Recently I heard a piece on npr about current educational pioneers and how they are seeking to drop the lecture format. (Read it– or listen– it’s worth your time.)
We’ve been steadily (or not so steadily, depending on the week) reading along in our history book, Genevieve Foster’s The World of Captain John Smith. This week we read about Galileo. And I had one of those moments, where everything sore of connects in a very Charlotte Mason-y way.
Galileo, writes Foster, was taught via by rote the ideas of Aristotle. When he questioned them, he was scorned in the university. He sought to test things his science by experiment.
Over at MIT, they developed a test to measure how much their students were learning in their introductory physics class, and the results said: not much.
“Hestenes had a suspicion students were just memorizing the formulas and never really getting the concepts. So he and a colleague developed a test to look at students’ conceptual understanding of physics. It’s a test Maryland’s Redish has given his students many times.
Here’s a question from the test: ‘Two balls are the same size but one weighs twice as much as the other. The balls are dropped from the top of a two-story building at the same instant of time. The time it takes the ball to reach the ground will be…'”
Then: “Hestenes showed that after an entire semester they understood only about 14 percent more about the fundamental concepts of physics.”
His response: make the students figure it out themselves… and then teach each other.
As a part of O’s engineering course, I had him build two cubes of equal size, one hollow and one solid. Same size, same shape… different weight. So we had these cubes, and this story of Galileo… and we dropped the cubes from an equal height. And guess what! They hit the ground at the same time. Whoa.
What was cool about this experiment was that the kids designed it themselves. I don’t know how to replicate this all the time, but the fact that it happened once was encouraging to me. Maybe our science “curriculum” is actually accomplishing something.
And if I’m lucky, I learned 1% more about the fundamental concepts of physics.