Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
The science community needs to develop better ways to assess students’ understanding and skills, not just their science factual knowledge.
For many years, education has traditionally been about standing in front of a classroom and giving a great lecture, or just a lecture. What people rarely do is try to work out whether or not the students have actually learned anything.
A student’s ability to regurgitate facts on a multiple choice proves little. Most any student can memorize enough facts to earn a minimal passing score. However, what have they learned – minimal! No wonder most students are turned off by science by the time they complete high school.
Students need to understand scientific literature, along with the ability to design an experiment and interpret data. This ability to make informed decisions not only has its implications in learning science, this ability is transformed to everyday decisions in a real world.
Educating students in science is important because they’re going to be the leaders of the future. These leaders will need to be able to make policy decisions by analyzing scientific evidence, instead of throwing up their hands in confusion or making wrong decisions.
When students understand the scientific process they become informed citizens. They have the ability distinguish between fact and fiction. Whenever scientists disagree, informed citizens realize that they are conducting scientific research and there are many paths. Rarely is there one correct path to an answer in science. Science is like Times Square – there are many paths that will take you and all are correct.
Students need to learn how to critically analyze science information and argue points from evidence, data, or observations. Educators need to get rid of the lecture format and let students do more in class to facilitate their learning.
We have to stop telling and let them work with scientific information. A hands-on, minds-on approach is best. This means to let them design experiments under teacher facilitation so then learn that there are many methods for finding an answer.
Canned laboratory investigations leave little to the scientific imagination. Although they may be hands-on, students do not use a minds-on approach or critical thinking.
Students also need to use the power of technology to conduct their experiments.
These are three excellent teaching strategies for hands-on and minds-on:
When students are allowed to think and not just memorize they will learn science facts, along with the ability to make connections between facts. This is what assessments should focus on, the ability of students to use critical thinking skills to make scientific connections. This will make them more informed citizens of the world.
Any suggestions for additional strategies to make science learning more meaningful?