Abstract Brain

In the immediately previous post, I expressed my appreciation that Conley’s College Knowledge calls for the teaching of more than scientific facts: we must also ensure for college success that our high school students learn true scientific reasoning.  Today comes a study comparing Chinese and US freshman college students in their mastery of scientific facts and reasoning: whereas Chinese students are much more knowledgeable of scientific facts, both groups are equal in being not sophisticated enough in their scientific reasoning.

The lead research offers an important inference from the results:

“Our study shows that, contrary to what many people would expect, even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don’t necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed,” Bao said. “Because students need both knowledge and reasoning, we need to explore teaching methods that target both.”

To evaluate their reasoning skills, students take a test called the Lawson Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning:

Students are asked to evaluate scientific hypotheses, and reason out solutions using skills such as proportional reasoning, control of variables, probability reasoning, correlation reasoning, and hypothetical-deductive reasoning. Both American and Chinese students averaged a 75 percent score.

Is the Lawson test available to the general public?  Can we use it to evaluate our high school seniors and the proficiency they have developed in this essential skill?  My own google search brought me many references to the test, but I didn’t quickly see a direct link to the test itself.

The useful short article in Science Daily goes on to lay out, succinctly, the importance for all of our students to learn scientific reasoning:

Ohio State graduate student and study co-author Jing Han echoed that sentiment. “To do my own research, I need to be able to plan what I’m going to investigate and how to do it. I can’t just ask my professor or look up the answer in a book,” she said.  “These skills are especially important today, when we are determined to build a society with a sustainable edge in science and technology in a fast-evolving global environment,” Bao said.He quickly added that reasoning is a good skill for everyone to possess — not just scientists and engineers.  “The general public also needs good reasoning skills in order to correctly interpret scientific findings and think rationally,” he said.

How to boost scientific reasoning? Bao points to inquiry-based learning, where students work in groups, question teachers and design their own investigations.

Our high school science classrooms must be places where students do exactly these three things– and from my observations at twenty high schools this past fall, this is all too rare.    I have heard high school science teachers tell me that it is not until graduate school that students can design their own experiments, and others tell me that (in contrast to the IB),  AP science courses don’t permit students to do anything but perform “canned” lab experiments.    But we must place a much greater emphasis here to prepare our students for 21st century success.