Saturday, July 15, 2017

Teaching Something Old That Feels New

It is easy to become comfortable when teaching a subject for several consecutive years, so what can one do in order to keep it fresh? Keeping it fresh is not only desired for the sake of the teacher's interest and mental sanity but most important for the feeling that the class is uniquely developed for the present students. Students need to know that they are learning something that is important to them individually. Students need to know that they are learning something that is for their present interests and use and not something old that belongs to the archives of history, unless of course is a history class.

We are here talking about teaching science, science that has old principles, old hypothesis, old theories, and old methodologies. Of course there is the science that is at the frontier of knowledge which normally is an upper division class. Now let's have a discussion of the problem when teaching a lower division class. Some of these old ideas, such as distance, force, vectors, pH, stoichiometry, et cetera are extremely important and are required knowledge at any time so how can we make them fresh?

There is also the question of how deep one has to go? As we think about the knowledge necessary for a particular level. As one difficulty we have up to now is the lack of definition of what a 100 or 200 level courses are in college. So for the time being let's talk about these two levels as one category named "lower division". Let's start with defining the level of lower division as the one where basic nomenclature, basic historical connections, and basic parametric relationships are taught. From the pedagogical point of view there has been a change in recent years in the sequence of the way this concepts are introduced in class, it used to be (and in some cases still is) that teachers would start with defining terms, say in physics teachers would start with units. Now teachers following the active learning or guided inquiry learning methodology start by asking questions and along the way they introduced the vocabulary necessary for the discussion. This a pedagogical methodology that has been developed for a few years more so now with the help of the Internet where flipped learning is becoming more widespread.

With this in mind one can see how with the use of recent technologies like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi students can lear about information and communication technology by playing with these.

Can students use these "toys" to learn about physics, chemistry, or biology?