Thursday, March 19, 2009

Article: Learning and Scientific Reasoning

By Lei Bao, Tianfan Cai, Kathy Koenig, Kai Fang, Jing Han, Jing Wang, Qing Lu, Lin Ding, Lili Cui, Ying Luo, Yufeng Wang, Lieming Li, and Nianle Wu

From http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/

I'm posting this excerpt in line with my last post about the purpose of Physics 1.

"The development of general scientific abilities is critical to enable students of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to successfully handle open-ended real-world tasks in future careers. Teaching goals in STEM education include fostering content knowledge and developing general scientific abilities. One such ability, scientific reasoning, is related to cognitive abilities such as critical thinking and reasoning. Scientific reasoning skills can be developed through training and can be transferred. Training in scientific reasoning may also have a long-term impact on student academic achievement... The results from this study are consistent with existing research, which suggests that current education and assessment in the STEM disciplines often emphasize factual recall over deep understanding of science reasoning...Relations between instructional methods and the development of scientific reasoning have...shown that inquiry-based science instruction promotes scientific reasoning abilities. The current style of content-rich STEM education, even when carried out at a rigorous level, has little impact on the development of students' scientific reasoning abilities. It seems that it is not what we teach, but rather how we teach, that makes a difference in student learning of higher-order abilities in scientific reasoning. Because students ideally need to develop both content knowledge and transferrable reasoning skills, researchers and educators must invest more in the development of a balanced method of education, such as incorporating more inquiry-based learning that targets both goals."

This excerpt from an article we read in 290 was sobering to me. I've always known what I needed to impart, but the question became: did I do it? Can I do it?
I see three major dilemmas that could make imparting the skill of scientific reasoning difficult.

1. Lack of conceptual foundations - tertiary level subjects are meant to develop these reasoning skills, right? But it is not easy to accomplish if the students are not equipped with the proper conceptual background. We can teach these concepts, but that takes time away from asking the more important questions: the whys and the hows. And these questions take time to answer!
2. Language barrier - Our books are in English. Our students speak Filipino. Our exams are in English. Our students think in Filipino. Our science is in English. Our lives are in Filipino. 'Nuff said. Bow.
3. Teacher factor - I tend to forget the important question when I am writing out lectures: What do my students need to learn? Oftentimes, I forget that this is infinitely more important than What do I need to finish discussing? Most teachers focus more on the syllabus they created rather than the students they are teaching. I'm guilty of rushing lectures to finish the subject coverage only to saturate the learning curve of most of my students. If only for this, I owe my students an apology.

But still, here's to hoping against hope that I imparted some skills to my students.

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