The education blogosphere often seems divided between two almost absolutist sphere of pedagogy. On one side, people are preaching the values of inquiry learning where students are supposed to ‘discovery’ the material on their own in the most minimal of structured learning environments. While it can be incredibly meaningful for students, If chemistry was totally inquiry it would take the brightest mind more than 200 years to get to the end of the course.
On the other side, total direct instruction preaches the sage on the stage mentality. In this the expert explains why this is that and the students are purely knowledge consumers. While very efficient in presenting information, true direct instruction can easily allow students to mimic understanding through memorization and algorithms. Most often when someone complains about their chemistry class, it’s because it was mainly direct instruction.
Now what if we mapped chemistry? What would the map look like for each of these methods? Inquiry might provide students with the idea of an end point, but would give a wide boundary for students to move through with now idea which would be the best path to take. Direct instruction would instead provide a teacher approved, optimal path. But there would be no leaving the path and the reason for the path would not be explained.
Now this is where I think modeling makes a great alternative. In modeling the teacher serves as guide, suggesting a simple model of the world to start. Then as other options for explaining phenomena arise, they take a time to test them and see if the current model makes sense. After options are discussed or explored, an adjustment is decided up on with the class and the class moves forward. By doing this, student follow the great discoveries in chemistry understanding why we describe the world as we do. And instead of having to take our word for it, they get to experience why our models work and see that we never have a complete picture, just an ever improving view of the world.
All images are modified from the USGS