Improving Science Learning

A study found that students who attended classes taught by teaching assistants who emphasized collaborative problem solving scored higher than students who attended traditional lectures by an experienced professor.

Modern-ClassroomOver the past few years, scientists have been working to transform education from the inside out, by applying findings from learning and memory research where they could do the most good, in the classroom. A study published in the journal Science on Thursday illustrates how promising this work can be — and how treacherous.

The research comes from a closely watched group led by Carl Wieman, a Nobel laureate in physics at the University of British Columbia who leads a $12 million initiative to improve science instruction using research-backed methods for both testing students’ understanding and improving how science is taught.

In the study, Dr. Wieman had two teaching assistants take over one of the two introductory physics classes during the 12th week of the term, teaching the material in a radically different way from the usual lectures. Both this class and the comparison one were large lecture-hall courses, each with more than 260 students enrolled. Instead of delivering lectures, the new instructors conducted collaborative classes, in which students worked in teams to answer questions about electromagnetic waves. The new teachers circulated among the students, picking up on common questions and points of confusion, and gave immediate feedback on study teams’ answers.

The techniques are rooted in an approach to learning known as deliberate practice, which previous research suggests is what leads to the acquisition of real expertise.

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Source: Benedict Carey | The New York Times