Background and Setting

My teaching practice is being carried out in Blackrock College. This is a large, fee paying all boys secondary school with roughly 1000 pupils from second to sixth year, with first years attending the feeder school Willow Park. My assignment relates to my experiences with second year classes.

There are eight streamed classes, roughly 24 pupils per class, ranging highest to lowest from 2.8 to 2.2. The junior syllabus has been divided up, with a different teacher responsible for each of the three core subject areas. My area of responsibility is the Chemistry portion. I teach six out of the eight second year classes on a rotational basis, seeing two groups at a time for a two week duration.

All my lessons take place in the junior chemistry lab with one double session per week. These labs are due to be demolished this summer to be replaced by more modern facilities. However, as I have access to all the science resources the school has at its disposal, I have found the lab perfectly adequate. I have the benefit of working with a lab technician who assists in the setting up of the experiments.


What is the ultimate goal of the science teacher? According to Elliot Eisner :

‘teaching is an art and the creations of the teacher in producing an engaging stimulating and insightful lesson are the result of using many different skills but these are influenced by qualities and contingencies that are unpredictable’ but all teachers do operate with theory where theory is ‘a general set of ideas through which we make sense of the world’. To my mind there are many different reasons and rationales behind the whys and hows of introducing children to the world of science. If science is a set of theories about the natural world, then pupils should be provided with the knowledge and skills they will need to find answers to their questions, and be given the chance to experience the excitement and wonder of discovering how things work in the hope that it will foster an interest in their environment and they will be encouraged to continue questioning, exploring and seeking new knowledge. Pupils should be guided towards an understanding of the concepts in science with the introduction of new ideas and the offering of challenges to possibly limited views of phenomena. Problem solving skills and creative thinking should be cultivated as essential parts of daily life.

The purpose of this assignment is to explore the ‘significance of a theory of science teaching’ in our classroom situation and to evaluate the effectiveness of using class practicals. I believe the effectiveness of any theory or practice to be the extent to which it enables achievement of the above goals. My own experience of the science classroom if of being treated as an ‘empty vessels’, taught from the textbook and teacher demonstrations with practical classes being rare occasions. Coming from this background it was a surprising revelation to me to be introduced to discovery based approaches to teaching.

It is said that children to not approach the science classroom with open minds. They are products of the environments in which they have grown up with knowledge bases built from their interaction with the world around them. Each person has formed opinions and placed their own interpretations on the world from their personal experience. Science and its laws and theories are ways which have been developed to put generalised structure on the experiences that our senses provide us. Scientific explanations are not always the ones which spring to mind. For example, in teaching second years about atoms and molecules, even as a qualified physicist, I found myself at moments thinking that the particulate theory of matter does sound a bit farfetched. According to Ausubel (1968) “… preconceptions are amazingly tenacious and resistant to extinction... the unlearning of preconceptions might well prove to be the most determinative single factor in the acquisition and retention of subject-matter knowledge”

The practicals that I have chosen to evaluation for the purpose of this assignment involve the Preparation and Properties of Oxygen. All classes carried out this practical, with a slightly different approach for each set to try and determine which method yielded the best results.The pupils all, naturally, had a good knowledge of