Play science

The sheer volume of new knowledge continually flooding our senses makes good science education more important than ever before. (Though I’ve always found the notion of ‘science’ education, in isolation from other types of education, strange, given that the general goal of education should be to help us better understand ourselves and our world.) This was, no doubt, on the mind of Nobel Prize winning physicist Carl Wieman when he decided to move away from physics research in order to develop the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) at the University of British Columbia in Canada. The goal of this 5 year, 12 million dollar, project was to dramatically improve undergraduate science education using an evidence-based approach. Simply, determine scientifically how and what students should learn and then implement effective strategies to facilitate the process. Some of the amazing work to date (found on the CWSEI site) underscores the value of actively constructing knowledge, peer-to-peer interactions, and strategic testing techniques which have proven invaluable to undergraduate learning and engagement. To read about “A new model for post-secondary education, the Optimized University” by Dr Wieman, go here.

While these strategies are effective for undergrad students, one important question remains: “What strategies are effective for younger students?” In general, the evidence to date suggests that the same factors are involved regardless of age. This is emphasized beautifully by a recent article published in the journal Biology Letters in which a group of 8 to 10 year old students designed and undertook (and wrote up!) experiments showing how bumble-bees use colour and spatial cues to decide from which flowers to forage – which they called the Blackawton Bees project. This approach, in which the children worked together, interacted with local experts (a teacher and a neuroscientist), actively discussed and tested ideas and hypotheses, and integrated information (via words and pictures – they actually drew the figures used in the paper themselves), parallels nicely the findings from the CWSEI regarding undergraduates.

In short, it appears that the best way to learn (and to produce a viable product) is to play. Motivating young students in this way may also prove to be an invaluable foundation for future learning – perhaps making Dr Wieman’s undergrads even better suited for the challenges ahead.

References
Blackawton PS, Airzee S, Allen A, Baker S, Berrow A, Blair C, Churchill M, Coles J, Cumming RF, Fraquelli L, Hackford C, Hinton Mellor A, Hutchcroft M, Ireland B, Jewsbury D, Littlejohns A, Littlejohns GM, Lotto M, McKeown J, O’Toole A, Richards H, Robbins-Davey L, Roblyn S, Rodwell-Lynn H, Schenck D, Springer J, Wishy A, Rodwell-Lynn T, Strudwick D, & Lotto RB (2011). Blackawton bees. Biology letters, 7 (2), 168-72 PMID: 21177694

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About davejhayes

neuroscientist.ca
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