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What is the learning value of context?

We’ve looked at some examples of context for the topic of radiation, but now we ask you to think about how you can look at the impact of context on your students learning.

In their 2007 paper, Bringing Science to Life: A Synthesis of the Research Evidence on the Effects of Context-Based and STS Approaches to Science Teaching, Bennett, Lubben and Hogarth reviewed 17 experimental studies undertaken in eight different countries into context-based or science-technology-society approaches to science teaching.

The benefits around improved attitudes were clear:

  • Attitudes to schools science almost always improved
  • Attitudes to science in general also improved, but not as much as to school science
  • Both boys and girls demonstrated more positive attitudes, with the biggest change being for girls
  • One study also looked at lower ability students and saw more positive attitudes in this group

The results of the impact on learning were more mixed:

  • Just over half the studies found that context-based approaches provided as good a development of understanding of science ideas as more conventional approaches (7 of 13 studies)
  • Some evidence that understanding was improved (4 of 13 studies)
  • Some evidence that understanding was adversely affected (2 of 13 studies)

In terms of post-compulsory uptake of science, 2 out of 3 studies showed a small but not significant increase.


How will you know if your context based learning has made a difference, and how can you plan for this?

Please give us any examples where you have seen context having an impact in your lessons. In the next article, we will look an example method of using context, and ask for your own ideas.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre