A new computer-based interactive national science assessment debuted in 2009, and it tested the students’ abilities to design simple experiments and analyze the simulated results. For example, students were asked to determine whether certain plants in a simulated greenhouse were sun-loving or shade-loving, and were also asked to design an experiment to test different types of fertilizer. Most students were able to successfully analyze straightforward data (~67% of students), such as the sun vs shade, but much fewer were able to design the correct experiment involving the fertilizers (only ~33%). And fewer than half of the students were able to accurately write up an explanation of the results using their data. These patterns emerged among 4th, 8th, and 12th graders.
These patterns are pretty telling about our education system, it seems to me. To be a scientist (and most anything else, I would think), you need to be able to think critically, problem-solve to come up with solutions, be able to interpret data, and then communicate your interpretations. It’s not just about knowing the right answer; you need to be able to think on your feet and use inquiry to glean information from complex situations. This sort of skill is not just useful to would-be scientists–it’s a skill that people (hopefully) use in everyday situations. The US students seem to be able to analyze somewhat primitive data but have difficulty going past that to problem solve and then communicate their results. These are critical skills for people to have, not just scientists, and I would love to see some sort of shift in the education system towards more of these interactive-style learning modules as opposed to rote memorization or basic analysis.
[Story from ScienceNow]