“Physics as a Door into STEM Education”
This presentation was a part of a seminar held at Boston University on January 17th, 2017.
This link leads to a 9-minute video highlights of the talk:
This link leads to a 1-hour video of the whole presentation:
The presentation was also streamed live via Periscope
The short video has had in two dyas more than 40 views.
1. Hello, and welcome to Boston University!
2. I'm Valentin Voroshilov.
First, a standard disclaimer.
I have no formal education in English, I learned it mostly from radio and TV.
If at any point you start feeling that I speak Russian, just stop me.
And, of course, feel free to ask any questions.
All information about me you can find on my website www.GoMars.xyz
3. This event is being streamed. I use Periscope, Facebook, and also a regular camera.
I’m a paranoid about technologies. I always need a backup. And a backup for the backup.
The slides, all the links, and the video will be posted online.
If anyone is watching now, please email me your questions or suggestions.
Please note that what you see on your screen is about 30 to 90 seconds behind of what is happening in the room.
4. According to my estimation, my talking time should be close to an hour.
However, during the presentation, we will also make fours short stops for polling, and one stop to solve a problem.
5. Our main topic today is the role of physics in STEM education.
The goal is to find out what is so special about physics?
But first, we need to talk about STEM education in general.
What is so special about STEM education? Then we can focus on the place of physics in it.
6. This is our first stop. The first polling question.
For online users, it is available at www.GoMars.xyz/stop1.htm
Please, read and select your answer.
You just need to press a button on your clicker, and it should blink green.
And, of course, feel free to share your thoughts, especially if you pressed 8.
My answer comes in several slides.
“I’ll keep in suspense.”
There is no right or wrong answer. There is an answer I like the most, there is an answer you like the most.
The fact that we have a distribution proves that different people have different views on the matter.
If I asked you to select the correct statement of the Newton’s Second Law (how does the sound?) – we would have a unanimous answer. But in education we always have a variety of views.
What do we do about it?
I will have a slide about it, as well.
7. First, I want to offer my logic.
I find very interesting to learn what business community says about STEM education. After all, those people are the consumers of STEM education!
If you go to the Massachusetts Business Roundtable web-site, you can find many interesting documents, including a 2016 report, which says … this.
“Currently 75 % of MA employers find workers NOT ready for the tasks they need to do.”
8. This is why 8 years ago, in 2009, MBRT established two very specific goals:
One of which is “Double the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees by 2020”.
9. In 2013 a similar goal has been established by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.
10. If we use a linear extrapolation between 2009 and the goal set for 2020, we see the projections for 2013 and 2016.
However, no report has 2013 and 2016 Massachusetts numbers.
And by the way, documents are also not clear, if the graduates are born in Massachusetts, or in the US, or the number also includes graduates with foreign origins.
And that makes a difference.
11. I found some national data which shows that the growth in STEM bachelors comes mostly due to foreign students.
The main concern expressed in many papers is not the fact that the US does not generate enough STEM graduates,
but that graduates of foreign origins cannot stay in the US after the graduation.
12. The New England Economic Partnership has some numbers on community colleges and state universities, and makes this statement.
If we had data on ALL Massachusetts STEM graduates, I bet, the numbers would be lower than projected.
13. All official documents on STEM education may have a lot of statistics, and good ideas, but miss one important question.
14. “Why DON’T students go into STEM education?”
Trying to attract people into STEM without answering this questions, is
like trying dating without asking “Why all girls leave me after the first date?”
15. I want to narrow this question down to “What do students try to avoid by NOT going into STEM education?” to make it as specific as possible:
16. And this is out second stop.
Please, use your clicker again to select an answer!
And feel free to share your thoughts.
And again, we have a distribution, again – no unanimous answer.
17. I want to present my answer gradually.
First, we know that professionals in the same professional area usually have something in common.
If you go into sport and want to become an athlete, you have to be strong.
If you go into arts – you have to be able to express your feelings to others.
What tools do you use depends on your choice: your voice, of gestures, paint, or clay.
18. What do all people willingly entering STEM education have in common?
19. “Willingly” is an important word.
We cannot force students into taking STEM courses, like Russia and China do.
We want to help students want to study STEM.
20. If we know what general feature do all STEM people share, we can use it to attract people into STEM.
21. The clue is in the definition of STEM. STEM fields include various types of sciences.
22. Science is the common denominator for all STEM–related fields. Among four letters S T E M, letter S represents the most important part of it.
23. Now we can answer this question.
“What do students try to avoid by NOT going into STEM education?”
They try to avoid doing science.
24. “Why DON’T students go into STEM education?” => They don’t want to do SCIENCE!
25. But, “Why DON’T students want to do SCIENCE!
26. Well, this out third stop.
The question again – do we have a distribution?
27. My answer is – because they are scared.
Because they are afraid to get low grades and fail.
28. I am not alone in this assessment.
There is no solid statistical data on the matter, but people write about it.
