Data vs Scientific Thinking

I confess – I am somewhat confused by our education systems.

I know, I know. We all are. We all are confused by about possibly 10,000 different things in our education system.

There is one thing that confuses me more than anything else – assessment in science.

We are being continually told how we need to teach science by enquiry, we need to make it more engaging, we need to teach the ‘real side’ of science – problem solving, uncertainty, experimentation.

Then we turn around and say we need to make the students write essays on pre-decided topics with plenty of resources available to draw out the answers form, or sit exams that test fact-recall (in many different formats, but it’s still fact-recall).

If you want to grade students on how well they do on an exam, the best way to prepare them for it is by teaching the facts and practising sitting exams.

One of my colleagues spent an entire term teaching in just that way with a year 11 group. They had expressed their dislike of practicals right at the beginning, and actually preferred working through independent research [link to other article], then sitting as many practice exams as they could. They were given the mark scheme at the end of the exams and would self-assess their work.

Of course they all did well on the exam.

Of course the data for that class looked excellent – they had all done well, so the teaching-learning process must be excellent!

And yet it was the exact opposite of what we are told we should do in science classes.

Would the students have the ‘highly desirable’ scientific way of thinking? Probably not.

I myself find that experiments rarely reinforce key concepts in the way that they should. The experiment can go perfectly, everyone understanding exactly what’s happening, but then for some reason they cannot translate that across to the theory they are learning.

To be fair, this could very well be a downfall on my part – perhaps I am not making the links for the students?

Yes they are developing problem solving, experimentation, and scientific process skills, but I have yet to see a single exam that truly tests for these things.

Almost every exam I’ve ever seen has included some form of ‘imaging you are doing this experiment’ type questions, but do they really test these skills appropriately?

Here we do face a bit of an issue – which do you want more from the students and their teachers?

Good data or minds shaped to thinking scientifically?

I have yet to see a pedagogy that works really well on both fronts. Perhaps you have? If so, please share so I can try it out!


Enjoy reading about the human side of teaching? Sign up and receive new posts straight into your inbox here, or join the conversations over on Facebook!

About the Author:

Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s