Teaching science: Is discovery better than telling?

Feb 16, 2009

Western Michigan University researchers have discovered that in the academic debate over whether young science students learn more through experimenting or direct instruction, there's little difference.

Neither teaching approach provides a significant advantage for middle school science students, according to research by three Western Michigan University faculty who will present their findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting Feb. 12-16 in Chicago.

Drs. William Cobern, David Schuster and Renee Schwartz, members of WMU's Mallinson Institute for Science Education, will speak Sunday, Feb. 15. The annual meeting, "Our Planet and Its Life: Origins and Futures," will highlight the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection."

Cobern, Schuster and Schwartz, who hold joint appointments in the departments of physics and biological sciences, will speak on the educational and political debate surrounding instructional approaches. The science community overwhelmingly teaches science though inquiry and experimentation. However, in some states there is political pressure for a return to direct instruction in science and math for K-12 students.

"The essential difference between the two approaches lies in how students come to the concept. That is, do students infer or are they told?" Cobern explains.

The researchers, supported by a National Science Foundation grant, studied middle school instruction during two-week summer programs over several years. In comparing the two methods of instruction, they found there actually was no significant difference in learning by students. More important, they say, was having a positive attitude toward science, a well-designed curriculum and good teachers.

"The data, while marginally favoring inquiry, really show that as long as the instruction is good either way, the two approaches lead to no significant difference--at least as far as science content understanding is concerned," says Cobern.

Source: Western Michigan University

Explore further: Science funding should go to people, not projects

Related Stories

Collaboratively exploring virtual worlds

13 hours ago

Today's students are accustomed to highly stimulating and interactive content, whether in the form of video games or mobile apps. As a result, they respond to a higher level of interactivity and engagement ...

Modeling how thin films break up

Jun 19, 2015

Excess surface energy from unsatisfied bonds is a significant driver of dimensional changes in thin-film materials, whether formation of holes, contracting edges, or run-away corners. In general, this break-up ...

Researchers make innovative use of LEGO

Jun 17, 2015

With even preschoolers using computers and video games, students at all levels now expect to modify and control their own experiments and receive immediate feedback. Responding to that trend, a trio of New ...

Recommended for you

Smithsonian to improve ethics policies on research funding

Jun 26, 2015

After revelations that a scientist failed to disclose his funding sources for climate change research, the Smithsonian Institution said Friday it is improving its ethics and disclosure policies to avoid conflicts of interest.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.