Sunday, December 25, 2016

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 availableon 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).


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fundamental Laws of TeachOlogy: a Handbook For a Beginner Teacher











6th

Teaching is guiding students through an arrangement of learning experiences specifically designed for helping students with mastering the subject, including understanding the topics, developing skills, and feeling good about themselves.

7th

Teaching = motivating + demonstrating + instructing + explaining

Learning = goal making + memorizing + reiterating + thinking

Understanding = making sense of the things by connecting the current experience with the previous knowledge, and – if needed – modifying the previous knowledge, or re-describing the current experience.

8th

If a person can learn the multiplication table and the strategy for solving a quadratic equation, that person can learn any high level intellectual knowledge (e.g. quantum gravitation), and there are only two reasons for that not happening - no desire, or a wrong teacher.

9th

If the only exercise students had been doing for 12 years is squats, they will not be good at push-ups and pull-ups. Do not expect from students an ability to think if all the had to do for 12 years was memorizing facts and rules.

10th

True learning never happens by watching, it happens by doing.

You can watch for hours other people swimming, but if you want to learn how to swim you have to get yourself into water and start trying.

Reading (and watching, and listening) helps to form an initial vocabulary, and to set relationships between the current knowledge and the upcoming one. Doing (speaking, writing, solving, explaining) forms the skills.

11th

The “learning space” of students in a class is (essentially) three dimensional: students might differ by their 1. background (previously learned knowledge and skills); 2. learnability (rate and volume of attaining knowledge and skills as a function of time and effort); 3. motivation (aspirations and willingness to learn).

12th

Kids do not know anything and learn everything from scratch. When adults learn new skills, they repeat the same general steps and stages of learning they used to use when where learning as kids (but usually/hopefully faster).

13th

Look at infants – they always try doing new things and want to learn something new! Now look at school graduates – so many of them do not want to learn anything new. A facility which does this to students cannot be called “a school”

14th

The best gift a parent can give to a child is good habits; the best gift a teacher can give to a student is love for learning and confidence in ability to learn.

The art of teaching is based on the science of learning, the love for education, and the passion for sharing this love.

15th

Everybody can drive, but not everyone is a good driver, everybody can cook, but not everyone is a chef. Anyone can talk, but it is wrong to think that anybody can be a good teacher.

A great teacher is not the one who just loves teaching, but the one who loves learning and is passionate in sharing this love.

If you are a good teacher, your students understand your way of thinking and copy what you do. If you are a great teacher, your students can generate their own ideas and do things impossible to you.

For example – for a physics or math teacher.

If you are a good teacher, your students understand your solutions to problems, if you are a great teacher, your students generate their own solutions.

16th

Teachers – like doctors – must take “a Hippocratic Oath” of a teacher. i.e. to promise “never do harm to anyone”, because there is always something more important in teaching than merely transmitting knowledge.

If a person does not like a challenge and does not like learning, that person should not go into the business of education in any form; she.he is not going to be a good teacher, or administrator, or a researcher in the field.

17th

There are three kinds of human practices/projects with the goal of advancing human life: (a) scientific research - the goal of a scientific research is discovering new knowledge; (b) engineering and art - the goal of an engineering development is building new devices (and systems of devices), the goal of art is bringing/developing artifacts of art; (c) social advancement - the goal of a social advancement project is developing or adopting new collective practice(s) (new - for the given social group, but may have been used already by other people).

18th

Every human practice has some elements of a scientific research: when we start a project, we generally have some understanding of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve that (“a hypothesis”), and how will we assess (measure) how close we are to the goal (“facts”).

The difference between a scientific research and a social project is in “what utilizes what”.

In a scientific research, some social activity is being used as a vehicle to obtain new knowledge. In that case, some advancement in some social practice represents a “collateral” result of the research.

In a social project, some scientific knowledge is being used to achieve positive changes in a certain social situation. In this case, some newly recorded knowledge represents a “collateral” result of the project.

