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The benefits of cooperative learning to socio-scientific discussion in secondary school science

Day, P.S. and Bryce, Thomas (2012) The benefits of cooperative learning to socio-scientific discussion in secondary school science. International Journal of Science Education. ISSN 0950-0693

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Abstract

Scientific literacy has increased in priority as an educational aim for the new science curriculum in Scottish schools (Curriculum for Excellence) and teachers are now expected to embed socio-scientific discussion within its Topical Science strand. Recent research (internationally) indicates that when science teachers conduct socio-scientific discussion, the episodes tend to be short in duration, poor in quality and teacher dominated (Alvermann, O'Brien, & Dillon, 1990; Osborne, Duschl, & Fairbrother, 2002; Bryce & Gray, 2004; Gray & Bryce, 2006). Also, the emphasis given to such discussion differs in several ways from that which humanities teachers typically give during classroom debate in lessons in their subjects (as detailed in Day and Bryce, 2010). The aim of this investigation was to determine the benefits of cooperative learning for opening up socio-scientific discussion in secondary science. The study was part of a larger action research project where the ‘Learning Together’ model of cooperative learning (see Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1993) was introduced to participating teachers. This stresses (1) positive interdependence among pupils in groups (they need each other to carry out the required work); (2) individual accountability (conveyed by the teacher); (3) face-to-face interactions (arranged group work, pairing, sharing), (4) social skills (good manners and thoughtfulness emphasised); (5) group processing (teacher assigning essential tasks).