First some misconceptions about science:
What if we create really clear explanations to address these misconceptions?
What if we run experiments with students? What if they design their own experiments to test out their hypothesis? (Really recommend watching this until the very end.)
Are there some scientific facts which are useful to know? Definitely. We could teach most those facts in a single science course if that was the purpose of science education. Why then do we teach science for 13 years in school?
A recent article suggesting that labs are "a waste of time" in science assumes that the purpose of science education is to transfer information. Instead, I believe that kids should learn that science is about experimentation and testing ideas, and that the facts which comprise scientific knowledge have been discovered through experimentation. They should know that science is not a collection of permanent facts about the world, but that instead, what is considered true in science changes. Science is more of a way of thinking about the world than a collection of isolated facts. Science is a philosophical perspective on the world wherein we recognize that through observation, experiment, and analysis, we can learn about the world.
What would you prefer? Should students know a lot of science facts, but perhaps don’t understand how those facts were derived? Or would you prefer that students understand the scientific method deeply, but might not know as much existing scientific knowledge?
As a former engineer (10 years before becoming an educator) and as a physics teacher now (for the last 10 years) I can say, without doubt, that hands-on experiments and projects are VITAL to learning science. Test scores are useless in most cases to evaluate learning. In science, we want students to learn how to explore, examine, question, solve problems, fail and retry, work as a team, and so much more. Test scores are the least thing we should be worrying about. My college (WPI.edu) is completely project based learning oriented and we LEARNed because of this.
In today’s world, knowing facts isn’t as important as knowing how to get there. We can look up facts. But, what if we don’t know if they really are fact? How do we apply facts to a situation? How do we analyze and solve problems? We can only learn these things through projects and labs in science.
I wish I could find the two studies I read that showed that colleges felt that K-12 spent too much time on facts and too many topics and needed to cut down the number of topics and work more on process. The colleges felt that we needed to teach teamwork, collaboration, communication, research, evaluation, analysis and problem solving over facts and test prep.
What those teachers are doing may raise some irrelevant test scores (when compared to life knowledge) but will harm their students for their future education and success.
October 18, 2011 — 8:22 am
A. Thieke says:
Science is a process of understanding the world around us. Science class should help students understand how scientists DO science. Students should think through problems, collect data, discuss and disagree about what the data means, and justify their positions based on their background knowledge and understanding of concepts. Memorization of facts,collection of science knowledge, and demonstrations about science concepts or, worse yet, “tricks”, detract from the point of learning science.
October 18, 2011 — 7:44 pm
Mr. Kay's says:
If we look at the facts about information and see that the exponential growth of knowledge that we are experiencing is far outpacing our ability to teach all that information. It then forces people to either embrace a paradigm shift or hide their head in the sand. Unfortunatel Far to many just burying their head in the sand and ignore the fact that the foundations of educational needs of our populace is shifting beneath our feet and that the current methods just don’t service.
Because of the growth of knowledge and increased access through the Internet, content standards are becoming irrelevant (when is there too much content to effectively explore?)What needs to be reintroduced is the idea of skill standards with a 21st century twist. We need to teach out children how to not only access information appropriately, but to evaluate if it is useful, then use it to create something new. This is the foundation of science, what happened before me, is it important, and if so, how can I use it to solve new problems or create something new.
I embrace project learning in my classroom even in the face of limited resources and the difficulty it often time provides in terms of grading, but I do so knowing that it is what my students need. I cannot fathom the complex problems that my students will face in the future, but I do know if I give my students opportunities to learn the skills to effectively solve complex problems now, they will have the skills to effectively solve complex problems in the future.
I applaud WPI and their system, as well as places Ilike Olin College of engineering who also do major projects with their students. I hear complaints from my father-in-law, 30+ years as an engineer for a defense contractor, that too many college students graduate with no practical hands on experience. He says in the next 5-6 years our major engineering firms are going to be decimated as the skilled works are older and retiring as the younger workers don’t have the needed skills to replace them.
We need to learn from the great things that trade schools a doing and turn thinking into a trade for all students.
October 19, 2011 — 2:26 pm