Student Centered Education

The Question

Is there a better method for educating the populace in general and future scientists in particular?

The Hypothesis

Teaching Science, or any other subject, the way Science, or any other discipline, creates/gains new content knowledge will provide a fundamental understanding of concepts/content while at the same time providing the critical thinking and problem solving skills absolutely necessary in order for one to be a lifetime learner, which is otherwise known as an “educated person”.

The Experimental Plan

  1.  Identify the content/concepts to be learned.
  2.  Challenge Students with a question, designed to “expose” the content/concepts, in every class period.
  3.  Create groups of students whose sole purpose is to arrive at group answers to the question.
  4.  Groups present answers and the entire class evaluates/scrutinizes them.
  5.  The class reaches consensus thus cementing content/concept knowledge.
  6.  Evaluate both Content and Concept knowledge using open ended questioning rather than multiple choice.
  7.  Compare student Content/Concept knowledge outcomes to “standard” lecture formats.

Evaluate Results

There are several levels of evaluation necessary and choosing the best rubric is challenging.  On the one one hand, Instructor evaluation of answers to open ended questions is subjective, variable, and could be biased while on the other, they do demonstrate to thought process when students are required to “explain” how they arrived at the answer.  Standardized tests are more objective (the answer accepted is usually one of the 4 choices), but they also provide little knowledge of the thought process.

Nevertheless, students learning in the experimental environment should gain the same content/concept knowledge generally represented on standardized tests while at the same time benefiting from the process skills they gain.  The same is not generally true for students learning in the traditional lecture course.

Careful evaluation of student content/concept knowledge gain from course to course within a discipline can provide further evidence of the effects of the Experimental Learning environment.  Of course, this becomes an even better measure when the curriculum is entirely designed on the same general experimental method.  In this way, it could be used by all faculty ( at any level) to assess the outcomes of a program or discipline.  Of course, the latter requires consensus on the part of faculty as to the desired outcomes and their assessment.

Draw Conclusions

Conclusions can be drawn at each level of evaluation and used to adjust the content/concept mixture or adapt/adjust the experimental plan to better reflect the desired outcome.  Depending on the results, this may result in minor adjustments or radical changes representing a new method or paradigm.

Points of Note

The Founder and CEO of Singularity Scientific has implemented this process at the Secondary and Post-secondary levels of education as single content units in the former case and at the course level in the latter case.  The above description is a distillation of several years of experimentation, which required constant evaluation and adjustment to produce the current form.

This method was used both in “lecture” and “laboratory” courses without any “lecturing”.  It was entirely carried out by students, for students with the instructor serving primarily as a referee.  Every question asked to the instructor was returned in the form of another question until students learned that they were responsible for their own understanding and content knowledge.

Implementation of this method at the secondary level was far easier than at the University level.   Dr. Frazee believes the reason for this lies in the fact that elementary students are naturally curious, as he was, and they had not yet been exposed to the “lecture” format, which usually begins in the middle school time frame.  Teachers at the elementary level generally don’t shut students down, prefer that they learn in groups, and encourage questions as well as answers.

These students were thus quite prepared for the “experimental” learning method and did not view it as different from what they normally experienced.   They possessed a lack of fear with respect to being wrong, which can be quashed in the older, more highly “educated” students who experience the “lecture” format.  This lack of fear is precisely what is required of scientists and life long learners in general.