|Asia-Pacific Forum on Science
Learning and Teaching, Volume 5, Issue 2, Article 1 (Aug., 2004)
Vivian Mo Yin CHENG
Developing Physics learning activities for fostering student creativity in Hong Kong context
Summary of results
Teachers' and students' evaluation results revealed that, on the whole, the suggested activities can fulfill most of the objectives they are designated to achieve, and they are suitable for fostering student creativity in Hong Kong Physics learning context. This result also gave indirect support to the methods adopted by this study for developing these activities.
In the student evaluation, consistent with the nature of most creative activities, most students felt that these Physics creative activities are interesting, playful and quite different from normal learning activities. Some students agreed that these activities make them think more, and think wider, and enhance their creativity, whereas other students aware that their creativity is not enough, and need to be put effort on this area. Besides learning outcomes in creativity domain, these activities also have impact on students’ perception and attitudes in Physics learning. They discovered that Physics is more interesting, and more related to daily-life and creativity than they think before. To some students, these activities made them think more deeply in Physics and realized that their Physics knowledge is not enough. In short, the creative thinking activities in Physics are not merely useful in fostering creativity of students, but also for promoting "better" Physics learning.
Nearly all the results in the teacher evaluation echoed with that in the student evaluation. In the teacher evaluation, teachers agreed that the suggested activities can enhance both the creative thinking abilities and creative attitudes of students, and they also contribute to knowledge acquisition and conceptual understanding in Physics. In line with student opinions, teachers felt that implementing these activities not only for fostering creativity, but also for other teaching purposes, for example, creating variations in teaching, enhancing learning interests of students, doing revision, cross-curricular learning, and assessing knowledge acquisition. Based on the results in both teacher and student evaluations, this study concludes that the set of creative learning activities developed are useful to Physics education in Hong Kong.
Concerning the suitability of the activities to Hong Kong context, the teachers agreed that the activities are suitable for students of Hong Kong and can be infused into Physics curricula of Hong Kong. However, they preferred to implement them in lower forms and outside classroom learning. Though most teachers did not feel that doing these activities are out of their capacity, they were not sure whether Physics teachers of Hong Kong have the ability to design, conduct and assess these activities. In evaluating the negative impact of these activities, teachers felt that these activities would cause troubles to classroom discipline and teaching schedule. Even though they had these worries, most of them were still willing to implement these activities, at least now and then, in their teaching. On the whole, teachers' attitudes on the proposed activities were positive but with hesitation. This study concludes that the suggested activities are suitable to Physics learning in the existing Hong Kong context. However, to make them more successful, improvements in activity design, and more support to teachers and students are necessary.
First, in activity design, this study has proposed twenty-two different categories of creative thinking activities in Physics. Most of them include multiple learning objectives, both cognitive and affective ones. Exemplars in Physics for each category of activities were developed. Some of the activities or exemplars are well designed while some others may not, and need improvement. For example, the questions on comparing the similarities and differences between "force and love" came up with a lot of interesting and meaning answers (see Appendix), while the questions "suggest a new diagrammatic representation for the concept "field"", "find an alternative method to illustrate the theory demonstrated by Galileo’s thought experiment", and "suggest one electronic/ electric devices in laboratory which you wish to add or eliminate" seem to be difficult and have very limited responses. It seems that the tasks that require students to discard some well-accepted ideas to produce their own novel one, is much more difficult then producing many answers to simple questions. This implies that tasks for fluency training is easier and should be done before doing tasks that specifically target at stimulating flexibility. In fact, a more preferable method for enhancing flexibility of beginners is to instruct them to change approaches and give more categories of answers in doing simple tasks.
No matter what are the outcomes of the exemplar questions, teachers and educators need to be aware that individual tasks are not so important. It is the proposed categories of activities and methods used to develop them that serve as useful reference to them. This study targets at providing a comprehensive checklist for teachers to refer to when developing creative activities. However, it has not and cannot exhaust all possible categories of activities, nor suggesting enough exemplars of Physics activities. For different knowledge content, and groups of students, teachers can adopt the methods suggested by this study to design other types of creative activities to suit their needs.
