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How Students Learn Science
       For almost four decades, I’ve had a simple quote at the front of my classroom: “How students learn science is just as important as the science they learn.” This has been a key point in my style of teaching. In too many cases, students learn a set of facts that they are able to restate on a quiz or test without any real comprehension. In the long run, this has minimal value.
       Facts can easily be looked up. As Louis Agassiz noted nearly two centuries ago, facts by themselves are of little value. If a teacher merely expects students to be able to repeat facts without understanding their applications, the education being offered is rather shallow. If, on the other hand, students need to understand how these facts were obtained and how they can be applied, a deeper and more meaningful education is being offered.
       Rather than giving students simple facts to learn, it is more meaningful to have them discover the facts by seeing applications, solving problems and doing experiments. Similarly, strength is added to the education by showing how these concepts are applied to our lives and how they interact with other ideas. Cross-referencing and adding breadth and depth to a concept gives it meaning and increases the chance of retaining the concepts and later applying them in other contexts.
       Teaching in this manner may be more difficult and it also means that fewer specific concepts are covered in a year. Nonetheless, it increases the likelihood that the time spent in the class is meaningful and may have an actual influence on the students’ futures, even if the paths they choose to follow are not in science or engineering.
       Even though this method of teaching may be a bit more difficult, in the long run, it can make a meaningful difference in the future of our students. As Robert Frost noted in one of his poems, choosing to take the path less traveled makes all the difference.              
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