Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Science education and bloodletting

Well, that's a pretty depressing analogy! According to Prof. Carl Wieman (2001 Nobel Physics winner who's now with University of British Columbia and University of Colorado at Boulder), the present state of science education is much like the state of medicine in 1800.

In many respects, science education today is similar to medicine during the mid-1800s, when a new level of scientific rigor confronted long-held beliefs and well-respected traditional medical practices.

For example, bloodletting had been in use for thousands of years, with detailed theories explaining its effectiveness.

And there was convincing evidence that bloodletting worked: most people recovered from their illness after being treated, just as many students (though a smaller percentage) thrive in our traditional lecture-based university science courses and go on to become scientists.

Wieman goes on to tell us that researchers of science education have figured out effective ways of teaching science; but he does not elaborate on them. However, it's easy to find out what they are, at least in physics, because Wieman (who was featured on this blog here) himself has helped develop new tools and methods for teaching physics (and he used a part of his Nobel Prize money for this purpose!). The demos are available at the Physics Education Technology website. A paper describing his preferred method of teaching physics (not just for budding physicists, but also for those who'll move on to other fields) is here (pdf; subscription-walled version is here).

This page has some more links about Wieman. Some of his articles are listed here.