Friday, January 20, 2006

The Limits of College-level Science Education?

Ok, four images for this post, and this time there are no correct answers. The top two images are the pre and post test for a question about how confident the students were on this particular assessment. The second two are the pre and post test for a question about the students ability to do science.

Interestingly, we see a large change in the students' confidence to answer the questions on this particular test. I think that says something good about the teaching. This particular question is after all of the content material, so if they didn't feel good about answering the questions, they would have not said so. Also, they students did only see this assessment 3 months early, so one would hope they'd feel better the second time around.

The other question about thier ability to do science shows no change. So, even though the students do feel confident answering a few questions about astronomy, they don't see themselves as scientists yet. This effect has been seen before here and here, although in these studies they did use a separate assessment from the ADT to gauge student feelings towards science.

Why does this happen? In the Zeilik article he discusses that while we may have the best of intentions to improve attitudes towards science during a class, one semester may just not be enough time to do it. This probably is the main key. Students only meet with a professor some 40ish times during the course of a semester, during which they're trying to cram a bunch of facts in their heads as well as deal with all the other junk that goes on during college life. We could expect them to learn a few things, but could we really expect them to change their fundemental views about themselves (such as - "I can do science")?

I'd also like to think that in the typical astronomy class (and really even the vast majority of redesigned active ones), learning is rather passive. Student's don't act like scientists, and aren't reinforced that they are acting like scientists even if they are. The other paper that I linked to shows no real difference between the active and traditional classes in this respect, but I wonder if we've gone active enough, and whether we can go active enough by the time students get to college.

I think largely data like this points to the need to be doing real science education as early as possible. Not sitting and absorbing factoids, but real inquiry based science learning, with teachers telling students (and showing them) that they're doing similar methods of learning to real scientists. Because of several recent posts by others, don't think that in anyway I'm saying that current elem/secondary teachers are doing a bad job, because they're probably just as much a victim of this as are their students. They weren't taught that they'd could be scientists as well. It's really up to the scientists to get into these classes and exhibit what it is that they actually do. Habits of mind, I think, are best learned by example.

I'd like to see some real research done on students in science classes that are very active learning environments, and see what would come of questions like this.


At 12:47 AM, Blogger maki-girl said...

Thanks for all your great work hb. The results you've shown so far are really interesting. I'm certainly glad my students' confidence has increased, but of course I wish that they saw themselves more as scientists. But, to be fair, I don't think they really did much science, but instead just learned about science. This is a big part of what I want to improve in this course. I think adding a lab has helped that this year, but the lab needs a lot of work.


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