Thursday, March 19, 2009

Article: Learning and Scientific Reasoning

By Lei Bao, Tianfan Cai, Kathy Koenig, Kai Fang, Jing Han, Jing Wang, Qing Lu, Lin Ding, Lili Cui, Ying Luo, Yufeng Wang, Lieming Li, and Nianle Wu


I'm posting this excerpt in line with my last post about the purpose of Physics 1.

"The development of general scientific abilities is critical to enable students of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to successfully handle open-ended real-world tasks in future careers. Teaching goals in STEM education include fostering content knowledge and developing general scientific abilities. One such ability, scientific reasoning, is related to cognitive abilities such as critical thinking and reasoning. Scientific reasoning skills can be developed through training and can be transferred. Training in scientific reasoning may also have a long-term impact on student academic achievement... The results from this study are consistent with existing research, which suggests that current education and assessment in the STEM disciplines often emphasize factual recall over deep understanding of science reasoning...Relations between instructional methods and the development of scientific reasoning have...shown that inquiry-based science instruction promotes scientific reasoning abilities. The current style of content-rich STEM education, even when carried out at a rigorous level, has little impact on the development of students' scientific reasoning abilities. It seems that it is not what we teach, but rather how we teach, that makes a difference in student learning of higher-order abilities in scientific reasoning. Because students ideally need to develop both content knowledge and transferrable reasoning skills, researchers and educators must invest more in the development of a balanced method of education, such as incorporating more inquiry-based learning that targets both goals."

This excerpt from an article we read in 290 was sobering to me. I've always known what I needed to impart, but the question became: did I do it? Can I do it?
I see three major dilemmas that could make imparting the skill of scientific reasoning difficult.

1. Lack of conceptual foundations - tertiary level subjects are meant to develop these reasoning skills, right? But it is not easy to accomplish if the students are not equipped with the proper conceptual background. We can teach these concepts, but that takes time away from asking the more important questions: the whys and the hows. And these questions take time to answer!
2. Language barrier - Our books are in English. Our students speak Filipino. Our exams are in English. Our students think in Filipino. Our science is in English. Our lives are in Filipino. 'Nuff said. Bow.
3. Teacher factor - I tend to forget the important question when I am writing out lectures: What do my students need to learn? Oftentimes, I forget that this is infinitely more important than What do I need to finish discussing? Most teachers focus more on the syllabus they created rather than the students they are teaching. I'm guilty of rushing lectures to finish the subject coverage only to saturate the learning curve of most of my students. If only for this, I owe my students an apology.

But still, here's to hoping against hope that I imparted some skills to my students.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Melancholy of Ma'am Kristine: Reminiscing

A Short Story, a Long Entry

When I graduated, two things were clear: (1) I want to teach, and (2) I was not going to teach in UP Diliman. For personal reasons which I would rather not discuss, I decided that the only way I would work in UP was if I were to become a researcher. And so I am. But what about teaching?

In some strange alternate universe, I could be a Pulitzer Prize winner or a Broadway star. But closer to the current reality--if things had gone just a bit differently (ie. I chose to work on my thesis instead of going to Europe with my mom) my first job would have been at an exclusive school for boys. While I was accepted despite the fact that I had yet to graduate, the interview with the head honchos, mostly comprised of a bunch of priests, turned me off a bit.

Priest : You want to become a teacher here? This is a Catholic school exclusive for boys.
Eia : I’m aware of that, father.
Priest : You’re young and beautiful, what would you do if one of the students courts you?
Eia : I would reject him. I am their teacher, after all. It wouldn’t be right or professional.
Priest : But what if they’re insistent and give you gifts?
Eia : My answer would depend on the gifts, of course.

(Eia is politely shown the office door.)

Eia : Humorless old man, can’t even take a joke.

Fine, so I really didn’t do that (like I'd have the courage to). Of course I answered politely and let them hear what they wanted to hear. But, seriously, the thought that I would have to face off with a bunch of hormonal teenage boys twice my size every single day brought to mind images of naughty videos and ecchi manga. And two years ago, unlikely as they were, those images were daunting.

Now, it was shortly after that interview that I realized I didn’t want to work in a high school. Despite that, on a whim, I sent my resume to my alma mater. Of course, the person in charge of screening applicants just had to be Mrs. Cobblepot (as in the Penguin, Cobblepot, Pisay graduates would understand) whose only memory of me was that she never saw me in her year 3 science research class (7:30AM is an unholy hour for a class).