This piece is about college students. We really just need the title.
Why science majors change their minds? It’s just so darn hard.
29. There is another one - also about college students, but makes some inferences about schools. And the general conclusion is again:
“Science is too hard”
30. But, why is science so scary? What does make it so hard?
The answer depends on our definition of “science”?
31. This is our fourth stop.
32. Good thing about living in 2017, we don’t have to know things. We can just Google!
If you Google “what is science” you’ll get about 1,250,000,000 results in less than a second.
This is the top Google search result. You can also find similar statements in many textbooks.
But, what does it really mean?
33. In simple words, according to this definition:
science is a human activity (not for animals) – to be practical;
requires doing something like watching or actually acting,
requires doing it on a regular basis, like every day (to be systematic);
and also, requires some thinking (to be intellectual).
Can we use this definition?
34. Not really.
This definition helps to separate working people from lazy people.
However, this definition does not allow to separate science from a religion, or art, or sport.
35. There is another approach to a definition of science: practical.
This is what we know about science.
The mission of science is making predictions. The functioning of science is based on searching for patterns.
Pattern description and pattern recognition is based on data analysis. In similar circumstances, we expect to observe similar patterns.
Those circumstances we call conditions, and they represent a part of the pattern.
36. Based on this knowledge, the best definition of science is not a descriptive, like offered in many textbooks, but a prescriptive, or operational.
The key elements of science are data, patterns, and predictions.
37. Of course, you don’t have to use my definition of science. This knowledge, like any knowledge, is just a tool for organizing our professional practice.
It is like a hammer for a carpenter: use it while it works, replace it with something better if it stops working.
By the way, in terms of teaching science we need to start from the most clear and practical definition of it, so students could become confident in their ability to do science, and then gradually move to the higher level understanding of the nature of science.
38. Which brings us to the last stop.
For this stop we will need a volunteer, a scientist, who will solve a problem by thinking out loud.
This is a very old problem. If anyone knows the solution, please don’t say a word!
One person should start thinking out loud, no need to come over, just start saying every thought every word coming to mind.
Also, you can ask me any questions.
I will be keeping the track of the problem-solving process.
If you were my students I could entice you by offering an extra credit. For you I can offer only a free visit to your class.
39. This is the problem we need to solve.
I love this problem.
The first time when I had to solve it, I did it exactly same way – by thinking out loud.
But it was about 20 years ago.
Do not touch switch one.
Turn on switch 2 and wait until the bulb might get hot.
Turn off switch 2, turn on switch 3 and run into the next room.
If the bulb is on => switch 3.
If the bulb is off – touch it: if it is hot => switch 2.
Otherwise => switch 1!
41. How did we solve this problem?
We used a specific way of thinking!
The structure of the reasoning process, the rules of engagement, thinking patterns
replicate the reasoning we use in every scientific investigation.
To solve this problem, we used a scientific way of thinking!
42. Let’s go over the structure of the scientific way of thinking one more time.
At first, we see many different things, we call them objects, we use nouns to name those objects, we use our index finger to point at those objects.
There might be many objects to point at.
We have to make a decision, which objects are important for this situation?
That is the first – the simplest classification we need to make.
43. Then we need to say something about those objects. First, about some internal properties.
A property of a switch is to be on or off.
The bulb can be dark or bright.
The bulb also can be cheap or expensive; manufactured in China or in the US.
It can be hot or cold.
We can list many properties. And again, we need a classification: in this case - very simple:
What’s important and what’s not.
44. The next step is to talk about changes – actual or possible.
We need to say something about evolution of the objects and their properties.
Basically, we answer a question – what is or might be happening?
45. Each process has its own properties.
Motion can be fast or slow. Glowing can be dim or bright.
46. To describe properties of objects and processes we use parameters:
Such as temperature, speed, brightness.
And for each parameter we can assign some values, like miles per hour, Degrees, Lumens.
Well, since this problem was simple, we didn’t have to calculate anything, so we did not use any specific values.
47. However, to solve even this simple problem, we had to use our knowledge about specific patterns.
We used a correlation between a switch being off, and a bulb connected to the switch being off.
We used a correlation between a switch being on, and a bulb connected to the switch being on.
By the way, in science a stable, reliable patter has a name. We call it a law!
48. And finally, using all our knowledge, we need to establish the correct procedure for achieving the goal.
If we didn’t know some of the important properties or patterns, we would have to discover them first, and then to solve the problem.
49. This is how science works. Any science.
When we need to solve a scientific problem, we have to use a scientific way of thinking.
50. Teaching science without
teaching a scientific way of thinking
THAT what makes it so hard that students give it up.
51. The ultimate goal of ANY STEM subject is developing a scientific way of thinking.
Specific subject-related knowledge is a “collateral gain” of a science course.
We will never be able to attract students into STEM if we treat science courses as a basket of random facts.
We have to treat all science courses as a way for developing a scientific way of thinking.
