Teaching science: we’re doing it wrong | Danny Doucette | TEDxRiga

Translator: Ilze Garda
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I’m a high school teacher; I’m not used to having
an entire room listen to me. (Laughter) So, who here, when they were in school,
enjoyed studying science? Not bad. Now, during the last week, who here used something
you learned in your physics class during your everyday life? OK, there are a couple, but not many. So I think, as a teacher, I’m not having much of an impact
on my students’ lives, and that’s a problem. I’d like to start by telling you
a story about Zaya. Zaya was a student I taught
in Mongolia, seven years ago. She was 14 years old at the time. Zaya was a quiet girl, she studied hard, and she always had
a nice word for her friends. Zaya believed in UFOs. Her grandfather claimed
to have been abducted several times, and had become famous for his paintings
depicting the abductions. During the time that I knew her,
Zaya went to the Internet, and she began to learn more
about conspiracy theories. Over time, she began to suspect that the local government,
the national government, and even the world economy
were being run by little green people. This is what happens when you take a teenager
who hasn’t learned to think critically, and you give her the Internet. So, as a world we’ve got
some serious challenges facing us: global warming, advances in healthcare, and technology evolving
at an increasingly rapid rate. In order for us as a society
to deal with these, we’re going to need
a scientifically literate populace. At the same time, if you as a person can use scientific
and critical thinking in your life, you will be empowered
to better understand the world. But, as in the case of Zaya, we, teachers, are not teaching students
how to think critically. We are not teaching students how to use scientific ideas
to make meaning in their lives. Most of us recognize
that we need to do better, but, at the same time, much of the conversation
is focused on the wrong things. A lot of people seem to think that we could make kids love science
and be good at science if only we could show them enough explosions
and fascinating demonstrations. So let’s have a fascinating demonstration. (Applause) I’ve got a flask;
there’s a catalyst in here. This flask contains hydrogen peroxide
along with some regular dish soap. I’ll just pour that in. And we get this cool effect here. What’s happening is that the hydrogen peroxide
is being broken apart by the catalyst, turning into water
and releasing oxygen gas. Because there is soap in the mixture, that oxygen gas is being
captured by the bubbles, and we are getting
a whole bunch of bubbles. During the next 10 or so minutes,
this is going to continue to erupt. Hopefully, that doesn’t
distract you too much from what I’m trying to say over here. Alright, so that’s all very cool, but does it make you
curious about the world? Does it make you wonder
why the sky is blue, or how a car engine works, or why turtles have
cool patterns on their shells? No, not really. I mean, asking questions like that
makes you curious, but I’m not sure that this type of demonstration
is doing very much for students. Unless we can use demonstrations to promote curiosity
or to teach critical thinking, these demonstrations
are nothing more than snake oil in a world that needs people
to learn how to think critically. The second mistake that we’re doing is we’re assuming that science
is some sort of collection of knowledge. Well, if science is
a collection of knowledge, then schools are in the business of determining whether or not
students learn this knowledge. We have two main tools to do this. The first of them
is the multiple-choice question. Which colour will produce
the best resolution in an optical telescope or a microscope? There we four wrong answers
and one right answer. Which sort of power plants should we build
to provide us with electricity? There is no room for subtlety,
or clarifications, or explanations. How many chromosomes do humans have? There is no exceptional cases,
just the answer. Which of these
similarly phrased definitions is the correct definition for energy? It’s mostly just a test
of reading comprehension. Which is the closest star? You cannot assess a child’s ability
to ask the right questions, formulate a hypothesis,
conduct an experiment, or make meaning in their lives
with this multiple-choice test. OK, so the other technique that we have
is to ask science problems. Science problems pretend to be
real-life situations in which students are supposed
to apply their scientific knowledge. Here’s an example. The mass is 5 kilograms, the acceleration is
2 meters per second squared, and we know that force
is mass times acceleration, so what is the force? When students see a problem like this, they say, “What equation
am I supposed to use? What vocabulary am I supposed to use? What ideas am I supposed
to write down on a paper?” And they stop thinking. These problems provide
no meaningful assessment of a child’s ability
to apply scientific knowledge. They are nothing but a test of whether or not students are able
to solve this type of problem. So, science tests are no good, right? But so what? The problem is that these tests
are acting as gateways, we use them to keep students
from graduating from school, we use them to let students
into university, and we use them to allow students to receive
the career preparation that they need. As a result, there is
a tremendous amount of pressure on students, on families, and on teachers to prepare students for these tests. We’re focusing on the wrong thing,
these tests are the wrong goal. If there is any magic or meaning
in science at the start of the year, it is gone by December. So, here’s the state of things. Science education isn’t working. We’re trying explosions
that are not effective, and we’re grinding kids through exams
which don’t tell us anything meaningful. I’ve got another demonstration for you. It’s a better one. This is the mystery box, please observe. Now, when you see that,
who has a question? Who’s curious about this? Who wants to run up on the stage, pull one of these strings,
and see what will happen? Yes, this is the reaction
we want from our students! We want them to be curious. When I show my students the mystery box,
