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Free Radical

Quiz games don't teach what you think

Tony Sherborne
20:29  |  30 June 2010

The TES resources section often trumpets science resources like quiz games using popular TV formats. It's not the only ones. Us teachers have been churning out such ideas for decades, with the more creating ones even claiming nicknames like 'Mr Motivator'.

I hate to spoil the mood, but I don't believe these strategies deliver on real learning, or on motivation.

First, the science is usually embedded at a superficial, at the level of word meanings. So the strategies are really just about teaching terminology. In terms of the goals of understanding concepts and deeper principles, they are largely silent.

As for fun, in a TV quiz activity, let's be clear that it's playing that's enjoyable, not the science. Or it's the brute extrinsic motivation of winning a game. Such strategies can even have the opposite to their intended effect, by increasing the contrast between the activity (fun) and the science (boring).

I can see why we've been attracted to quizzes, or writing songs about science. They're an almost inevitable product of thinking, how do I teach this syllabus which is just a collection of factual knowledge statements.

Alas, these strategies generally portray science as 'bitter pill'. If the teacher disguises it well enough in sugar coating, students can swallow it quickly and painlessly.

Of course they're fine as an occasional break from the usual lessons, but there's a much better alternative. Teaching science in context. That's about emphasizing purpose, meaning and relevance of the content. Done well it can also leads to the more desirable form of motivation towards science – intrinsic - in the pleasure of satisfying curiosity, fathoming out the mysteries of the world. Which is more than you can say for a TV quiz activity.

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