12 thoughts on “My “Top 10” Science Education Tips”

  1. On #7 you mentioned that people have different learning styles, what exactly do you mean by that? Are you saying some kids learn better with a textbook involving more reading or pictures? Finally, how do you know what style is the right one? Experiment?l

    1. Thanks for your question, James. Different children learn differently. Some are visual learners. They learn best through reading, watching videos, and observing. Others are auditory. They learn best by hearing. Others are kinesthetic. They learn best by hands-on activities. Some mix the styles. So, for example, a visual/auditory learner needs to have something to look at and something to hear. This might be a video, or it might be a book that is being read aloud (by the parent or a audio book) while the student follows along. In general, parents who home educate for a while get a good feel pretty quickly about what works best for each child. However, you might have to experiment to see. When we adopted our daughter, I started out using books, videos, hands-on activities, and audio. This allowed me to see what met her needs best. For my little girl, books were the best thing for her, followed by videos. She hated hands-on activities, and she didn’t seem to benefit significantly from audio.

      This is one of the problems with our “once-size-fits-all” school system. It doesn’t address these different learning styles.

  2. Jay — Great article. I’d like to add my two cents worth on a couple of items:

    #8 (Controversies) — Avoid teaching controversies from just one perspective. A student won’t learn to think critically about an issue like the age of the earth by reading only Answers in Genesis material, even though it purports to present what old-Earthers teach.

    #10 (Hating one field of science but loving another) —
    You left out the best group of sciences! Chemistry, physics, and biology each lay a good foundation for the multidisciplinary earth sciences!

    1. Thanks, Kevin! I wholeheartedly agree with your point about controversies. The only way to encourage critical thinking is to examine all sides fairly!

      Why doesn’t it surprise me that you think I left out the best group of sciences?

  3. Everyone is different and sees things in a different light, however, from what I’ve read there isn’t much scientific evidence that supports the idea that people learn differently through the senses (ie there are no such thing as visual, auditory, kinesthetic learners).

    As a student and possible future instructor I find it very important to understand the science behind learning. This semester I enrolled in a pedagogy (physics) course and one of the first things I was taught was that learning styles dealing with the senses don’t exist despite the popular “myth.” Also, that teaching shouldn’t really be an art at all, instead, it should be a science.

    It seems obvious that people learn differently but from what I’ve read there’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that when taught through the correct “sense” a student will learn better. The idea of putting students into categories is very popular; people like to know “what type of learner they are.” But again, it’s an unproven idea.

    What’s your opinion?

    Pashler, McDaniel, Learning styles: Concepts and evidence

    [Page 111 is where the authors start reviewing the material and methods]

    1. I read that study shortly after it was published, and I have to say I think it has a lot of flaws. One of the main flaws is that they approached the subject as psychologists, not educators. This is a serious problem. For example, the Massa and Mayer study that they discuss in their “negative results” section dealt only with multimedia lessons, and the “difference” between the lessons was that some had text and some had pictures. It was on a specific subject (electronics), and they evaluated the level of learning with a test. To a psychologist, this might seem like a reasonable test of learning styles, but any educator would immediately see the flaws:

      (1) What was the difficulty of the material related to the students’ level of knowledge? If the material was either far to easy or far too difficult, differences in learning styles wouldn’t matter.

      (2) What was the quality of the text? How readable was it? Someone whose learning style draws them to reading won’t benefit if the text is not understandable.

      (3) What was the quality of the illustrations? Someone who thinks in terms of pictures is easily turned off by poor illustrations.

      (4) Where does the subject fit within the students’ talent bases? A single study on a single subject is not the best way to probe how students learn.

      As Dr. Felder’s excellent summary of the evidence that supports learning styles states:

      That study is not exactly groundbreaking. Every two years or so, some academic psychologists conduct a literature review and conclude that no research supports the use of learning styles in teaching, and journal reviewers and editors treat this conclusion as a new revelation that once and for all debunks learning styles. These pronouncements have never had the slightest effect on the world academic community’s extensive and continually growing use of learning styles models and assessment instruments, but that has never deterred others from repeating the exercise two years later.

      You should take a look at that article, as it cites a lot of studies that lend support to the learning styles model.

      Working with a student for an entire semester, a full year, or even longer is the most effective way to judge whether or not an educational approach is valid. Based on my experience in university, high school, and homeschool settings, I have seen how effective meeting a child’s specific learning style can be.

  4. While it’s nice to see a different opinion (other than my psychology teacher’s), you have to keep in mind that you have to look at some of this scientifically, not just from experience.

    You made some really great points which I can’t adequately respond to since I don’t have the time to read the whole article and attempt a critique.

    That said, even if you assume the article was a flop, the fact that the researchers (Pashler et al) couldn’t find any solid evidence (their standards of course) for learning styles, I think shows that either A, the research on learning styles is surprisingly bad or B, learning styles don’t exist.

