A Brutal Pace?

Originally posted on Half an Hour, July 31, 2008.

Ken DeRosa writes,

If my recollection serves me correctly, Physics instruction was supposed to go something like this. The student was supposed to read one or more sections of the textbook every week and attend a lecture given by the professor elucidating the sections we were to have read. A few dozen problems from those sections were assigned to us to work out. Then we attended three hours of recitation classes given by graduate students who worked through some of the problems we had been assigned to make sure we understood what was going on.

This brutal pace kept up for fourteen weeks and we covered nearly the entire textbook.

This is a brutal pace? Wow - that explains so much.

It sounds like you had:
- 1 hour of lecture, and
- three hours of tutorial ("recitation")
per week.

Plus: reading of one or more sections, plus a few dozen problems.

Guess what?

That's *standard* for a course in the sciences. I took university courses in chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, geography and mathematics. *All* of them involved a workload something like that.

Some of the courses - most of them, actually - also included a lab component. On top of the coursework already described.

You ask, "How could one possibly teach an inquiry-based (problem-based learning) Physics course and possibly hope to get through more than say a quarter of the syllabus of a lecture-based course?"

You couldn't. But if you were covering the same material with *just* lectures, far far more than 50 percent of the class would fail.

Because if you don't do the problems during the course, you can't hope to master them on the test. And if you can't master them on the test, then pretty clearly you haven't learned the subject.

There's no short cut. I can't emphasize this enough. Learning physics - or any scientific discipline - is hard. Because you have to do much more than just memorize a few facts, you have to learn to think like a physicist, to see the world in a certain way. Which takes actually doing the work.

Maybe they don't teach that in business school. That would explain, probably, why so many business and economics majors think they are experts in science and technology, making pronouncements on whether something is 'causal' or this and that - when so obviously they know the words but don't understand the practice.

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