19th

Physics represents the most developed scientific approach to study the Nature. When a physicist is trying to understand how the Nature works, he/she uses a scientific approach based on clear and uniformly used terminology, and on well-defined and uniformly used measuring tools and procedures. Everyone who teaches a science has to use the same scientific approach.  Everyone who teaches how to teach a science has to use the same scientific approach.

20th

People who praise the Socratic method should keep in mind how he ended his life.

For Socrates, knowledge a person has, defines that person as a whole. When Socrates said: “I know that I know nothing” he did not just accept limits of his knowledge, he accepted his limits as a human being. Unfortunately, expecting the same from others had lead Socrates to willingly drinking poison.

Often people who praise the Socratic method do not like when it is applied to them.

Often people who praise the Socratic method demonstrate differences between Socrates (as seen by historians) and themselves.

Some of the modern followers
Did not work for money
Rarely refuse taking money for a lecture or a consultation
Did not care about his social status
Love a fame, see it as a life sweetener
Was indifferent to people not liking him
Usually like to be the center of attention, like to be praised
Was open to a conversation to anyone
Rarely communicate with people who do not have a certain social status
Praised challenging questions
Often do not like when the Socratic method is applied to them, become defensive, consider challenging questions as an attack on their status


Appendix: On a definition of “a law” and “a science”

I) What is “a law”?

A law is a statement of an existing pattern. This statement usually has a verbal or a mathematical representation.

II) What does a law do?

A law allows to explain observed phenomena. But the most important application of a law is to predicting events. A law allows to make a statement about (a) what events will be possible for happening (within given limits, under given circumstances, within a given timeframe), and (b) among possible events, what is a chance for a given event to happen.

III) What is “a science”?

The definition of a science is multi-dimensional.

(a) A science is an internally consistent body of knowledge based on the scrupulous and logical analysis of a vast amount of data.

(b) A science is a specific human practice which mission is to obtain and describe natural and social patterns (a.k.a. laws) in order to use those patterns for making reliable predictions.

(shortly: the mission of a science is making predictions; if making reliable predictions is not yet possible, the field is still in a pre-science stage)

(c) The development of a science usually has two stages:

1) a pre-science stage, when the main goals of human activities are:

* developing a language (mainly naming objects and processes), tools and procedures (including specifically designed experiments) for collecting and classifying data, and

* collecting and classifying data, and

* formulating the set of patterns describing the phenomena within a specific domain

2)  a science stage, when the main goals of human activities are:

* using the developed set of patterns for improving human living, and

* using the developed set of pattern for advancing the science

Avery human practice presents a certain combination of pre-scientific activities, scientific activities, art, engineering, and chaotic trials. The activity which dominates the practice gives the name to the practice.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How much of the NSF funded “fundamental” scientific educational research is really fundamental?


The other day I received an email from the NSF:

For example, the very first project at the top of the first page “Transitioning Learners to Calculus in Community Colleges” aims at “Improving student outcomes in mathematics courses in community colleges”. The main vehicle of the project is improving instructions by utilizing various instruments (mostly surveys, and self-assessments). Is this an important social project? Of course! Does it represent a fundamental scientific research? Of course not!
Here are the active links shown in the picture:
The webpage tells you that (in part):
The new awards fund projects aimed at generating foundational knowledge in:
·       Improving and advancing STEM learning and learning environments for students, parents, teachers and the general population in all settings, from formal and informal education to technological learning environments.
·       Supporting and preparing a STEM professional workforce that is ready to capitalize on unprecedented advances in technology and science and address current and future global, social and economic challenges.
·       Diversifying and increasing participation in STEM, effectively building institutional capacity and informal learning environments that foster the untapped potential of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.
The brief reading of the bullets already raises a question – do the goals really represent the search for a fundamental scientific knowledge, or they rather aim at improving immediate social issues education system currently deals with?
The following link
leads to “the complete list of ECR projects and their abstracts” (the picture shows page 1). 

