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Re: Problem solving or playtime?

On Thu, 11 Apr 1996, George Spagna Jr. wrote:

On Mon, 08 Apr 1996 17:20:39 Cindy Gentry wrote:
I am a second year high school physics teacher and I recently had an
evaluation conversation with my boss and it was suggested that I get
away from using the textbook. There are those that feel that classtime
should be spent on more outside activities and labs and computer work.
I agree that all of these things are very important, but I also know as
an undergraduate physics major that students need to know how to solve
problems. I can take my student's high school text and my freshman
college text and the two compare very closely. Why then would I want
to spend more time away from the text? I would like to hear your input
whether you are a high school teacher or a college professor.

One "problem with problem solving" is that students often develop
strategies for getting solutions which are "correct" without understanding
anything at all about the physics. Students (and faculty) need a solid
base for conceptual reasoning which can then be applied to problem
solving. Many texts, even those which claim to stress conceptual
understanding and conceptual problem solving skills, still lend themselves
to the "let me solve this by finding a similar example in the chapter"
method, followed by "plug and chug".

That's why students should spend more time doing physics and less time
reading about physics.
George Spagna ******************************************

On the other hand the students who come to my classes have exceptionally
poor problem solving skills. In some cases, they do want to plug and
chug because they think that is how problems are solved. Others don't
use that approach, but do not know how to READ a problem to identify what
it is about, to properly interpret the scenario, to properly interpret
the information given (numeric or verbal), and to correctly interpret the
question asked, i.e., when I have solved the problem what is it that I
have calculated?

We expect students in other fields or activities to PRACTICE (e.g.,
music, art, athletics, writing, etc.). Why shouldn't we expect physics
students to practice on tasks which sharpen the skills needed to solve
problems in an appropriate way? The music student practices and
interacts with the instructor for feedback. Presumably, the good music
teacher goes beyond rote practice to include interpretation. So should
the practice of physics problem solving not be done in a robotic,
isolated situation.

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