Developments in style and purpose of research on the learning of science


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Francisco, March 1986.


Recent years have seen a substantial growth in research that probes children's ideas about natural phenomena. This article places the research in a context that enables comprehension of how it informs and influences the practice of science education. To this end, past, present, and developing styles of research are discussed. The predominant style of past research was based on elaborate experimental designs and complex statistical analyses of data. Studies employing that style helped focus concern on questions about individual learning which the studies did not actually seek to answer, e.g., why does the learning resulting from a particular treatment vary between individuals? What is understanding and how can it be assessed? Such questions lie at the heart of current probing of children's ideas. Some issues of importance in the probing of children's ideas are considered, as are ways in which these issues have influenced the development of a current style of research. From this present context, developing styles in the research field are described. These focus particularly on research on the strategies used by learners, and on the continued growth of interaction between research and practice.