52. Now I want to make my last “stop” in my presentation. This time is not for a question, or a problem to solve. This time I want to make a statement.
This is the summit, the peak, the apogee, the pinnacle of this presentation.
53. Among all school subjects, physics is the best suited for the development of a scientific way of thinking – if it is properly taught.
54. Hence. Among all school subjects, physics (if it is properly taught) is the best suited for the attracting students into STEM education.
55. “Properly Taught” means – using the scientific way of thinking.
56. All pathways into STEM-related fields need to go through physics.
The reason for that is not related to what people learn, but HOW!
It is not about study rocks, or wires, etc. It is about learning to think scientifically about rocks, or wires, etc.
Well, I could have stopped just here,
but I still have to say something “bad” about all other subjects, haven’t I (this is a joke – of course)?
57. The subject which is the closest to physics is Robotics. No doubt, Robotics helps to excite kids about science. However, in terms of developing a scientific way of thinking, Robotics does not provide the same opportunities as physics does. It is more of a hands-on activity, than a scientific investigation. Advance levels of Robotics represent engineering, and require already solid knowledge of physics.
58. When students have the first encounter with physics they deal with objects and process they already know – falling rocks, moving cars, etc.
Chemistry or biology do not provide enough practical material which students can use as a basis for developing logical reasoning, at least not as much as physics does.
Almost every chemistry course starts from talking about mass, density, energy – which is physics; then it talks about atoms and molecules – which are tiny invisible abstract objects connected by forces (which is physics), acting like small balls (again physics).
59. Lately, “computer coding” and “computational thinking” have become buzz words and gained significant support from officials and philanthropists.
There is nothing wrong with it.
But people need to understand that computational thinking is – first of all – a thinking.
Computational Thinking is a combination of reasoning and coding.
60. Physics is a combination of Reasoning and Mathematics.
Physics and computational thinking share “thinking” as the central part. But in physics students deliberately learn a scientific way of thinking. Computational thinking requires already developed reasoning skills.
Everyone who learns physics, automatically develops the most important part of a “computational thinking” (which is - thinking!), and can easily learn computer coding – the opposite is just not true.
Now we need to talk about math.
61. There is a common misconception that to learn physics one has to be good at math. That is a myth.
There are much more difficult things to learn.
For example, for most people to learn how to solve a problem about walking a rope (http://teachology.xyz/general_algorithm.htm) would be much easier and faster than to learn how to actually walk a rope.
62. That perception, that myth about math, that to do physics you have to be good at math, scares many students away from taking physics.
If we look around and everyone tells us “Physics is hard, it’s only for chosen ones, you have to know a lot of math” we are not going to even try it,
because most people don’t try if they expect to fail.
63. On the contrary, taking physics will help students get better at math.
What do students hate the most in math courses? Word problems.
But to solve word problem we have to use the exactly same scientific way of thinking we used to solve the problem about a bulb.
64. Physics is uniquely positioned as a bridge between an abstract world of mathematics and a real world of actual phenomena.
Everybody CAN learn physics – if it is properly taught.
Everyone who knows a multiplication table, and can solve a quadratic equation can succeed in a physics.
65. Nowadays, learning physics is also important because it has entered many other professional practices including business, medicine, sport.
Everyone who considers a career in a STEM-related field, will have to take physics.
This is a practical reason why students need physics.
Remember the question for STOP1? “What is so special about STEM education?”
My answer is: because all STEM courses are based on a scientific way of thinking, which stems from physics.
66. The first problem with current way of teaching physics is structural.
Starting physics in 11th or even 9th grade is just too late. It demands to much work over a short period of time.
Which again is another reason WHY many students avoid physics.
The sooner students start taking physics, the more confident they will feel in the future when thinking about going into a STEM related field.
The best approach would be structuring or stretching at least the same amount of the material over a longer period of time, starting physics in the 7th grade.
67. But the most important reason for starting physics yearly is related to the process of a brain development.
A brain develops in a way similar to the development of regular body muscles. It needs many different exercises.
If the only exercise students had been doing for twelve years is squats, they will not be good at push-ups and pull-ups.
Similarly, if all students had to do for twelve years was memorizing facts and rules, we cannot expect from them an ability to think.
And physics – when properly taught – is the best tool for developing reasoning skills.
68. If we want to move the needle in STEM education, we need to make sure that by 2020 every middle and high school student could take physics.
This task is achievable.
However, it requires fighting a huge amount of a social inertia among teachers, school and district officials, policy makers, business community.
We cannot achieve this goal by just reasoning. This is not a scientific project.
69. In general, there are three kinds of human practices or projects: (a) a scientific research; (b) engineering and art.
70. And there are social projects:
The goal of a social project is to change the existing social structure.
No person can do it alone.
A social change can be achieved only by a group!
That is why everyone who believes in this goal should join forces, should form a team, or an association.
Please, let me know if you are interested.
71. Thank you for your participation!
We are almost done.
72. This is the summary of the talk.