Teaching Science Process

Scientists and science educators often say they wished they could teach how science is really done. But Katja Grace says it isn’t hard to teach kids “the central idea of science: experimenting for the purpose of changing your mind”:

If you want to learn to do science, with all the thrills of actually discovering anything, you are probably best to pick an area where people don’t already know all of the cheap answers … Does decreasing the length of my skirt increase the propensity of the cool students to talk to me? Does learning the piano as a child really make people happier later in life? Does Father Christmas exist? Do the other children hate me or are they just indifferent? What factors best cause my brothers to leave me alone? How much do my grades change if I do half an hour more or less homework each night? Does eating sugar all evening really keep me awake? How often will I really be approached by potential kidnappers if I hang out at the mall by myself after school? …

Most children and teenagers disagree with their parents, teachers and other adults on a large number of issues. Investigating those issues scientifically might have the added benefit of getting students in the habit of keeping their opinions related to reality. (more)

Given the typical expression on the typical student’s face, it is amazing that schools present themselves as sanctuaries of personal fulfillment, and sacred founts of creativity and innovation. School advocates imply: “All the great artists, scientists, etc. did well at school, and without school they’d be so much less.” But in fact schools arose with industry to get folks to accept the regimentation and ranking of the industrial workplace, and to curb natural human creativity, exploration, and challenging of authority. As Katja’s proposal’s illustrates, schools could in fact teach folks how to question common beliefs “scientifically,” if in fact authorities wanted common folks doing that sort of thing.  As I’ve written:

School is mostly not about the material taught in classes. I’m less sure to what extent it is about learning-to-learn, coming-to-obey, bonding with other kids, and signaling these features as well as intelligence and conscientiousness. I’m pretty sure signaling of various sorts is at least 30% of the average private value of school, and it could go as high as 80%. … The best evidence I’ve seen that school adds great value is the stories I’ve heard about how difficult are employees who grew up in “primitive” cultures without familiar schools. Apparently, it is not so much that such folks don’t know enough to be useful, but that they refuse to accept being told what to do, and object to being publicly ranked relative to co-workers. (more; see also more)

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  • no+na-me

    Yeah, and the kind of science that Roissy is doing. “Is this girl more or less likely to show me her pussy if I give her a present?” :D

  • Robert Ayers

    Isaac Asimov once wrote that there were two kinds of “science”, which he called “Science I” and “Science II”. The former consists of learning facts and figures (and problem solving): The atomic weight of carbon, Newton’s laws of motion, principles of evolution. The latter consists of the scientific method: hypothesis, test, verification or refutation. He too noted the schools are better at Science I than at Science II.

  • Pingback: Hanson on school « Blunt Object

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I think the “average teenage feminine” voice for empirically minded thought process is pretty cool -I suspect at least some intentional effort for constructing that voice on Ms. Grace’s part (I’m pretty sure she’s not a teenager).

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    What you’re not hitting here is are schools valuable or wasteful.

    Is this a good thing? ” But in fact schools arose with industry to get folks to accept the regimentation and ranking of the industrial workplace, and to curb natural human creativity, exploration, and challenging of authority. As Katja’s proposal’s illustrates, schools could in fact teach folks how to question common beliefs “scientifically,” if in fact authorities wanted common folks doing that sort of thing.”

    My guess is that this is a good thing, but when made explicit it’s a repugnant thing to most people. Is that why we’re not transparent about the purpose of school?

    And here are you and Ms. Grace flirting with showing us the repugnant without taking a stand that it’s a beneficial repugnance?

  • Gil

    I s’pose you would want to believe the best pianists never did any formal lessons but played with the keys incessantly. Or look at Thomas Edison he didn’t go to school and he ends up wealthy and hiring all the poindexters. However Nikola Tesla reckons Edison was an idiot who wasted most of his time getting anywhere via the arduous process of trial and error. After all, Edison primarily made his wealth through buying others’ inventions and patenting them.

  • Paavo Ojala

    schools arose with industry to get folks to accept the regimentation and ranking of the industrial workplace, and to curb natural human creativity, exploration, and challenging of authority

    I don’t think that is true. Most schools we’re in rural setting. Parents didn’t send their kids to school to learn discipline, but to learn to read and count so that they could read farmer’s almanac and participate in market transactions. School we’re probably bad for discipline as children had relative independence and free time and a lot of peers.

    During the days of child labour the children seemed to learn regimentation and ranking of the industrial workplace. Making child labour illegal caused schools to become the day cares they are now.

    “The best evidence I’ve seen that school adds great value is the stories I’ve heard about how difficult are employees who grew up in “primitive” cultures without familiar schools. “

    How effective are, or ever were, schools in forming a good worker. My guess is, that not very good. I bet these difficult employees would have been difficult school children. And I don’t think that schools are very good at dealing with difficult children.

    • Constant

      Most schools we’re in rural setting…School we’re probably bad for discipline

      iPhone?

  • David C

    The way you wrote it out implies that the second section quoted was written by Katja Grace. I’d suggest clarifying that you’re quoting yourself.

