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Multiple Solution Methods for Teaching Science in the Classroom

Improving Quantitative Problem Solving Using Dimensional Analysis and Proportional Reasoning

by Stephen DeMeo


Publisher: Universal-Publishers
Pub date: 2008
Pages: 302
ISBN-10: 1599429888
ISBN-13: 9781599429885
Categories: Research & AdministrationPhysics & ChemistryMathematics


For the first time in science education, the subject of multiple solution methods is explored in book form. While a multiple method teaching approach is utilized extensively in math education, there are very few journal articles and no texts written on this topic in science. Teaching multiple methods to science students in order to solve quantitative word problems is important for two reasons. First it challenges the practice by teachers that one specific method should be used when solving problems. Secondly, it calls into question the belief that multiple methods would confuse students and retard their learning. Using a case study approach and informed by research conducted by the author, this book claims that providing students with a choice of methods as well as requiring additional methods as a way to validate results can be beneficial to student learning. A close reading of the literature reveals that time spent on elucidating concepts rather than on algorithmic methodologies is a critical issue when trying to have students solve problems with understanding. It is argued that conceptual understanding can be enhanced through the use of multiple methods in an environment where students can compare, evaluate, and verbally discuss competing methodologies through the facilitation of the instructor. This book focuses on two very useful methods: proportional reasoning (PR) and dimensional analysis (DA). These two methods are important because they can be used to solve a large number of problems in all of the four academic sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science). This book concludes with a plan to integrate DA and PR into the academic science curriculum starting in late elementary school through to the introductory college level. A challenge is presented to teachers as well as to textbook writers who rely on the single-method paradigm to consider an alternative way to teach scientific problem solving.

"This book would be of tremendous value in pre- and inservice training for teachers from elementary through college. It is research-based but deals with different levels of instruction with a broad conceptual base… This is indeed a valuable resource for science teachers who are interested in helping students develop a process, not only to find the answer to a problem, but to understand and explain the concept. As a result, students will increase their skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and applying knowledge across the science curriculum."
Jean Worsley, reviewed in The Science Teacher, a journal published by the National Science Teachers Association

"This book will be interesting and informative to both new and experienced high school and introductory college-level science teachers."
Jim Jetter, reviewed in the Journal of Chemical Education, a journal published by the American Chemical Society

About the Author

Stephen DeMeo is an associate professor of science education at Hunter College. He holds a joint appointment in the Departments of Curriculum and Teaching, and in Chemistry.

My interest in writing science education books started with a search for meaning. The questions I asked myself 30 years ago as an undergraduate are the same I ask myself today as a teacher: What am I passionate about, how can I live a positive life, what would be the nature of my contribution to the society I live in?

While I didn’t know it then, I began answering these questions through my study of Chemistry and English Literature while I was a student at Stony Brook University in the early 1980’s. Things go a lot clearer when I started to study the relationship between science and teaching at Columbia University where I earned a doctorate in science education. Being a graduate student for many years, and then later becoming a Professor of Science Education at Hunter College, taught me that learning how the physical world works is a complex process. It can be a joyous and satisfying endeavor as well as a long, arduous struggle. It is alleviating, softening, and mediating this struggle that I am most interested in as a teacher, researcher, and writer. Majoring in English and Chemistry has served me well, since now I am committed to writing about better ways to teach students how to understand and do chemistry.

Thus far, I have written extensively about laboratory education and curriculum design for the Journal of Chemical Education, and have published a non-traditional laboratory manual for introductory science majors that is currently being used in our Chemistry Department. I have written two books, one entitled Multiple Solution Methods for Teaching Science in the Classroom, and a more recent one called, Inquiry Science Teaching: A Fire to be Kindled. Right now I am very interested in how visual tools can be used to solve science problems, and understanding ways in which students analyze data in a laboratory setting.

While my contribution lies with writing, it also involves teaching. In the School of Education at Hunter College I currently teach two courses involving the Methods of Teaching Science, a Student Teaching Seminar, and a course called, Science and Society. In these courses I have created a participatory environment where students can directly experience science and discuss their ideas. I am most proud of being able to reflect on how I was taught science and challenge the chalk and talk, teacher-centered instruction that I experienced from my middle school years to the end of my college coursework. It is clear to me that becoming a science teacher is about dealing with one’s own personal history and having the courage to become transformed. My greatest moments come when students, who have never taught before, perform a lesson where students construct a concept from their interactions with science materials. It is indeed a profound experience.
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