Eytan Adar receives DOE grant to find effective methods to teach scientific reasoning skills

Eytan Adar

Eytan Adar, associate professor of information in the School of Information, was recently awarded a $118,913 U.S. Department of Education -- Institute of Education Sciences grant to help find ways to improve the scientific reasoning skills of middle and high school students. 

Professor Adar will be working with Principal Investigator Priti Shah, professor in cognition and cognitive neuroscience and educational psychology in the School of Education, on the four-year project. “Navigating Scientific and Statistical Reasoning in Adolescence” promises to create better instructional strategies for improving everyday scientific reasoning of students in grades seven through nine.

Specifically, researchers are looking to identify effective strategies to teach middle and high school students how to critically evaluate scientific evidence pertaining to health and behavioral findings reported frequently in traditional and social media. Researchers plan to evaluate six studies that have identified effective instructional methods in this realm. They will be working with students in classrooms in the Detroit and Ann Arbor metropolitan area.

Students will learn to judge whether scientific claims in the media are consistent with evidence. If they are not, they will learn to identify them. In all studies, participants will learn abstract rules for reasoning about threats to validity, and then evaluate tutorial ‘media reports’ containing scientific findings. The ultimate outcome will be three instructional modules for teaching adolescents to critically evaluate scientific evidence presented in everyday contexts, along with new knowledge about the factors that impact the development of robust scientific evaluation skills in adolescence. 

“A major goal of science education is to teach students to critically evaluate evidence in order to make informed decisions based on research findings. However, what is learned in the science classroom does not always impact evidence evaluation when research appears in everyday contexts. The goal of the proposed research is to help students bridge this gap, and to become knowledgeable and skilled at evaluating conclusions from scientific studies. The proposed experiments identify critical factors in training students to detect and evaluate threats to validity, and build an instructional framework for middle and high school students to learn to evaluate scientific evidence outside the classroom,” the researchers wrote in their submission to receive grant money for the project.

Adar, who is also an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering, has helped conceive and design the overall research plan and led the effort in the development of the causal modeling tool and experiment representation tool in collaboration with Drs. Shah and Colleen Seifert, a professor of psychology in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Adar will be involved in experimental design, publication, and will be responsible for the continued development of the causal modeling and experiment representation tool.

 Posted August 4, 2017