The total number of projects funded within $61 million is 114. However, only 3 projects from 114 really fall in a category “fundamental scientific research”. Those three truly fundamental scientific projects are related to a neurology of thinking; they study various connections between process of thinking and processes happening in a brain while thinking. The total amount of funding set aside for those projects is #2,242,982, which is equal to 3.7 % of the total funds.
It means that 96.3 % of the funds are being used for projects of another kind (do not belong to a fundamental scientific research).
If one just reads the titles of the projects one can find several more projects which also may be sought as a part of a fundamental scientific research, but that would require the detailed analysis of the projects.
If the NSF would ask me to do such an analysis, I could, but I doubt that the NSF would.
A brief reading of the project titles and some of the abstracts shows that the majority of the projects are of a social nature; they aim at improving a current social situation by solving a specific immediate social problem within the field of education.
No doubt, some of those socially oriented projects are fundamentally important for making education better, more successful, more student oriented, more diverse.
But they would not help much to advance a science of education.
The classification of socially oriented projects as a part of a fundamental scientific research is a very common practice; and it is based on a common misconception of what a science is.
There is a wide-spread opinion (also held by many people in the field of education) that:
1) when a person poses a question, and
2) then describes some steps which would lead to the answer to this questions, and
3) then describes how he or she would assess if the question was answered correctly
– that person conducts a scientific research.
In reality, this procedure is most commonly used for achieving a specific social goal.
This procedure is used when a person feels some disconnection between his or her social position and the position the person desires to have. This procedure has been an object of a study of a General Theory of Human Activity (a.k.a. Activity Theory), which has several different forms, or academic schools, including the one used in the field of a teacher professional development.
Not any possible question (a.k.a. a proposition which starts from “Is it true that …”) should be called a hypothesis, and not any possible activity which leads to an answer should be called a research.
In general, there are three kinds of human practices/projects with the goal of advancing human life: (a) scientific research - the goal of a scientific research is discovering new knowledge; (b) engineering and art - the goal of an engineering development is building new devices (and systems of devices), the goal of art is bringing/developing artifacts of art; (c) social advancement - the goal of a social advancement project is developing or adopting new collective practice(s) (new - for the given social group, but may have been used already by other people).
Clearly, every practice has some elements of a scientific research: when we start a project, we generally have some understanding of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve that (“a hypothesis”), and how will we assess (measure) how close we are to the goal (“facts”).
The difference between a scientific research and a social project is in “what utilizes what”.
In a scientific research, some social activity is being used as a vehicle to obtain new knowledge. In that case, some advancement in some social practice represents a “collateral” result of the research.
In a social project, some scientific knowledge is being used to achieve positive changes in a certain social situation. In this case, some newly recorded knowledge represents a “collateral” result of the project.
There are many things in the world which are similar on the outside but very different on the inside, or by their functions, goals, properties. For example, a space shuttle and a fighter jet look very similar, but only one can fly in the outer world (a space shuttle). The difference between a scientific research and a social project is similar to the difference between an archeological excavation and a dig for a treasure chest: they both use some digging, but the goals and the results are very different.
The majority of the 114 projects funded by the NSF aim at the achievement of some positive social changes in a certain educational environment.  
And many more projects sound like this one. If we strip off all the scientific language, we will read – paraphrasing –
1) “We want our students to do better. For that we plan on trying this.” – if the project mostly involves faculty or teachers who directly teach students.
or
2) “We want our school teachers to teach better. For that we plan on trying this.” – if the project mostly involves faculty from a school of education.
I don’t’ claim that all projects are fall into the two described categories, but most of them do.
One might ask, what harm is in calling social projects as scientific ones? Both kinds are important and do good for education.
A short answer is: it is bad because it makes an impression of a huge amount of a scientific research happening in the field of education; when in fact a true scientific research in the field of education does not exceed 3 – 5 % of the total funding (if we want to promote a science of education to a true science we need to change that).
The bigger problem is that unwillingly “the NSF essentially forces people into faking doing science. The core of any science is being truthful about everything; including goals, methods, types of actions being used to achieve the goals. If people assume that faking science is fine – even for the sake of achieving positive social changes – that will water down the essence of science.
It is a scientific fact that both, the Religion and the Government, have benefited from the separation of Church and State. Similarly, the separation of programs for social advancement from programs for scientific advancement will be beneficial for both, social and scientific advancement.
Not enforcing such a separation makes the way the NSF funds of some of educational projects to be wrong”.
The last quote has been taken from a recent essay, which offers a broader discussion.
Another recent essay offers a discussion on what should the fundamental research in the field of education be about. The central premise of the approach for marking a research as “fundamental” is based on the facts, that
1) For every child, there is a finite number of individual characteristics describing his or her learning, behavioral, and social styles.
2) There is a finite number of subjects to learn, and within each subject there is a finite volume of knowledge to learn, and a finite number of skills to master.
Hence, it should take a finite amount of time to study all relevant and sustainable correlations (a.k.a. laws). 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

