Carl Wieman Lecture

I attended a lecture in DIT Bolton Street by Dr Carl Wieman titled

“Science Education in the 21st Century; using the methods of science to teach science”

This was of great interest to me as in the distant past I studied science and, like many others, I believe that we need to do more to stimulate effective practices in science eduction.

Many science teachers at school and college level are passionate about their work and are often willing to explore new pedagogic methods to stimulate student engagement.

Wieman focused on teaching methods and as his title suggests he uses analytical methods to assess different approaches and strategies.

He contrasts two educational models:
Model 1
Teacher encounters a new problem or concept
Teacher figures it out

Teacher explains to students
Students demonstrate that either (a) they know or (b) they don’t know the concept or problem
If outcome (a) – student learning is effective
If outcome (b) – student not making sufficient effort (lazy student!)

Model 2
Teacher encounters a new problem or concept
Teacher figures it out

Teacher establishes learning goals
Teacher guides student activities (the design of these activites is the practice of teaching and is informed by research and expeience)
Teacher measures learning outcomes
(a) students solve relevant problems
(b) students cannot solve the problems
If (a) all well and if (b) quesion either the goals or the activities (note not the student effort)

Wieman of course advocates the second model and he maintaines that through well planned activities and frequent data gathering and analysis the ‘goals and activities’ approach is consistently better for student problem performance and concept attainment.

Experts regardless of context (scientists, musicians and chess players) are characterised by three components
(1) access to lots of factual subject-specific knowledge
(2) an ability to recognise patters – an organisational framework
(3) an ability to self-monitor one’s thinking

Perhaps traditional teaching has emphasised the first of these components and neglected the other two components.

All of this makes a clear case for greater use of problem based learning.

One thing I disagreed with was when Carl Wieman said that in thinking about his ideas on teaching we should ignore the fact that he has a Nobel prize for science – oh no – not at all. We would not all be there if he had not achieved so much and his opinion does carry significant scientific authority.

Wieman’s ideas on teaching are very much in keeping with current thinking in the scholarship of learning and teaching – what is really encouraging is that a great scientist is advocating that we think again about our approach to education.

Perhaps more will listen to such a voice.

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