Evidence Based Science Education

This blog will examine research and evidence as it relates to science education and science education issues. It is an attempt to bring together the science of education and the practice of education.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Assessment and Testing. What does the research say?

We have all heard the catch phrases against testing such as “we are testing our students to death” or that our schools have become “a culture of testing”. But what does research say about students in terms of testing and learning? The answer may surprise you.

Testing not only assesses what students have learned, testing enhances student learning. That’s right! Testing it turns out can be a learning experience itself. A Study published in Memory by Karpicke indicates that repeated testing was MORE effective than repeated studying for information retrieval. Our brains work by making neural connections. Every time a particular neural pathway is used, that pathway or connections is strengthened, making it more likely for that person to remember it in the future.

Beyond that they found that even when students get the wrong answer on a test that it enhances learning. It is thought this works for a couple of reasons. Test questions can help activate prior knowledge and let students know what is important. So it helps focus attention and effort.

Studies find that “People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail” (Roediger, 2009). The key to this is that the students have to get feedback on the correct answer in a timely manner.

How can teachers use this? As hard as it is for some to believe, teachers should be giving more, harder tests to students, especially more pre-tests and more formative tests. But the tasks must be relevant and students must receive timely feedback on their performance on these tasks.

Under the right conditions testing is good for our brains, and good for learning.

Read more at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-it-wrong and http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kornell/Publications/Richland.Kornell.Kao.2009.pdf

Thursday, December 17, 2009

10 things you can do to improve student outcomes

At the recent Colorado Science Conference I did a presentation on “10 things you can do to improve student achievement”. I have always been interested in what the best ways to engage students with knowledge are and how to ensure that students retain that knowledge. A combination of combing research and personal experience using various techniques; I have come up with this list of 10 strategies to improve student achievement.

1.Science study should involve doing science, that is questioning and discovering, not just covering material.

2.A Limited, judicious use of information giving. Students should only receive information in 10 minute time frames with time to then process and apply what they have learned.

3.Students should explore fewer topics in depth, not skim many superficially.

4.Develop a clear, coherent, science content storyline.

5.Integrate and teach how scientists read, write, speak, and do math.

6.Provide applications of science and technology.

7.Teacher use of Formative Assessments to guide instruction and improvement rather than to assign blame.

8.Interactive engagement of students (Students Are Intellectually Engaged with Important Ideas Relevant to the Focus of the Lesson).

9.Science is shown as a dynamic body of knowledge.

10.Sufficient time for Sense-Making.

• Weiss and the Horizon research group
• TIMSS Video study
• Brain based teaching
• Linking science and literacy
• Use of Formative Assessments
• Brain Considerate Classrooms

Friday, December 4, 2009

Active Learning

One of the things that most, if not all research, on education agrees on it is that learning must be active. But what does this mean? How do the revised Colorado science standards encourage active engagement of students?

Active engagement of students means that students have to interact with knowledge in a deep and meaningful way, instead of being the passive recipient of knowledge. For our brains to function best, they must engage new thoughts and ideas within our current knowledge and most importantly make connections to that knowledge. This is where active engagement comes in. Does this does not mean that teachers should never give students an answer, have them read from a book or from the web, or lecture? No, these techniques have their place in our schools and classrooms, it is the amount of information the students are supposed to process, how long students are supposed to concentrate, and what you have students do with the knowledge afterward that makes the difference.

Exposing students to an idea or having them hear about an idea does not necessarily engage the brain and make the necessary neural connection for the idea to have meaning and for the idea to be “internalized”. For this to happen students need to time to talk about the idea or to explore the idea further either through a hands-on experience or through a simulation. Then students’ understanding of the idea or concept needs to be challenged with thought provoking questions or situations that challenge the idea. Students need to see evidence that the idea is true or that works in multiple situations. The key is that students must be involved in meaningful ways.

There are many tried and true education techniques that get at active engagement such as inquiry learning, hand on activities, field trips, problem based learning, project based learning, think, pair, share, using essential questions, researching and writing, concept mapping, class discussions and Socratic seminars as well as some new ones like using “clicker” questions in class and computer simulations. Like any education tool or technique there are appropriate and inappropriate uses for any these, and just because you use one of these techniques does not guarantee students are actively engaged.

The new Colorado science standards not only support active learning by students but require students to be actively engaged in meaningful ways to master content. Wording in the evidence outcomes of the standards such as: “Students will develop, communicate, and justify an evidence based explanation...” or “Students will gather, analyze and interpret data on…” require that students have deep understanding of concepts that only comes with active cognitive engagement with those ideas. When students are actively engaged in learning students they use higher order thinking skills and they retain more information. Active engagement make learning more fun so students typically enjoy active engagement cutting down on discipline problems.