To all business leaders, leaders of charitable organizations, philanthropists, and everyone who is not satisfied with the current state of the educational reform

A Manifesto
To all business leaders, leaders of charitable organizations, philanthropists,
and everyone who is not satisfied with the current state of the educational reform



Nowadays business leaders and businesses of all levels are in a great need for highly qualified workforce (just watch or read the news).
That is why business leaders and businesses of all levels are calling for transforming current state of STEM education (click hear for a typical example – one of many!).
However, everyone who is familiar with the history of education knows that similar needs and calls are nothing new.
Since the first shock of the Russian Sputnik (1957) politicians, government officials, business leaders have been trying to transform STEM education to prevent the U.S. from losing its competitiveness (for instance, just check the list of corresponded federal and state laws).
A logical person should ask, why, despite all the efforts (and billions of dollars) the urgency in transforming STEM education hasn’t lowered?
The answer is actually simple.
We live in a very different world than it was decades ago, but the discussion about education has not changed a bit.
The decades-long battle can be summarized as a collision between “charter schools and merit pay” supporters vs. “we need job security and more resources” advocates.
I came in education from physics.
Physics had known a similar “clan vs. clan” collision. Close to a hundred years ago physics was in a crisis (like the current education is).
Physicists debated if the newly discovered tiny objects are particles - just like tiny balls, or waves - like ones seen on the surface of a lake.
Eventually the crisis had been resolved.
Turned out the question itself “is it a particle or a wave?” was just a wrong question
(like: “Who won 1063 Super Bowl on Mars?” - the question itself has no sense!).
The new microscopic objects (electrons, protons, neutrons, even atoms and molecules) were neither particles nor waves. To resolve the crisis scientists had to invent a completely new way of thinking about the nature.
Turned out that the old way of thinking, which perfectly worked for analyzing macroscopic phenomena, just could not be applied for analyzing the microscopic world.
A new paradigm had to be developed and be used to replace the old one.
The fact that decades of reforms left education in a state that still needs serous reformation is a clear sign that the debaters need to seek a new paradigm, because, clearly, the current one does not really work.
Yes, there has to be a way to weed out teachers who cannot teach (are they really teachers?). Yes, there has to be a way to provide incentives to teachers who do a good job. But on the other hand, there is no evidence that a merit pay works. And on average only one in five charter schools visibly outperform public school in student learning outcomes (“the majority do the same or worse”).
Continuing the debate and seeking the solutions using the old paradigm will NOT bring the so-needed changes in STEM education.
I’ve been in education for many years, teaching physics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, logic, problem solving; studying teaching physics, math, and problem solving; helping teachers with teaching physics, math, and solving their professional problems; consulting administrators on the efficient managing of teaching.
The history of business demonstrates that often a breakthrough in a certain technological field is brought by the outsiders in the field (an example? Netflix!). Currently business leaders provide tremendous efforts to support STEM education by helping teachers with solving everyday professional problems.
However, from a strategic point of view, the time has come for business leaders to drive the reformation of the way STEM education is currently being reformed.
Business leaders – as the outsiders for the field of education – could and should generate the search for a NEW PARADIGM of the educational reform.
I would be happy to offer my view on the most important elements of the new paradigm.
If you would like to learn more or to become a part of the force driving the reformation of the way education is currently being reformed, please, feel free to contact me and/or to set up a short meeting, or please pass this letter to your associates.
Sincerely yours,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
P.S. you could also start from reading this post from HP or this post.