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Context had a lot to do with this. Science students expect to be presented with a counterintuitive occurrence coupled with an enlightened explanation from the teacher.

Imagine a more natural, everyday scenario. A student gets into a friend's car and notices that the seats on the sunny side of the car are cool and the seats on the shady side of the car are warm. They would easily conclude that the car had not been parked there long. They may even consider that the car had recently been parked on the other side of the street.

Right, but the point is that that kind of blind deference to authority is dangerous.

It is not blind deference, it is natural for students to enter a classroom during class time to learn something.

And getting students to think about why something might happen before they are told is a very common tactic.

Also, extending a theory is also very common, where they are told something one day, and why it doesn't always work in all situations the next.

I am sure the teacher would love it if everytime she tried to explain something, a student came up with a smart ass answer about how she could have tricked them.

"So why does this cloth pick up the bits of paper?" "Cause you put glue on them" hahahahaha

That is going to be a great class from that point on.

The point is that they're not learning science, they're just learning new forms of pseudoscientific jargon. Which could be considered to be more dangerous than remaining untaught, because now they have a false sense of understanding the world when in actuality they merely have different names for the same unscientific superstitious mumbo jumbo.

See I read the article as saying that the students are at fault for being all to ready to throw answers at the teacher which they didn't understand. Whereas I'd say that the students are simply a product of their environment, one (created by the teacher or a previous teacher, or a physics dept as a whole) where emphasis has shifted from understanding a subject into hitting enough keywords in your answer to get a passing grade - even if it turns out that the actual question might be a bit silly.

Agreed. But consider the possibility that the lesson today was exactly that; a smart student will figure it out, just like we did.

Science is not just a body of knowledge, it is a methodology of description and the update process for models in the face of new evidence. Perhaps they are simply so open to shifts in their models and the terms in those models that the term "heat conduction" is open to, what seems to us, quite radical revision. Quine would be proud.

I don't think it's blind deference to authority, I think it's a result of over-active pattern matching. We see patterns all the time, but that doesn't always mean there is a pattern.

For example, in a science class students are typically presented with a phenomenon, asked to speculate about it, and then presented with a scientific explanation. Do this often enough and a clear pattern emerges - phenomenon -> scientific explanation.

In the case of the article, it was actually phenomenon -> human interference, but it shouldn't be surprising that the students assumed it would fit the usual pattern.

This reminds me of the candle problem:

You are given a candle, a book of matches and a box of tacks. You need to mount the candle on the wall in such a way that the candle won't drip on the table below it.

When the problem is presented as above people struggle to come up with a solution. When you simple changes the description of what you are given to: "You are given a candle, a book of matches, a box and some tacks." people are able to quickly solve the problem.

No amount of expecting a science-y explanation from the teacher makes any of their science-y explanations correct.

It's not that they had an alternative model of how it could have happened, and tried to offer a explanation with a technical term. It's that they were just throwing out technical terms.

If a teacher shows an egg being pushed into a bottle with a match in it, and one student guesses 'quantum tunneling', that answer is just as wrong as the answers in this essay, and driven by the same process of inserting magic words.

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