Science Education Research

The main focus of the Science Education research programme is: designing as a pedagogical strategy for concept learning. This focus is elaborated for the different school subjects and for different sub-themes. Apart from this main focus, there is a number of research activities dealing with other relevant topics, such as gamification and the transfer from mathematics to physics learning.

The focus of design for concept learning fits well with the context of a teacher education programme for the individual STEM subjects and some integrated STEM subjects at a university of technology where ample experience in design work is available. It also fits well the current interest in concept learning in the so-called concept-context approach, as design can be considered to be a social practice in which pupils can be involved. Research by, among others, Janet Kolodner has indicated the crucial role of teachers in design-based concept learning. This makes the research topic even more relevant for our teacher education programme. Design situations can be used to evoke cognitive conflicts between pupils preconceptions and scientific concepts (e.g., designing a boat based on incorrect conceptions about sinking and floating will probably lead to sinking boats). Design is also educationally interesting because it can be used for multiple purposes: pupils learn about design, they can apply previously learnt knowledge and also learn new knowledge through the design activity. The core question in the research programme is how design situations can be used effectively for concept learning and also for learning the nature of science and technology.

Most of the research is concerned with secondary education, as this is the school level for which Science Education and Communication educates teachers. There is, however, also a number of research studies that deal with primary education. These studies are done in the context of the Science Hub (Wetenschapsknooppunt) that works on the professionalization of primary teachers for teaching science and technology.

There are relations with the Science Communication research programme, particularly in the topics of professionalization (Caroline Wehrmann) and design of education and communication innovations (Maarten van der Sanden). These will be further exploited in the future.

There is also cooperation with the educational research that takes place in the 4TU Centre of Engineering Education, the Radboud University in Nijmegen and the University of Leiden, all in the Netherlands, and with the Unit of Learning in Engineering Sciences at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden.


Read more on publications by the SEC department: publications SEC.

Designing for concept learning

Sathyam Sheoratan (Ph.D. student) studies how scaffolding  can be used in design activities to stimulate concept learning in chemistry education, also at the secondary level. He investigated what ideas teachers in secondary and tertiary education have about that. He will work with chemistry teachers in professional learning communities to investigate how scaffolding can be successfully exploited for design-based learning in chemistry.

Hanna Stammes (Ph.D. student) investigates the way formative assessment can be used in design activities to enhance concept learning in chemistry education at the secondary level. In particular she is interested in the Pedagogical Concept Knowledge Teacher need to make optimal use of formative assessment for that purpose and how that PCK can be developed in Professional Learning Communities. Stammes’ study is part of a joint NWO-funded project with the Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen (Erik Barendsen).

Tessa Vossen (Ph.D. student) focuses on two relatively new school subjects in secondary level education: Nature, Life and Technology (NLT), and Research & Design (in Dutch: Onderzoeken & Ontwerpen, abbr. O&O). Both subjects can be regarded as examples of integrated STEM education. She found that both teachers and pupils like design work better than research and inquiry. In a Professional learning Community she will work with secondary teachers to see how research and design can be combined in an integrated project and how this can stimulate concept learning. Vossen’s project is a joint project with the University of Leiden.

Design in primary education

Remke Klapwijk (staff) studies ways to enhance creativity by design in primary education. Concept mapping appeared to be one possible strategy for that. Her research is part of an NWO-funded project, in cooperation with the faculty of Industrial Design at Delft University of Technology (Jan-Willem Stappers and Mathieu Gielen). Article.

Annemarie Looijenga (Ph.D. student) focuses on the early phases in design at the level of primary education. Sub-topics were the use of iteration and groundwork. Looijenga developed and tested pedagogical strategies for using those to stimulate creativity with primary school children. Article 1, article 2.

Alice Schut is working on the problem of fixation in design. This phenomenon is known to exist even with professional designers, but also appears to occur with primary children. Schut investigates the use of pedagogical tools as developed in the Designed by Kids programme, run by the Science Hub at Delft, to see how they can be optimized for classroom use. Schut’s research is part of an NWO-funded project in cooperation with the Industrial Design faculty at Delft University of Technology (Jan-Willem Stappers and Mathieu Gielen).

The concept of Pedagogical Concept Learning

Ineke Henze (staff) works on further developing the concept of Pedagogical Concept Knowledge (PCK) about which there is continued debate ever since Lee Shulman came up with it. In cooperation with Jan van Driel (University of Melbourne, formerly University of Leiden) she wrote on how to capture the complexity of PCK. Her research supports the Ph.D. studies by Sheoritan, Stammes, Vossen and Coskun. Article.

Impact of the educational minor on students’ concepts and motivation

Begüm Coskun (postdoc) investigates the impact of the educational minor that is taught by the Science Education and Communication group on the ideas that students have about being a teacher and about what Pedagogical Content Knowledge is needed to teach science and technology. This study is part of a project that is done with the University of Leiden (Fred Janssen) and the University of Groningen (Martin Goedhart).

Modelling, metacognition and transfer in mathematics education

Jeroen Spandaw (staff) published on modelling in mathematics education. Modelling can be considered to be what design is in science and technology. More recently his interest shifted towards meta-cognition in mathematics education. This work supports the Ph.D. work by Haydee Ceballos and Süleyman Tursucu. Article

Haydee Ceballos (Ph.D. student) has developed a learning line that aims at developing metacognition in mathematical problem solving. A longitudinal study has been planned to investigate the effects of this intervention.

Süleyman Tursucu (PH.D. student) researches a problem that has been known for a long time already but with which teachers still struggle, namely the fact that pupils are often unable to transfer to physics education what they have learnt in mathematics education (at secondary level). Süleyman started by finding out what beliefs and belief systems mathematics and physics teachers have about this problem and about possible solutions. In his study he uses the concept of symbol sense to see if that provides clues for helping pupils apply what they learnt in mathematics to problems in physics. Tursucu’s study is funded by NWO. Article.

