"But there is no evidence that the students of a previous generation would have done better on the concept inventories."
Plenty of evidence John. 25% of the students at MIT in the 50's were physics majors. Majors, not students just taking a physics class. When you say "students" you mean like today, where students are directed to physics classes like they were (and still are) to chemistry in our day. When I say "students" I mean the 5% or so of the students that took physics because they liked it and math and science. They had an unmistakable trail of success in mathematics and science all the way from the later stages of elementary school. And that is for whom the classes were designed. If you want to teach the world physics then be my guest, just realize that a percentage of the students are the real deal and make sure they get taught the full version. We owe it to them because our teachers gave it to us. And without it, they will not be able to compete.
Unless you have that unmistakable trail of success in mathematics and science reaching back to elementary school, I do not think ANY method of teaching will pull a sizable number of students into physics or engineering, comparable to us or the current Chinese "physics" student. We will have to reinstitute hard classes in these subjects. And some schools are. Legos will just not cut it. These early years, up through college, are the only chance you get to push those cognitive skills to their limit before age and responsibilities takeover. The only way you will know if students are up to the task is to challenge them with the task.
"There is also a study by Bao that shows while Chinese students do score higher on the FCI, this is after they have had several years of physics. But the gain for their several years can be done in a single year of IE."
I don't believe this one bit. Unless of course our applicants from other countries took I.E. classes! If I.E. was making the difference that you claim it is, we would know about it by now, wouldn't we? I mean, if what takes the Chinese years to accomplish can be accomplished in one year of I.E. then we should be swimming in gifted engineering students. Well, we're not! And I do wonder at times if the Chinese are. I mean, does my counterpart in China have to sort through as many applicants as I do? I hope so, but I do think the pool of valid candidates that he finally chooses from is larger than mine. My pool of valid candidates often ends up to be just one, two if I am lucky.
I am going with Occam on this. The Chinese are doing better because they take the subjects more seriously, they take them on more directly and they (the students) are working harder at it. We have not been taking these subjects on as seriously or as directly as we used to because it might hurt the feelings of the students that don't get it. The funny thing is that in my day of 5% of the students taking physics I do not recall any hurt feelings by the the other 95%. Actually, they seemed quite happy to not be taking physics. Or calculus.
On Jan 22, 2012, at 11:51 PM, John Clement wrote:
> But there is no evidence that the students of a previous generation would > have done better on the concept inventories.
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