Queen's University

Hands-on science teaching more effective than other methods, study finds


Students using the old-fashioned style of hands-on activities in science class do better than students who are taught using the current trend of asking questions to learn for themselves, according to a Queen’s University study.

“I found the results surprising because they contradict the theoretical evidence that inquiry-based teaching – such as getting students to test their own ideas – can lead to higher achievement in science,” says PhD education student Shaljan Areepattamannil, lead author of the study.

Science teaching trends over the past three decades have shifted away from situations where the teacher controls the topic and class discussion to a form of inquiry-based instruction that motivates students to put forward their ideas and explain or debate points of view.

The researchers examined four different types of inquiry-based science teaching, using Programme for International Student Assessment (2006) data for 13,985 15-year-old students from 431 schools from across Canada. Only instructors using hands-on activities – such as students doing in-class experiments – are more likely to score higher on science assessment tests.

“Further study is needed, but it’s something school administrators should think about. Should we invest in inquiry-based science if it is less likely to pay dividends in terms of academic excellence?”

Several other factors emerged that predict how well a student will do in science class, including children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds tend to do better than those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Canada is leaving some children behind in science, and they tend to be the less privileged,” said Mr. Areepattamannil.

The study co-authored by John Freeman and Don Klinger will be published in the December issue of the academic journal the Social Psychology of Education.

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Last updated at 3:57 pm EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
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