Friday, December 9, 2016

Who and why should learn physics?



For this post, there are two options:
1) to watch a short video (however, it does not include appendix: Physics v. Computer Coding)
or
2) read the transcripts of the video (including appendix: Physics v. Computer Coding).
Hello I am Dr. Valentin Voroshilov.
Since my graduation with my Masters in theoretical physics I’ve been teaching algebra based physics, calculus based physics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, even logic, and problem solving. I also have a PhD in education with the concentration in teacher professional development. I have developed and taught courses to middle and high school teachers. I also developed and taught a physics course for students with learning disabilities. So, I know a thing or two about teaching, and I am good at that. My website GoMars.XYZ provides all information about me (Why “GoMars”? Because it’s easy to remember!). 

If you click on this link you can read what my former students say about my teaching. This is the best proof any teacher can have of a good teaching (capital G, capital T). I’m pretty proud of this, considering that when I moved from Russia to Boston I couldn’t speak or understand any English. Today I teach and wright. I am very productive. I publish papers and even books. I think that today I am compensating for all those years when I was learning English (mostly via TV and radio) and couldn’t express myself.

Well, I guess, if you are still watching that means you too understand what I’m saying.

The first time I realized that I was good at teaching was a long time ago. I was teaching physics to two-year college students. It was the first or second week of the course. The class had to solve some problems, and every student had to show the work to me. A girl was walking to me slouching and scared. She handed me her notebook. I looked at it. The solution was absolutely correct. I said “You are absolutely right, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be done”. Her face lightens up, she smiles, and she says “I wouldn’t ever think that I could solve a physics problem on my own.”

Since then every time when I begin teaching a new course, I look at my students, and I see an anxiety or even fear in many eyes. Based on my surveys, student feedback, and just everyday conversations with students, I know that many of them are scared of physics, they think physics is too difficult, and they can’t get a good grade in physics.

That is why at the very beginning of every physics course I always tell my students “You can learn physics. Everybody can learn physics. Everyone who knows a multiplication table, and can solve a quadratic equation can learned a high level of physics - like quantum gravitation. And everyone can get an A. Different people may need different time and effort to get it, but everyone in this room can succeeded in a physics course. If someone tells you that physics is hard, and you can’t learn it, that person is a liar, or a bad teacher, or he or she just wants to feel better about themselves. “I know physics, I’m so smart.”

There is a lot of competition in a “science” of teaching physics. Some people compete for a fame like actors compete for an Oscar.

Most of my students by the end of a course change the perception of physics from “hard” to “doable”, and a perception of themselves from “I can’t do physics” to “I’m actually smarter than I thought!”
I always say that to learn how to solve a problem about walking a rope is much easier and faster than to learn how to walk a rope.


People say that to learn physics you have to be good at math. That’s not true. That’s another myth. To learn an algebra based physics people need to know a simple, elementary, rudimentary mathematics available to everyone.

Learning physics is like learning a foreign language. You need to memorize a set of new words. And you need to be able to look around, to see things, to name those things, to classify those things and relationships between those things. As a school subject, physics is uniquely positioned as a bridge between an abstract world of mathematics and real world of actual phenomena. 

Physics as a science is based on experiments, but when we learn physics most of the work is happening in our brain. We have to use the power of our mind to manipulate with different images, ideas, abstract objects. That is why the most important tool for learning physics is imagination – like in reading and writing.

Nowadays, physics is used far beyond just physics and engineering. It has entered business, medicine, even sport – and this is the first answer to “WHY students need to learn physics”.
Everyone who considers a career in a STEM related field, has to take physics, and the sooner it’s done the better. I’ve got a presentation on this matter available on my website.

I want to finish this video with a question “If everyone can learn physics, does it mean that everyone can teach it?” The answer is “No”. Why? For a short answer, I recommend to read the “Fundamental Laws of TeachOlogy”. It takes just five minutes. For the full discussion please read my book “Becoming a STEM teacher” which is available on Amazon.com or Smashwords.com, or NoiseTrade.com, and almost free. Or just call me and we will talk.
 
Thank you.

Appendix: Physics v. Computer Coding

(a.k.a. a “scientific thinking” v. “computational thinking”)

Nowadays computer coding, or “computational thinking” enjoy a broad attention, an ideological and financial support from all levels of government and philanthropy.

According to the Wikipedia: “Computational Thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out. Computational Thinking is an iterative process based on three stages: 1) Problem Formulation (abstraction), 2) Solution Expression (automation), and 3) Solution Execution & Evaluation (analyses)”.

Simply, computational thinking has two parts: developing the solution of a problem (a.k.a thinking, or reasoning), and coding (translating into computer operations) that solution using a language understandable by a computer.

The later part – coding – relies mostly on memorizing lines of computer commands (or, if using a high-level object oriented programming – memorizing a set of programming operations).

Imagine that you want to learn a foreign language, and you memorized the whole dictionary, so you can translate – both ways – any individual word. You still will not be able to read, or write, or talk, because you do not know how to compose a correct sentence – for that you also need to know the grammar of the language (and to practice). Exactly the same situation happens, if you learn all coding commands, but cannot develop a correct algorithm which represents the solution of a problem you need to solve.

That is why the first part of the definition of the computational thinking – “formulating a problem and expressing its solution” – is the most important part of the “ computational thinking” process.

And this is the part which is lacking in school education.

And this is the part, teaching of which requires the most of the effort of a teacher.

And this is the part which represents the type of a scientific thinking, which has a natural place and natural development when study physics (BTW: in “computational thinking”, “scientific thinking, “critical thinking”, etc. the most important part of a definition is “thinking”).

When learning how to solve a problem about how to walk a rope, and when learning how to solve ANY physics problems, a student – under the guidance of an experienced teacher – uses and develops his or her problem-solving abilities, which have a universal nature, or meta-nature (click here for more on what does it mean thinking as a physicist).

Everyone who learns physics, automatically develops the most important part of a computational thinking (a.k.a. thinking!), and can easily learn computer coding – the opposite is just not true (and this is the second answer to “WHY students need to learn physics”).

 And the third answer to “WHY school students need to learn physics” is: because it helps to advance reasoning skills. And because of that every middle and high school student needs to take a physics course.

And one more thing about computer coding.
All intelligent people use a code – every day! When we read, we decode symbols (letters, words) into our internal meanings and feelings. When we write, we code our internal meanings and feelings into symbols (if you add algebra to reading and writing, you get another level of coding).

To demonstrate the importance of using a correct sequence of steps to achieve a given goal (an important part of any logical thinking), a teacher does not need to teach how to code; a teacher can just offer a puzzle (for example, a mechanical one).

But everyone who is thinking about teaching computer coding to students who are not proficient enough in reading and writing, should know:
“It will not work!”
“And if you are still trying to do this, that might mean only two things. Either you are an enthusiast who does not know how people learn – in that case the right step would be seeking an advice from a professional in teaching. Or you are an imposer, who does not really care about students and just uses the opportunity to gain something personally beneficial (usually money).


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