Fausta's blog

Faustam fortuna adiuvat
The official blog of Fausta's Blog Talk Radio show.

Friday, January 20, 2006

More on boys and books, and science illiteracy
After I posted yesterday on the subject, I read in the (dead tree) Wall Street Journal an article titled What's the Right Formula? Pressure From New Tests Leads Educators to Debate How Best to Teach Science, about "inquiry-based" science education.

The article finds that a problem with the inquiry-based approach is that it neglects direct instruction.

I have no experience with inquiry-based science education but I suggest that no science at all can be taught without direct instruction. Mankind was around for thousands of years before Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity -- if science knowledge poured down on our minds out of the clear blue, we would all have figured out gravity thousands of years before good old Isaac.

Giving kids 40% of their science time period to do hands-on work without a basic knowledge of
1. the scientific process
2. what the experiment is about: its purpose, its process, and its outcome
3. how to replicate and quantify their findings (after all, the essence of science is replication and quantification, and I say is because replication and quantification is one thing, two processes: If you can't replicate your results it's not science, no matter how you quantify it)
is, I assure you, a waste of 40% of the time period.

Lazy teachers might find it useful to have the students spend time playing with "stuff" instead of actually doing a guided experiment where the teacher has specifically structured the activity to demonstrate a law of science. Small wonder that "students whose science education is heavily weighted toward the inquiry method will score poorly" in standardized tests.

(I also worried that about the danger of having unstructured use of a well-appointed science lab. Visions of Mythbusters-like explosions gone bad ran through my mind, but then, I'm a mom.)

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred picked up on my Books and Boys post, adding his experience with gender-specific teaching to girls, and honored me further by adding links to Mamacita's excellent blog. Mamacita, who is a teacher in NJ (correction: Mamacita's a teacher, but not in NJ), has much to say about how to teach our children, and it's an honor to be included in a post about her. Commenter Leslie of The Insomniac blog stated,
I've had the opportunity to teach in a school that segregated the junior high core subjects and the results were fantastic. Discipline problems dropped, grades soared. Even the hormonal teenage kids, once they realized how much more interesting the course work was after it was designed to suit their gender, appreciated it.

If I could point a finger of blame I might point it at the universities -- at least here in Canada. They prefer not to discuss some pretty significant research that points to the superiority of some out-of-style teaching techniques. They produce teachers who try to make the best of things with the tools they've been given.

Kindergarten kids are journaling because the universities have said it's the right thing to do.

Academia's adoption of social constructivism (facilitating discovery as opposed to filling an empty vessel) as an overall teaching philosophy is at the heart of the problem.
Science can not be taught simply as "facilitating discovery", since the advance of science itself builds on the prior findings of other scientists. The universities' ignoring the actual science behind the research on gender-specific teaching methods has repercussions to our society beyond the classroom.

I received an email from Noreen Braman who sums it up,
it's about time schools started teaching in the way that students learn, and if that means employing different methods for males and females, so be it!
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