Keynote speaker: Dr. Yaron Lehavi

Keynote: Crosscutting concepts in science education: Illusions, challenges and hopes

Short Biography 

Dr. Yaron Lehavi 

Associate Professor at the David Yellin Academic College of Education


Yaron Lehavi is an Associate Professor at the David Yellin Academic College of Education, in which he had been involved for many years in various aspects of teacher education. He also serves as the head of the National Center for Physics Teachers in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science. From the late 90’s he took part in the national reform in science education which focused primarily on the integration of the different scientific disciplines into an interdisciplinary curriculum. His involvement included curriculum development, textbooks writing and teachers training. Dr. Lehavi served, and is still serving, in national science curriculum committees. His research focuses mainly on science teachers’ conceptual knowledge and teachers’ professional growth. For example, his research regarding teachers’ knowledge of definitions of physical concepts led him to develop, together with others, a new approach to teach energy as a crosscutting concept based on an operational definition of energy change. He is currently involved in a joint research about challenges with this regard concerning teachers’ (and students’) knowledge. He also participates, together with colleagues from Israel and Germany, in a research on the interplay between physics and mathematics.

Dr. Lehavi is a co-leader of an ongoing design of a research-based approach aimed at fostering teachers’ professional growth as their peers’ mentors. The corresponding research, conducted in collaboration with colleagues from Israel, the Netherlands and USA, aims at examining from theoretical and empirical perspectives ‘Pedagogical Content Awareness’ (PCA) as a key idea in describing teachers’ professional growth (complementary to Lee Shulman’s idea of ‘Pedagogical Content Knowledge’). Many aspects of Dr. Lehavi’s work were presented at GIREP conferences over the years. He holds a B.Sc. in physics and mathematics, an M.Sc. in physics and a Ph.D. in physics education from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Title of keynote 

Crosscutting concepts in science education:

Illusions, challenges and hopes

Curricular attempts to introduce the idea of crosscutting concepts can be traced back to the late 1980’s where specific science “themes” were identified as crossing the separate disciplinary boundaries (AAA, 1989). In the last decade, the K-12 Framework praised the value of crosscutting concepts as being able to enrich students both intellectually and practically when addressing phenomena dealt in different disciplinary areas (NRC, 2012, p. 233). 

Apparently, the notion of crosscutting concept rests on the idea – or is it more a belief? – that there exists some wholeness in science that entails an identical meaning of concepts used across different areas of science. But, is that really so? And if so, what does it mean in terms of teaching? Students learning? Curriculum planning? Assessing learners’ knowledge? Teachers’ training? 

Consider for example the challenges posed by the crosscutting concept: “Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions.” What functions do objects such as crystals (considered in chemistry) or the solar system (considered in physics) serve? Which physical or chemical properties of the proton or the electron are determined by their shape?

Crosscutting concepts are claimed to provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world. But what is the meaning of coherence in this respect? Is it possible that one’s “coherent view of the world” will not coincide properly with the “scientifically based view of the world”? And in the case of such a discrepancy,  what educational measures can provide assistance?

The notion of crosscutting concepts also challenges science teachers' special knowledge – their PCK. Certainly one cannot expect science teachers to be experts in the PK and the CK of all the sciences. So, what would be realistic and welcomed expectations in this respect? How should we train teachers to meet the challenge of constructing such a PCK? 

In this talk I will address the multifaceted challenges for science education represented by these questions from both theoretical and practical perspectives. The talk will focus on challenges in unifying and clarifying the meaning of certain crosscutting concepts such as system or energy among others, and possible means to meet those challenges. Special attention will be given to the means of fostering the coherence of self-constructed knowledge of certain crosscutting concepts, assessing it, and abridging the gap between the personal image of these crosscutting concepts and the scientific one.

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