"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Inquiry Requires Immersion. Not a Spiral Approach


"Inquiry is in part a state of mind — that of inquisitiveness. Most young children are naturally curious. They care enough to ask “why” and “how” questions. But if adults dismiss their incessant questions as silly and uninteresting, students can lose this gift of curiosity. Visit any second-grade classroom and you will generally find a class bursting with energy and excitement, where children are eager to make new observations and try to figure things out. What a contrast with many eighth-grade classes, where the students so often seem bored and disengaged from learning and from school!"
Bruce Alberts 


The spiral approach of DepEd's K to 12 to learning math and the sciences and the absence of a formal science subject in the early years will lead to a poorer basic education in these fields. On top of these, DepEd also claims a transition to an inquiry-based teaching. We do not think in a spiral fashion. Inquiry, which in layman's terms suggests "getting to the bottom of things", requires immersion, not a smorgasbord.

The National Academies Press of the United States provides materials that guide education in the sciences. The following is an example.


The above book, a publication of the National Academies Press (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9596) talks about how inquiry happens in two settings, in science, and inside a classroom. The book starts with the two examples given below. The example from science is taken from a geological study of the Pacific coast of North America: 

Radiocarbon evidence for extensive plate-boundary rupture about 300 years ago at the Cascadia subduction zone
ALAN R. NELSON*, BRIAN F. ATWATER, PETER T. BOBROWSKY§, LEE-ANN BRADLEY*, JOHN J. CLAGUE, GARY A. CARVER, MARK E. DARIENZO£, WENDY C. GRANT, HAROLD W. KRUEGERstar, RODGER SPARKS**, THOMAS W. STAFFORD JR & MINZE STUIVER
*US Geological Survey, MS 966, Box 25046, Denver,Colorado 80225, USA
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, CB 450,University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0450, USA
US Geological Survey at Department of Geological Sciences,Box 351310, University of Washington, Seattle,Washington 98195-1310, USA
§British Columbia Geological Survey Branch, 1810 Blanshard Street,Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1X4, Canada
Geological Survey of Canada, 100 West Render Street, Vancouver,British Columbia V6B 1R8, Canada
Department of Geology, Humboldt State University, Arcata,California 95521, USA
£Geology Department, Portland State University, Box 751, Portland, Oregon 97207, USA
starKrueger Enterprises, Inc., Geochron Laboratories Division, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
**Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, Nuclear Sciences Group, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Ltd, Box 31 312, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Department of Geological Sciences and Quaternary Research Center, Box 351310, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1310, USA
THE Cascadia subduction zone, a region of converging tectonic plates along the Pacific coast of North America, has a geological history of very large plate-boundary earthquakes1,2, but no such earthquakes have struck this region since Euro-American settlement about 150 years ago. Geophysical estimates of the moment magnitudes (M w) of the largest such earthquakes range from 8 (ref. 3) to 9 1/2: (ref. 4). Radiocarbon dating of earthquake-killed vegetation can set upper bounds on earthquake size by constraining the length of plate boundary that ruptured in individual earth-quakes. Such dating has shown that the most recent rupture, or series of ruptures, extended at least 55 km along the Washington coast within a period of a few decades about 300 years ago5. Here we report 85 new 14C ages, which suggest that this most recent rupture (or series) extended at least 900 km between southern British Columbia and northern California. By comparing the 14C ages with written records of the past 150 years, we conclude that a single magnitude 9 earthquake, or a series of lesser earthquakes, ruptured most of the length of the Cascadia subduction zone between the late 1600s and early 1800s, and probably in the early 1700s.

The example from the classroom takes place in an elementary school:
"Several of the children in Mrs. Graham’s fifth grade class were excited when they returned to their room after recess one fall day. They pulled their teacher over to a window, pointed outside, and said, “We noticed something about the trees on the playground. What’s wrong with them?” Mrs. Graham didn’t know what they were concerned about, so she said, “Show me what you mean.”
The students pointed to three trees growing side by side. One had lost all its leaves, the middle one had multicolored leaves — mostly yellow — and the third had lush, green leaves. The children said, “Why are those three trees different? They used to look the same, didn’t they?” Mrs. Graham didn’t know the answer."
And the story continues with the entire class spending more than three weeks trying to find answers to their question. This is inquiry. This is immersion, not a smorgasbord, not a spiral approach.