Gamification of physics education

Gerben Bakker (Ph.D. student) works on gamification as a strategy to make physics education at secondary level more attractive and more effective. Games are known to have a positive effect on motivation, but it is not always clear if that also leads to better learning. Gerben develops gamified lessons on a number of topics in physics education to investigate what can make gamification work as a pedagogical tool in physic education. Bakker’s study is funded by NWO.

The nature of science

Peter Dekkers (staff) has done work on how to teach and learn elements of the nature of science in secondary science education. This work is in continuation of his previous position at the Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN) and his teaching in South-Africa. His work supports the Ph.D. study by Pols. Article.

Freek Pols (Ph.D. student) studies the way secondary school pupils can be stimulated to come up with proper arguments for explanations of experimental findings in class. This contributes to their understanding of science as a discipline in which argumentation plays a vital role in combination with experimentation. His work is funded by NWO.

The nature of technology

Marc de Vries is interested in building bridges between philosophy of technology and technology education. Philosophical reflections on the nature of technology can provide insights that are useful for teaching and learning about technology. His philosophical interest focuses on normativity in technological knowledge. This work also supports the research on design for concept learning. Article 1, article 2, article 3.

John Dakers is an affiliated member of the Science Education and Communication group. His research deals with philosophy of technology and its implications for technology education, with a particular focus on technological literacy. Article.

Bètasteunpunt Zuid-Holland

Bètasteunpunt Zuid-Holland is een netwerk van voortgezet onderwijsinstellingen en vier hoger onderwijsinstellingen in Zuid-Holland. Samen werken we aan de professionalisering van bètadocenten, vakvernieuwing en aan de verbetering van de aansluiting vo-ho. Het nascholingsprogramma ‘Delft voor Docenten’  van de TU Delft is in het Bètasteunpunt opgenomen.


Ieder kind wil de wereld om zich heen ontdekken en begrijpen, dat is nu precies wat wetenschappers ook elke dag doen. Universiteit Leiden, TU Delft en Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam hebben hun krachten gebundeld in het Wetenschapsknooppunt Zuid-Holland. Hier wordt de wereld van kinderen en wetenschappers aan elkaar verbonden via activiteiten waarbij onderzoekend en ontwerpend leren centraal staan.

ENGAGE Project (H2020)

The ENGAGE project is part of the EU Science in society agenda to promote more Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). ENGAGE is about equipping the next generation to participate in scientific issues to change how science is taught. Traditionally students gain an image of science as a body of content, whereas RRI deals with uncertain areas of knowledge, where values and argument matter as much as facts. This shift is hugely challenging. ENGAGE focuses on a more inquiry-based methodology, which gives students  opportunity for self-expression and responsibility for coming to informed decisions.

The ENGAGE professional learning and curriculum development approach goes beyond training events. Its three-stage path will propel teachers in their own inquiry to become expert with RRI: 

  • Adopt,  combines exciting learning materials, online community and online courses and workshops for coaching and feedback.
  • Adapt, offers expert’s toolkit of examples, explanations, anecdotes and activities to help students learn effectively.
  • Transform, provides  open-ended Projects put teachers and students into partnership with practising scientists, to learn about RRI directly.

You can visit the Engage website, register, login and download all the materials and teacher guides. For more info, contact dr. Dury Bayram Jacobs or read the brochure

Designing for concept learning

Dave van Breukelen (Ph.D. student) investigated how design activities can be used in teacher education for secondary physics teachers to enhance their understanding of physics concepts, and also how they can transform these experiences to secondary classroom level. He confirmed research by Janet Kolodner in finding that an active role of teachers is needed to stimulate students and pupils to use the concepts in their design work. Van Breukelen elaborated a strategy for that in what he called the (Focus, Investigate, Technological design, Synergy) FITS process. Van Breukelen’s study was funded by NWO. Article.

Umit Koycu (Ph.D. student) did a study among about 7,600 upper secondary school pupils in 40 countries to find out what mental conception they have of engineering. He found that their ideas cover four dimensions: research, development, production and marketing. He also found positive attitudes towards engineering. Article.

Ammeret Rossouw (Master student) conducted an international Delphi study into basic concepts in technology and engineering that experts in technology and engineering education found important enough to be included in a technology and engineering curriculum for primary or secondary school. This study later became the basis for a NSF-funded project on contextualised concept learning in the USA. Article.

Marja-Ilona Koski (Ph.D. student) conducted a series of studies aimed at finding a possible strategy for primary teachers to use design activities for concept learning, in particular regarding the concept of systems. Article.

Mohammad Ghaemi Nia (Ph.D. student) did research on the way secondary and tertiary curricula and standards for technology and engineering education suggest images of technology and engineering and the extent to which they match with the way technology and engineering are conceptualised in the philosophy of technology and engineering. He found that in particular the concept of modelling needs enhancement in secondary level curricula and standards. For tertiary curricula there was sometimes a lack of attention for social and industrial aspects of technology and engineering. Article.

Ineke Frederik, Wim Sonneveld and Marc de Vries conducted a study among secondary level technology teachers to investigate their understanding of the concepts of function and structure of artefacts. They found that teacher had difficulties distinguishing those concepts properly and also with identifying relations between them in concrete artefacts. Article.

Responsible Research Innovation (RRI) in science education

Dury Bayram-Jacobs (postdoc) investigated how Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) activities in secondary schools can contribute to learning in science education. Her research was part of a Horizon2020 project Engage. Article.

Science Education & Communication (SEC)