This article from Time Magazine has me thinking about this post again.
Here are some quotes (emphases added):
Our minds are filled with folk science–and it gets in the way of real learning.
Traditional teaching methods don’t do much to uproot folk beliefs.
Another promising approach is to directly confront individuals with the differences between their understanding and the correct one: to “offend the student’s intuition,”
From the intro to the article: “(1) Seasons are caused by the earth’s distance from the sun. (2) Motors and other machines use up energy. (3) A heavier ball falls faster than a lighter one.”
And Susan Carey’s analysis, later in the article: “really the issue ‘is not what the student lacks, but what the student has, namely alternative conceptual frameworks for understanding the phenomena covered by the theories we are trying to teach.’”
Presumably those “alternative frameworks” include: (1) things get warmer as they get closer to the sun, (2) that we can’t recover energy used in a motor, and (3) that heavy things are more affected by gravity.
Uproot those silly ideas!
I was thinking about the idea that “things get warmer as they get closer to sun” last week. I was talking with a colleague about his Astronomy class, and he was discussing with his students how the tail of comets form, and helping them to make sense of why inner planets planets tend to be rocky and outer planets tend to be gassy. All of this requires the idea “things get warmer as they get closer to the sun.”
I’m also struck by how few physics majors can offer explanations for why objects in free-fall all accelerate the same way (independent of mass) in terms of Newton’s Laws. Most of them just assert that acceleration due to gravity is a constant, or conjecture that it’s only nearly constant because earth’s mass is so large compared to typical objects. The problem is they only see “acceleration is a constant” as the answer to a question; whereas to me, it’s an puzzle to be explained.
It seems like somewhere in the curriculum, long before statistical mechanics, our energy curriculum should key in on the idea that energy can be or less useful, and on pondering the question as to why certain forms or configurations of energy are more useful than others? I’m not saying that we should completely answer those questions completely, but it would seem a useful idea to cultivate.
I really this post about energy: http://doyle-scienceteach.blogspot.com/2012/02/electric-slide.html
and the quote, “It took a bucketload of sunlight to produce a thimble’s worth of incandescence.”
One thing I’ve come to wonder more and more about students’ preconceptions is where did these notions originate? Is it just natural intuition coupled with underdeveloped reasoning skills? Is it some cultural phenomena? Can I blame former teachers?
I’m not saying it would necessarily help the issue, but maybe it would give us a better frame with which to approach reconstructing the students’ perceptions.