Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Science/Math Education Shift from Teaching to Learning

Some blog followers might be interested in a discussion-list post “The Science/Math Education Shift from Teaching to Learning” [Hake (2011)].

The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: This post is a slight expansion and improvement of an earlier post “Anatomy Education.” The revision was stimulated by the interesting 11-post POD thread “Re: Open inquiry is bad? (in some intro tech courses)” at, especially Anton Tolman’s (2011) emphasis on John Tagg’s (2003) important book The Learning Paradigm College.

Robin Hopkins in a POD post “SHIFT IN THE TEACHING OF SCIENCE” wrote: “I'm interested in the shift that is required of traditional anatomists as the medical school moves toward a curriculum that requires anatomy to be taught/learned in ways that are more aligned with the clinical application of anatomy than simply ‘knowing’ anatomy (usually for tests).”

If the tests are of the usual classroom type then they require only the regurgitation of memorized material rather than higher-order learning such as the understanding of scientific concepts. I suspect that that higher-order learning is required for the effective clinical application of anatomy just as it is for the successful pursuit of science/math professions generally.


But unknown to most of academia, education researchers have developed “Concept Inventories” that can be used in formative pre/post testing to gauge the impact of courses on students' learning and understanding of scientific concepts. At least in physics such testing demonstrates that “Interactive Engagement” (IE) courses result in course-averaged normalized learning gains g(ave) that are about two-standard deviations above those of “Traditional” (T) passive-student lecture courses [Hake (1998a,b; 2008)].

I give 31 hot-linked references to some of the relevant literature.

To access the complete 24 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands
President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References which Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)

“…I point to the following unwelcome truth: much as we might dislike the implications, research is showing that didactic exposition of abstract ideas and lines of reasoning (however engaging and lucid we might try to make them) to passive listeners yields pathetically thin results in learning and understanding - except in the very small percentage of students who are specially gifted in the field.”
Arnold Arons in Teaching Introductory Physics (p. vii, 1997)

REFERENCES [URL’s shortened by and accessed on 22 June 2011.]

Arons, A.B. 1997. Teaching Introductory Physics. Wiley. information at Note the searchable “Look Inside” feature.

Hake, R.R. 2011. “The Science/Math Education Shift from Teaching to Learning” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 22 Jun 2011 08:13:15-0700 to AERA-L and NetGold. The abstract and link to the complete 24 kB post are being transmitted to various discussion lists.


Rebecca Hanson said...

As a maths teacher I find it more helpful to picture a yin and yang approach to these paradigms of learning.

Students need to learn to assimilate that knowledge which is written down, verified and available to them from external sources.

They also need to learn to interpret situations for themselves.

If bear in mind that both these objectives are important and of great value then you will agree that some teaching should focus on the former and some on the latter. To the uninitiated it may seem that you are aiming for somewhere in the middle and many sessions will indeed deliver both objectives.

To focus entirely on one or the other paradigm creates an istability which makes such thinking unsustainable due to its lack of appreciation of the benefits of the other paradigm.

However there is a trend in that more of the established knowledge can be taught in ways that do not require a teacher, so the teacher can focus more on the sensitive, integrative and interpretive skills with the assimilation of established knowledge subordinated but not neglected.

Rebecca Hanson

Richard Hake said...


Thanks for your comment and informing me of your valuable blog

You wrote [my insert at ". . . . . [[insert]]. . . . "]:

"As a maths teacher I find it more helpful to picture a yin and yang approach to these paradigms of learning. . . . . . To focus entirely on one or the other paradigm. . . .[[the two educational paradigms I contrast in Hake (1998a,b) are "Interactive Engagement" (IE) and "Traditional" (T)]] . . . creates an instability which makes such thinking unsustainable due to its lack of appreciation of the benefits of the other paradigm."

In Hake (1998a,b) I showed that for introductory physics courses there's about a two standard deviation superiority in course-averaged normalized gains g(ave) on "Concept Inventories" of Newtonian Mechanics for IE over T methods. Similar results have been reported in about 25 other research papers as listed in Hake (2008).

Here IE courses are defined *operationally*- see "Education Research Employing Operational Definitions Can Enhance the Teaching Art" [Hake (2010)] - as those designed at least in part to promote conceptual understanding through the interactive engagement of students in minds-on (always) and hands-on (usually) activities that yield immediate feedback through discussion with peers and/or instructors; and T courses are defined *operationally* as those reported by instructors to make little or no use of IE methods, relying primarily on passive student lectures, recipe laboratories, and algorithmic problem examinations.

It's possible that it might eventually be shown that, unlike for introductory physics, both IE and T methods are required for effective introductory math instruction. But unfortunately [except for Epstein's (2007) work] there's been little, if any, pre/post testing in math courses with mathematics Concept Inventories.


Richard Hake

P.S. I'm an HTML dummy so you'll have to copy and paste the URL's above and below into your browser window.

Epstein, J. 2007. "Development and Validation of the Calculus Concept Inventory," in "Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Mathematics Education in a Global Community," 7-12 September, edited by Pugalee, Rogerson, & Schinck; online as a 48 kB pdf at

Hake, R.R. 1998a. "Interactive-engagement vs traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses," Am. J. Phys. 66: 64-74; online as an 84 kB pdf at . See also the crucial companion paper Hake (1998b).

Hake, R.R. 1998b. "Interactive-engagement methods in introductory mechanics courses," online as a 108 kB pdf at A crucial companion paper to Hake (1998a). Rejected by a confused AJP editor who regarded the well organized and crystal clear Physical-Review-type data tables as "impenetrable."

Hake, R.R. 2008. "Design-Based Research in Physics Education Research: A Review," in Kelly et al. (2008). A pre-publication version is online as a 1.1 MB pdf at

Hake, R.R. 2010. "Education Research Employing Operational Definitions Can Enhance the Teaching Art," invited talk, Portland AAPT meeting, 19 July; online as a 3.8 MB pdf at and as reference 60 at