Explicit instruction prevents exploration — but will all students explore?

July 15, 2011 at 7:42 am 5 comments

Interesting result: If you show students something that a novel toy will do, students will do that something, and are unlikely to explore and figure out other features of the toy. That makes sense — how much exploration do you do in your computer applications to figure out everything that they can do? I do believe that not doing explicit instruction is more likely to lead to exploration. But for all students? How many students will do how much exploration? If we don’t teach students anything, will they explore and learn everything?

I thought the bottomline of the report is a fair statement:

So what’s a teacher or parent to do? Schulz is quick to point out that the study is not an argument against instruction. “Things that you’re extremely unlikely to figure out on your own — how to read, how to do calculus, how to drive a car — it would make no sense to try to learn by exploration,” she says.

Rather, the study underscores the real-world trade-offs between education and exploration, and the importance of acknowledging what is unknown even while imparting what is known. Teachers should, where possible, offer the caveat that there may be more to learn.

via Don’t show, don’t tell? – MIT News Office.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Vocationalism, Academic Freedom and Tenure – NYTimes.com How are students learning programming in a post-Basic world?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kieran Mathieson  |  July 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

    An important note from the article:

    What matters is not if children are shown a function, but how they are shown that function. If they believe that an informed teacher has taught them everything, they will be less motivated to explore.

    Maybe we can teach skills, AND encourage exploration among those with the motivation to do so.


  • 2. SeungBum Kim  |  July 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    For better exploration, we sometimes need to learn how to explore the unknown. It could be a skill such as an Exploratory Testing, or an attitude and different viewpoint such as an Inner Game.

  • 3. Mark Miller  |  July 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I can’t really speak from the perspective of a teacher, but as a student. Even with explicit instruction, I’ve often gone off and explored. I stumble a lot and get frustrated, realizing I’ve gotten beyond my depth at the moment, but I just go back to the instruction and learn some more, being more patient with my urge to explore.

    The one thing I used to hate when I was in public school was when the “exploration bug” would hit me, and the teacher would think I was trying to disrupt class, and would admonish me to “get with the program.” That way leads to nothing but conformism. By the time you get your students, some of them may have had this drummed into them, in which case they need to unlearn this behavior and be given permission to explore, in my view, however that would be done. Perhaps permission isn’t enough at that stage, but rather there’s a need to be given some practice in exploring; learning how to play again!

  • 4. edtechdev  |  July 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Yeah and the two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, either.

    Studies have shown that if you let students explore and then provide instruction/lecture AFTERWARD, they learn much more than the reverse. Even if it’s a messy or complicated thing they are exploring or designing that perhaps they aren’t quite ready to do or understand, they ask or have questions and develop a need to know, which a lecture or other form of instruction afterwards answers. Conversely, listening to a lecture or reading a book first, without any context or any need to know or knowledge of why this information is useful, it’s easy to see why students are more likely to tune it out and not learn as much from it.

    Some refs:

    Which Comes First the Simulation or the Lecture?

    A Time for Telling

  • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  July 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks, Doug! I particularly liked this quote from the Schwartz and Branford piece: “These results can inform constructivist models of instruction as they apply to classroom activities and learning from verbal materials. In particular, the results indicate that there is a place for lectures and readings in the classroom if students have sufficiently differentiated domain knowledge to use the expository materials in a generative manner.”


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