All science teachers should have the pedagogical skills to explain any scientific concept using multiple representations.
This is essential to improve their student’s educational experiences and foster the skills necessary to transfer knowledge to others effectively. Communicating vocally, exhibiting data visually with tables and graphs, and utilising text, diagrams, symbols, models, and simulations are all examples of various representations. The scientific community uses these models to disseminate information about natural occurrences. That’s why it’s crucial to familiarise students with the many representations of scientific phenomena. These phenomena and their representational modalities can span from elementary to highly intricate.
The challenge is for the science teacher to have the skills to explain a concept with various explanatory and informative yet relevant representations to create a better and more complete understanding of the topic.
Rust, which is iron oxide, forms as a result of metal oxidation and may be seen on a large scale in chemistry. After seeing the reaction, a teacher can generate a word equation and a balanced chemical equation. A diagram can also depict what happens on a microscopic scale with iron and oxygen. When a dry cell is linked to a closed circuit, a light bulb illuminates, demonstrating the notion of electric current in physics. A model of what a metallic conductor looks like and how a flow of charge may occur is necessary for comprehending how current flows in the wire.
Understanding the relevance of and using different representations is one potential solution to many academic and practical problems in South African science classrooms. Some of these include removing linguistic barriers, making classrooms more welcoming to students with different learning styles, expanding opportunities for involvement in the scientific community, inspiring students to pursue careers in the sciences, and dispelling the myth that science is only for a select few. Our teachers, however, need to be competent in using these diverse representations and aware of their potential for tackling these issues head-on.
I have a keen interest in teacher training, and what I would like to see in South African teacher training institutes is that teaching science through multiple representations become an integral part of their training.
Teaching a scientific concept requires not only the use of representations but also the selection of the appropriate representations for a given purpose, the linking of different representations (translating or fluency), the explanation of the purpose of certain representations, and the combination of these factors. A possible approach could be to provide our in-service and veteran educators with a central hub, handbook, or database of resources on diverse representations to use when designing lessons and lesson plans for science classes. One that doesn’t water down the science content or the learning experience in the name of diversity and inclusion but can be customised to meet a variety of circumstances in South Africa.
Who knows, maybe this could be a future project of mine. I do know that I would love our science classrooms not to reflect the sentiment in the following poem. It was written by a Navajo child who describes a classroom as she experienced it – and I believe using multiple representations when teaching science can help to avoid this!
“Our teachers come to class,
And they talk and they talk,
Til’ their faces are like peaches,
We just sit like cornstalks.”
Let that sink in…