Learning methods put to the test

PhD candidate Shaljan Areepattamannil found hands-on activities in science classes to be most effective.
PhD candidate Shaljan Areepattamannil found hands-on activities in science classes to be most effective.

Most students these days spent their high school science days pouring over textbooks and answering teachers’ questions, but a recent Queen’s study suggests that traditional hands-on teaching methods may in fact be more effective in a science classroom.

According to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, hands-on science programs encourage various skills, science content and mathematics to be learned. Furthermore, students participating in activitybased programs exhibit increased creativity, positive attitudes toward science, perception, logic development and improvement in communication skills.

PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education Shaljan Areepattamannil looked at data from 13,985 15-year-old students from 431 schools from across Canada.

“We found that students using old-fashioned style hands-on activities in science class do better than students using inquiry-based teaching,” Areepattamannil said, adding that his data came from the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA ) which focused on science evaluations. The 2009 data will be released in 2011.

“PISA collects data every three years, the first cycle in 2000 examined reading literature in adolescents, the second cycle in 2003 examined mathematical achievement of adolescents,” he said.

The researcher examined what students did when they spent time conducting practical experiments in the lab. Students were asked to investigate science questions, draw conclusions from the experiments they conducted and follow instructions of the teacher.

“They were to come up with a question pertaining to any topic in science and they were to test this question in the laboratory,” Areepattamannil said.

The study contradicted the current notion that inquiry-based teaching leads to higher achievement in science and indicated that students using hands-on activities such as in-class experiments are more likely to score higher on science assessment tests.

“This is because it encourages higher order learning skill such as metacognition and argumentation,” he said.

“We found that students with higher confidence tend to do better in science,” he said, adding that there’s still more to predicting success.

“In exploring this we looked at family income and parental education,” Areepattamannil said “Parents who are educated or
have higher family income are in a position to get [the adolescent] whatever they need in order to achieve results.”

Areepattamannil said there is currently not enough information on this topic to make a conclusive argument.

The study entitled “Influence of motivation, self-beliefs, and instructional practices on science achievement of adolescents in Canada” will be published in the upcoming issue of the academic journal the Social Psychology of Education, said Areepattamannil.

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