Monday, November 3, 2014

Authentic Science Education

Quinn and Bell (2013) explicitly draw the connections between the modeling and argumentation based learning we’ve been talking about all semester and the NGSS standards. In a sort of summary of the class thus far, they showed the value of less-traditional learning approaches, including the similarities between a design-based classroom and less formal, real-life learning experiences such as hobbies and work.

Braund and Reiss (2006) contrast the experiences of school science, which is often seen as boring and irrelevant to all but the future scientists in the room (and unlikely to persuade more students to fall into this category), and real-life science experiences, which are typically more exciting and interesting. They talk about integrating science with students’ actual experiences as a means to add value to and deepen school learning.

“Classrooms had evolved to a culture of activity and engagement that failed to address important learning goals such as developing, using and critiquing scientific models, or engaging in evidence-based argumentation… Classrooms must change again, not back to a failed model, but forward to one that learning research demonstrates is more effective: to recognize the central role of active knowledge for learners and the social process of dialogic learning within communities.” This is something I have had to remind myself over and over this semester. The classes that were activity-heavy that I disliked so much during school were not designed around these learning goals. The activities were fun, but often felt like distractions from the real learning. Active construction of knowledge by students is completely different from entertaining students through exciting activities. It is not taking away from our time for the real learning, it creating time for much deeper and more meaningful learning. Braund and Reiss talk about the importance of a mixture of educational and entertainment motivations in mastery of concepts. I think some teachers may believe that we can trick students into learning by entertaining them with something that is secretly educational. But that’s not what their research advocates. I think that a design-centered classroom is fun, but it also doesn’t try to hide the education, or stick it on at the end.

We all know that students like field-trips, and I think that most of us would love to be able to provide these experiences beyond the classroom for our students. Braund and Reiss talk about tons of benefits of these types of experiences. How feasible is it to do this in secondary schools? I only remember a handful of fieldtrips after elementary school, and those were always complicated because I had to miss other classes. There are so many factors to consider in addition to whether or not these are really valuable. What are some really practical ways that we can integrate out-of-school science if we aren’t able to do many field trips and without presumptuous homework assignments (things that would require excessive parental involvement)?

Finally, science is not a collection of flashy, exciting experiences. Typically, real science is careful, diligent study that may lead to new or deepened understandings. I worry that we’re attempting to lure students into the field with flash, and then surprise them when they get into a real lab and learn what it actually means to have a good sample size. I agree that the activities that Braund and Reiss describe are “pale imitations” of real science, but science museums are not accurate representations of science either. I think that they are placing too much emphasis on one type of science learning and are forsaking some of what science really is. 


  1. Can science activities not be both fun and cognitively engaging? Activities that require explanation and argumentation with classmates have always been enjoyable in my past experiences. The experience of debating with classmates has brought positive emotions into my learning. However, your point to separate educational experiences from entertainment experiences is important. While, science is not a collection of flashy, exciting experiences, one moment of excitement could encourage a student to peruse a particular field of study. The authors were worried that science was portrayed too greatly as a field of diligent study, note taking and lab experiments without excitement. Perhaps they were hoping to show a younger group of students how science can be exciting in order for them to gain a passion for learning, particularly in science.

  2. I would hope that researchers and engineers still get an occasional flashy science moment after they have started research and design. I know that I still get excited over new facts even when the class or lab is careful and regulated. Flashy science can show a positive side of science, and then those who continue to get excited about science will continue in the field. The ones who leave will leave with an appreciation of science and engineering. In response to the possibility of field trips; they would be difficult to achieve. However, the papers, and every class we have had so far, suggest that a student can find science wherever they go. The hard part is to bring the interesting science into the classroom. Maybe an alternative to field trips could be virtual programs (I think one of the authors mentioned this). Furthermore, assigned projects could encourage students to look at science outside of school.


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