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: Thomas Edison's 'lost' idea: A device to hear the dead

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Synthetic biology yields new approach to gene therapy

Feb 16, 2015

Bioengineers at The University of Texas at Dallas have created a novel gene-delivery system that shuttles a gene into a cell, but only for a temporary stay, providing a potential new gene-therapy strategy ...

Recommended for you

Thomas Edison's 'lost' idea: A device to hear the dead

Mar 05, 2015

One of Thomas Edison's little-known ambitions was to build a device to hear the voices of the dead, according to a nearly lost chapter of the inventor's memoirs which is being republished in France this week.

Bribery 'hits 1.6 billion people a year'

Feb 27, 2015

A total of 1.6 billion people worldwide – nearly a quarter of the global population – are forced to pay bribes to gain access to everyday public services, according to a new book by academics at the Universities of Birmingham ...

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.