Prolific blogger Greg Ashman wrote a piece recently on the need for educational ideas to be tested by scientific means.
I totally agree.
Here is a hypothesis I am hearing often:
“We need to focus more on skills rather than knowledge.”
I attended a professional learning day on Friday where this statement was made at least ten times.
No-one questioned it.
It was delivered as fact.
An example of a science unit was presented where students had spent 10 weeks in Year 7 studying seasons, day length, tides and phases of the moon. The summative assessment task for this unit was presented as an exemplar.
It was almost bereft of any knowledge questions. Students were instructed to construct a hypothesis about what causes seasons and then present data they had collected from the internet. The task was mainly focusing on the skills of forming a hypothesis and collecting data rather than the knowledge of what actually causes seasons. The constructivist unit was designed so students would, hopefully, discover for themselves what causes seasons, tides and phases of the moon.
My initial criticism of the methodology here was, if you are spending ten weeks on seasons, tides, phases of the moon and day length, something most would cover in two weeks of Year 7 science, what are you leaving out? When I asked this question the answer was. “The content can be picked up later or looked up on google. The ability to form a hypothesis, accurately collect data and present it are “generic science skills” that are more important for success in VCE (Year 11 and 12) than isolated bits of content knowledge. These are skills that are used in any science topic regardless of the content so they are “more powerful” for students to learn.”
It has been awhile since I have taught Year 12 Chemistry but I remember that it was massively knowledge intensive and the ability to form a hypothesis and test them or present data was not a major component of the course.
I wished I’d had a copy of Daisy’s 7 Myths of Education to wave around the room and cite Chapter 5 – Myth – We should teach transferrable skills.
Oliva Dyer from Michaela shouting. “Just tell them ….. what causes seasons and phases of the moon”, was ringing in my ears as I sat listening to how wonderful the generic science skills the students would develop by doing this enquiry unit were.
How do we test the idea that “We need to focus on skills rather than knowledge.”?
How would one falsify the “generic skills” rather than “content knowledge” hypothesis?