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Topic: [math-learn] What Mathematicians Might Learn From Physicists
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Richard Hake

Posts: 1,251
From: Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Registered: 12/4/04
[math-learn] What Mathematicians Might Learn From Physicists
Posted: Aug 13, 2012 11:07 PM
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Some subscribers to Math-Learn might be interested in a recent
discussion-list post "What Mathematicians Might Lean From
Physicists" [Hake (2012)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: Mary Shepherd of the RUME list has called attention to
David Bressoud's recent MAA "Launchings" columns (a) "Learning from
the Physicists" [Bressoud (2012a)] at <>, and (b)
"Barriers to Change" [Bressoud (2012b)] at <>.

Unfortunately, Bressoud neglects to point out that the most important
lesson mathematicians might learn from physicists is the advantage of
discovering what instructional methods do and do not work by means of
pre/post testing with Concept Inventories
<> - see e.g., "Lessons
from the Physics Education Reform Effort" [Hake (2002) at
<> and "Bioliteracy and Teaching Efficiency: What
Biologists Can Learn from Physicists" [Klymkowsky et al. (2003)] at
<>. Pre/post testing with Concept Inventories
has only recently been brought to math education by Jerry Epstein
<> with his "Calculus Concept Inventory."

In my opinion, Bressoud is handicapped by the neglect of any mention
of pre/post testing in his primary source "The Use of Research-Based
Instructional Strategies in Introductory Physics: Where do Faculty
Leave the Innovation-Decision Process?" [Henderson, Dancy, &
Niewiadomska-Bugaj (2012)] at <>. The second
sentence of their abstract reads: "Significant empirical research has
shown that student learning can be substantially improved when
instructors move from traditional, transmission-style instruction to
more student-centered, interactive instruction [Bransford et al.
(2000), Handelsman et al. (2004)]."

In referencing Bransford et al. (2000) and Handlesman et al. (2004)],
Henderson et al. carry on the PER tradition of mindlessly dismissing
the breakthrough research of Halloun & Hestenes (1985a) - see e.g.
"The Initial Knowledge State of College Physics Students"
<> (scroll down to "Evaluation Instruments"). As
far as I know, that research constituted the *first* "significant
empirical research [showing] that student learning can be
substantially improved when instructors move from traditional,
transmission-style instruction to more student-centered, interactive
instruction." Instead of emphasizing the preeminent role of PER in
education research Henderson et al. erroneously imply that physicists
simply followed the lead of cognitive scientists [Bransford et al.
(2000)] and biologists [Handlesman et al. (2004)].

To access the complete 22 kB post please click on <>.

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles: <>
Links to SDI Labs: <>
Academia: <>
Blog: <>
Twitter <>
GooglePlus: <>

"Physics educators have led the way in developing and using objective
tests to compare student learning gains in different types of
courses, and chemists, biologists, and others are now developing
similar instruments. These tests provide convincing evidence that
students assimilate new knowledge more effectively in courses
including active, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning, assisted
by information technology, than in traditional courses."
- William Wood & James Gentile (2003).

REFERENCES [URL shortened by <> and accessed on 13 August 2012.
Hake, R.R. 2012. "What Mathematicians Might Learn From Physicists"
online on the OPEN AERA-L archives at Post of
13 Aug 2012 16:59:34-0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and
link to the complete post are being transmitted to several discussion
lists and are on my blog "Hake'sEdStuff" at
<>with a provision for comments.

Wood, W.B. & J.M. Gentile. 2003. "Teaching in a research context,"
Science 302: 1510; 28 November; online to subscribers at
<>. A summary is online to all at

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