[This] finding defies conventional wisdom, which holds that teaching science facts will improve students’ reasoning ability.
Our study shows that, contrary to what many people would expect, even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don’t necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed,” Bao said. “Because students need both knowledge and reasoning, we need to explore teaching methods that target both.”
As I indicated in this post, this is not a fair conclusion from the study:
What? This isn't the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is that that learning facts in a domain will improve the ability to reason in that domain. This wasn't tested in the study. What was tested in the study, via the FCI and the BEMA, was the students' understanding in the domain (physics) which was significantly higher for the Chinese students compared to the American students. Not surprisingly, the American students didn't understand much physics since they didn't learn many physics facts and their "scientific methods" instruction failed to fill the void. Constructivists take heed.Naturally, I got some pushback from the usual sources.
When your long commentary concludes that the investigators misinterpreted the results of their own study, I know something amiss - with your commentary.
Perhaps there was something wrong with my analysis. But if there were, there's also something wrong with biologist Paul Gross' more-detailed analysis in this month's American Educator which essentially concludes the same as I did. (HT Education Next blog)
Here, then, is an alternate view of the Bao et al. results. The Chinese students know physics. The American students don't. Now both groups face a different challenge--different enough from the standard physics problems so that the Chinese students' superior conceptual and problem-solving skills in physics provide no immediate advantage. The new challenge is to think about problems of a very simple scientific character, but in forms and subject-matter domains that neither group has encountered before. As the authors explain in their online supplementary materials, the LCSTR "measures fundamental reasoning components with simple context scenarios that do not require complex content understanding. This test design can improve the measurement of the basic reasoning abilities by reducing the possible interference from understandings of content knowledge." But if so, both cohorts will handle most of the questions on the LCSTR (or any challenge like it) the same way. The will need to think through each question from scratch--to find the best answer starting from elementary principles. That kind of thinking is slower and more error-prone (Ed: see this post for why) than the thinking available to a physics-savvy Chinese student taking the FCI or BEMA.It's a very good article and analysis (and not just because Gross agrees with me) so you should read the whole thing.
The article is also relevant to our ongoing discussion on expertise and knowledge. Gross gets right to the heart of the current debate.
Arguments for much more reasoning and less content (a necessary tradeoff, given the time constraints) in K-12 science begain decades ago. Eventually, the idea became a catch phrase. "Content" was redefined to function as a synonym for "facts" (or "mere facts") independent of reasoning. But defining content that way is nothing more than a rhetorical move. No honest study of science textbooks and lessons nationwide, not even from the benighted decades preceding the launch of sputnik, could conclude that just memorizable facts were required, with no reasoning. Facts were (and are) taught, and facts must be learned if any discipline is to be understoood and practiced. The rhetorical flourishes of those arguing for more scientific reasoning have affected some people's perceptions, but they have not changed the reality that, in general, science curricula have never been exclusively lists of facts to be memorized, devoid of the means by which those facts are discovered and gain acceptance in the scientific community. (emphasis added)Exactly.
Proponents of inquiry/discovery learning, 21st Century skills, more scientific reasoning are basically arguing against a strawman they've created to push their "agenda." No one is arguing for the mere memorization of facts. Simialrly, no one is arguing for the merely learning how to reason generally independent of any facts.
Everyone wants students to increase their ability to reason generally.
One side believes that this can be accomplished directly in an environment in which the learning of content is downplayed or minimized in favor of various learning activities centering around learning the scientific method, data collection techniques, formal logic, critical reasoning/reading, performing scientific experiments, and the like. Since time is limited in K-12 education, so devoting time to all these activities cuts into learning content.
The other side believes that this general reasoning ability is not something that can be taught directly but is the result of learning how to reason within a wide variety of different domains which entails learning the content inherent in each domain. Sadly, there is no shortcut to learning, no mtter how badly you'd like there to be. And, yes, some areas of the areas of learning pointed out by the 21st century learners do need to be improved; however, they need to learned independently for each domain. For example, if you want students to know about how to conduct an experiment, you're going to have to teach in in physical science, then again in biology, and again in chemistry, and yet again in physics. Yes, there will be some transference between domains, but the research tells us that the transference with be minimal. each domain has its own special considerations which are doman specific. I tried to illustrate this point in the context of critical reading in this post.
The debate is really about where the line should be drawn between how much content should be taught and what (often ignored) skills should be emphasized given the time constraints of K-12 education such that the student will be able to best build on their acquired knowledge base as they continue their learning after K-12.
That's the debate we should be having, but sadly aren't.