other essential ]aspects of science.
This spontaneous epistemology constitutes a serious obstacle to the renewal of science teaching in as much as it is accepted acritically as ‘evident’. However, it is not at all difficult to generate a critical attitude towards these commonsense views if teachers are given the opportunity to discuss possible distortions to the nature of science, transmitted by science teaching; the real danger seems to be the lack of attention to what is acquired by impregnation, without conscious reflection. This reflection is absolutely necessary in order to overcome simplistic tendencies to accept ‘what has always been done’ or to look for a new and more successful ‘recipe’. We connect here to another kind of criticism to the constructivist proposals in science education.
Constructivist Proposals Are Not a Recipe
We shall refer now to some excessively simplistic and stereotyped interpretations of proposals that are sometimes presented as the quintessence of constructivist orientations for science education. As stated by Carretero and LimOn (1996), ‘such proposals are usually based on the rather simplistic conviction that the application of formulas such as ‘let’s consider the pupils’ previous concepts, let’s provoke cognitive conflicts in them, and let’s introduce the correct concepts’ will easily solve many educational problems’. In a similar vein, Duit (1996) points out that ‘for some science educators, constructivism has become a new ideology able to solve any teaching/learning problem of sciences’. But, he adds: ‘Undoubtedly, it has also become a very worthy orientation for science education, both for teaching and for research in this field’.
In fact, criticism of these simplistic views cannot be considered as a questioning of constructivist positions in science education; on the contrary, there is abundant literature on the subject in the field of science education and it has brought about a deepening of these constructivist positions. However, we must not forget that these strategies which today appear to us as simplistic formulas, were not presented by their authors under such a schematic mode (Posner et al. 1982) and did mean a remarkable advance over other formulae which were even more simplistic. We can remember, for instance, the transmission/reception model (let’s explain concepts clearly and students will learn’) or those naive proposals of ‘learning by discovery’ departing from the pupils’ autonomous experimentation. These proposals – which some associate erroneously to Piaget, despite the fact that this author strongly rejected ‘the myth of the sensorial origin of scientific knowledge’ (Piaget 1971) – were criticised justly and on good grounds by many authors (Ausubel 1978; Giordan 1978).
Early proposals of conceptual change at least considered basic aspects of learning, such as ‘all learning depends on prior knowledge’ or ‘learners construct understanding. They do not simply mirror what they are told or what they read’ (Resnick 1983). The greatest efficiency of these strategies with respect to those of simple transmission of elaborated knowledge has been supported by much research carried out in different scientific fields (Joung 1993; Wandersee et aal. 1994). But it was soon noticed that certain alternative conceptions were resistant to instruction, even when this instruction was explicitly oriented to producing ‘conceptual change’ (Fredette & Lochhead 1981; Engel & Driver 1986; Shuell 1987; Hewson & Thorley 1989). To put it in other words: it became evident that the undeniable progress achieved by conceptual change strategies was still insufficient (Gil & Carrascosa 1985; Duschl & Gitomer 1991).
From this situation arose an awareness about the need, among other things, to consider the students’ ways of reasoning, overcoming conceptual reductionism (Gil & Carrascosa 1985, 1994; Hashweh 1986; Cleminson 1991; Duschl & Gitomer 1991; Salinas et al. 1996; Viennot 1996, FuriO et al. 2000) and enriching conceptual change proposals.
There is still another aspect of conceptual change strategies which demands, in our opinion, re-examination (Gil & Carrascosa 1994): What is the sense of making pupils conscious of their ideas to immediately put them into conflict? In our opinion, the systematic confrontation of pupils’ ideas with scientific ones, can produce logical inhibitions. Effectively, it is easy to understand that a research is not undertaken to question ideas, or to produce conceptual changes, but to treat problems which interest scientists; problems which are treated, logically, with the possessed knowledge and with new ideas constructed in a tentative way. During this process the initial conceptions may suffer some changes or even be radically questioned, but this will never be the objective which remains the solution of problems posed (Cachapuz et al. 2000).
From a scientific point of view it is essential to associate knowledge construction with problems: as Bachelard (1938) stressed ‘all knowledge is the answer to a question’ and this is in radical conflict to conceptual change teaching strategies which take pupils’ conceptions as a starting point. Furthermore, a basic scientific attitude in the treatment of problems is to take one’s own ideas – even those ‘most obvious’ – as simple hypotheses that are necessary to question, conceiving other hypotheses. This can give another status to cognitive conflicts: they will not be seen as an external questioning of personal conceptions and reasoning (with its consequent affective implications) but just as a confrontation between different hypotheses.
On the other hand, Burbules and Linn (1991), recalling that science advances more from discrepancy than from confirmation, argue that ‘in science education such considerations weigh against the idea of supplanting a whole false student picture with the correct one … ‘. And, as Solomon (1991) argues, ‘having encouraged a range of private opinions the teacher cannot simply dismiss those which do not conform to the accepted theory. That way no more open dialogue would be possible’.
