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Group work in primary school science: discussions, consensus and guidance from experts

Howe, Christine and Tolmie, A. (2003) Group work in primary school science: discussions, consensus and guidance from experts. International Journal of Educational Research, 39 (1-2). pp. 51-72. ISSN 0883-0355

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Research suggests potential problems when group work is used in school science to support the integrated acquisition of conceptual understanding and testing procedures. Yet integrated acquisition is promoted by current policy, and is a popular classroom strategy. Work by Howe et al. (Learning and Instruction 10 (2000) 361) indicates that the problems may be overcome if pupils: (a) discuss conceptual material in small groups and reach consensus; (b) subject consensual positions to guided empirical appraisal. The present paper reports a study with 9-12-year old pupils, which tests the proposal of Howe et al. using heat transfer as its topic, in contrast to the shadow size of Howe et al. In broad terms, the results are consistent with what Howe et al. report, although there are subtle differences in both outcome and process. Nevertheless, the similarities are such as to indicate a robust technique, with clear relevance to classroom practice. To facilitate application, the paper outlines what the technique requires in terms of group organisation and teacher support, and suggests that in both cases there is consistency with current practice.