they say, “Show us what’s inside!” But I will never do that. Of course, it’s sealed. Just like science, the mystery box
isn’t about the answer, we don’t have access
to some sort of universal truth. All we have are the questions. I tell the students they can go home
and make their own mystery box, and you can do that too. And if your mystery box
works the same as mine, then – congratulations! –
you’re successful. But I will never show you
the inside of the mystery box. That’s a science demonstration, right? But most of the science learning
we need to do is a little more difficult, so let’s have one more demonstration. I have a white plastic ball,
and I have a magnet. The white plastic ball
is not attracted to the copper, but neither is the magnet
because copper is not ferromagnetic. If we drop the two through the tube, there’s the yellow plastic ball,
but where’s the magnet? There it is. So what’s going on? As it falls, the tube is feeling
a changing magnetic field. Just like in a dynamo or in a generator, the changing magnetic field
is creating an electrical current. Because the magnet is oriented vertically, that magnetic current
is going to be travelling in circles; these circles are called eddy currents. Now, just like current in a wire
creates a magnetic field, the eddy currents
will also be creating a magnetic field. The magnetic field
that is being created here will be in the opposite direction to the magnetic field
that the magnet possesses itself. Therefore, as it falls, the magnet is being repelled
by a field it is indirectly creating. As a result, the magnet falls more slowly. But now, you’ve seen the demonstration, you’ve heard an explanation, and you’ve seen some pictures,
so you understand, yeah? Well, let’s test your understanding. I will take the magnet, and we will just flip it
upside down and drop it through. Is it going to be faster,
slower or the same speed? Same speed. So, the situation is complex.
It’s difficult. Electromagnetic induction is a topic that, when I teach it, I spend hours
working with my students. We go through deliberate exercises,
we build a model, and we deploy it. Understanding ideas in science education takes time, takes effort, and, of course,
it takes careful instruction. The technique that I use when I’m teaching
is called modeling instruction. Modeling simulates how scientists
actually acquire knowledge, and it works really well. I’d like to show it to you. We start off with an experiment. The students have to find the relationship between two carefully
constrained variables. Next, we’ll meet as a class, and we’ll combine our findings
together to create a model. But because the students
have created the model themselves, it’s no longer
a Newton’s law of gravitation, it’s Anna’s law, or Ivan’s law,
or Alexander’s law. They have ownership over it, it’s theirs. Next, we’ll take that model,
and we’ll apply it to real-world tasks. Finally, we can take the model,
loosen the constraints, and see that it doesn’t work anymore. That allows us to create
a new, more general model. So, active learning approaches
like this actually work; the research is really clear on that. It will take time and effort for us to retrain teachers
in order to teach more effectively. But the good part is that it’s not difficult
and it’s not expensive. My favorite tool in the classroom
is the smartboard. I bring the board, and the students
have to provide the smart. When I want my students to develop skills,
I get them to do something real, that’s how we keep them engaged. So last week, my students
got a water balloon, they went to the second floor
and held it out the window, and they needed to make a prediction,
when should they drop the balloon, so that, as I’m walking
underneath the window, it hits me on the head. Let’s take a look at that. (Video starts) There you go… falling… bull’s eye. (Laughter) You can see how happy
they are up there, right? (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you. Let’s go back to Zaya. So, Zaya was becoming
increasingly paranoid and worried about UFOs. So what I had her do was I had her apply the scientific thinking
that she was learning in class to her ideas about UFOs
and about conspiracy theories. Slowly, over the course of the year,
she began to walk back her ideas. By the end of the year,
she was just a normal kid again. Science and the ways of thinking
that come with it empowered her
to better understand her world. Imagine if we could have science classes where students learned from active,
hands-on, meaningful lessons. And imagine if we could all learn to think
scientifically and critically. But there’s one piece missing,
and it’s a big one. Examinations. Here in Europe and around the world, we’re increasingly turning
to high-stakes standardized exams. Every minute students spend
learning how to ask questions, how to do experiments,
how to think like a scientist, is a minute they are not spending
preparing for exams. Any change that we make
to science teaching will need to begin with a change
to science assessment. There are alternatives
to these terrible exams: projects, open-ended tasks, group work,
lab work, portfolios, virtual labs. If you’re a science educator,
look these up! They have been tested,
they have been used, they’ve been around for decades. I don’t know why people
aren’t adopting them, it’s craziness! I’m here because I want to call
on science leaders, here and around the world, to scale back their reliance
on these standardized examinations and to investigate and seriously consider
alternative forms of assessment. But I have a message for you too,
and especially to students. Science is more, so much more, than tests. If you can use science in your thinking, and if you can learn to think
scientifically and critically, you will be a smarter and a richer person. We can learn to think scientifically,
we can learn to think critically, so demand that from your schools,
demand that from your education system, and demand that from yourself. And, most importantly, don’t let tests tell you
what you do and do not care about. Learning science is hard,
but it’s also really important. I think we’re doing it wrong,
I think we can do it better. And, in fact, I think
we must do it better. Thank you very much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Teaching science: we’re doing it wrong | Danny Doucette | TEDxRiga”

