01 February 2009

Science Is Not About Facts, But About Reasoning

Researchers at Ohio State University appear astounded to discover that teaching students "science facts" does not appear to help students with scientific reasoning.
(PhysOrg.com) -- A study of college freshmen in the United States and in China found that Chinese students know more science facts than their American counterparts -- but both groups are nearly identical when it comes to their ability to do scientific reasoning.

Neither group is especially skilled at reasoning, however, and the study suggests that educators must go beyond teaching science facts if they hope to boost students' reasoning ability.

Researchers tested nearly 6,000 students majoring in science and engineering at seven universities -- four in the United States and three in China. Chinese students greatly outperformed American students on factual knowledge of physics -- averaging 90 percent on one test, versus the American students' 50 percent, for example.

But in a test of science reasoning, both groups averaged around 75 percent -- not a very high score, especially for students hoping to major in science or engineering.

The research appears in the January 30, 2009 issue of the journal Science.

Lei Bao, associate professor of physics at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said that the finding defies conventional wisdom, which holds that teaching science facts will improve students' reasoning ability. _PO
Reasoning without facts is fanciful, and facts without reasoning are dead. Education seems to flit from one approach to the other, without understanding that children need exposure to both -- without political indoctrination (eg "climate catastrophe"), and respecting the critical developmental periods of the brain.

Educational methods pass through fads, lacking a deep understanding of the nature of human learning. One current fad is the use of computers in place of books or dialogue. There may be problems with this fad.
"By using more visual media, students will process information better," she said. "However, most visual media are real-time media that do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games. Technology is not a panacea in education, because of the skills that are being lost.

"Studies show that reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary," Greenfield said. "Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills. Students today have more visual literacy and less print literacy. Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades." _PO
Many teachers want students to use the computer during school time, and to have parents make the children read at home. Parents may have difficulty separating the children from their video games, cell phones, texting, messaging, MTV, videos, etc. long enough to get them to read, however. With both parents working, there may be little actual "home time" at all.

Reading, thinking, and thoughtful, informed dialogue help to teach children reasoning. Computer games can teach multi-tasking and eye-hand coordination. But the deeper reasoning that higher level modern life requires seems to fall between the cracks.

It was once thought that the $100 "laptop for every child" was the answer to educating the entire world's children. In India, they even have the $10 laptop for every child. Indian officials have high hopes for the device, naturally.

Learning to reason with objective facts -- forming hypotheses, then finding ingenious and elegant ways to test them -- is at the heart of scientific reasoning, which is what science is about.

Modern education seems to be about something entirely different. Call it a cross between indoctrination (academic lobotomy), expensive baby-sitting, and peer group socialisation into psychological neoteny. Not the best way to prepare new generations of problem solvers. More like the programming of brain-dead consumers and lifelong helpless adolescents.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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