Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Science of Teaching Science

Asking questions is the foundation of knowledge. The difference between relevant knowledge and knowledge that is not transcendental is the deepness of the questions that generated those ideas. Of course now I have to define what do I mean by relevant knowledge and transcendental so I can then say how one is supposed to learn how to develop skills to ask the proper questions. Implicit in the idea of relevant knowledge is the fact that ideas that might be considered knowledge are not based on an objective reality, they are based on what can be labeled as "an ideology" created for the benefit of a particular group in our society.

As a teacher then I have to ask how can we teach others how to ask questions that lead us in the direction of finding relevant knowledge. Historically ideas have develop basically in relationship to our information of the world that surround us, understanding how nature works has driven humanity in the quest to know the laws that govern all phenomena, including human behavior.

So going back to the question: How do we ask questions? We'll have to acknowledge that the question is not simple at all. The complexity comprises relationships, contexts, circumstances, and time. The same issue can be analyzed in different ways according to these aforementioned characteristics.

Then at last one has to be able to evaluate and assess how teaching had and impact on the student's learning.  Using the "Scientific Method" it is possible to predict based on the formulation of hypothesis and the concordance of prediction with the observed effects what we call objective data will define the success of the theory in which these hypothesis are formulated. When there is observable contradiction or lack of connection between the predicted (theoretical) results and the observed one has an non-objectable reason to say that the premises are false and that the theory in question is defective. But how do we do that with teaching? How can we apply the scientific method to teaching?

To answer this question one must have clear objectives that have to be measured. What in pedagogy is called a "learning objective" with specific definitions within the context of the subject matter. Traditionally these objectives have been measured by testing students. Testing students has been a way to evaluate teaching performance. The issue with this approach is that it is not clear what is the question. The simple question: Is the teacher good? Is parallel to: Are the students learning? But is not helping in the discovery of what is objectively effective teaching. There have been many studies and publications about effective teaching and they, for sure, provide insight about points of reference and techniques, philosophies and strategies but do not provide a sense of scientific methodology that one would expect in a scientific publication. As far as I can see they provide valuable information about what has been observed and characterized as teaching excellence but more research is due.