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Re: [Phys-l] Bemoaning textbooks and education: old quotes?

Well, this also points to another gripe of mine -- that many PER
papers and personnel do not do an adequate literature search. Just as
many quotes seem new from 100 years ago, so are many of the ideas
(just put new terminology to it)... With the advent of online
databases, so there is no more sifting through musty tomes in the
library basement, there is no excuse for shoddy lit. searches!
Regrettably, the greatest obstacle to curricular reform does not seem
to be a lack of desire, but a lack of continuity and follow through.
As an example, in 1994
".Samuel Ward reminded his colleagues that the most common
characteristic of curricular reform efforts is amnesia. As proof, he
hauled out three reports - spaced 30 years apart and spanning much of
the century - all recommending such changes as boosting students'
reasoning rather than memorization skills, harmonizing courses with
everyday problems, and emphasizing future problems to be solved. Much
to its chagrin, the audience was unable to date any of the
reports."(Service 1994)
There is a difference between the older efforts and today. Now there is
actually a specialized field of physics concerned with teaching methods, and
there are groups at universities which are working together within the
school, and with others in other schools.

While anecdotal evidence has always been around, now we have measurements of
understanding, and of problem solving ability. The latter are
individualized to specific research, while the former are used across the
groups. This is a situation that has not existed to my knowledge in
previous efforts. We can also make comparisons for various types of
teaching across groups. In addition some reforms such as Modeling has
institutionalized the use of evaluations, and of trying various things and
then comparing the outcomes. Modeling is not just for HS, but is also used
in universities.

The criticism of lack of continuity and follow through is certainly a
characteristic of previous efforts. But there is now the possibility that
this may no longer be true in many of the reforms. The medical model of
seeing what works, and then using it is now being institutionalized and if
it may become the norm. Teaching may be buying into institutionalizing
using research the same as medicine did finally.

There is a big misconception implied in the word curricular reform. The
curriculum, or the body of knowledge, certainly should be tinkered with.
But the basic reform is not in the specific topics, but how they are taught,
and how the students are expected to learn. So it is not curriculum reform,
but rather teaching methodology reform. So while one can say you are
covering projectile motion, in reality the learning is centered on
generalizing the constant velocity and constant acceleration models to a 2
variable situation. The curriculum is always stated as topics, but it needs
to stress instead the ability to do 2 variable, proportional, conservation
reasoning ... So the curriculum is always written in terms of concrete
surface details rather than the real aims that MUST be achieved.

The web has made it possible for physics teachers to break out of the
isololation of the classroom and communicate to each other anywhere in the
world. So as this happens there are very serious discussions which are
resulting in changes in teaching. Again this is a new development. It is
possible to immediately compare results, and to get help in realtime with
teaching problems.

As to publication amnesia, the older papers while they may have promoted
some of the same techniques, the strong test evidence may not be there. So
why should they be referenced? Most cites will be of papers that show
research results rather than anecdotal, and there are plenty of them now.
Did any of the previous papers prior to Karplus do what he did? He tried a
whole variety of things, and then categorized them as what works, and what
did not. Did they have good measures of student thinking such as the
Piagetian test? I doubt you will find many medical papers going back to the
historical work which did not have good testing. And the ability to search
all of a given publication such as The Physics Teacher has only been around
for a short time, and many of the papers predate this advance.

My biggest gripe is with teachers who will be into research in the science
field, but totally ignore research in how it should be taught. I recently
taught a course where I rearranged the topics completely differently from
the book. The department chair was puzzled as to why I did this, as he
slavishly follows the book. When I said that research shows that momentum
needs to come before energy, he was very puzzled. Even when I said that
testing shows that you get better results by reversing the topics from the
historical presentation, he did not seem to understand. He considered the
text he had selected as being perfect, but when one looks at it from the
point of view of what students have to do to gain understanding, it is
woefully deficient. The text was perfect from his point of view, as he
could read it and it seemed clearly logical. But from the student's point
of view and the research point of view it was very deficient. This huge
disconnect is what I find to be most troubling.

Then of course there is the problem in pre-college teaching where people in
charge of curriculum do not have a clue, and do not understand, but try to
micromanage teachers. Curiously elementary teachers have a path for
advancement by becoming administrators in HS. So an elementary
teacher/librarian who is concrete operational in their thinking can become
director of instruction in a HS. But that is another issue.

As to quotes, Socrates was probably one of the first to be quoted as
bemoaning the new generation.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX