Sunday, April 24, 2011

Teach Physics The Proper Way, You Might Get Complaints

Sometime, you just have to shake your head when you read stories like this.

This writer talk about one possible reasons (out of many) of why we often have problems with the quality of our education - Parents! Parents often put low priorities on academic excellence.

Ever notice how parents line up around the block to get into the schoolhouse meeting that's to discuss the cellphone policy, the dress code, bullying or the teaching of evolution? But I don't ever recall any parental protests about mediocre TCAP or ACT scores.

Ballgames bring the crowds by the hundreds (if not thousands), but how many parents showed up on parent-teacher conference day? In my 14 years of teaching high-school math, I typically had a handful on those days, when I needed to see dozens.

But the saddest part of this article is the description of what happened when a physics high school subject was taught properly:

In January 2008, the News Sentinel published my Citizen's Voice column, in which I complained that the typical kid was a million times more interested in his vast entertainment and social worlds than he was any academics.

One of the 26 replies I got was from a guy who was sent to an East Tennessee high school to strengthen its physics program. He was from the Distinguished Professionals Education Institute, meaning that he was top-notch.

Upon investigating, he discovered that his physics enrollment was much higher than would be ordinarily expected, that the previous year the class was taught by a coach and that almost every kid got an A. Physics should be one of the hardest classes in any high-school's curriculum. If taught correctly, few will take it, and they'll expect to work very hard. If kids eagerly sign up for physics, then the class is probably a joke.

Well, our serious teacher taught his physics class the right way: homework, labs and (oh, my goodness!) rigor. By mid-October, he was removed from the class, so widespread and vehement were the complaints from students and (surprise) parents.

This, of course, is the reverse in countries such as China, Singapore, South Korea, India, etc. There, students and parents do not dare complain about a subject being taught as being too "difficult" or demanding.

I would love to hear the "excuse" being given by the schools and the parents for removing that teacher.



Anonymous said...

I can't agree with that attitude toward teaching physics. Too many kids doing well and signing up to physics is indicative of a bad course?! Good grief, no. I'm not saying the course wasn't bad: just that those are *not* indicators of a bad course; quite the contrary.

Seeing physics as a "hard" subject which many kids shouldn't want to do just perpetuates the elitist attitude which turns kids off science. Absolutely, dumbing down a course is exactly the wrong way to make it popular and have kids succeed at it, but assuming that a popular/successful course must therefore be dumbed down is arrogance in the extreme.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if the course is taught "properly" if the kids can't complete it. I can't see why you'd want to retain such a teacher.

Sarai Pahla said...

God - this sounds so painfully familiar. The thing is, you have to teach kids the fundamental principle of perserverance otherwise everything else goes to waste. Kids these days have the ability to concentrate on many things at one time and are even encouraged to do so. When was the last time a parent was even ABLE to sit down with their kid and concentrate on something for longer than 10 minutes at a time?

On the other hand, you do have to make subjects relevant to the real world, otherwise it really is too removed from their reality. Sure, teaching with rigour works, but you have to instill and interest in physics and maths so that even when the kids leave your class, they still seek out those mental challenges in the world around them.

Or maybe I'm just an idealist, who knows.