> > "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.
But there is other evidence for why students aren't taking science and math. They percieve that medicine and law are much more lucrative. People do try to optimize what they see as being more to their self interest and taking courses where they will get a C vs courses where they will get a B is not seen as being productive.
You are looking at specific number which is not evidence. Evidence must be gathered by doing actual comparitive studies. Looking at specific ratios historically is looking at social factors, but what produced them is not necessarily known. There are all kinds of social factors. For example the USA is the country with the strongest ethos of the rugged individual. Europe and Asia by contrast value the group much more, could this me one of the reasons for the "decline" in education?
> > 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.
Actually physics courses have not gotten any easier, except for perhaps the lower level physics courses. Math has gotten harder, but just giving them harder courses doesn't work. The legislature in TX has mandated harder courses for students, and the net result has been that the hard courses have been turned into easy courses. Remember that there is the law of unintended consequences. And IE courses actually are more demanding than the conventional courses, but they are also more brain compatible.
> > "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.
Whether you choose to believe it or not this is what the study showed. Belief is not a good guide to what is actually happening. As to the efficacy of IE, it has not been widely tried in the US. Only a small fraction of courses are taught this way. This type of thinking was what did in the auto industry. The Japaneze used our advanced theories of industrial production and produced better cars. Meanwhile we continued to put faith in the old fashioned way. There was one plant in California that did use the better methods of production, but it was closed even though it did a better job. The argument that IE has not worked is specious, because it has not really been tried.
I see this argument as an echo of exactly the types of arguments that were put forth by the traditional doctors when antisepsis was promoted. Eventually MDs had to face up to the idea that research may produce results that you don't believe.
> > 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. >
But Jerry Epstein has pointed out that it is more than just taking them seriously. They Chinese may be studying in groups and debating ideas. Group work does help individuals, but it has to be real group work. And the study by Bao and Jerry's study do not show the same thing. So it may be that Jerry's sample is atypical of Chinese students overall. Occam's razor is a great tool for deciding on equally successful hypotheses. So you pick the simplest one that works. But we are not to that point in educational theory.
There is another very compelling hypothesis. We know from TIMMSS that foreign teachers ask higher level questions much more frequently than US teachers, so here is an alternate hypthesis that is equally as valid, but we don't know which is better or even if they are equal. We have no way of predicting using math which works better. So Occam does not apply.
Are there other factors. Could the extreme religiosity of Americans be holding us back? I recently saw some statistics in the Houston Chronicle which showed that in general on a number of scientific questions Americans scored significantly higher than foreign counterparts, with 2 exceptions. They were evolution and global warming, both of which have been settled by the experts in these subjects, but are doubted by the general American public. So the evidence is not clear here.
America has a social/political system which does not adequately provide for individuals when they suffer catastrophic events such as illness or loss of jobs. Europe, does provide for people, so could that be a reason why they do better than the US. Germany and Scandanavia have extremely strong social services and are high educationally and industrially. Could there be a correlation here. Maybe, or maybe not.
We know from careful comparison studies that the ability to think scientifically can be improved by the learning cycle. This involves exploration first, then concept development, and finally application. This research goes back to the 70s, but it has not been generally applied. So does this mean the research is wrong? No, it just means that it has not been used. I predict that if we do not pay attention to the research, others will, and we will find ourselves actually falling behind other countries. At present it is not clear that we are that much behind. China has been burning the candle at both ends and has been spending money the same way we have before various collapses, so they may have a catastrophic collapse, with scientists and engineers forced to drive cabs.
Social beliefs do not constitute evidence. Come up with actual studies which do show how things work!