  1. I'd love to have classes like that! The problem, at least in my school, is that you'd have to also train the students to learn to appreciate this kind of knowledge or science in general. I can't tell you how disencouraging my Physics and Chemistry classes are, not because of the subject itself or the teachers, but because the students just don't shut up. While a minority in the class is trying to learn something new, because of the math and numbers involved they just turn around and start talking to their friends, not minding that it is distracting.

  2. I go school in South Africa (I'm not poor or in a poor school, people always think that when I say I'm from South Africa). We don't have Standardized Tests here because in the beginning of a test we get 4 Multichoice questions and the rest is practical. We also learn by doing experiments and that helps a lot. But the tests is soo hard.

  3. I always wondered why the humans destroying the earth?! Now I now the answer.thank you zaya🤓 I swear it is make a lot of sense lol

  4. Very nice presentation. Here in brazil we are only focusing in do tests and pass on an university, it is rare we do some experiment…. this is sad… sometimes i hate Brazil because of that

  5. I taught myself, my teacher's were incompetent…later in life i found out it was because my IQ level was higher than average due to childhood trauma… meh

  6. I swear to God if u see how we learn in " my country " you'd rather throw yourself out of the window .. knowing that I am not in primary school nor in high school , I am in a very decent collage – if not the most decent – at a university ranked 3 in my country .. all we hope just " fascinating demonstrations " and " MCQs " and that would be more than great 😂😂😂
    N.B. plz don't ask about my country 😊😊

  7. This is all great and such, but it is a little idealistic. This sort of approach is good sometimes, and certainly should be included sometimes, but sometimes there is just too much material to teach in this sort of format.

  8. I like this guys optimism and his ideas, but maybe have what he's describing as a separate class? As 3rd year university physics student I can tell you that those poor kids in his standard physics class are gonna hit a brick wall when they get to their first university physics test and notice that not a single question asks them to conduct an experiment to derive they're own law. I get the message and it's a great, but sadly, universities are focused on if you know the equations and how to use them.

  9. What he teaches is just another paradigm. One cannot see it flaws from within it. Really he doesn't know, there is alot of bs but some things cannot be disregarded or explained with our simple (physics/intellect).
    "Zaya became a normal kid again", this is ignorant because once again you don't know for certain what is true.

    A good book that explains this is the book of not knowing.

  10. I think this is absolutely brilliant.. I think I finally understood eddy currents in the five minutes he talked about it better than the two hours my teacher spent with her presentations trying to help us understand. That speaks a lot about how much we need practical learning in class rooms.

  11. LOVED this. Examinations are the key problem. All my teachers admit that they just need us to memorise stuff: not learn.

