Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More front-page accolades for hands-on classrooms

A front page article in yesterday's Health & Science section of the Philadelphia Inquirer describes an exciting new way to teach physics to prospective physics teachers.

The teacher? Eugenia Etkina, a professor of science education at Rutgers.

Her method? Rollerblades.
And medicine balls, pulleys, springs, lightbulbs, magnets, mirrors - whatever it takes to prepare her students to teach a subject that, in some classrooms, fails to gain much momentum.
"Whatever it takes" does not include lectures or other forms of direct instruction:
Just be sure not to use that word teach. Or worse, lecture.
And her students, in turn, also avoid such unpalatable methods when they "teach" physics to others:
"My students, they don't lecture," says Etkina. "They engage students in observation."
The ultimate goal, indeed, is for students to think like scientists:
Etkina's goal is not to have her students, or her students' students, memorize Newton's laws of motion. Rather, she wants them to learn to think like physicists, to learn the practice of science.
The Inquirer cites examples from Etkina's website:
...where at last count there were 242 short videos that illustrate the phenomena of physics. But here's the key: The site does not explain why a ball bounces a certain way, or how an electrical circuit is completed. Instead, it provides questions and tools that direct students how to figure it out, under the guidance of a teacher.

For example, you can measure exactly what happens when Etkina, wearing her Rollerblades, pushes off from a heavier colleague who is also wearing in-line skates. They are stationed in front of a long blackboard that has chalk marks at regular intervals. The student can play the video one frame at a time and, by scrutinizing how fast each person rolls, calculate just what is happening.

Other videos display fluids spurting from leaky bottles, pennies sliding on spinning disks, and laser beams reflecting off mirrors, to name a few.

"These videos aren't teaching science," says former student Chris D'Amato, now teaching in Mount Olive High School in Morris County, N.J. "These videos are an opportunity for students to actually do science."
The evidence that Etkina's methods are effective? First and foremost, there's the fact that Rutgers is one of the top producers of physics teachers in the country:
The New Brunswick, N.J., campus is regularly among the nation's top producers, graduating six to eight physics teachers a year...
and that "Almost all of them stick with the profession."

Second, "others are starting to take notice":
The journal Science recognized Etkina last month for a physics video website that she developed with former student David Brookes, an assistant professor of physics at Florida International University. 
Third, other education experts like Etkina's methods:
Her Rutgers program recently became the first to be endorsed by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition - a network of more than 175 institutions striving to improve physics education.
"It's really a model program," says Monica Plisch, assistant director of education for the American Physical Society.
Finally, there are Etkina's own impressions--namely, of what worked and what didn't work during her 13 years teaching high school physics in Moscow:
Whenever she ran into her former students after graduation, she noticed something that now forms the core of her philosophy.

"I could see they only remembered things they did on their own, not the things I told them," Etkina says.
Confirmation bias aside, it's unclear whether Etkina has checked in with her current, American-trained physics students to see how much physics they remember. But we do know this:
Many come back to Rutgers for optional, twice-monthly support sessions long after they've graduated.
The notion that you can improve science instruction by encouraging students to think like scientists is as old as the notion that traditional science involved mindless memorization of things like Newton's laws, and those who subscribe to this notion pay no attention to what cognitive scientists Dan Willingham say about the underlying fallacy of equating the minds of novices with those of experts.

Perhaps a better way to attract more qualified physics instructors in this country would be to eliminate the various hurdles and deterrents we thrust in their way, and, in particular, stop requiring them to get degrees from education schools.


Anonymous said...

Demonstrating physics principles is not the same as teaching them, and it's definitely not the same as teaching students to think like scientists. At best, it gives students a chance to observe something that they may be unlikely to run across in daily life, or to observe it in a more intense way.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Gah. Don't get me started. My private tutoring student, who is in 8th grade, has been covering physics in science this year. For his current "project," assigned yesterday, he has to draw three two-panel comics to illustrate each of Newton's laws of motion. Over 10% of the grade (8 out of 50 points) is coloring neatly and that whole shtick (don't remember the point breakdown for "creativity").

Leave art for the art class. I bet you anything they aren't teaching science "across the curriculum" by having art students do mini-science labs.

FedUpMom said...

Why does everything have to be either/or? Couldn't we have a demonstration followed by the lecture that explains it? That would be ideal for me.

I agree with the above commenter about the ridiculous coloring projects.

FMA said...


I think very few people would advocate a lecture only approach to teaching science. The demonstrations and experiments are extremely important. The point is that demonstrations alone without indepth knowledge are pointless.

Students really aren't learning science anymore. They are learning about science (what it is all about). But they aren't actually learning the concepts that they need to do science at the college level or professionally. This is why we don't produce many scientists anymore.

It's interesting too that the fewer scientists that we produce the more we move away from content knowledge toward these feel good, make science fun kinds of approaches. There is this misguided view that students aren't going into science because it isn't enough fun. Advocates of this approach don't seem to consider that students aren't going into science because they lack the foundational knowledge that they need to pursue science in college and beyond.

kcab said...

Coloring projects - argh! I hate those and they certainly make an appearance across the curriculum.

I had a couple of thoughts which may not be directly relevant. One is that I have the sense fewer kids are experimenting with the real world on their own now, as opposed to decades ago, and so they need to get hands-on exposure somewhere. I'd rather see a lot more happening outside the classroom though.

The other thought I had is that this reminded me of an interesting article I read in the Tech (MIT's student news) a couple of weeks ago about changes over time in the freshman physics program. I have to admit that lecture courses were not the best format for me & I might have learned more from the current structure.

Lsquared said...

They want students to think like physicists...and yet, how many of them will independently come up with, say, gravitational force being proportional to the inverse square of the distance? I'm guessing none, or perhaps, almost none. They don't have the geometry background, and they don't have the talent. So--do we simply assume that they won't ever need to know that? I guess that's what leads to students not being ready for college physics.

Lsquared said...

Niels--it could be worse. So far as I could tell my daughter's language arts grade on a project was 20% on the writing and 80% on the art. Rather discouraging.

My verification word is amess. Read as two words, it seems oddly appropriate.

Anonymous said...


It is highly unlikely that you would have learned much from current approaches. The lecture format is definitely the most effective form of teaching but it is something that can be done well or badly. Droning on in front of a class definitely doesn't work. This is what most people think of when they think of lectures. Effective lecturers bring concepts down to the level that their students can understand. They engage the students. They encourage questions and clear up misunderstandings. Rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water and abandoning lectures, we should be training teachers to do it well.

Barry Garelick said...

This article by Sweller et al on why minimal guidance in discovery learning is ineffective also talks about how educators fail to distinguish between the thinking of experts (epistemology) and how novices learn and think (pedagogy). Some quotes from the article:

"The way an expert works in his or her domain (epistemology) is not equivalent to the way one learns in that area (pedagogy)."

"Despite this clear distinction between learning a discipline and practicing a discipline, many curriculum developers, educational
technologists, and educators seem to confuse the teaching of a discipline as inquiry (i.e., a curricular emphasis on the research processes within a science) with the teaching of the discipline by inquiry (i.e., using the research process of the discipline as a pedagogy or for learning)."

"Scientific inquiry is a systematic
and investigative performance ability incorporating unrestrained
thinking capabilities after a person has acquired a broad, critical knowledge of the particular subject matter through formal teaching processes. It may not be equated with investigative methods of science teaching, self-instructional teaching techniques, or open-ended teaching techniques.
Educators who confuse the two are guilty of the improper use of inquiry as a paradigm on which to base an instructional strategy."

kcab said...

@anon on Nov 17,
Actually, the lectures were given well and included many demonstrations, but with attendance in the hundreds...not very conducive to asking questions! Looks like the current approach there adds to but doesn't entirely replace lectures. One of the things that I think is better (judging only from what I've read) is that it looks as though students get more frequent feedback.

pjcamp said...

Some people should learn what they are talking about before they talk about it.

Etkina has dozens of articles on this curriculum, many of them free, all of the peer reviewed and full of data.

Of course, when data gets in the way of rigidly held opinion, why wouldn't you expect the data to give way? That's science, right?

Katharine Beals said...

pjcamp, if any of the free, peer reviewed articles you mention contain data showing that avoiding lecturing is more effective than lecturing in enabling mastery of physics, I trust you will send us some links to these articles.

Jane Jackson said...

Here are some free online articles on physics instruction, showing that interactive engagement is better than traditional lecturing, for most high school students.

Gonzalez, E. (2000). TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study, TIMSS International Study Center, Boston College.
Available at http://modeling.asu.edu/Evaluations/ TIMSS_NSFphysicsStudy99.pdf.

Hake, R (1998). Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64-74. Normalized gain represents the increase in an individual's posttest score over his/her pretest score divided by the possible increase if he/she had achieved a perfect score. online as ref. 24 at

Hake, R.R. 1998b. "Interactive-engagement methods in introductory
mechanics courses," online as ref. 25 at
http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake. SUBMITTED on 6/19/98 to the "Physics Education Research Supplement to AJP"(PERS). In this SADLY UNPUBLISHED (Physics Education Research has NO archival journal!) crucial companion paper to Hake (1998b): average pre/post test scores, standard deviations, instructional methods, materials used, institutions, and instructors for each of the survey courses of Hake (1998a) are tabulated and referenced. In addition the paper
includes: (a) case histories for the seven IE courses of Hake (1998a) whose effectiveness as gauged by pre-to-post test gains was close to those of T courses, (b) advice for implementing IE methods, and (c) suggestions for further research.

Hake, R. (2002), Lessons from the physics education reform effort, Ecology and Society 5(2): 28; online at http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol5/iss2/art28/. Ecology and Society is a free online "peer-reviewed journal of integrative science and fundamental policy research" with tens of thousands of subscribers in many nations.

Katharine Beals said...

Jane Jackson, Thanks for the links. As far as I can tell, the TIMSS study isn't pertinent. Unless I'm missing something, there are no conclusions here about lecturing vs. interactive approaches.

As for the Hake stuff, it's not at all clear that his Socratic Dialogue Inducing Labs approach eschews lecturing in the way that the Philadelphia Inquirer article claims that Etkina does. A "Socratic" approach to physics instruction sounds pretty good to me. It implies a fair amount of structure and guidance.

It's important to be clear that what I and others are troubled by isn't an interactive approach to teaching physics, but an approach that renounces all direct instruction.

I know no one, except for straw men, who believe that an entirely passive lecture-based approach to physics instruction is appropriate for anyone.

Anonymous said...

The fed up mom has not read the research. Demonstrations are very ineffective by themselves. But demonstrations preceded by prediction are more effective. They are even more effective if the students discuss the results. This research is detailed by Eric Mazur and is available in a lecture on YouTube.

Basically the article looked at the surface features of the Etkina's work, and not at the serious research which lay behind it. She does teach, and is not just doing fun and games. Read her papers to find out.

John M. Clement, PhD

Anonymous said...

After reading the rest of the posts I have some further comments. The study at ASU showed that 4 lecturers with widely differing methods got the same identical low results, but an "interactive engatement" course got much better results. Eric Mazur at Harvard also found this, and completely changed what he did.

As to minimal guidance in science "discovery", I do not know anyone who does this. It is a straw man. Inquiry is set up in a very specific manner and concrete guidance is provided initially. The Modeling program at modeling.asu.edu does this with great success.

Lectures do not in general promote understanding or transmit concepts to students. This is now well known from the research. IE courses all do a better job, and have been designed in many ways. You have to look at the research to understand this. There is a large body of research now in physics which shows this. It has been done by physicists and not by education professors, although some groups do collaborate with cognitive scientists and other education specialists.

The comic books and other things are often designed by teachers who do not understand the research. Drawing a picture is alright, as long as it is accompanied by descriptions, graphs, and sometimes equations. Contrariwise the research shows that concentrating on equations alone is not good. They need to be accompanied by graphs, pictures, and descriptions. So the comic assignment was incomplete. There is a large body of research that shows students need all 4 representations to create understanding.

As to moving away from content, we have a problem. Michael Shayer has shown that thinkign skills in England have declined significantly. If this has happened in the US, it is not possible to teach at the same level we used to. 75% of HS graduates in the US do not have proportional reasoning! I measured this in a private school. Lectures do not build proportional reasoning.

John M. Clement, PhD

Anonymous said...


Yes, I agree that it isn't easy to engage hundreds of students in a giant lecture hall. Unfortunately, that seems to be unavoidable. This is all the more reason that students starting college should already have a solid foundation and strong knowledge base from their K through 12 education. It would make college much less of a challenge.

Anonymous said...


Teaching students through discovery alone is actaully very common at the K through 12 level. And not just in science. In some schools, students spend most of their day in discovery type activities.

Yes, lectures without demonstrations are bad.
And demonstrations without lectures are bad. It's a matter of doing both together.

The concern about content being removed from schools is a valid one. I'm meeting more and more parents, who say their children aren't learning much at school. More and more students are entering college needing remedial work. If our students aren't learning, we need to seriously examine how they are being taught.

FMA said...

If you look at the PISA test, Americans do poorly in the area of applying knowledge. If you read the research report that Barry Garelick referred to, you can see why.

When people learn using Discovery techniques, their knowledge of a concepts gets tied to the problem they learned it through. Students then have a hard time applying knowledge of that concept to new problems. So, it's not necessarily the case that students don't learn anything. It is that they can't apply what they have learned to novel situations.

The superiority of a "lecture first/problem solving second" approach comes in the ability to take a piece of knowledge and apply it to all relevant problems.

Anyone interested in this should really read the article that Barry linked to.

Katharine Beals said...

"Lectures do not in general promote understanding or transmit concepts to students."

John, you allude to the existence of studies that demonstrate this. Can you post some specific references?

If it is true that lectures do not promote understanding, why does Eric Mazur spend over an hour lecturing his audience about his teaching methods in the youtube video you recommended? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwslBPj8GgI)

Nor has Mazur renounced lecturing--it's just that he intersperses it with peer interactions.

Ironically, Mazur discounts anecdotes, but then gives us plenty.

As for the independent study he cites, the results as Mazur reports them showed all methods to be equally unsuccessful, including the hands-on demonstration lectures.

Doug Holton said...

So someone mentions that Eugenia Etkina has a lot of published research about her work, but you won't even be bothered to google her name (google scholar) to find the articles and judge them for yourself.
Her publications are listed at the bottom of her own web page, too: http://gse.rutgers.edu/eugenia_etkina

And you keep repeatedly asking folks for research supporting this or that, then they provide the citations, and then you dismiss them and ask different questions.

That seems anti-intellectual and dishonest, but it fits this blog I guess since the old "left brain, right brain" fad isn't really backed anymore by researchers or scientists either:

Here's a more up to date and research-guided perspective on applying neuroscience to education and child development:

spacshelby said...

I am a 30 year HS Physics teacher/ Science Supervisor in NJ who completely changed the way I taught (engaged my students in) Physics about a dozen years ago after spending 2 summers of PER with the Modeling Physics program. I have also had the pleasure of observing students in Dr. Etkinia's Investigative Science Learning Environment. I have one of her former students teaching physics in my school. I hate to use the word former, because even though he has graduated, the meetings mentioned in the article to share classroom experiences are priceless for a young teacher. I am not going to get into the lecture vs engagement discussion there are others far better suited to make those arguments. What is missing in the discussion is what I believe is maybe the most important point.
PASSION! Think back to the most effective teachers that you have experienced in your lifetime. I would bet dollars to donuts that The common thread was their PASSION for what they were teaching. What has impressed me the most about the young physics teachers that come out of Dr. Etkinia's program is the PASSION that they bring into the classroom to engage all students in the scientific process. As Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said, "Nothing great in the world
has been accomplished without passion."

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.”
Galileo Galilei

Katharine Beals said...


A quick review of this post, its title, its comment thread, and the information on the left sidebar of this blog should make the following points clear:

1. My focus is on the enthusiastic portrayal of Etkina's teaching methods by the Philadelphia Inquirer--superficial and inaccurate as this may be--since this is all most of those who are involved in k12 education are likely to encounter vis a vis Etkina.

2. What interests me in terms of research is specifically whether there is any research that shows that *never* lecturing and *only* using "discovery" methods, as the Inquirer claims that Etkina does, is more effective than devoting at least *some* regular classroom time to lecturing. In other words, is there a study out there that contradicts the article that Barry Garelick cites, or Dan Willingham's work? So far, none of the other studies posted here address that question, and so I keep pointing this out and returning to my original question. I'll point it out again in reference to the articles cited on Etkina's website.

3. "left-brain" and "right-brain" are used here as informal idioms, not as neurological terms.

Leif Segen said...

Dear Ms. Beals,

I hope to have the chance to explore your blog for insights that will help new meet of the developmental needs of more of my students. Also, thank you for your orientation towards the needs of students and for your working to keep the discourse in your blog substantiated. That second strength is actually an important part of the epistemology we need to teach science students: how do we know what we know?

I'd like to contribute possible clarification on two or three point. As a physics teacher, I can speak from experience regarding the role of lecturing and the type of expectations that can be helpful for a teacher to have.

When a group of students are going to learn about something very difficult, they will need multiple exposures to the content. Would it contribute to student learning for there to be context, direction, and a sense of focus and purpose? I believe, yes. When teachers say things, pose questions, or excise students to fascinating phenomena, they may be providing the necessary scaffolding to investigate a physical phenomena (even the inverse-squared relationship of Newtonian gravitation). Sometimes this preparation can look like a teacher lecturing or posing questions to students or answering student's questions. Also after students have been supported to make progress (i.e. after wisely designed student activities lead them to a make a discovery), in is often very appropriate to have a period of lecturing when a teacher clarifies points.

Second, it's great you bring up the difference between student minds and the experts minds. (I hope to check out Willingham's work.) As a graduate of Dr. Etkina's program (though by no means an authorized spokesperson - just someone with evolving understanding, like everyone else on this blog), I word like to contribute that there is much attention given in or classrooms to identify weaknesses and strengths with regard to thinking like experts. It could be said that the underlying content of or approach is turning weaknesses into strengths and making strengths stronger.

Again, thank you Ms. Beals and other contributors, for your attention to the needs of students!

Leif Segen

Mr. R said...

As a second year physics teacher I am still trying to find that delicate balance between discovery (labs) and semi-lectures. I sometimes wonder if that balance will vary for each group of students. This would mean that there is never going to be a 'perfect' formula of how much time should be used doing what :( If life could be as easy as math and physics.

Having this said I see two major concerns using the 'only- discovery' method.

1) Time. Most of us simply do not have the time to let students 'discover' all the concepts, ideas, relationships, and formulas. I have 32 students in one class for 1 semester.

2) Related to the first is the problem of, as Noam Chomsky called it, concision. This is an idea that the population is intentionally being trained in not being able to understand complex and complicated explanations, concepts, or issues.


Let's be honest. How do most reseachers, and adults in general, get information if not by reading - from lectures (listening-> processing-> developing). This is sometimes due to time but more often, as in college, audience size. In a large society, people MUST be able to understand and retain information from lectures.

When we don't lecture at all to our students or never require them to retain any information from lectures, we are in effect training them to not learn from lectures.

Without any evidence to support my claim, I believe that 12 years of 'non-lecture' education will leave a student less competent at understanding any lecture - physics or any other subject.

Sad is the day when when we don't have any lectures.

Mr. R said...

As a second year physics teacher I am still trying to find that delicate balance between discovery (labs) and semi-lectures. I sometimes wonder if that balance will vary for each group of students. This would mean that there is never going to be a 'perfect' formula of how much time should be used doing what :( If life could be as easy as math and physics.

Having this said I see two major concerns using the 'only- discovery' method.

1) Time. We simply do not have the time to let students 'discover' all the concepts, ideas, relationships, and formulas.

2) Related to the first is the problem of, as Noam Chomsky called it, concision. This is an idea that the population is intentionally being trained in not being able to understand complex and complicated explanations or concepts.


Let's be honest with ourselves. How do most reseachers, and adults in general, get information if not by reading - from lectures (listening-> processing-> developing). This is sometimes due to time but more often, as in college, audience size. In a large society, people MUST be able to understand and retain information from lectures.

When we don't lecture at all to our students or never require them to retain any information from lectures, we are in effect training them to not learn from lectures.

Without any evidence to support my claim, I believe that 12 years of 'non-lecture' education will leave a student less competent at understanding any lecture - physics or any other subject.

Sad is the day when there are no more lectures.

Anonymous said...

Forgive the typos above. I wrote the comment on my smartphone.

Chris said...

Dear Ms Beals,

The Inquirer profile is "superficial and inaccurate" as you said. It's not a serious analysis but it might help generate interest in the field of physics education research and its goals.

You have used this article as if it were an argument against your own beliefs, which sadly misses an opportunity to spread some understanding about successful modern physics teaching.

"Active and discovery-based" learning does not mean "introductory and qualitative." A well-prepared teacher may start a class on rollerblades and end the day with a classroom full of students who have stayed after school to cover the boards with drawings and math, and argue over whose solution is most elegant and who has made the most reasonable assumptions.

The true achievements of a teacher may never be known to anyone but her students, and maybe not until long after the class is over.

The success of any teacher (and of any teacher preparation program) must be judged on the details of the results produced.

Reacting to buzzwords, popularity, and sensational images to produce a snap judgment (pro or con) is the opposite of what a teacher, scientist, and teacher of scientists should do.

Chris D'Amato

chiajx said...

Hello Dr. Beals,

I'm currently a first year teacher that graduated from Eugenia's program and I would like to mention that making the decision to go through an education preparation program like the one at Rutgers has helped me tremendously than if I had go straight into the profession. In order to improve the quality of instruction and the quality of teachers, we must hold teachers to higher standards, even if that means a longer road to the classroom. Too long has teaching been a profession that was unable to regulate itself, now that we are trying to do so, there is bound to be some growing pains.

And while I do adopt many of the teaching philosophies and practices taught to me by the program, I also have developed my own personal style of teaching which is unique to my own identity, as I am sure everybody who has graduated from the program has done or is currently doing.

With regards to having students think like scientists, it's an essential step in the learning process. In more traditional science instruction, the teacher is source of knowledge and information, however students are not always going to have this resource available. I feel that in this approach students are taught how to think on their own feet, how to approach and learn without the aid of a teacher. Yes there is a big difference between novice thinkers like students and expert thinkers like scientists, not only in base knowledge and conceptual connections but also in work ethic and mental fortitude.

However, if we never give the students the chance to grow, and foster that ability to think and create like scientists, how will we ever produce better students and thinkers? If we never give them the ability and want to be original in their own thinking and creation of ideas, then we are doing a great disservice to the students.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Jonathan Chia

Katharine Beals said...

More comments on today's post:


Anonymous said...

As a physics teacher for 6 years (12 years teaching science), with a bachelors in chemical engineering and a masters in secondary science education, I must say that it almost seems crazy that a fluff piece on education can be so misunderstood. For those wanting scientific backing try:

In particular:

For those that do not have time to read the multiple pages, a novice "modeler" can, based on research, expect a 1 standard deviation improvement in student understanding over traditional lecturing. An expert modeler can expect over 2 standard deviations improvement. That equates to one teacher being more effective than each student having an individual tutor. (Studies show tutors usually provide 1-2 standard deviations of improvement).

For those still wanting more proof, here is a synopsis of one researchers work looking at modeling vs "flipped-class" approaches:
For those that don't know a "flipped-class" is when the students watch a lecture at home and then solve problems in class. (FMA's lecture first problem, solve second) If lecturing is so great, why not just show the MIT lectures by Walter Lewin instead of the teacher trying to lecture?
(For those curious, MIT found the lectures by Lewin to be ineffective and switched to a hands-on lab based approach)

For those that didn't watch the Mazur youtube video, maybe Donald Clark can convince you:

The modeling program created by ASU and studied all over the country, of which Rutgers is a part, has been studied repeatedly over the last 20 years. Two results need to be noted:

Modeling Instruction in Physics was designated in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the seven best K-12 educational technology programs out of 134 programs evaluated.

Modeling Instruction in Physics was designated in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Education as one of two exemplary programs in K-12 Science Education out of 27 programs evaluated.

If that still isn't enough, check out this:

I'm sure there are teachers that use the program ineffectively, but by saying that the students do not receive guidance shows your lack of understanding of the method. You can have teachers who don't truly understand the content or methods to best teach a subject. However, to say that demonstrating is not the same as teaching is someone who is not up on recent research. To flip the question back on some of you, where is the research that supports lecturing?

Anonymous said...

from the post above, my name is Scott Thomas
Bishop Kenny High School
Jacksonville Fl

Katharine Beals said...

The U.S. Department of Education lacks credibility: it includes Reform Math programs like CPM and Everyday Math as "exemplary mathematics programs."

See elsewhere in this blog for comparisons of these programs with more traditional ones. Among other things, these curricula do not prepare students for college- level physics.

Mazur, meanwhile, lectures us about how we shouldn't lecture. Why doesn't he use modeling to demonstrate why lecturing is bad?

For research on the efficacy of Direct Instruction, check out an actual research study:

Perhaps modeling does involve a lot of direct, structure instruction. My focus (as I explained in a follow-up post) was on the Philadelphia Inquirer, and its enthusiasm for attitudes like "Just be sure not to use that word teach. Or worse, lecture."

Frank Noschese said...


You still don't address the part in Scott's comment about the effectiveness of modeling instruction vs. traditional methods:

There's also Hake's paper "Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student
survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses"

Modeling Instruction is not discovery learning, nor is it inquiry per se. David Hestenes never uses the word "discovery". Rather, he writes: "Modeling Instruction is inquiry structured by modeling principles."

The structuring is crucial; our colleague Ibrahim Halloun's research with high school physics modeling teachers in Lebanon showed that teachers who structured their course most consistently on SCIENTIFIC MODELS (not just whiteboarding and Socratic discourse) had the highest student FCI gains (see his book, referenced at http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html ).

We found the same results (see "Findings of the Modeling Workshop
Project, 1994-2000", at http://modeling.asu.edu ).

Malcolm Wells developed Modeling Instruction because he found that
inquiry that was NOT structured by modeling principles wasn't much
better than traditional lecture-cookbook lab instruction in physics.

You can read about his classroom teaching experiment in excerpts from his doctoral dissertation: visit http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling-HS.html. Click on "resources for the modeling classroom".

In both modeling instruction and in Etkina's ISLE, students are learning science by doing science.

Frank Noschese said...

Regarding "Project Follow Through" and the Direct Instruction Model vs. the Bank Street Model:

All inquiry/interactive methods are not discovery methods and all DI methods are not lecture methods.

But I know you know that.

And I know that you know you are presenting a false dichotomy when pointing to research that shows DI is superior to BSM. Modeling and ISLE are no where near BSM and are more closely aligned with DI.

The problem is a lack of operational definition for "discovery" "inquiry" "direct instruction" etc. See Hake's "Education Research Employing Operational Definitions Can
Enhance the Teaching Art" http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake/OperatDefEnhanceArtM.pdf

Katharine Beals said...

I appreciate all the links, and am open to the possibility that they show efficacy via randomized trials and randomized assignments of students and professors. Perhaps they also address Dan Willingham's work on novices vs. experts.

I hope at some point to have time to examine all the many education models and efficacy studies that come my way at the level of scrutiny they deserve. In the meantime, I invite interested readers to check out the links provided here.

My focus here, however, is and always has been on the popular press, and its repeated enthusiasm for teachers who (or so they claim) renounce lectures and textbooks. After all, even within the education world, there are many more readers of front page newspaper articles than there are readers either of this blog, or of the articles you cite.

If you haven't done so already, you might consider writing a letter to the offending newspaper next time it mischaracterizes modeling instruction.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the aspects that many of us are putting forth is that, the a hands on (modeling) curriculum is not an un-guided environment. My job as a teacher to create the best environment in which my students can learn physics. I have to choose when to provide help, and how to best do that. What question can I ask, how can I help them see the error in their conclusion.

The reason this is so hard is that most students do not arrive in my room as a blank slate, tabla rasa. They has already made conclusions about the world based on the observations they have already made.

The problem is that these conclusions are often incorrect. For instance, if you ask the average person:
A large truck collides head-on with a small compact car, describe the magnitude of the forces involved in the collision

The most common answer is usually that the large truck will push the small car with more force than the small car will push the large truck.

No matter what I tell them, they will not believe me unless they see it for them self in a controlled manner.

I have to create the experience that makes them see the error of their ways. I again direct you to:
Whether I tell them the correct answer, or they see it in a video, lecture alone does not make the student confront their misconceptions.

Misconceptions are the bane of physics education, and the main reason lectures are ineffective. The student might be able to say the right thing on the test, but they still believe in their gut what they did before they came into the class.

I admit that interactive discussions are effective, but why not have the evidence right in front of the students? Physics Education Research (PER) has shown that interactive devices, questioning, and peer discussions also improve physics learning.

Once again, the teacher is creating an environment that make the students confront their misconceptions. To me the difference is that in hands-on settings (modeling), nature itself says if the idea (model) is right or wrong. In PER discussions, I the teacher tell them the answer.

I ask you, who is a more credible source?

Scott Thomas