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: Best of Last Week – quantum pigeonholing, a hoverbike drone project and the sun goes quiet

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Designing exascale computers

Jul 23, 2014

"Imagine a heart surgeon operating to repair a blocked coronary artery. Someday soon, the surgeon might run a detailed computer simulation of blood flowing through the patient's arteries, showing how millions ...

Scientists study how complexity developed from simple cell

Jul 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Consider this a matter of scrambling down the family tree to its roots. Really old roots. Or perhaps it's more like blowing the dust off the family album—the human album—and opening to the first pages billions ...

Earthworm invasion: calling all citizen scientists

Jun 24, 2014

Interloping earthworms are wiggling and nibbling their way through northern soils, wreaking havoc on local ecosystems. It's an invasion that can be slowed only with help from citizen scientists and other ...

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

17 hours ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

17 hours ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

18 hours ago

Denmark attracted international attention in 2012 when archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

20 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

20 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

User comments : 0