  12. here's what it's like in India. here, when you take science, Medical or engineering, you have one single test at the end of high school for college entrances. called the JEE for engineering and AIPMT for medical. it's all about the application of the things you learn. personally, I'm here in junior high school and I realise the fact that in middle school senior or when I was 15, I was SO MUCH into science. I had so much interest in modern physics. but as soon as I hit high school and turned 16, now for me it's about knowing the formula, applying it and passing that test. I feel so bad that I loved science so much and now it's like okay okay (because the inner scientist in me never dies). suicide rates in children here because of the pressure of this exam is super high. we go to school to get attendance, go to private tuition for passing school exams and go to coaching institutes to clear that test. it sucks so much but that's what we gotta do. sike

  13. Stopped listening after he used UFOs to describe aliens. A physics teacher should know what UFO stands for and to not use it incorrectly, especially when giving a presentation.

  14. I hv always thought that general literacy/knowledge level of public does not keep pace with society change is a huge problem. Considering 99% of the daily/common knowledge we hv now is useless in job, I believe that regular scientific knowledge and thinking can also be incorporated into daily knowledge without making people feeling they are learning useless thing if we are willing to change the education system to make science a mainstream common knowledge starting at very young age.

  15. All those examples of "bored physics students" building courses for a pingpong ball that they then conveniently hit nearly every time could just be kids who figured out this method of learning on their own and decided to apply it to amuse themselves and the internet.

  16. Yep. Same goes for all subjects, teaching to the test fails to motivate students to learn how (and why!) to learn. Metacognition and rhetorical skill is just gone from many public high schools outside of debate clubs, if there is even that. Students are not stupid – it's a part of our diffuse cultural knowledge that butterfly collecting is the old way of doing science. Trivia is not science. There is more to obtaining knowledge than seeking out a bucket of truth a day, and in my experience the worst students in the current system are the ones that have the most easily demonstrated critical thinking ability, because they are quick to understand how much of a pointless endeavor it is to learn the content of a single textbook and never look back. It's a fucking tragedy that we're pushing them away from academia.

    Unfortunately educators have a heavy load of pseudoscience they need to deal with, in the form of "These methods are tested and proven." They're proven to fail. But introduce a new idea, and the hostility surges. "Well what if it's worse?" What if the sky turned purple? What if water was suddenly the consistency of syrup? If educators don't trust science, we can't apply it to education.

  17. This is preschool not high school; Children need practice thinking spontaneously correctly, interpreting truth, insightfully, reading with comprehension, arguing perceptively, (whereas, perspective comes with Tinkertoy® Etc.), not, mulling warmed-over hypotheses… Children need an intelligent audience to discuss their parents' introductory college level sciences….

  18. in my country, the curriculum content is too heavily packed. i just wish i can do the same teaching technique, however, provided with only 1 hour and 30 minutes for science class per week, it just seem impossible to allow them to learn through curiosity and at the same trying to catching up with the syllabus and not to mention the standardized exams.

  19. Before I watch this I SAY WHAT I KEEP SAYING visually and interactively. Have kids love to try and test new things, form opinions and be okay with said pinions being challenged. Now I watch

  20. Nice presentation with lots of insight. My only concern is about zoya and many more kids accross the world who hv the same mindset. Please make a video on how to pull them out of the fantasy world of ufo's. Just to add, there are number of government officials including CIA and FBI who have testified in favour of what zoya thinks. Thanks and thumps up.👍👍

  21. Very good and true about teaching it wrong. I also agree that most students don't have an appreciation for science because they can't relate it to the real world. I strive to make that connection. I still striving.

  22. Standardized tests might not be perfect, but they have done a great job in providing us with amazing scientists. We have been on the moon, discovered DNA and quarks and are able to provide everyone with a mobile phone and connection to the internet. I don't think we should get rid of tests, we rather should get rid of schools. Schools are an ancient invention, coming from a time when the only way to learn is being physically near a teacher. Now with the age of the internet and youtube there is less need for a teacher.
    Government should provide youtube lessons that teaches content and prepares students for tests, instead of wasting money building schools were young people are getting disrupted by other students from learning, unless they are rich enough to go to a private school. Obviously teachers don't like this idea and are coming up with "new ideas" – nonsense like learning how to learn and building learning power. Also parents don't like it, because they would loose their government funded baby sitter.