For all these reasons, the teaching strategy that seems to us more consistent with the characteristics of scientific reasoning, is to organize learning as a treatment of problematic situations that pupils can identify as worth thinking about (Gil & Carrascosa 1994; Cachapuz et al. 2000).
This strategy aims basically to involve pupils in the construction of knowledge, approaching pupils’ activity to the richness of a scientific treatment of problems, including, among others:
The consideration of the possible interest and worthiness of the situations proposed, which gives meaning to their study and prevents students from becoming immersed in the treatment of a situation without having had the opportunity to form a ]first motivating idea about it.The qualitative study of problematic situations, taking decisions – with the help of the necessary bibliographic researches – to define and delimit concrete problems (an activity during which pupils begin to make their ideas explicit in a functional way).The invention of concepts and forming of hypotheses (occasion for using alternative conceptions to make predictions).The elaboration of possible strategies for solving problems, including, where
appropriate, experimental designs to check hypotheses in the light of theory.
The implementation of the strategies elaborated, and the analysis of the results – checking them with those obtained by other pupils and by the scientific community – that can produce cognitive conflicts between different conceptions (taking all of them as hypotheses), and requiring the formation of new hypotheses and the reorientation of the research.The application of the new knowledge in a variety of situations to deepen and consolidate it, putting special emphasis on the S/T/S relationships which frame scientific development, and orienting all this work to show the nature of a coherent body of knowledge of any scientific domainThe conception of new problems.
We would like to highlight that the orientations above do not constitute an algorithm that tries to guide the pupils’ activity step by step, but rather they must be taken as general indications which draw attention to essential aspects concerning the construction of scientific knowledge not sufficiently taken into account in science education. We are referring both to procedural and to axiological aspects: S/T/S relationships (Solbes & Vilches 1997), decision-making (Aikenhead 1985), communication (Sutton 1996) … Science learning is conceived, therefore, not as a simple conceptual change, but as a procedural and axiological change as well or, better yet, as a process of orientated research that enables students to participate in the (re)construction of scientific knowledge, thus favouring a more efficient and meaningful learning. ‘The emphasis is on students engagement in problem identification, hypothesis development, testing and argument’ (Matthews 1990).
To conclude this analysis of current criticisms about constructivist approaches in science education, we would like to draw attention to the dangers of superficial readings and vagueness in the use of the term constructivism (Carretaro & LimOn 1996; Matthews 2000; Jenkins 2000). A vagueness that, we add, makes it possible to qualify as ‘constructivist’ what one has always done (I explain concepts and my pupils reconstruct them in their head’). This reading has, undoubtedly, its adepts: constructivism would be but an interpretation for learning and would have nothing to say about teaching. (To put it in other words: let’s leave things as they are).
It is perhaps this vagueness (this grouping, under the constructivist umbrella, of simplistic recipes, of philosophic discussions far away from the precise science teaching/learning problems, of light interpretations allowing that anybody, whatever he does, can call himself ‘constructivist’ … ) which leads such authors as Osborne (1996) to speak of ‘Beyond Constructivism’ and Giordan (1996) to wonder ‘How can we go beyond constructivist models?’ and to propose new denominations (‘alosteric model’).
In our opinion, however, the expression ‘constructivist consensus’ (Resnick 1983; Novak 1988) is still useful – if a clear line of demarcation is established with other meanings of ‘constructivism’ – to highlight the basic convergence, within the field of science education, of proposals, so terminologically diverse as Posner et al.’s (1982), Osborne and Wittrock’s (1983), Gil and Carrascosa’s (1985, 1994), Driver and Oldham’s (1986), Giordan’s (1989), Duschl’s (1990, 1995), Wheatley’s (1991), Hodson’s (1992), Porldn’s (1993), National Research Council’s (1996), Guisasola and Iglesia’s (1997); Cachapuz et al.’s (2000) … This convergence sup‑ports the idea of advance – not free of controversy as in any scientific field – towards the construction of a new science teaching/learning model able to displace that of the simple transmission/reception of previously elaborated knowledge and, finally, to advance towards the establishment of science education as a new field of knowledge. We must add that it will not be a simple task. As pointed out by Duit (1996), research has clearly shown that teachers present serious resistance to adopting ‘constructivise positions – this is to say, to organising science learning as the (re)construction of scientific knowledge through an oriented research – and often introduce serious distortions. What is the sense, for example, of talking about ‘learning as an oriented research’ if teachers have no research experience? (Dumas et al. 1998). This sends us back to the problem of teachers’ education and the need to involve them in the (re)construction of a science education body of knowledge ( Pessoa de Carvalho & Gil-Perez 1998). It is in this sense of implicating pupils and teachers in the construction of knowledge – overcoming the ineffective transmission/reception of this knowledge – that we, and many others, speak of constructivism in science education.
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