Secondly, we concern about the necessary support for students. Some students felt hard and tired to imagine creative answers, while other puzzled on what were learnt in doing this kind of activities. Students in Hong Kong are used to the rote-learning mode. They need time to adapt this new mode of learning, and continuous encouragement in doing the try-outs. Teachers need to accept mistakes and ambiguities, welcome crazy answers, and always reinforce students that the tasks have plenty of answers, and they can find them. In the conception of many students, "learning" means "learning some knowledge", therefore, they do not understand what are learnt after "playing these games". Teachers need to tell them explicitly that they are learning to be more creative, and reinforce the importance of creativity development to students. Now and then, when time is available, teachers need to do debriefing of the activities, discussing with students what they have learnt and how they learn them. After students have substantial experiences in these creative activities, explicit instructions on creative thinking strategies and meta-cognition of creative thinking should also be induced in the teaching.
Thirdly, we concern about the necessary support to teachers. The teachers' evaluation results revealed that teachers do not have confidence in designing, conducting and assessing this kind of creative activities, though they are suitable for students and the Physics curricula. Due to the "non-creative background" of the teachers, substantial teacher re-training is necessary, even though these creative activities are rather simple. The results also suggest that teachers feel more comfortable to try-out these creative activities outside classroom. However, in Hong Kong, most of the teaching time is devoted to classroom teaching, science project work are still not common in higher school levels. In short, teachers' feedback inform us that creativity education has greater chance to succeed in Hong Kong, if there are more teacher training in fostering creativity, more room and resources for informal learning, reduction in class size to release the classroom management pressure, and reduction in the knowledge content of the syllabuses to spare more time for creative learning.
If similar study is conducted in western countries, some of the feedbacks in this study are quite unlikely to appear. We believe that , for activities that are simple and can be completed within about 10-20 minutes, few teachers in western countries would agree with strong statements like “doing these activities would greatly delay my teaching schedule”, or “doing these activities would cause serious troubles to my classroom management”. There are obvious differences in conception and pace of the creativity educational reforms in Asian and western countries. However, a recent review (Cheng, 2004) revealed that Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Asian places tend to directly import instructional methods from western world. In fact, the rapid educational reforms of these places, including Hong Kong, have already received much criticism from teachers and the public.
This study suggests that, instead of adapting the advanced instructional designs from western world, these societies should take their existing curriculum and culture as the starting point of their educational reform. They should infuse creative or other thinking elements in gradual steps into their existing curriculum, explore their own ways of fostering creativity of their students, take into consideration of the difficulties their students and teachers may have, and provide adequate support to them. This study has suggested a set of learning objective, rationales of selecting activities, strategies for generating new activities, and exemplars of activities that may serve as useful reference for educators in contexts similar that of Hong Kong. However, after gaining some experience in doing this kind of activities, it is more preferably to encourage teachers to design their own creative activities to suit their own environment. Future study on how to train teacher in self-developing creative learning activities in their own contexts are of greatest importance.
To cope with such a complex cultural and instructional design problem, of course, this simple and preliminary study suffers many limitations. To obtain more reliable and in-depth results, this study should be repeated with students of more diversify backgrounds, and implementation of the activities by more teachers and their follow-up studies are necessary. Even so, this study has several significant contributions. It develops a comprehensive set of learning objectives, strategies, and activities for fostering creativity in Physics, and shed light on creative learning of other subjects. It demonstrates systematically to teachers and educators how learning activities suitable to their own contexts can be developed. It highlights that researchers should not only look for some "model" instructional methods that have ideal learning outcomes, but also develop some simple and practical ones that can be widely-accepted and implemented. Finally, this study reminds us that culture differences should be addressed in our efforts of reforming education.
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