Thinking-back-and-forth in practical work experienced by students: identifying evidence-informed characteristics of good practices in secondary education

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Background: A major challenge for effective practical work in school science is to encourage students to connect hands-on aspects to minds-on principles, in other words to Think Back-and-Forth (TBF). Teacher behaviour is pivotal in achieving this goal, but teachers lack guidelines how to accomplish this. Purpose: In this study, we identified good practices that were conducive to minds-on learning experiences during practical work. Sample: The sample consisted of 15 practical physics and chemistry lessons in Dutch lower secondary education grades 8 and 9. Design and methods: For each lesson, we obtained video-observations of the teacher and learner reports of the students in which they self-reported their learning. The videos were analysed in detail on teacher attention for TBF, congruent pedagogy, mitigation of the cognitive load of the hands-on aspects, and student autonomy. Answers on the learner reports were analysed for minds-on remarks and these were related to the observed lesson characteristics through a multilevel binary logistic model. Results: Three lesson characteristics were identified as statistically significant predictors of minds-on learning experiences (p <.05), i.e. substantial attention to TBF, congruent pedagogy, and mitigation of the hands-on cognitive load. A qualitative analysis offered insight into the importance of carefully incorporating these characteristics. Conclusions: To reach minds-on learning experiences the teacher should give substantial attention to TBF throughout various phases of the lesson. Congruent pedagogy demands that the practical work is balanced given the prior knowledge of the students. Finally, mitigating the cognitive load of the hands-on aspects encompasses some way to prevent students from being distracted by too demanding hands-on elements. Consequently, we recommend that practical work should be designed in accordance with these three lesson characteristics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch in Science and Technological Education
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Oct 2023


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