In a classroom setting, non-science majors who were challenged to come up with their own experimental methods learned far more than students taught to do experiments by following familiar recipes.
What’s the best way for students to really learn basic science? New research just presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggests an answer: freedom. After years of watching nonscience majors struggle with biology courses, Steve Rissing of Ohio State University decided to see how the boring old cookbook method of teaching stacked up against something new. The old way was to give students a big textbook to follow and dumb down experiments. Many students still scored poorly when asked about the basics. The new method gave students freedom. They prepared their own enzyme solutions and were encouraged to come up with their own methods. The result? Eighty-three percent of the free students gave the right answer to the simple question, “Where do enzymes occur in nature?” Just 23 percent of the cookbook group answered correctly. The new methods could help train students to better see and understand the beauty of science.