Students taught directly by the teacher understand scientific concepts signfiicantly better than students who are asked to discover the science on their own, concludes a study by David Klahr, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon, and Milena Nigam, a research associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Biomedical Informatics. Monitor on Psychology reports:
For decades, early science education has emphasized “discovery learning,” in which children, given experimental materials such as springs and pulleys, marbles and ramps, are expected to “discover” scientific principles on their own . . .
Klahr saw three main reasons to challenge discovery learning. First, most of what students, teachers and scientists know about science was taught, not discovered, he says. Second, teacher-centered methods (in which teachers actively teach, as opposed to observe or facilitate) for direct instruction have been very effective for procedures that are typically harder for students to discover on their own, such as algebra and computer programming. Third, he adds, only vague theory backed the predicted superiority of discovery methods — and what there is clashes with data on learning and memory. For example, discovery learning can include mixed or missing feedback, encoding errors, causal misattributions and more, which could actually cause frustration and set a learner back, says Klahr.
Seventy-seven percent of “direct instruction” third and fourth graders — but only 23 percent of “discovery learning” students — “were able to design at least three out of four experiments” without confounding factors.
About a week later, a different experimenter asked the children to evaluate two science-fair posters by suggesting how to make them “good enough to enter in a state-level science fair.” Both posters described deeply flawed experiments. Again, significantly more children exposed to direct instruction were able to critically evaluate experiments.
Critics of the research say that discovery learning used in today’s classrooms is not as unguided as the model studied. It sounds like teachers are sneaking in more direct teaching.
Via Education Gadfly.