September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Asking the Real Experts in Science Education

Posted: Saturday, January 1st, 2011

by Donna Ross

As a faculty member in the College of Education, I often find myself in a position to make teaching suggestions to preservice and inservice teachers.  Whenever possible, I try to get my ideas from the real experts.  I frequently ask K-12 students for their suggestions.  Recently, I had the opportunity to invite eight urban high school students to participate in a workshop for teachers.  I asked the students to answer two questions for the group:

  1. What is one teaching strategy or style that does NOT help you learn science?
  2. What is one teaching strategy or style that DOES help you learn science?

The only guideline I gave them was to try to avoid repeating answers.  They gave me permission to share their responses here.

NS: It doesn’t work for me when the teacher puts us in groups and each group presents one part of the chapter, but we are all supposed to learn all the parts.  I feel I only learn the part I present because not every group includes enough detail for the test.  It would be better if we were only tested on the part we present.  A style that does work for me is when we do a lab and come together to share our questions and ideas.  Then there is a lecture that clarifies our ideas and what the results mean and how to apply it.

SD: It doesn’t help me when teachers make me write down a long list of vocabulary terms and definitions and never revisit the material, so it feels like a waste of time.  Just because I wrote it down doesn’t mean I automatically learned it.  What does help is when there is repetition to help me remember the concept.  For example, we use the idea in the lab and the lecture and a game and the bellwork.  Also, if we get to figure out our own conclusions, we remember better.

NA: Reading out loud and expecting us to learn the material doesn’t work for me, especially if the teacher has different students doing the reading.  Most of the time we can’t even hear.  Even if the teacher is reading, it is hard to understand the textbook.  It feels like a waste of time.  A style that does work for me is to do the lab and then look at really short parts of the book that explain what we did in the lab.  Then the book makes more sense.

FK: It doesn’t work for me if I know more about the subject than my teacher.  I lose respect for the teacher if he or she hasn’t learned the material first.  Something that does work for me is when the teacher calls on us randomly because it keeps me focused and thinking.

SJ: Teaching the same way all the time doesn’t work for me; teachers should mix it up so we stay busy.  Not everyone learns the same way, so using lots of different styles is best.  It also helps to have a good study guide so tests are not surprises.

MF: It is hard for me to remember all the instructions when a teacher just says them once, so having them written clearly really helps.  During lectures, note-taking guides and foldables are also helpful for me.

TH: PowerPoints are not effective for me because they are usually too boring and have too much information.  Hands-on activities are better for me and anything that allows students to think and figure things out for ourselves.

NH: It is frustrating for me when we do labs where the results are obvious even without doing the lab.  It actually works for me if the teacher does a really good lecture with questions or we do a good lab where we have to figure out the results.

***

The eight students who participated come from four distinct ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and range in academic achievement, but all share a desire to be successful.  All eight of the students have slightly different preferences, but there is a consistent theme of engagement throughout all of their responses.  The more engaged the students are, the more they perceive the teaching as effective.  This personal wisdom echoes many of the findings from the research literature in science education.  Student engagement, hands-on activities, inquiry approaches, literacy supports, and well-prepared teachers all increase opportunities for meaningful learning in science classrooms.  Just ask the experts!

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

Written by Donna Ross

Donna Ross is Associate Professor of Science Education at San Diego State University.

One Response

  1. “It is frustrating for me when we do labs where the results are obvious even without doing the lab.”

    Around 1929, F. W. Westaway addressed this issue in his book, Science Teaching. He termed this sort of lab as a “verification lab” and advised strongly against it. Here’s what he said.

    “Beware of verification methods. ‘Show that ferrous ammonium sulphate contains one-seventh of its own weight of iron.’ This is simply asking for the evidence to be cooked.”

    Must we repeatedly discover and rediscover what has been so well known for a century?

    Westaway goes on to say (please ignore the gender usage common a 100 years ago), “When a boy works an experiment, keep him just enough in the dark as to the probable outcome of the experiment, just enough in the attitude of a discoverer, to leave him unprejudiced in his observations.”

    This is a part of the essence of the education science lab. It doesn’t absolutely have to be hands-on, but it should not be simulated whether hands-on or not.

    Simulations belong to a different part of learning science, one that includes videos, animations, and the like.

    To read more of F. W. Westaway’s comments on teaching science, see http://smartscience.blogspot.com/2009/04/some-advice-on-teaching-science.html. I think that you’ll find the ideas to be quite modern.

    Westaway was indeed an expert on the subject having written successful books on scientific method, science teaching, and the history of science. I find his insights to be valuable.

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