  • JAMayes

    A very famous education economist whom we’ve used as an expert witness told me that the research showing positive economic returns to education from various achivement levels tends to refute the hypothesis that education is useful primarily as a signal. This was in response to a question from me about changes in the coefficients of the economic value of education over time. I intuitively suspected that education was primarily valuable as a signal, and that as the percentage of the population with HS diplomas and college degrees had increased, the returns to the credential would have decreased.

    He said the research showed the opposite. The coefficient on returns to education had, in fact, significantly increased at the same time as did the percentage of the population with a diploma and with a bachelor’s degree. There was no “credential inflation” as would be predicted if signalling were the primary driver of the value of education. He said this was interpreted by most to mean that education had strong value aside from signaling, and that the value was leveraged when the educated work with higher concentrations of other educated people. I haven’t looked at any of this research myself, but he is a pro talking about his area of expertise, so I doubt he is wrong.

    Of course, you might still be right that signalling could approach 30% of the value, but I doubt it could be much more than that without significant credential inflation as we became a more educated (and credentialed) country.

    • Buck Farmer

      The is could also be driven by a restructuring of economic returns towards whatever schools might be good at filtering for.

      The more winner-take-all our economy is structured, the more valuable the signal.

      Not sure how to distinguish this from the possibility that incremental years of education change your intrinsic ability to produce returns, but wading into the stagnation (or not) of median worker productivity might yield a handy datum.

    • Chris T

      The coefficient on returns to education had, in fact,significantly increased at the same time as did the percentage of the population with a diploma and with a bachelor’s degree.

      It’s not impossible for the coefficient to increase under a signaling scenario. If a lot of jobs that previously required only a HS diploma started requiring college degrees and represented the upper tier of salaries achievable with a HS degree, then the average salary would fall for both, but the relative change would be dependent on how far above or below the respective means the jobs were.

      • Chris T

        Basically, before one can attribute the rise in the earnings coefficient to education increasing value, one must control for any inflation in job requirements.

  • richard silliker

    Teach children what they want to learn. Match their experience to their capacity to learn and you will have given them the tools to have an EXPERIENCE OF LIFE.

    Continue to teach the way we do now, strip children of their intuition, lock them in an abstracted world and economically punish those UNLUCKY enough to metabolise the surreal, ie economics, then we will have an “artificial intelligence” incapable of anything but sustaining itself through the sacrifices of those in the “system”. A “system” that ignores cause and effect needs a lot of maintaince.

    Teach children what they want to learn and get out of the way. A new “economic system” will emerge. One based on the rational. What’s more rational than cause and effect?

  • Dave

    “But in fact schools arose with industry to get folks to accept the regimentation and ranking of the industrial workplace, and to curb natural human creativity, exploration, and challenging of authority.”

    You keep saying this. It is an illusion that creativity comes from the untutored or uninitiated. Creativity really requires a degree of exposure or even immersion the conventional at least to begin with. De novo creativity is the creativity of a child. It is interesting to ask why, as America spread West over the new lands, people of many cultures tried to carry literacy with them. There were no factories. Why were universities established on the prairie? To become literate is to have to force one’s self to conform to preordained ideas and concepts. Those people carry with them Plato, Latin, Shakespeare and the Bible. Why didn’t these people just say “Now we are free and we can just follow our muse?” Who ruined the natural human creativity of those Nebraskans?

  • Pensans

    “natural human creativity, exploration, and challenging of authority”

    Okay, Rousseau. If only humans could return to their natural perfection….

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    Interesting idea. I think there is another idea that fits the data better, the idea that something someone else has is only valuable if it can be exploited and monetized. In the case of education, it is only of value to the “leaders” if it produces willing subjects who will use that education in service to their “leaders”. If the educated person produces results the “leaders” find unacceptable, the “solution” is to change the process of education to not produce those results, hence the removal of evolution from science curricula, the removal of Jefferson from US history.

    I think the reason for this is because the usual way that people move up the social hierarchy and gain status is by generating a world view and compelling other people to follow it. In its most basic sense that world view has the “leader” as the most capable individual available for running what ever is being lead. When there are disagreements, those disagreements are resolved diplomatically, with war being diplomacy by other means, as is now ongoing in Libya.

    The “problem” that “leaders” have with science is that it won’t give them the answers they want. Science gives answers that correspond with reality, not with the world view that the “leaders” wish was reality. For example the science behind AGW. Rather than fight with reality, those “leaders” need to bring back the ancient Roman practice of having a slave stand behind them telling them they are not gods.

    Of course, virtually all “leaders” eliminate all who would suggest such things, so that is unlikely to happen. The “leaders” continue to push their world view until it “breaks”, as just happened in Tunisia and Egypt and is now happening in Libya.

    When the AGW denial world view “breaks”, the changes to the environment will likely be irreversible.

  • Chris T

    Heh, what comprises real scientific research on a day to day basis is actually pretty boring. People forget that one of the most important requirements of science is repeatability and oh do we repeat!