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Science 101: Different teaching fosters better comprehension
Date:4/5/2011

Montreal, April 5, 2011 Introductory science courses in biology, chemistry, math and physics can be challenging for first-year college, CEGEP and university students. Science 101 courses can make or break a student's decision to venture into a scientific field or even pursue higher education.

"The language, fundamentals and scope of science gateway courses can be akin to a foreign culture," says Calvin Kalman, principal of Concordia's Science College and a professor in the Department of Physics. "Students can have great difficulty reading scientific texts even when they are written in their native language and they must also cope with complex knowledge taught by their professor."

Since 1995, Kalman has investigated new ways to ease this learning curve. "The main problem in teaching science is that its approach is not holistic," he explains, noting high school through university-level textbooks aren't necessarily consistent and don't employ user-friendly language. "They offer layers of scientific results, coming from competing interpretations, deposited during centuries."

Kalman's most recent paper, published in the journal Science & Education, followed CEGEP and university students over the course of a semester. He asked that they practice what he calls "reflective writing" a process where students digest, analyze and pen their thoughts on assigned readings before classroom discussions. "It's a way of getting students to wrestle with materials and grasp their meaning, rather than just summarizing," he explains.

As part of his study, students were interviewed three times and asked to describe how reflective-writing helped their comprehension of course content. "They felt that they had to put the information into their own words, which really helped them refine key concepts," Kalman says. "Reflective writing gets students to initiate a self-dialogue about texts and ask: 'What do I understand?' and 'What do I
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Contact: Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
s-j.desjardins@concordia.ca
514-848-2424 x5068
Concordia University
Source:Eurekalert  

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