Saturday, January 08, 2011

College upperclassmen still fail at scientific reasoning

College upperclassmen still fail at scientific reasoning
Most of us develop a sort of intuitive logic about how the natural world works. Unfortunately, a lot of that informal reasoning turns out to be wrong, which complicates scientific education. But as students make their way through the science education pipeline, they should gradually start moving beyond the informal reasoning of their earlier years. Or at least that's what we'd like to think; instead, a new survey of college students, some in advanced biology classes, indicates that most end up with a confused mix of formal and informal reasoning. ...

The end result, the authors conclude, is that "faculty are unknowingly speaking a different language from their students." They think that when they mention lost energy, the students know what they're talking about, or that their students' poor choice of wording doesn't represent a failure of logic. As a result, they see little reason to speak more carefully or devote instructional time to clearing up misconceptions. And, even if they wanted to, most biology textbooks consider principle-based reasoning beyond their scope.

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