  23. this kind of teaching is relevant only for teachign kids of 5th or 6th grade. You should have aimed to explain more complex subjects, and prove how your method is better than the current style of teaching everywhere. I admire your thought but its far from achievable just because it is too far-fetched.

  24. Fascinating talk.
    I've been teaching English in Japan for the last 10 years, and the need to teach for tests is the bane of many of my peers.
    There are students who score well in tests who have almost no communication ability outside of a classroom setting.
    There are also students who are excellent speakers, but as the tests were designed and marked by non-native speakers, these student's excellent English is marked as incorrect because it doesn't match the accepted patterns for that particular test.
    Unless the focus is switched to practical skills instead of rote memorization and "correct" word for word translation between languages that are too different to translate word for word, Japan will continue to have the some of the poorest English in Asia, despite making the students work harder than any other countries.

  25. Mystery boxes are all well and good……..unless you teach Biology. Science teacher workshops are 10:1 Physci:Life science, even when they are called "Inquiry workshops."

  26. I agree there is a problem, but I don't think the magnet demo is any better than the explosion in terms of teaching. Either experiment will interest students!

  27. I think teachers sometimes don't quite understand the depth of the lack of knowledge of students or people in general. I was talking to a friend of mine regaling about the significance of Einstein's equation, E=mc2 and she bluntly asked, what is an equation? That stopped me in my tracks. I guess I would say in this case, it is an unusual or surprising equivalence.

  28. When your just binge watching tedx talks for 5 hours 😶😴😴😶😴😶😶😴😴😴😴😶😶😴😶😴😴😴😴😴😴😴😴😴😴😴😴😴

  29. Maybe the little green aliens really have taken over the education system in the western world, and taken education away from real authentic learning! is their a conspiracy to stop people learning?

  30. Well, the US educational system is deeply f*cked up. Other countries do better, but there is no silver bullet to teach science.

  31. I always wanted this kind of learning culture or environment, we have been forced to learn theories without understanding it, which I going to forget it within 2-3 days, science should be fun regular assessment of learning, not just for getting good marks in exams.

  32. Yes.I tried to explain that to a lot of my teachers but they thought I did that because I was 'lazy' and 'just didn't wanna learn'.No! I;M in 7th grade and I LOVE science.Mostly chemistry and astronomy.

  33. The irony is that he doesn't think critically if he just ridicules extraterrestrial existence on this planet without looking at all the evidence.

    1η) (2Κ)=(Pm+Pn)
    2η) (2Κ+1)=(P1+P2+P3)

  35. I completely agree, as a science teacher this is my philosophy. Unfortunately I have had to purchase my own supplies, wash all my own glassware ( rooms did not even have a sink or water) and parents would complain that tests should have study guides with the exact page in the book the questions are from. All in all, I still did it, and the students did great on the applied science assessments….but schools and parents do not appreciate that.

  36. Just go visit a kindergarten to figure out how to teach science. Trial and error is innate to our functioning. Using our senses is trial and error, which is science. The child that keeps trying to jump the highest, scream the loudest, etc. IS doing science. The are pushing their personal envelopes, which is the same trial and error that rigorous science does with pen and paper. Keep tying the personal limit pushing to the grade in question and their typical behaviors. Sports, driving, getting to class, drinking from the water fountain, every mundane action is in reality a hidden science experiment.

  37. Science. Recreate a positive pressurised environment alongside a negative system without a solid barrier between them.

  38. It was a great presentation! As scientists, we need to make a better connection between the practices, the tests and the scientific method, which is the base of science and of the critical thought. Congrats!

  39. but the school should be the one to get away with the standardized tests. It stresses the students and the teachers who are making the exams….T^T

  40. Frankly, there's no way you're going to experimentally replicate or motivate people to learn all the interconnecting vocabulary and relationships of immunology without strict correct or incorrect tests. When you get questions wrong, that tells you you've got to train yourself better, and when points are lost, that negative reinforcement motivates good students to push themselves harder than they would've otherwise. This teacher's class looks to be mostly POC, who tend to perform worse on quantifiable exams; and that harms teacher reputations. That probably explains why he tossed out the quantifiable tests.

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