    Further, I don’t think the essay you provided quite counters the argument made by Pashler et al. One of the more important things to note about Pashler’s study is that he defines what acceptable evidence is and what is unacceptable, they then look at the studies out there:

    “we scoured the literature to identify studies that provided such evidence. Remarkably, despite the vast size of the literature on learning styles and classroom instruction, we found only one study that could be described as even potentially meeting the criteria described earlier, and as we report in the following text, even that study provided less than compelling evidence.”

    I don’t know the details of what evidence they examined but I find their methods more convincing than Dr Felder’s “consensus argument”:

    “The Center for Applications of Psychological Type database lists 292 publications and dissertations relating students’ MBTI profiles to their academic performance and attitudes, and many studies have also been carried out using other common learning styles assessment instruments…. The engineering education literature alone provides numerous examples. In several studies based on the MBTI, intuitors in theoretical/analytical engineering courses with examinations that rewarded problem-solving speed predictably did better on average than their sensing classmates, while in courses taken by the same students that stressed engineering practice and required careful observation and attention to detail, the sensors predictably did better. [he cites two studies]”

    Of course he was constrained to a short essay but it didn’t seem like he challenged the idea that many of the studies could have been flawed (see the diagrams on page 110). Another thing that Dr Felder mentions is that even if there are such thing as learning styles they can’t be implemented in the classroom because there is too much variety to teach. He favors the “assorted” teaching style which is a mixture of all the learning styles.

    If there is evidence (with Pashler’s criteria) that shows significant improvement with optimal learning techniques and a decline in performance with non-meshing learning techniques (like using verbal teachings to teach a visual learner) then learning styles do exist.

    note: I probably don’t have time for a full fledged debate on this, however, I love reading. If you know of a good source or article I’ll read it.

    1. James, I think you are missing something rather crucial. You say, “the fact that the researchers (Pashler et al) couldn’t find any solid evidence (their standards of course) for learning styles, I think shows that either A, the research on learning styles is surprisingly bad or B, learning styles don’t exist.” There are several other possibilities:

      (C) Pashler et. al.‘s standards for acceptable evidence are poor

      (D) Pashler et. al.‘s analysis is poor

      (E) Pashler et. al. did not view a sufficient amount of the literature

      My bet is a combination of all three. The point is that while Pashler et. al. couldn’t find any evidence for learning styles, lots of other researchers do. I also think you need to look at the article I gave you much more carefully, because Felder gives many, many more than just two citations for studies that demonstrate positive evidence for learning styles. References 2-7 all give evidence to support the concept of learning styles, as does reference 12, references 17 & 18 (the two to which you refer), and references 23 and 24.

      Also, I would once again caution you that learning is not something that can be easily studied, since studies are generally very short in duration and tend to focus on a small body of concepts. Learning is something that happens over a long time scale, and it involves a lot of topics. As a result, I am not surprised that the academic literature provides studies that both support the concept and deny the concept. Once again, when I see the effect of changing curriculum on a student’s performance, that is very strong evidence that learning styles are real. When I speak to other educators who experience the same results, that provides even more evidence. These educators are probably in a better position to evaluate learning than most academic studies.

      I would ask you this question: If learning styles don’t exist, why do some students learn well with one curriculum, while other students learn poorly with the exact same curriculum? I know a homeschooling family that has 4 different children using three different math curricula. The first one learned fine with Saxon, but the second one crashed and burned with it. However, once they switched the second to Videotext Interactive, he flourished. The third child learned well with Saxon. The fourth one came along, and neither Saxon nor Videotext Interactive worked for him, but he did well with MATH-U-SEE. All of them scored above grade level in high school math. This is not an isolated incident, and I have seen equivalent things happen for students at the university and high school level – switch the learning method, and they flourished where before they crashed and burned. If it’s not learning style, what explains these observations?

  5. Pashler looked at all of the relevant studies and concluded that almost all of them failed to show that learning styles exist. The studies you mentioned are irrelevant if they fail to show one learning style hindering the student’s ability to learn with a different style and vice versa (hopefully my point will become more clear later). Simply stating that visual learners learn better than auditory learners when taught a certain way isn’t enough to prove (despite the magnitude of evidence) that learning styles exist. If you look at page 110, with the diagrams, you might be able to see what I mean. The simple fact is that some methods of teaching are probably superior to other methods regardless of the student.

    Why do students do better with different curriculum? I’ll argue that instead of the students “learning differently” it could be instead that one of the students was simply better, didn’t need as much explaining, and enjoyed that subject more. The second student, not doing well with the first curriculum, could have moved to a different better or more detailed curriculum and in turn did better. In order to truly prove that learning styles exist both of the student’s should swap textbooks and if both of the students did worst then it would be proof, if not, then no.

    Of course the students would be accustomed to their textbook so that particular example wouldn’t work, but I think it gets the point across.

    That example you gave also doesn’t necessarily mean one of the students was a “visual” learner and another was a “auditory” learner, those types there is even less evidence for. Even the essay you provided was more leaning towards sensing learners and intuition learners.

    My theory is that homeschooling gives students a much more independent approach which works. I was home-schooled and from my own experience choosing the way you want to approach learning is very powerful and makes you want to learn and prove yourself. When you give students the opportunity to choose they’ll have a much higher desire to do it their way. At my university, I’ve learned much more from individual projects that I conceived and completed myself then the projects tied to a book or done in class.

