Brainy Quote of the Day

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Teaching Physics...

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Topics: Economy, Education, Jobs, STEM

I've taught physics at the college level as well as high school. I've taught special needs students as well as students acquiring their HSE (high school equivalency, the replacement of the GED).

There's a nostalgia of the "good old days" that like all with the distance of time, we mis-remember things because as students, we typically didn't understand the pedagogy of the times. Our nostalgic recollections do have the absence of distracting technologies like the ubiquitous contronym, "smart phones."

I've found using a method called “mind mapping” a good warm up. For example, when teaching about “work,” I put the word on the board and asked my HSE class what it meant. What I got:

Now of course, the trick is to get the five in the class to Work = Force x Distance, Power = Work/Time and Simple Machines. That takes a certain amount of patience. One student I recall "didn't want to be there." The other four did good work, and we had a humorous back-and-forth on "The Flash" and what I've termed "cartoon physics." Since speed was their thing, I explained what it meant when The Flash made a sonic boom; that it had nothing to do with the speed of light and how VAST that difference actually is. As work goes, we were all "pumped" at the end of the hour.

Hence, the article in Physics Today grabbed me. To continue teaching and propagating an understanding of physics as well as science, we're going to be a little creative, answer questions on cartoon physics and steer them back on the rails... to their own futures.

Physics is the most exciting endeavor I can imagine. That is why I want to become a physicist and join what Richard Feynman called “the greatest adventure that the human mind has ever begun.”1 Now, after my second year of undergraduate studies in astrophysics at University College London (UCL), I want to comment on some of the vicissitudes I have experienced while being taught physics. The basic courses of my first two years were disappointing. They didn’t really give me the opportunity to join that greatest adventure. Most of my lecturers followed traditional teaching approaches based heavily on solving standard problems and learning by rote, with no hint of free inquiry or discussion. They seemed to be convinced that we would understand physics through that method. I was not enthusiastic.

Physics Today: How to teach me physics: Tradition is not always a virtue, Ricardo Heras

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