Most of us go through life with our cherished biases, leanings, and predispositions happily unchallenged by anything resembling actual research findings. If you haven’t noticed this particular phenomenon, perhaps you should direct more attention to certain public utterances of our elected officials.
And so it is with science education, where it is an uncontested article of faith that modern instruction is best when it involves active participation rather than passive reception of information through lectures. Who would dare to challenge this cherished assumption?
A group from Canada dared, if not exactly to challenge it, at least to design an experiment to test the validity of the active vs. passive proposition.
The setup was a large enrollment first-year physics course with two types of instructor: (1) a highly rated, very experienced professor who taught using the traditional lecture format; and (2) an inexperienced but knowledgeable postdoctoral fellow who employed various activities designed to get students to think, reason, and problem-solve like a physicist.
Guess which approach had the best attendance, higher engagement with the subject, and more than twice the measured learning?
The active schema, of course. This satisfyingly fulfills our bias, but at least now there is real research backing up the call for lessening our reliance on the professor yakking away in front of a class.
And speaking of “thinking like a physicist,” my college advisor told me that you know you are a chemist when you can “think like an electron.” I’m still working on it.
Chemistry in History: Activities [CHF]
Active Engagement Works [Uncertain Principles]