Student Active Science March 20,
Science, vol 279 p1869 This issue of Science Magazine contains a book
review by Stephen Arch of Reed College in Portland dealing with
"Student-Active" science ed. Process over content
Date sent: 26 Mar 1998 14:39:50 -0800
From: "Mike McKeown"
Subject: Sci Mag reviews book on discovery science
Subject: Time: 2:00 PM
OFFICE MEMO Sci Mag reviews book on discovery... Date: 3/26/98
March 20, Science, vol 279 p1869
This issue of Science Magazine contains a book review by Stephen Arch of Reed
College in Portland dealing with "Student-Active" science ed.
The book Under review (Student-Active Science. Models of Innovation in
College Science Teaching, McNeil and D'Avanzo eds, Harcourt Brace, 1997) is
composed of the prestented papers from an NSF-sponsored meeting at Hampshire
College in the summer of 1996.
Mr. Arch starts by saying some nice things about how hard the authors have
worked on their programs, but the key parts of the review fill the last
At the end, however, I was left with three serious concerns.
The first is that each of these cases is a hothouse blossom - - lovely, but
the product of laborious and concentrated application of that superb
fertilizer, extra funding. One wonders if these hand-raised beauties can
flourish on their own in the general curriculum.
The second concern is that, almost uniformly, the student-active curriculum
sacrifices content for process. This may be exciting but it is hollow.
Science is about things - - objects and their relations - - that must be known
before process can be applied to problems of real interest. Science-fair
projects and real science are different things. In the absence of content,
process is just another intellectual toy.
And the third concern is that it is difficult to tell if all this effort is
really accomplishing much. Program evaluation is addressed in almost every
case, but the reliability and sophistication of the efforts vary enormously.
In most instances, it is fair to say that no systematic comparative data have
been produced. In the one case in which a sufficiently large and unbiased
survey was performed, the outcome of the student-active curriculum was not
statistically different from that of the traditional mode.
It just may be that counterrevolutionary, old-time lecture hall education is
still with us after all these centuries because - - although everyone agrees
it is a terrible way for students to learn - - it's still the best thing
anyone has yet invented.