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Re: [Phys-l] Premed Requirements Commentary

I have not seen the statistics on calculus and physics, but I was just
talking to the chemistry chair in our building and she says that organic
chemistry is a tight predictor for success in medical school. The actual
material may not be used, but the thought process and organizational
techniques used in orgo are similar to that in physiology - hence the
predictive power and the benefit of repeating similar thought patterns.

If this is so, then could one come up with a similar study for physics or
calculus. I would be interested in seeing where these statistics come from.
It would also be useful to know if the course is acting to improve thinking,
or it is just being a filter.

Wow, we physics teachers are really in sad shape.

We want premed students (and others) to learn to think critically, do
research (take and analyze data), and understand physics. Yet many on
this list have been saying (now and earlier) that our courses don't
succeed at any of those things.

Why don't we just quit and go do something else for a living?

Actually I think the message has been that "conventional" courses have a low
rate of success. But by making some changes it might be possible to
improve. The message is improve what is being done, not give up.

Your course may actually be doing well, but can you prove this? What sort
of gain is achieved? Can you show that critical thinking has improved? Or
is it possible that the course is only a filter so that those who think get
through, and those who don't fail? This will make the course look
effective, but in reality only the survivors succeed and the others have not
been helped.

Even with conventional courses there is a vast difference. Rensselaer in
the late 60s and 70s taught the intro courses as a group that included their
top instructors. The instruction was uniform, but carefully constructed. I
suspect that they achieved the maximum 25% gain for a conventional course.
Now they have transformed the course to a more studio style with reforms
brought in by Karen Cummings, and are getting much better gain. From what I
have seen many courses do not even match up to the Rensselaer conventional

In either case, the handwriting is on the wall. Many departments are
deciding that physics taught by the physics department may not be suitable.
If it is what is needed it is up to us to either have good evidence for
this, or to reform the courses so that it is possible to provide good
evidence. I do have evidence of gain in both physics concepts and in
thinking ability, but I am not satisfied with it.

If we can not demonstrate the need for a physics course then nobody has to
quit. They will be let go.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX