February 17, 2009
In science, discovery equal to instruction
U.S. researchers say they've found young science students learn nearly equally as well whether through experimentation or direct instruction.
The Western Michigan University researchers said they determined neither teaching approach provides a significant advantage for middle school science students.
Three of the university's faculty members -- William Cobern, David Schuster and Renee Schwartz -- note the science community overwhelmingly teaches science though inquiry and experimentation. However, in some states there is political pressure for a return to direct instruction in science and math for K-12 students.
The educators studied middle school instruction during two-week summer programs for several years. In comparing the two methods of instruction, they found there actually was no significant difference in learning by students.
The data, while marginally favoring inquiry, really show that as long as the instruction is good either way, the two approaches lead to no significant difference -- at least as far as science content understanding is concerned, said Cobern.
The researchers presented their findings this week in Chicago during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.