Methods For Teaching Discovery
Traditional Science Teaching With Labs
We are all familiar with the traditional method of teaching science through labs and lectures on topics in science. During lectures, the material is presented topic by topic. All of the information that is learned is learned by the teacher explaining it to the students. To supplement the lectures, the students also perform labs. Labs involve students performing a predetermined procedure to learn how certain principles can be proven or arrived at experimentally. In a lab, the problem is always given to th e students ahead of time and the method of solving it is usually also given ahead of time.
Guided discovery requires the learners to actually discover the scientific knowledge that they learn. Unlike true discovery, the instructor directs what problems the learners will learn and sets the pace that they will learn at. The students do, however, have to figure out how to solve the problems that they are given. Generally, the students first discover specific topics and then move to more general ones.
This is one step further than guided discovery. While guided discovery involves the teacher choosing the problem, learner initiated discovery involves the student deciding on the problem as well as coming up with the solution. The student learns rules that relate parameters. The student sets the pace at which topics are studied.
Which is Better?
While all of the methods have their advantages and disadvantages, the best way to educate is probably a mixture of several of these methods of teasching. The guided discovery and learner initiated methods teach the student many of the skills necessary for successful diiscovery, but the traditional method of teaching allows the students to learn more topics than the other two methods. It is important for scientists to have both a good knowledge of science and the problem solving and other skills that enable people to be great scientists.
One advantage of guided discovery is that the instructor can decide what the students will learn and when, while still forcing the students to think for themselves and simulating an actual scientific discovery. In addition, while topics cannot be covered as quickly as by the traditional method, it is likely that the students will learn the material better, because they have to actually discover the principles that they learn.
The guided discovery and learner initiated methods of teaching demand more hands on work from the students and demand more thought and effort, because the students have to actually discover. For this reason, it might benefit students who are already better in science more. In addition, the learner initiated method of teaching would require some discipline from the students. Since students would move at different paces and would learn about different subjects, it would be difficult to grade and would probably lend itself better to being ungraded or graded through a non-traditional method of grading. Since the student sets the pace and has a great deal of control over the class, students who are not motivated by a desire to learn or excitement about the subject, or a similar motivation could abuse that freedom. On the other hand, since students have control of what they will study, they are more likely to study something that they find interesting and are therefore more likely to be motivated by excitement about the subject matter. For these reasons and because the teacher does not control what is learned, learner initiated learning is probably more suited to students who already have some background knowledge of science and are disciplined or interested enough to take advantage of the freedom offered by this method of teaching. It is also more suited to learning the skills necessary to solve scientific problems, rather than learning all of the scientific principles necessary to understand all of the fundamentals of science.
The other consideration for the two non-traditional methods is that it requires more individual attention and is difficult if the class is too large. While the traditional approach can be applied (and is applied in this and many other universities) to a class of several dozen or even several hundred, it is impossible for one professor to supervise several hundred students working on different scientific project. While it is, of course, arguable whether students can really learn well in such large classes, it is impractical to even attempt holding a class of that size using either of the two methods that require individual attention.
The Perfect Mix
The best way to educate is probably a mix of the three techniques of teaching, rather than any one technique exclusively. A mix of the traditional method of teaching to cover enough topics and guided discovery to reinforce certain topics and to teach problem solving and other vital skills while the student learns the fundamentals is probably the best way to teach fundamentals. After the student knows the fundamentals, guided discovery and learner initiated discovery would allow the student to apply the fundamental principles of science to real world problems and to gain experience doing projects similar to what real world scientiststs work on.
Can Discovery Really Be Taught
Guided discovery and learner initiated learning both give students practise using skills that are helpful for making a discovery. None of the three methods, however, involve actually studying what skills are helpful in making a discovery, but rather all, to varying degrees, involve practicing those skills through exercises that are similar to the actual discovery process. Some of the aspects, such as teamwork, determination, and having the right attitude do not lend themselves to conventional teaching, but rather are learned better through hands on experience. Other skills, such as problem solving and organization of thought, can perhaps be taught both through hands on experience and through study of techniques. It seems, however, that exercises in which the student conducts processes similar to those of an actual discovery work best, because they give the student practice in the whole range of skills relevant to making discoveries if the exercise is close enough to the actual discovery process and the problem selected is a good one.
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