Cast Iron BS Detectors

One of the key arguments for science’s place in the curriculum is for citizenship: we want adults to be capable of making informed opinions concerning science. How is that looking from your perspective?

I’m writing this post with climate and vaccine denial in mind.

Every now and then, generous Twitter buddies send me a link to a paper they think I might find interesting. This week Christian Moore-Anderson (his blog is here) sent me a really interesting paper on teaching children the mechanistic details behind science processes (here).

Mechanistic details is an educational research key term currently having its moment – especially teaching primary aged pupils the mechanisms underpinning the science they learn. The paper Christian sent focusses on teaching 6-9 year-olds how internal combustion engines work. There are lots of interesting elements to this paper (apparently kids were really motivated by a seven minute youtube clip of how engines work – who knew?), but the key element for me was about the residue of the learning experience.

I’ve written about the residue of learning before (here) – it’s what’s left in the long term memory after the facts have been forgotten. The authors use a fascinating technique for measuring this: they showed pupils a video about the workings of an engine and then three weeks later, they asked those pupils to spot whether ‘an expert’ is bullshitting about engines or not (not their words). Even when they have forgotten the details, pupils who had watched the mechanical explanation were significantly better at detecting BS.

In other words – this paper and others like it show that teaching mechanistic details even to very young pupils has a sustained effect on their resistance to BS. So let’s do more of it.

I’d like to see the following researched. Even if it isn’t, I think we can justify the 10min teaching the mechanisms behind:

  • climate change;
  • vaccines and
  • pandemics.

Other suggestions welcome.

As always, feedback welcome.


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