    One more thing, maybe a confession. I took Saxon and Video Text math and I remember liking the Saxon text better. But instead of it “fitting my learning style,” I liked the Saxon text better because I was naturally good at math, it was more direct and I didn’t need all the detailed explanation in the videos. The video Text I feel was a better program but it didn’t fit me because it was a bit drawn out. It was a lot of hassle to watch the whole thing just to understand a 30 second concept that I didn’t get.

    1. James, Pashler et. al. clearly did not look at all of the relevant studies. For example, reference 18 in Felder’s excellent article is not even mentioned in Pashler et. al., despite the fact that it provides direct evidence for the reality of learning styles. The construction of that study was superior to most of the studies discussed in Pashler et. al., since it followed students over a long time period and through a wide variety of topics. In the end, it concluded, for example, that “Intuitors performed significantly better than sensors in courses with a high level of abstract content and the contrary was observed in courses of a more practical nature.” Interestingly enough, Pashler et. al. don’t mention Felder’s work at all, which demonstrates quite clearly that they didn’t look at all of the relevant studies.

      I am sure that some methods of teaching are superior to others, but it is also a simple fact that when the curriculum matches a student’s learning style, the student does better.

      In attempting to explain the observation that different curriculum works for different students, you say, “it could be instead that one of the students was simply better, didn’t need as much explaining, and enjoyed that subject more. The second student, not doing well with the first curriculum, could have moved to a different better or more detailed curriculum and in turn did better.” But that would imply that the second curriculum (Videotext) would be better than Saxon for all students. However, when the third student came along, Videotext did not work for him. He had to use Saxon. If Video text is just a better program than Saxon, why would the third student not do well with it? When the last student came along, neither worked for him, and he had to choose a third. Once again, that’s because neither Saxon nor Videotext matched his learning style.

      I agree that “visual,” “auditory,” etc., might not be the best classifications of learning styles. However, a good educator can’t ignore the clear evidence that there are learning styles that vary from student to student and that some curricula match some students’ learning styles better than others.

      Thanks for your confession. It, of course, provides even more evidence for the reality of learning styles. The very fact that you thought Videotext was “a lot of hassle” is probably indicative of your learning style. I know several students who are naturally quite good at math and find Videotext the perfect fit for them, because they enjoy the way the information is presented and like the visual nature of the course. Your learning style is different from theirs. It’s not that you are naturally better at math than them. It’s that Saxon better matched your learning style than Videotext. For them, it is the opposite.

      You can deny the evidence all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that many, many studies (only some of which are discussed in Felder’s excellent article) demonstrate the reality of learning styles.

  6. Alright, I give up! You’re probably right, I was trying to argue something of which is counter-intuitive and is hard to study/research adequately, the methods of the research have to be strictly isolated from other influences, is is one reason I don’t particularly like psychology, but, unfortunately the world is very complicated.
    Pashler et al didn’t argue that the data was wrong, instead they argued that the methods were wrong. In order for them to be right the reader has to assume that they correctly studied each and every study on learning styles. This I suppose is a stretch. Again, here’s the short snippet:

    “we scoured the literature to identify studies that provided such evidence. Remarkably, despite the vast size of the literature on learning styles and classroom instruction, we found only one study that could be described as even potentially meeting the criteria described earlier…”

    So, really, we’re left at the mercy of the authors with no idea what they studied and how.

    In general, the idea that learning styles don’t exist and that all students learn the same way, I think, is very attractive to teachers who want to be able to improve school. Being able to teach everyone the same way would make being a teacher much much easier.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I probably won’t be able to participate any longer but I’ll keep reading and I’ll definitely mention some of your points to my teacher.

    Also, keep the blog posts coming! You’re blog is great I read it often, in particular I like your unique approach on science, it’s very refreshing.

    1. James, I agree that this area is hard to research and study adequately, but I disagree that what you are arguing is counter-intuitive. I would think that your position is the intuitive one – a really good curriculum should allow everyone to learn at the same level. The learning styles position is the counter-intuitive one. However, I personally think it is the one that has the most evidence behind it.

      I know that Pashler et. al. claim to have “scoured the literature,” but the facts tell us otherwise. When authors claim to have “scoured” the literature but miss several relevant studies and don’t even mention the work of one of the standard advocates of using learning styles to guide education, it is clear that they did not do a very good job of searching the literature! I don’t think this means Pashler et. al. have no idea of what they studied and how. It just means that they didn’t do a good job of surveying the evidence that exists on both sides of the issue.

      I strongly agree with you that the absence of learning styles would be a great thing for school teachers. After all, schools cannot tailor their curriculum to individual students. Thus, if the research shows that curriculum needs to be tailored, that is yet another blow to the effectiveness of schools.

      I am happy to engage in discussion, especially with those who disagree with me. It encourages critical thinking for both me and my readers.

      Thanks for your kind words about my blog. There are many who do not like my approach on science. I am glad to know there are those who do!

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