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physics teaching

2007-06-11 14:19:35.7555+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

[ related topics: Children and growing up Education Archival ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-06-11 17:01:18.082966+00 by: ebradway

The greatest problem with education at all levels is that educators genuinely think there is some "Golden Syllabus" and pedagogy that'll instantly transform even your dumbest students into Feynmans in Physics, Emersons in Writing, etc. Personal experience (and I think some objective data supports this) is that the personality of the teacher matters more than ordained syllabuses or pedagogy. Good teachers are good teachers and they generally are able to teach different subjects equally well.

But I guess the problem is similar to software development. For every 1 uber-programmer, like Dan, you have 100 or so average programmers. There just aren't enough uber-programmers to go around and you can't really teach what makes the uber-programmer so much better than the rest. Likewise, you can't create syllabuses and pedagogies that endow the average teacher with great teaching abilities.

And unfortunately, for every great teacher I had in school (and the trend continues through college), I have had at least 10 average ones and probably three our four really, really bad ones (nope - not a normal distribution here!).

#Comment Re: made: 2007-06-11 20:50:01.216899+00 by: mvandewettering

I'm not sure I agree or disagree with ebradway on this. It is certainly true that all kids have a different potential for achievement in different areas, but the educational bar is set so low I don't actually believe that in many cases this is the limiting factor. While it may be true that the mythical Golden Syllabus will not turn dumb students into geniuses, it is entirely within the realm of my own credulity to believe that Lead Syllabuses can turn good students into bad ones, usually by children doing just enough to meet low expectations or simply boring students to the point that they stop caring about their studies.

Regarding programmers, I have observed the phenomenon described: that there seems to be no way to manufacture programmers. It simply is a talent that someone has first, and then a skill that one refines. But I can't help but wonder how many excellent programmers there are out there who never learn about their talents because of the inept, unchallenging and boring curricula that are foisted upon them bores them out of this personal discovery. Likewise, how many writers, poets, biologists, chemists, and even physicists are similarly bored out of truly rewarding educational experiences by inept curriculum?

#Comment Re: made: 2007-06-12 11:19:14.233783+00 by: meuon [edit history]

I'd have to agree with his (Ex-Physics teacher) rant. A lot of general science done badly seems to have been dumped into "Physics". And I've heard similiar rants from teacher friends locally. Mr. B, a person I work with at a clients also teaches part time as a science teacher (and he has real hard core real world credentials and experience). He's ranted often about what he is asked to teach. "It's not science." - His students adore him (I've met some), he teaches real science, AND the test, teaching them what the "right" answer is, and why sometimes the question and/or answer is wrong, a fallacy, or politically motivated.

He and I agree on one interesting thing: We need more 'Vocational-Technical' education, and to get rid of the idea it's just for the slow kids. With modern shop tools and techniques, automotive engineering, construction, etc.. it will require smart practical scientific accurate thinking, as well as a good pair of hands.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-06-12 15:11:35.140938+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think culturally we need a reason for more vo-tech education. If I were a kid looks around and sees what skills are being rewarded, actually building stuff goes way down on the list. Why bother building stuff when you can just identify a market need and subcontract out the creation of the product to China?

Or, for the real money, identify those who are identifying a market need, and buy stock in the ventures of those you think are going to succeed.

This last weekend, along with the party we had houseguests, one of whom was a teenage boy, and the inevitable discussions of explosives ensued. As we talked, and as I thought about what I learned in high school chemistry versus what Alec and Zack got out of theirs (and what Daniel, our houseguest, was learning in his), I think we've got huge problems in how we present the hard sciences.

One of my least favorite questions in my high school physics class was when there was a question asked about transmission distances with AM and FM signals. I knew several applications where AM and FM were used on the same frequency band, so I answered based on that knowledge. Luckily, I had reasonable teachers, but the question was supposed to be asking based on the different frequencies with those encoding mechanisms as used for audio signals. The problem with content that Wellington Grey describes is that it's all this third and fourth removed sorts of question, where the answers are about memorizing specific responses to rote questions, not about puzzling through the underlying reality.

I realize that that is much of what passes for education these days, that's certainly why I stopped pursuing the formal route, but it ain't right.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-06-12 17:19:42.584196+00 by: ebradway

MJ McDermott, a TV weather person, takes "new math" to task on YouTube:


I don't have time to watch the responses right now, I find her points both good and bad. As someone who did alot more math than an atmospheric sciences major (my BS is in Math), I feel like I'm seeing the same kind of conservative argument that the Libertarians make about government.

Sure, it's good for someone going into a heavy math field to get pounded to death with long division. I enjoyed long division the first 10% of the time in grade school but I had mastered it by then and felt like I was doing tedious busy-work. Instead, I developed methods to do the problems in my head like the Partial Products and Partial Quotients methods (which is how I do multiplication and division in my head now). Of course, I got points marked off on my work because I didn't show my steps using the traditional algorithm.

What the traditional method completely lacks (and McDermott doesn't understand) is that "number sense" is really more important than mastery of the "Standard Algorithms". I've watched my daughter go through the standard algorithm and make mistakes. I've seen her make mistakes with a calculator as well. What she lacked was a sense of whether the answer was right or not. A common mistake for 26 * 31 is to answer 104 (26 + 78 - forgetting to shift the 78 over - it's even easier to do in problems like 260 * 310). My daughter didn't have an immediate sense that 31 * 26 should be much larger than 108. If she started with 31 * 20 = (31 * 10) * 2 her very first step would have yielded 310 and then 620 - a much better answer than 108! When I was a little geek, I competed in math competitions that tested on "number sense". We basically had to do lots and lots of basic arithmetic very quickly (like 500 2-digit multiplication problems in a minute). We also had to quickly identify inequalities like 31 * 26 > 24 * 30 (and easy one). But those skills were only taught to kids who were considered "exceptional". The problem with lack of number sense is that once you start using a calculator regularly, like in Physics class, you need to be able to tell whether or not the answer "seems" correct.

Schools really try to recognize that there is a variety of aptitude and ability. For my daughter, who didn't inherit my genes for linear, logical thinking, those "new math" books would be great. My biggest complaint is that exercises, like planning a world tour, should be developed by the teacher and not just spoon-fed out of a book.

For probably 75% of kids in the school system (and especially public schools), a math teaching method that doesn't stress laborious hand-computation of multi-digit arithmetic and does stress practical work and calculator use would be a real boon.

This is the same problem I see in colleges where Math PhDs teach basic math. It's my opinion that having a PhD in math pretty much disqualifies you as being able to convey math to people who have trouble understanding it. The other end of the problem is that most folks who go into early education are not very confident in math. Every teacher I had until 8th grade skipped the chapter on ratios, even though I first saw it in my 3rd grade math text.