Discovery Learning – the deadly mistake

Date:       3 July 15
By:          Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
               2252 Joyce St.,
               Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
               905 634 9538
For:        Letters, The Spec, Hamilton
Re:         Old school or new?  Today’s Spec
GA, Lee.
This article describes glowingly the long-discredited “Discovery” teaching method, which is being rammed down the throats of Ontario employers, parents, University presidents, teachers, and students despite its long-known ineffectiveness.  Proof of that statement, for purposes of this letter, is both global and local.
Globally, probably the best representative among many of the critical view is in the professional paper available on the Net and entitled:
Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not
Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,
Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and
Inquiry-Based Teaching
Paul A. Kirschner
Educational Technology Expertise Center
Open University of the Netherlands
Research Centre Learning in Interaction
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
John Sweller
School of Education
University of New South Wales
Richard E. Clark
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
Another authority long ago, writing in Scientific American, made the flat statement that Every human accomplishment springs from a platform of rote learning.
Locally, the critical view is my own.  I hold two math-heavy degrees in Engineering and Business.  I have taught these subjects and published a book that replaces the black art of factory production planning and control with math that has been used successfully right down on the factory floor.  Line by line study of the Ontario public school curricula enables me to say, with authority and in exasperation, that no-one educated solely or mainly in the “Discovery” model could handle my kind of work; or indeed any kind of number work – witness retail store clerks who will not even attempt merely to count 76 cents lying on the counter, much less make change with it.  Witness also the fact reported by Statistics Canada that 53% of adult Canadians cannot reach a “pass” grade in math.
One might well ask: why are Ontario’s results in other subjects not similarly low and falling?  Mainly, it is because math questions demand an objectively correct answer, whereas performance in other subjects is tested by very subjective criteria inevitably influenced by the personal backgrounds of test markers and the instructions given them.
So look out, employers, parents, University presidents, teachers, and students: sadly, Ontario’s international standing in public school education will continue to fall.

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