Oh dear, do I have to rescind my “sciencegeekgirl” moniker? Twisted Physics just posted about a “Test your Science Savvy” quiz that was posted on World’s Fair. I got two wrong on that quiz (which disqualifies me from being a geek, by their scoring), but it was because I was thinking too hard, in a way. Like another reader, I thought that the statement “It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl” was trying to trip me up about the difference between a gene and a chromosome. And I thought that the current theory didn’t see the Big Bang as an explosion per se (Jennifer O. certainly knows more about this than I do), but as “inflation” (which isn’t really an explosion).

So, in a way I scored poorly (only 9 out of 11) because I was thinking too hard… (“You will receive a lovely chemistry set as a parting gift” they tell me), which highlights the point of Jennifer’s post. She says:

Memorizing a bunch of facts and being able to pass a true/false quiz consisting of 11 “questions” doesn’t mean you can think critically, or have any in-depth understanding whatsoever of how science actually works.

In ed-speak, this is the problem that many schools focus on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which attempts to categorize different types of understanding. From lower-level to upper-level, they are:

  • Knowledge (facts)
  • Comprehension (demonstrate understanding)
  • Application (Use it!)
  • Analysis (support generalizations)
  • Synthesis (put information together in a new way)
  • Evaluation (judge ideas)

You can imagine it’s much easier to create questions that test a student’s ability to recite, say, the base pairs in DNA than to demonstrate that they can analyze a complicated case in genetics. Try it. I have. It’s really hard. Here are some example questions at each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

In a similar vein, the Active Learning Blog recently posted ways to assess students in constructivist classrooms (eg., classrooms where they’re making sense of what they’re doing instead of memorizing facts). That kind of learning environment is definitely tough to test! (I’d be curious what effect teachers think the No Child Left Behind standardized testing has had on our tendency to teach flat facts!)

I agree with a commenter on Twisted Physics — you need to know the basic level fact stuff, the “vocabulary” as it were. It’s important in order to be well-versed in the subject content, to some degree. But you don’t need to know certain things, like the speed of sound, as Jennifer O. says. You do need to know that there is a speed of sound, and what it means. And how to apply it. And how to evaluate someone’s proposal to test the speed of sound. If you want to be a science guru anyway. Or, perhaps, a geek. Maybe I’ll earn my stripes someday.