FEd April 1996 Newsletter - Letters

April 1996



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Using Physical Science as an Effective Tool to Help Us Better Educate Individuals Versus Group Processing

To the Editor:

Improvement in the quality of education will be a major factor in determining our future as a nation. What are we willing to do in the U.S. to really improve education, and particularly science education? What are we failing to do that should be done? Various studies on education have indicated that America's children received a better education fifty years ago than they do today. If education did a better job in the past, what has caused the deterioration of education to its present condition? What are the real basics which play a part in becoming educated? That which determines more than anything else whether or not an individual is going to succeed as a student depends on the individual's eagerness to learn and the individual's willingness to be completely involved in doing what needs to be done, and this is typically closely associated with strong family life and parental concern.

We need to keep in mind that gifted students who are truly motivated to learn will succeed no matter what type of support is given by the educational system. Therefore, evaluation of improvement in the educational process must be determined by the progress shown by average and below-average students. These are the students who need more motivation and more individual help. I believe that one of the keys is that each student must be taught according to his or her ability within the framework of what needs to be achieved in each grade level. Eagerness to learn is greatly enhanced when students have the opportunity to investigate and find out for themselves. Future success in any type of human endeavor depends mostly on what a student continues to do on his or her own time in addition to what is required at school. This effort is strengthened when there is an eagerness to learn. We need to eliminate the practice of equalization, the mass processing of all students according to a model of what has been determined as the level of the average student's capability. This method ignores the different abilities and interests of students and provides a mediocre and limited type of education for students. Over the last three decades or so, students have become adept at memorizing and passing tests but haven't developed, as they should, their ability to think or to write. As a result, these students are not prepared to function at the college or university level and are also limited in terms of being able to function properly in society. In many cases, the memorization syndrome is continued and even enhanced in universities and colleges.

Many of my physical science colleagues at BYU have told me that in the last few years more and more of their students lack the ability to think and write properly, and they try to get by through memorizing what is needed to pass tests. The over emphasis in public schools, and in many instances in universities and colleges, on passing tests, usually accomplished by memorization, has had a debilitating effect on learning science, especially physics. Many professors have seen a need to reduce and simplify what they require of their students now because the students don't have the capability to do what has been done in the past. Emphasis must be placed on the need to educate individuals instead of educating by group processing so that each individual learns how to think and is able to report orally or in writing what he or she has learned.

I believe that physical science teachers at all levels of education have the opportunity to be primary catalysts in this process, because physical science courses, more than any other basic courses, provide numerous opportunities for students to investigate and learn for themselves. Physical science courses provide hands-on experience with the opportunity to express orally and in writing what has been observed and what it may mean. We must take full advantage of these opportunities to help our students think for themselves and optimize their individual potentials.

Alvin K. Benson
Department of Geophysics and Geology
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

Communication Skills

To the Editor:

I have been motivated, reading the summer issue of the FEd, to give some reflections about the problem of the so-called "communication skills" of physicists. For 28 years I have been professor of the Faculty of Physics at the University of Havana, Cuba and I have worked with other colleagues conceiving the curriculum of Physics. I can say that in our experience we make an effort to develop the skills in our students to communicate their results, because research work, participation in seminars, and in scientific events have an important weight in the curriculum. And we really reach the desired result in this way.

Nevertheless, I agree that there is a lack in our professionals if we talk about the "social communication skills" and I wonder what we can do in order to obtain that our students are more open and interacting with the surrounding social media. I consider that these are precisely the communication skills that we need to improve in our students in order to have in the future a physics community which will be more closely related with the society, as other professionals are now. My opinion is that we must include in the curriculum some courses dealing with relations between people, management, etc.

I ask you to include this letter in your next issue, because I would like to exchange experiences and opinions with other colleagues of the Forum on Education and of the APS in general. I will receive any opinion with pleasure.

Prof. Jose Marin-Antuna
Faculty of Physics
University of Havana
San Lazaro y L.
Habana-4, Cuba
Phone: (537) 783266, (537) 701506, or (537) 786150
Fax: (537) 333758 or (537) 335774.
email: vrd@comuh.uh.cu