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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Factual Thinking v. Integrative Thinking, or How We Need To Teach Science

Factual Thinking v. Integrative Thinking,
or How We Need To Teach Science
What is “thinking”?
This question has many different answers.

We can talk about thinking as a process, as a function, as an ability.
But no matter what feature of thinking we discuss, we always run into a discussion about its structure.
Thinking has a structure, it has elements, connections, rules – the simplest way to see it is to consider such important type of thinking as logical reasoning.
A science teacher does not need to know all of that (but must read at least one book on psychology of thinking).
But a science teacher definitely needs to know the difference between factual thinking and integrative thinking.
In order to show the difference I will use an illustration from the subject I teachphysics.
If I ask a question to a student:
1. What is the direction of electric current in a wire connected to a battery (providing a picture)?
2. How to calculate force of gravity acting on an object with a given mass?
3. How to find a direction of a force acting on a wire with electric current when it is placed in a magnetic field (providing a picture)?
4. How to calculate the magnitude of a force acting on a wire with electric current placed in a magnetic field?
5. How to calculate the value of electric current in a wire with a given resistance when it is connected to a battery with a given EMF?
For each of those questions a student either gives me a correct answer or not.
If a student cannot answer correctly, he or she has not been doing a good study of the material.
But if a student gives correct answers to all five questions, does it mean he or she understand physics?
To test the understanding of a student I can give him/her a problem:
A problem
A wire with a given mass, resistance and length and connected to a known battery is placed in a magnetic field and, when released, hovers in it (floats in the air). Draw the circuit, draw the picture, draw the FBD (free-body-diagram), make natural assumptions and calculate the strength of the magnetic field.
         Now a student does not have to answer five different questions; now he or she has to use his/her factual knowledge in a specific manner.
Memorizing and retrieving answers to questions about facts, rules, laws involves and demonstrates factual thinking.
Using those answers to factual questions for solving a complex problem requires a specific mental work - when all factual knowledge gets connected and integrated in one specific logical construct.
This is why I always say to my students that thinking is kind of like knitting.
This process involves and demonstrates integrative thinking.
Integrative thinking is the essence of scientific thinking.
When a science teacher focuses solely or mostly on factual knowledge, students do not learn science.
It is a common misconception that science classes are about learning scientific facts, rules, laws.
No, it is not.
Learning scientific facts, rules, laws is no different from learning religious facts, rules, laws.
In both cases the answer to question “why” is the same – “because I said so”.
The goal of a science teacher is to teach students not just scientific facts, but most and foremost is how have scientist come up with those facts, how did they got to know all that scientific stuff.
Integrative thinking is what future scientists need to have.
The goal of a science course is to help students with development of scientific thinking.
But in order for students to have that type of thinking be developed, their teachers must possess that type of thinking as well, and most importantly, their teachers must teach students how to think in that specific way.
Unfortunately, the current forms of teacher professional development do not help teachers with the development of their integrative thinking, they also concentrate on factual thinking providing teachers with a list of new facts.
Nowadays we have an additional confirmation of the importance of integrative thinking – it comes from neurology.
The property of a brain called neuroplasticity basically means that a brain functions in a way similar to any physical muscle – you train it, and it gets trained, you do not train it and it gets atrophic.
Advanced thinking requires advanced brain. 
That is why I like using this example (comes from part II of this post): “If the only exercise students had been doing for twelve years is squats, they will not be good at push-ups and pull-ups. Do not expect from students an ability to think if all they had to do for twelve years was memorizing facts and rules” (one of many laws from "Laws of TeachOlogy").

Several other post on the matter; they look like they are about physics, but one can replace “physics” with “science” and everything remains correct:


Three Lessons from Neurology to Science Teachers 

Even more on my blog: www.Cognisity.How

The mission (i.e. the reason for existence) of education 
as human practice is to ensure the progress of humanity.
The mission of education as social institution
is enabling people to succeed in life.
The goal of educational institutions
is to equip people with relevant knowledge and skills.
The mission (i.e. the reason for existence) of science as a human practice is making reliable predictions.
The mission of a scientist as an agent of that practice is discovering truth and presenting it in a testable form.
The mission of a teacher is fostering in students his/her love for learning.
The mission of a science teacher is sharing with students the feeling of pleasure from thinking.
The mission of a mentor is sharing with students the feeling of pleasure from doing the right thing.
The mission of a parent is making children feeling safe, loved, and confident.
The mission of humanity is making world a better place

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