Randy Spaid
Secondary and Science Education
Tift College of Education
Mercer University

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Willet Science Center 101

"Disparate Approaches To Learning Physics: 
Understanding Student Engagement"

Abstract:  Students may enter physics classrooms with weak skills in mathematics and limited experience in the laboratory; however, many hold a naīve beliefs about teaching and learning, and make decisions about whether or not to engage in activities that promote scientific inquiry based upon affective (emotional) and conative (intentional) factors. Often, these factors are related to preconceptions of the lesson content and the teacheršs pedagogy: they may not fully understand abstract science concepts and expect to receive science knowledge from the teacher. To sustain engagement, these learners require motivational and instructional discourse from their teacher and from peers they believe to be more successful in physics class.

Physics students who are independent, self-assessing and self-directed probably hold a sophisticated epistemology which includes critical thinking and reflection. These students select `deep learning' strategies without regard to affective and conative factors; they value instructional discourse from the teacher, but sustain engagement due to their belief and confidence that they can access science knowledge and organize its meaning by themselves.

Current science education reforms aim not only to encourage deeper understanding of science concepts by all students, but additionally, to foster a genuine appreciation for and enjoyment of science. The science education commonly seen in high school physics classrooms (i.e., non-constructivist, or non-inquiry-based teaching) does little to address that need. Although specific teacher interventions during inquiry physics lessons are sometimes successful to engage reticent students, some are stressed by affective and conative factors, especially if they believe the instructional discourse is inadequate. When working in cooperative groups, the disparate epistemologies of students becomes problematic.  

Please join us for light refreshments outside WSC 109 at 4:15.

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