Thank you for this marvelous essay! This is the best thing I have ever read on this subject.
I am not a physicist but started out in physics before switching to mathematics. I can only hope that there are some high schools left where physics is taught right (basically the old way). I hope that other nations in the world have not fallen into the horrible pattern you describe here, for mathematics and physics. Their resulting success might spur changes here.
Robert H. Lewis Fordham University
--- On Sat, 7/16/11, Robert Hansen <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> From: Robert Hansen <email@example.com> > Subject: Re: [math-learn] Re: Lecture Isn't Effective: More Evidence #2 > To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com> > Cc: "<firstname.lastname@example.org>" <email@example.com> > Date: Saturday, July 16, 2011, 9:11 PM > Some of my thoughts on the so called > "lecture debate". This posting began a a reply to the AP > Calculus forum in resonse to a reference to an article by > David Bressoud. > > The lecture versus no-lecture debate is, like other > reforms, confusing to the accomplished mind. It is confusing > because lectures are so ubiquitous in our lives and when we > wish to communicate ideas to others we lecture without a > second's hesitation. It is confusing to us that such a > natural form of intellectual communication would be attacked > by some educators as being anti teaching. How can something > that we do so naturally be at the same time anti teaching? I > am thrilled when my son try's to lecture me during a lesson. > Nothing signals deeper learning than when the student tries > to teach. > > Adding to the confusion is the fact that the proponents of > no-lecturing use no other form but the lecture to try to > sway us. Indeed, Eric Mazur, the father of the no-lecture > movement, travels the country giving lectures about not > lecturing. So if lecturing is so natural to even > non-lecturers then what is their point? Well, first I want > to note a very important point that Mazur makes regarding > lectures and then I will address the more popularized debate > we are familiar with. In one of Mazur's talks he makes the > following insightful statement... > > "The traditional 50-minute lecture was geared more toward > physics majors, said Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard who > is a pioneer of the new approach, and whose work has > influenced the change at M.I.T. The people who wanted to > understand," Professor Mazur said, "had the discipline, the > urge, to sit down afterwards and say, 'Let me figure this > out.' "But for the majority, he said, a different approach > is needed." > > So it is that the students that aspire to these subjects > have the urge to figure things out and that urge inevitably > leads to lecture. And those without the urge are going to > get very little out of a lecture. This makes perfect sense. > And if you read Mazur's lecture notes on the subject of no > lecturing he repeatedly makes a distinction between these > two groups of students. Those that aspire to the subject at > hand and have this urge and those that do not, or at least, > do not yet. And often, he is pretty explicit, even > identifying those that will probably never have the urge, > such as is the case with a physics class for business majors > and a physics class for physics majors or engineering > majors. > > So why is there a debate? It would seem that Mazur solved > the riddle rather well. To a reasonable person at this > point, a debate regarding lectures would be a debate of when > to use lectures and when not. But that seems a done deal, so > I ask again, why is there a debate? There is still a debate > because the debate isn't about lectures. > > Traditionally, advanced courses like physics and calculus > were attended by students with a very real urge and > interest. The idea of putting a student that lacked that > urge in such a class did not exist. So the traditional > methods that we take for granted, like lectures, were > naturally selected with these traditional students in mind. > > Over time, policy changes driven by various agendas, some > noble and some not, directed and coerced more students into > these classes. Teachers found themselves not just teaching > the subject to the traditional student already with the urge > and interest (that we took for granted), but also teaching > students lacking these traits. First a few, and then more, > and then many more. > > Naturally, these students, lacking a personal draw to the > subject, did very poorly in an environment (and some would > even say a subject) designed for those who were already > drawn. Thus, this same group of policy makers that had > directed these undrawn students into these classes then took > to the Inventing of alternative ways to teach. And they > based the worth of these new ways to teach not on the effect > they have on the traditional student with the urge, but on > the non-traditional student without. At first this slight > was harmless. The traditional student was still doing their > thing and the concern was with the non-traditional student > that was floundering. But as time wore on and success eluded > their every attempt, this slight became more deliberate and > mean spirited. A new strategy evolved. > > Not being able to find a solution and growing ever more > frustrated with their failure, these policy makers did a > most horrible thing. They did what human nature > unfortunately dictates in such a situation. They blamed > their failure on others. They blamed their failure on the > traditional methods suited for the traditional student. And > they went even further than that. Not only did they blame > their failure on the traditional methods, they made claims > that the traditional methods were bad for all students. They > began a campaign to strike from use any and all methods > associated with the traditional student and their urges. > Policy makers did this. Teachers did this. This urge is to > teaching what the Hippocratic oath is to doctoring, yet they > declared war on it and all teaching methods associated with > it. No longer was teaching to be the primary act of feeding > the urge. > > The lecture debate is not about lectures any more than the > arithmetic debate was about arithmetic. The lecture debate > and virtually all current reform debate is about refuting > traditional students and their urges because if reformers do > not refute these urges then they might as well turn off the > lights and go home. Reform may have started out with noble > intentions 50 years ago but they are certainly not noble any > longer. Reformers may have started with the goal to make > urge-full students out of all students but that proved to be > frustratingly difficult and was abandoned (almost entirely) > at least 20 years ago. It is still the policy makers' intent > to coerce students into classes for which the students lack > an urge for. And it is now the reformers task to hide that > reality and their favorite theory on hiding it is to deny > the urge and deny any method that implies the urge. > > Also, several weeks ago I voiced my puzzlement as to why > reform theories have this common and explicit disdain for > traditional theories. In all other areas of science each > subsequent theory doesn't entirely refute the previous > theory. It builds on it and reconciles with it. But then it > dawned on me, especially in this lecture debate, reformists > have long ago abandoned that approach. Reformists are not > trying to build a new theory of education in the image of > the traditional methods and successes. They also do not want > any theory that has anything to do with urges because that > implies haves and have-nots. A reformist debate is actually > a very brief event. The reformist will proclaim success and > the traditionalist will reply "But those aren't the results > we were looking for?" And then the reformist will rebut "We > decided that the results you were looking for were not the > right results to look for." The motive in reform is not and > has not been results for a couple decades now, long enough > unfortunately for many teachers to not even know of a time > when there were results. > > In my original post I called this the "Mazur Effect" and > that might have come across as disparaging to Mazur. That > was not my intent at all. It was Mazur's ideas that filled > in some holes for me and it was Mazur's work that was so > badly misinterpreted by people like Hake. You think there > are problems in high school calculus? Spend some time around > high school physics and you will praise high school > calculus. If any one subject ever represented best that urge > to figure things out it was high school physics. When you > remove that urge from that subject it is I tell you the most > unbearable thing to watch. I was frustrated with what I saw > in math education, I was broken with what I saw with physics > education. It was like having this fabulous piece of art at > home that you love and you go on vacation, and when you > return you find that your kids have destroyed it. As you > gather the pieces together of what is left you are broken by > the realization that it is gone but at the same time you > can't blame the kids because they didn't understand what it > was. > > I will say this though, I am certain that if Mazur was > smart enough to identify the traits of the traditional > student with the urge to figure things out then he also > knows what is going on and how absurd some of these reform > threads have become. That he says nothing of this dark side > says something. And this goes for the rest of his > establishment as well. > > Bob Hansen >