Jeannie Fulbright, author of Apologia's Elementary Science Series, wrote an article on the immersion, and I am sharing her article (with her kind permission) here:


Using the Immersion Approach in Science

Though many educators promote the spiral approach to education wherein a child is exposed over and over again to minute amounts of a variety of science topics, we believe there is a far better way.

The theory goes that we just want to “expose” the child to science at this age. Each year he is given a tad bit more information than was given the year before, thus spiraling upward. However, this approach supposes that young minds are incapable of understanding deeper science; and education is thus dumbed down. Sadly, this '”exposure” method has proved unsuccessful in the public and private schools as NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) statistic show American eighth graders (all having been trained under this method) are consistently less than 50% proficient in science. This data reveals this approach to be an inadequate methodology in education.

If we continually present children with scant and insufficient science, they will fail to develop a love for the subject. If the learning is skimpy, the subject seems monotonous. The child is simply scratching the surface of the amazing and fascinating information available in science. And, sadly, students taught in this way are led to believe they "know all about" a subject, when in reality the subject is so much richer than they were allowed to know or explore.

That is why we recommend that kids, even young kids, are given an in-depth, above their perceived grade level, exploration into each science topic. You, the educator, have the opportunity to abandon methods that don't work so that your students can learn in the ways that have been proven effective.

The immersion approach is the way everyone, even young kids, learn best. That is why we major in one field in college and take many classes in that field alone. If you immerse your child in one field of science for an entire year, they will develop a love for both that subject and a love for learning in general. When a child really knows a subject, they become an expert on it. They have a genuine knowledge and understanding that most high school children haven't been able to comprehend.

However, if they rush through several fields of science in one year, they will feel unknowledgeable and insecure about the information. And in fact, they are unknowledgeable. But imagine the benefit to your child when he is able to authentically converse with the botanist at the botanical gardens, intelligently discussing the dynamics and idiosyncrasies that are seen in the plants. This will delight both your student and others with conversation that is actually interesting and intelligent, occurring because you discarded the method of teaching to the test, and studied a subject to a degree that your child knew the inner workings of that subject. A child taught in this manner learns to love knowledge and develop confidence.

Additionally, a child that is focused on one subject through an entire year is being challenged mentally in ways that will develop his or her ability to think critically and retain complex information. This will actually benefit the child and give him an advantage on achievement tests. He will be able to make more intelligent inferences about the right answer on science questions, as God has created an orderly world that works very similarly throughout all matters of science. A child who has not been given the deeper, more profound information will not understand how the scientific world operates, and can not even guess the correct answer on standardized tests.

Yes, it is wise to spend an entire year on one field of science. And I believe you will find that you, your children and their test results will profit greatly from this method. Science will become a favorite subject as the student finally attains to a greater understanding of God's world and how it works. And when he learns about another field, he will be able to make comparisons and contrasts, thinking critically about the subject because of his strong foundation.


1 comment:

  1. Our government spent millions providing scholarships to top performing high school graduates to encourage them to go into the teaching profession and major in math, biology, chemistry and physics. This effort is admirable for its aim to improve science and math education by making sure that these courses are taught by subject-matter experts. With the K+12 spiral approach, these teachers are now being forced to teach subject matters that are outside of their area of expertise. This just doesn't make sense.

    On a personal note, I am one of the lucky recipients of the DOST-SEI scholarships for chemistry teachers. I taught high school chemistry for eight years in the Philippines. Four of those eight years were spent teaching in a public, provincial high school. Though I am now based in the US, I go back to my province from time to time and hold seminar-worshops on inquiry. My decision to migrate was a difficult one for it felt like a betrayal of my calling. It was a decision that had to be made though for the sake of my family. In my posts, my indignation in behalf of the teachers must have been palpable. My own mother is one of the public school teachers who are now being bullied into implementing this senseless K+12 program.

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