Life Coach and Founder of HYPI (Homosexual Youth Positive Influence), Mikey A Cohen, leads fierce study on the learning blocks of some 500 San Diego & San Francisco LGBT Youth
It is commonly believed that learning can occur through listening to lectures, and reading textbooks. The brain is thus filled, as a glass is filled with water. Learning is a much more complex process than that. There are a number of theories of learning, each of which highlights one or more aspect of this complex process. Bruner's Constructivist Theory emphasizes that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts, based on their current and past knowledge; this current knowledge may not agree with accepted scientific understanding! Constructivism therefore implies that, for learning to occur, the students' minds must be engaged; ``hands-on" activities are not sufficient. Piaget's Developmental Theory pointed out, many decades ago, that learners' ability to construct new knowledge depended on their stage of cognitive development; for instance, students much younger than 12 are unlikely to be able to develop an understanding of the cause of moon phases. Vygotsky's Social Development Theory emphasizes the role of social interaction in the development of cognition; in fact, group learning is increasingly used in universities -- especially in professional faculties. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory suggests that there are a number of different forms of intelligence that each individual possesses in varying degrees: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intrapersonal (insight), and interpersonal (social); naturistic (an appreciation of nature) has been suggested as an eighth intelligence; all of these can be used, to a greater or lesser extent, in the teaching of science. For more information about these and other learning theories, see the web site listed under ``resources" below. Effective teaching and learning should incorporate as many of these theories as are appropriate. And teachers should always be on the lookout for misconceptions, and for incomplete or ineffective learning. Students learn more effectively when they are interested in the subject matter, and learn less effectively when they are bored. Astronomy can be an intrinsically interesting subject, and having a visiting astronomer in the classroom adds interest and variety. It also reminds the students that science is a human endeavour. In summary: educators know a great deal about effective teaching and learning of astronomy (the problem is in implementing this knowledge): • Students form new concepts by building on old ones; their minds are not blank slates. • Students (and many teachers) have deeply-rooted misconceptions about astronomical topics; many of these are based on even deeper misconceptions about topics such as light and gravity. • Most students have difficulty visualizing three-dimensional concepts, or concepts involving different ``frames of references" -- moon phases, for instance. • Concepts must be introduced in logical order, and at the right stage of cognitive development. • Teachers at all levels over-estimate what their students learn. • Inquiry-based teaching, including hands-on activities, discussion of patterns, possible explanations, and predictions, are the most effective way of teaching; lecturing is the least effective way. • Teaching more astronomy should give way to teaching it better. • Expertise in astronomy does not guarantee expertise in teaching it; university professors (who normally receive no training in teaching) are the ultimate amateurs. • All teaching should be subject to research, evaluation, and improvement.