Publication 6987

Taber K. S. (2006) Constructivism’s new clothes: The trivial, the contingent, and a progressive research programme into the learning of science. Foundations of Chemistry 8(2): 189–219. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/6987
Constructivism has been a key referent for research into the learning of science for several decades. There is little doubt that the research into learners’ ideas in science stimulated by the constructivist movement has been voluminous, and a great deal is now known about the way various science topics may commonly be understood by learners of various ages. Despite this significant research effort, there have been serious criticisms of this area of work: in terms of its philosophical underpinning, the validity of its most popular constructs, the limited scope of its focus, and its practical value to science teaching. This paper frames this area of work as a Lakatosian Research Programme (RP), and explores the major criticisms of constructivism from that perspective. It is argued that much of the criticism may be considered as part of the legitimate academic debate expected within any active RP, i.e. arguments about the auxiliary theory making up the ‘protective belt’ of the programme. It is suggested that a shifting focus from constructivism to ‘contingency in learning’ will allow the RP to draw upon a more diverse range of perspectives, each consistent with the existing hard core of the programme, which will provide potentially fruitful directions for future work and ensure the continuity of a progressive RP into learning science.

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