Thursday, June 05, 2008

College Professor's Notes on Physics On-Line--A Hierarchically Based Science Course for Elementary Students: Part 3a

You all have probably heard of the free courseware offered at MIT. I browsed it when I was initially thinking about the science course for homeschoolers. The physics courses are definitely not hierarchical.

However, I received an e-mail from
Michael Gold

pointing me to some other professor's website. Thanks so much for writing with such a great link. I really enjoyed reading Prof. Fowler's information.

Here is where he discusses why he chooses to use history in his science courses. He also discusses which concepts a lot of students need additional help understanding and gives a link to some software he wrote to help demonstrate physics. There are two physics course lecture notes available on-line. The first is Galileo to Einstein discussing classical physics. The second is the dreaded (to my mind) yet fascinating Modern Physics (relativity to quantum theory).

I don't think you can be basically science-illiterate and go to this site and understand it right off the bat. Though the history is compelling and between those lectures and other wonderful resources I've been reading, I feel like I'm getting a real handle on the history.

Prof. Fowler also includes a kind-of bibliography of his reference materials at the end of his Galileo to Einstein course lectures. Mathematical proofs are presented in some of the material. I am glad to see that he includes the math where history books (like those I'm generally reading) definitely do not.

Something that I would like more information about, though it's not necessary for the course I'm planning, is the actual math. Historically, I'm learning about a lot of the experiments. The early ones are in enough detail to repeat (fine for my purposes).

Here is Prof. Fowler discussing heat and why using a historical perspective is helpful for the students.

In my experience, there is much to be gained from teaching physics with some historical perspective. Unfortunately, the trend in physics textbooks these days is in the opposite direction. Thirty years ago, most standard texts included some discussion of how and when basic concepts in physics developed. Recent editions of these same books, much heavier and more colorful, have dropped that material in favor of endless detailed instruction on how to solve textbook problems. This may be, in part, a necessary response to less well prepared students, and possibly teachers, but the new texts, despite four color artwork on shiny paper, are rather dreary.


I strongly believe that it is not a waste of time to discuss some earlier theories that turned out to be wrong. In fact, these earlier theories are often close to the students’ current thinking, so challenging them as to why those ideas were finally abandoned can stir the critical faculties and lead to better understanding. A case in point is the caloric theory of heat. Of course, the students are vaguely aware that it’s not right, but their intuitive ideas of heat, based on everyday experience, have probably led them to construct an operational model not too different from the caloric one, so we go ahead and discuss heat from this na├»ve point of view, and mention the first recorded systematic experiments on heat and heat flow.

All posts related to a hierarchically based science course for elementary students.

Updated to correct spelling errors.


LB said...

Dr. Fowler seems to be a very good resource. Still, how to distill this information to the essentials and present it to elementary students as one topic built on another topic is the hard work.

Here again, we have physics as the primary discipline. Do you think that this is because physics was one of the earliest branches of science developed, is a more readily understandable science early on, or that in retracing scientific advances more people felt it needed to begin with physics? Or, D, none of the above.

What amazes me is that so few science teachers recognize the need for this type of education, and therefore there aren't just tons of educational resources already in hierarchical order.

Keep plugging away at it. You seem to be getting somewhere. Thanks for sharing.

Kim said...

Once I understood (I think) what hierarchy meant, it is the only thing that seems to make sense. I've seen people disagree because they think it means teaching every tiny experiment, but once that's put to the side, it makes complete sense.

I have an idea for the beginning of the course. I'll do a separate post for it!