Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Canon Wilson

I am privileged to be reading Science Teaching by F. W. Westaway, published in 1929. In it, he summarizes the history of science teaching and begins by dividing this subject into two eras: before and after 1867. Why pick that date? That's when Canon Wilson wrote extensively about teaching science and broke with millennia of tradition. The following quote comes from Westaway quoting Wilson.

The lecture may be very clear and good; and this will be an attractive and not difficult method of teaching, and will meet most of the requirements. It fails, however, in one. The boy is helped over all the difficulties; he is never brought face to face with nature and her problems; what cost the world centuries of thought is told him in a minute; his attention, understanding, and memory are all exercised; but the one power which the study of physical science ought preeminently to exercise, the power of bringing the mind into contact with facts, of seizing their relations, of eliminating the irrelevant by experiment and comparison, of groping after ideas and testing them by their adequacy in a word, of exercising all the active faculties which are required for an investigation in any matter these may lie dormant in the class while the most learned lecturer experiments with facility and with clearness.
How ironic to see very similar ideas being written 142 years later by the National Research Council in America's Lab Report. What Wilson is referring to is the value of experimentation in learning. In order to gain the true benefits of science education, students must confront complex and ambiguous situations with true real-world data that is not clear-cut and obvious.

"Experimenting" with equation-derived data is insufficient. It's even wasteful of time that could be spent experimenting with real-world data.

Students must a) experiment, and b) collect data from the material world. Providing a safe, efficient, and inexpensive means to this end has been the driving force behind the creation of the Smart Science® system. No other organization has put the necessary time and effort into such a creation. They all take the easy way out with cartoon-like simulations that give you the same data always. There's no imperative to collect data point by point in a simulation. It makes no sense.

To put the case very bluntly, the time reserved in a science course for laboratory experience must not be replaced by simulations. They are destructive of learning science if used in this fashion. Simulations, like any tool, must be used properly to have a positive outcome. Students have to know that the simulation they're running is not an experiment or a "lab." They must know that it's an artist's conception of certain equations that represent the current consensus of scientists and that even so, they may contain errors or "bugs."

If your data source is the real world instead of algorithms, then these problems vanish.

The Smart Science® education system blends prerecorded real experiments with safe, effective, and inexpensive hands-on experiments to provide an optimized learning outcome. No other system available today can make that claim.

© 2009 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A. www.smartscience.netFollow this author on ETC Journal.

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