Carnegie Mellon Researchers Say Direct Instruction, Rather Than "Discovery Learning" Is Best Way To Teach Process Skills In Science

This material relates to the session "How Scientists Really Think: Beyond the Myths of Discovery"

PITTSBURGH--Direct instruction using the Control of Variables Strategy, rather than discovery learning, may be the best way to teach young children about science, says a Carnegie Mellon psychologist who is conducting a four-year field study in public schools in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The field study could lead to a new kind of science curriculum for elementary schools.

CVS is the skill that allows scientists to design unconfounded experiments and to draw valid conclusions from experimental outcomes. However, for all of its importance, CVS is not something that most children acquire naturally, even if they have a lot of exposure to discovery learning experiences. Instead, CVS is a cognitive process skill that must be taught.

Early lab testing and classroom work to teach the Control of Variables Strategy, or CVS, to young children yields promising results, says Carnegie Mellon Professor David Klahr. He explains that for children to become scientific thinkers, somewhere along the way they must obtain a set of skills for comparison and solid logic that allows them to recognize potentially important experimental results.

With post-doctoral fellow Zhe Chen and Anne Fay, a former student now teaching at Stanford University, Klahr has examined the effectiveness of different methods for teaching elementary school children the Control of Variables Strategy -- one of the central process skills needed in scientific experimentation.

"Our work demonstrates that even preschool children can distinguish between knowing an answer, when there are no confounds or alternative explanations, and having to guess when there are confounds and alternative explanations," Klahr said.

Klahr says it is important to teach children this kind of process skill with

Contact: David Klahr
Carnegie Mellon University

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