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If a tree falls in a wood and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Find out what that classic riddle has to do with the Greek philosopher Aristotle and modern teaching methods in this lesson, which will cover educational realism.

Realism

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound? You’ve probably heard that question asked before and may have thought about it for a few minutes before coming to an answer. Or you may have taken it as a silly question and laughed at it.

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But the fundamental question behind that question is simple: is there a true reality, which exists outside of human perception or is reality only what we perceive? Realism is a philosophy started by the ancient Greek writer, Aristotle. It states that there is a true reality, and things exist whether humans perceive them or not.Let’s look closer at realism and how it influences teaching and curriculum planning.

Educational Realism

Okay, so Aristotle believed that there was an absolute reality out there, regardless of whether we perceive it or not. But what does that have to do with teaching?Educational realism is the belief that we should study logic, critical thinking, and the scientific method to teach students to perceive and understand reality. As you might imagine, there is a heavy emphasis on math and science, though the humanities can also be influenced by educational realism.What does educational realism look like in a classroom? To figure that out, let’s imagine a teacher, Henry, who is trying to plan his curriculum for the upcoming school year. Henry is a realist and believes that Aristotle was on the right path all those years ago. So how can Henry plan a year of learning to help students perceive and understand reality?The first thing that Henry, as a realist, is likely to do is to include lots of opportunities to study the natural world.

Realists believe that the job of schools is to teach students about the world around them. This means that Henry wants to teach his students how to use logical processes to find truth in the natural world.For example, instead of teaching his students about gravity from a textbook, Henry might take them outside and recreate Sir Isaac Newton’s moment of clarity when he saw the apple fall. Henry can climb a tree and drop objects of different masses to allow students to figure out how gravity and mass work together.

Henry could also use nature to help students learn math, like giving students a photo of a hill and having them figure out the slope of the hill. No matter what Henry is teaching, educational realism emphasizes using logical processes in the natural world to find truth.

Inquiry

Nature isn’t the only thing that’s important in realism, though. Remember that educational realism is about finding true reality through logical processes. The scientific method, or process of setting and testing hypotheses, is one of those processes.

Inquiry, or the ability to formulate a question, is an important first step in the scientific method and something that many realist teachers focus on. For example, Henry might want to focus on teaching his students how to ask good questions. If they are studying food production, for example, students could come up with questions about the different environmental impacts of raising cattle for meat or vegetables for consumption or about the best way to store food.

Once a student has developed a question, they will want to find the answer through logic and experimentation, both hallmarks of the scientific method. If a student is trying to figure out the best way to store food, for example, she might design an experiment to test out different storage methods, like freezer, refrigerator, or in a cabinet.The thing that Henry, and other realists like him, want to stress to his students is that facts are not the only important thing. The method to arrive at facts is also important. For example, if Henry’s student is doing her experiment and she puts bread in the cabinet, an apple in the freezer, and meat in the refrigerator, she won’t know which storage method is best because she hasn’t used the same type of food for each storage method! The way that she arrives at her outcome is very important.

Lesson Summary

Realism is the belief developed by Aristotle that there is an absolute reality, and educational realism attempts to teach students how to find that reality through logical processes. Study of the natural world, as well as the skill of inquiry, and the scientific method, are all important parts of a realist classroom.

Learning Outcomes

After the lesson is done you should be able to:

  • Describe realism and how it is adapted in education
  • Recall the important factors in educational realism

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