How to make sense of data in science and math textbooks

Posted by The Wall St Journal on Thursday, January 11, 2020 07:15:08A new study has found that children’s understanding of how the world works and how to make the most of it has increased since the 1970s, even as a growing body of scientific research shows that the ability to predict future events is becoming more complex.

The research, by researchers at Stanford University and the National Science Foundation, finds that students who are learning about science in the public school system in the 1970d are now better able to make predictions about the future than children who are not.

The study, titled The Measurement of Science and Mathematics: The Effect of the Public School System, looked at how students’ knowledge of science and mathematics has changed over time.

It looked at data from about 15,000 students across the United States. 

Researchers compared students who were reading in grade school to those who were not.

They found that the gap in knowledge between students reading in grades school and those not reading in school narrowed from 1972 to the present, when the gap was about 8 points.

This gap, they found, narrowed in response to the introduction of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Advanced Reading and Math standards.

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Science.

“In other words, the gap between the two groups was narrowing,” said David Reichert, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pedagogy and psychology at Stanford.

The authors argue that the narrowing of the gap reflects both the increased sophistication of the science in general, and the narrowing in knowledge of specific areas of scientific study.

They argue that students may be less likely to read about a topic if they know the answer to that question is already known.

“We know from prior work that if students have some understanding of a particular science they can use that knowledge to make decisions about what to study and when,” said Reichelts co-author, John G. Stauffer, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland and an NIST scientist who also was not involved in the study.

“What we have found is that the degree to which students understand what science is and what is not scientific is very different now than it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” said Stauffers co-director of the Center for Science Education at Rutgers University.

“So, while it may not seem like a huge change, it is a very significant change in how students think about science,” said John B. Gorman, a professor of education and science education at the George Washington University and an author of a forthcoming book about science education.

“There is an expectation that students should be able to get their hands on knowledge of the physical world,” Gorman added.

“I think this research shows us that there is a lot more to it than that.”

Gorman noted that while the gap has narrowed, it has not eliminated all the questions that students are asked in their science classes.

The research found that students asked about how the universe works and whether or not it has a beginning, for example, were still more likely to ask about climate change, the nature of life, and evolution than students who did not ask such questions. 

“When we ask kids about science, we don’t ask them about how it works,” Gammons co-authored a commentary for The Wall Streeter.

“When they are asked about the physical universe, they don’t have the opportunity to think about how this might impact their own understanding of it.”

Gammons and Reichers paper also found that those students who had received high school mathematics training were also more likely than their peers to ask how to get information from the web about the origins of life and the origins or origins of the universe.

The researchers also noted that teachers were less likely than teachers of other disciplines to ask students about how to predict the future, with teachers at the top of the list of students who ask the most questions being those who had a math background.

“Teachers are much more inclined to ask the students ‘What would happen if I were to make that prediction?’ rather than ‘What if I could make that same prediction?’,” Gommers said.

The National Science Board will review the paper and other work published in The Journal of Advanced Reading in a forthcoming report.

Follow me on Twitter: @michael_m_carlson

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