LEARNING HOW SCIENCE WORKS THROUGH BLACK BOX GAMES: A TEACHER TRAINING CASE STUDY
Scientific literacy involves the traditional knowledge "of" science and the innovative knowledge "about" science. The latter refers to scientific practices (how science and scientists work to validate knowledge or intervene in society), and is often called nature of science (NoS) or epistemic knowledge. NoS is structured into cognitive-epistemological and social-institutional dimensions.
Teaching and learning NoS issues is difficult due to insufficient teacher training and lack of appropriate resources. Several studies suggest that serious games are effective to develop behavioral, cognitive and meta-cognitive changes that simulate the complex epistemic aspects about behaving and thinking as scientists, and especially, arguing on evidence. This study aims to improve primary science teacher training to teach NoS through a game resource (black box).
The study presents a case study to train a primary school teacher through a real experience on scientific practice giving the students the role of scientists when playing the black box game: reflecting, interacting, competing and cooperating. A closed box full of small objects is investigated by students to answer the question what is there in the box? The research question for the case study deals with elucidating the effectiveness of the black box game to train and teach epistemic content in primary science.
A primary teacher receives materials and training, and prepares, adapts and applies the black box game to his 12-year-old 6th-grade students. The teacher prepares the lesson plan, adapt the epistemic contents to teach their students, designs their infusion into curriculum (time, duration, connections), leads teaching within the classroom, collect the reflections and arguments of the students through the organizers and help students to draw conclusions from their epistemic activities. The students assume the role of scientists when playing, seeking the unknown and thinking and practicing the norms and processes of science.
The results of this research are the pedagogical products for the learning activities, which are based on the black box project, and involve a set of documents: the pedagogical documents prepared and developed by the teacher for his students (from the lesson plan to the assessment of the activity), and the students’ reflections when playing the experimental activities of the black box game.
Working cooperatively, students observe and move the box, to obtain primary observational data through senses, and to make first hypothesis about the box contents. The second phase develops at a new context: students can observe inside the box through a small hole and a dim light (new technology is available); students review their previous hypotheses accordingly.
Finally, the box is open and students verify their hypotheses. Then they carry out some trials and experimental activities to classify the objects, which involve using criteria (size, form, color, etc.) and doing some measurements (a scale to weight mass and rulers for length) to quantitatively support the classification.
The innovative experience is deliberately simple to afford the teacher a development of balanced and calm training on NoS, so that teacher can gradually improve and sustain the complexity of professional development on these complex NoS issues. In fact, the game satisfied the teacher, who felt encouraged to continue teaching NoS contents through new games to deepen his pedagogical content knowledge.