Herbert Simon and evidence-based education

The Wing to Heaven

Who is Herbert Simon?

Herbert Simon was one of the great scholars of the twentieth century, whose discoveries and inventions ranged from political science (where he began his career) to economics (in which he won a Nobel Prize) to computer science (in which he was a pioneer) and to psychology.

Simon was one of the towering intellectual figures of the twentieth century. He wrote a classic on decision making in organizations while still in his twenties, and among many other achievements he went on to be one of the founders of the field of artificial intelligence, a leader in cognitive science, an influential student of the process of scientific discovery, a forerunner of behavioral economics and, almost incidentally, a Nobel laureate in economics.

Those quotations are both taken from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is himself a Nobel Laureate for his work on decision making. Kahneman goes…

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Denial of Reality

The Traditional Teacher

This is a translation of a blog post by French primary teacher Françoise Appy. The original can be found here.

Just as we choose a tool suitable for a task, our teaching methods should be focused on delivering our intended results. It should be as simple as that. Nothing else should pollute the discussion. But it does. The pedagogical advice given to trainee teachers, and the successive reforms which have claimed to revolutionise education, are equivalent to asking someone to use a fork to saw a plank. How did this happen?

As early as 1975, traditional instruction was replaced by an education that was supposed to ‘promote a child’s development, enable him to acquire a culture, prepare him for professional life and to exercise his responsibilities as an adult and a citizen’. In 1989, schools, now seen as the places where this new education would take place, became a…

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What does PISA tell us about inquiry learning in science?

Filling the pail

It seems like a no-brainer. If we want to reverse our students’ stagnation in international science tests then some argue that we need to transform the way that we teach science. Instead of boring, teacher-dominated forms of instruction where students are expected to passively absorb facts, they suggest that we need to engage students in what real scientists do: Students should be working in groups, formulating their own hypotheses, discussing the science and carrying out investigations. In this vision, the teacher is a guide-at-the-side who is there to ensure that students have the right resources and don’t go off track. This approach is generally described as ‘inquiry learning’.

It doesn’t work

Unfortunately, the evidence to support inquiry learning is underwhelming. Approaches that have low levels of teacher guidance have repeatedly failed. Those where the amount of guidance is increased have more supporting evidence but, even then, under the favourable…

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