The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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The Scientific Method and Education

In the video above, shared by Dan Colman this morning on the Open Culture blog, Richard Feynman makes this powerful statement.

It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is, if it disagrees with [the] experiment, it’s wrong. – Richard Feynman

How would we apply this to education?

We should look at what is working and decide our policies based on the evidence. We should be looking at data, which should have a broad spectrum of types (just like scientific data has) and use it to help determine policy. We need to hold true to Feynmann’s process as well, which is to make a guess as to what will work, decide what the consequences of those actions would be, and then find a way to determine if this is true or not.

There are a number of initiatives in education which either lack data to support their implementation, or which have contradictory evidence as to their effectiveness. For example, various influential people have been promoting the idea of merit pay for teachers, for which the evidence is inconclusive. In other words, someone had an interesting guess about how education works (teachers will work harder for the chance at more money) and drew the conclusion that student learning would improve as a result (as measured by one form of assessment, a standardized test), and the results of the experiment have not shown a result one way or the other (but have shown that when you dangle a big enough carrot in front of people, they will cheat to get it).

My guess is that the schools that work the best start with the premise that teachers should have sufficient autonomy and support to master their craft, and someone (parents, school, or teachers) provides the resources (food, clothing, shelter, safety, supplies, technology) for their children to succeed. I predict that in such schools you would see higher engagement in learning from administrators, teachers, students, parents, and the community. 

Who is willing to do an experiment to see if my guess is right?