Investigation of a reflective pedagogy to encourage pre-service physics teachers to explore argumentation as an aid to conceptual understanding

Gregory Raymond Lancaster, Rebecca Cooper

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review


An emerging focus of recent science education research advocates the benefits of using argumentation as an approach in which teachers can better engage students in a more authentic experience of the epistemic work of scientists, (Bricker Bell, 2008). Logical argument and critical thinking are considered essential skills for an effective and successful undertaking of scientific inquiry and analysis. Early research suggests the practise of encouraging students to engage in scientific discourse in the classroom (Kuhn, 2010) can provide rich experiences for students and teachers to hone their cognitive abilities. This paper explores the use of critical `discussion problems purposefully designed for preservice physics teachers to investigate their own alternative conceptual understandings of key physics ideas. It also discusses how these problems are then used to generate classroom discourse which focuses on the importance of developing effective pedagogical content knowledge (See Shulman, 1986 for a detailed explanation of pedagogical content knowledge) rather than just mastery of scientific content and its mathematical applications. Further, the paper will detail a preliminary study in which pre-service physics teachers were introduced to a number of discussion problems via an online learning environment and asked to first consider the problem and post a solution in isolation from their peers. A considerable challenge was persuading the pre-service teachers to resist the common practice of `Googling the answer via the internet before posting their solution attempt. Although most students initially appeared to believe that posting `the correct answer was the main task objective, the vast majority eventually came to realise that discussing the range of unresearched solutions was much more beneficial for their conceptual understanding and professional practice. Over time, this approach generally encouraged students to post original ideas and to be less influenced by the arguments or analysis of other students. Following the completion of the online posts, the range of ideas included in the postings were then explored during a face to face workshop where the ideas were debated and frequently defended and the implications for pedagogy and their students learning discussed. The initial feedback from the pre-service teachers during this preliminary study is encouraging and suggests there is merit in exploring the benefits of argumentation for pre-service teachers and their students in a subsequent expanded study.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching/ Learning Physics: Integrating Research into Practice (GIREP-MPTL 2014)
EditorsClaudio Fazio, Rosa Maria Sperandeo Mineo
Place of PublicationPalermo Italy
PublisherUniversita degli Studi di Palermo
Pages835 - 841
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9788890746079
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventInternational Conference on Teaching/Learning Physics 2014: Integrating Research into Practice - University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy
Duration: 7 Jul 201412 Jul 2014 (complete proceedings)


ConferenceInternational Conference on Teaching/Learning Physics 2014
Abbreviated titleGIREP-MPTL 2014
Internet address

Cite this

Lancaster, G. R., & Cooper, R. (2015). Investigation of a reflective pedagogy to encourage pre-service physics teachers to explore argumentation as an aid to conceptual understanding. In C. Fazio, & R. M. Sperandeo Mineo (Eds.), Teaching/ Learning Physics: Integrating Research into Practice (GIREP-MPTL 2014) (Vol. 1, pp. 835 - 841). Universita degli Studi di Palermo.