Mrs. C : Nag-aapply kang teacher? Dito sa Pisay?
Eia : Opo.
Mrs. C : May TOR ka?
Eia : (hands in TOR) Heto po.

(Mrs. C laughs hysterically)

Mrs. C : Nag-aapply kang teacher? Dito? Sa Pisay?
Eia : Ma'am, yun na po ba ang punchline?

Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration of what happened, but you get the picture. I was never a stellar student. Some places like to look at grades. End of story. And, to be honest, if I had been accepted, I would have hesitated taking the job. I hated that place when I was a student, and I wouldn’t be in my right mind if I chose to go back. The intense competition and the drama that results from pushing angst-ridden smart kids too hard is really not my cup of tea. Let them grow up before they face me.

And so, I decided to teach college students. Because I didn't want to work in Ateneo and found DLSU to be too far away from my current world. It was during a my dad's childhood friends' Christmas reunion that PLP was brought up. They told me I should try to apply there. A lot of people offered to help me get in I consistently replied “Thanks. I'll think on it”. After half a year of thinking, I got into a tricycle and was on my way. Or, at least, I was almost on my way.

Eia : Kuya, sa Pasig University po.
Driver : Saan yun?
Eia : Malapit lang daw po e.
Driver : Saan nga?
Eia : Sundan daw po natin yung mga sign.

After a few minutes of discussing, the driver finally agreed to take me to “Pasig University” (note to self: not even tricycle drivers can get you to your destination if you don't know where it is). He nearly brought me to another university had I not seen the sign near McDo directing people to Alcalde Jose. But, I eventually reached PLP. I went to the HRD. I submitted my resume and the rest is history.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Four Golden Lessons : Advice to Students at the Start of their Scientific Career

Another Physics 290A article. It's a nice article that tells us even those who are as accomplished as the author, Steven Weinberg (Nobel Laureate in Physics) struggled at some point.

This article was taken from Nature. It was published in 2003, but many of you should be able to pick something up from this.

Scientist : Four Golden Lessons

by Steven Weinberg

When I received my undergraduate degree — about a hundred years ago — the physics literature seemed to me a vast, unexplored ocean, every part of which I had to chart before beginning any research of my own. How could I do anything without knowing everything that had already been done? Fortunately, in my first year of graduate school, I had the good luck to fall into the hands of senior physicists who insisted, over my anxious objections, that I must start doing research, and pick up what I needed to know as I went along. It was sink or swim. To my surprise, I found that this works. I managed to get a quick PhD — though when I got it I knew almost nothing about physics. But I did learn one big thing: that no one knows everything, and you don't have to.

Another lesson to be learned, to continue using my oceanographic metaphor, is that while you are swimming and not sinking you should aim for rough water. When I was teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s, a student told me that he wanted to go into general relativity rather than the area I was working on, elementary particle physics, because the principles of the former were well known, while the latter seemed like a mess to him. It struck me that he had just given a perfectly good reason for doing the opposite. Particle physics was an area where creative work could still be done. It really was a mess in the 1960s, but since that time the work of many theoretical and experimental physicists has been able to sort it out, and put everything (well, almost everything) together in a beautiful theory known as the standard model. My advice is to go for the messes — that's where the action is.

My third piece of advice is probably the hardest to take. It is to forgive yourself for wasting time. Students are only asked to solve problems that their professors (unless unusually cruel) know to be solvable. In addition, it doesn't matter if the problems are scientifically important — they have to be solved to pass the course. But in the real world, it's very hard to know which problems are important, and you never know whether at a given moment in history a problem is solvable. At the beginning of the twentieth century, several leading physicists, including Lorentz and Abraham, were trying to work out a theory of the electron. This was partly in order to understand why all attempts to detect effects of Earth's motion through the ether had failed. We now know that they were working on the wrong problem. At that time, no one could have developed a successful theory of the electron, because quantum mechanics had not yet been discovered. It took the genius of Albert Einstein in 1905 to realize that the right problem on which to work was the effect of motion on measurements of space and time. This led him to the special theory of relativity. As you will never be sure which are the right problems to work on, most of the time that you spend in the laboratory or at your desk will be wasted. If you want to be creative, then you will have to get used to spending most of your time not being creative, to being becalmed on the ocean of scientific knowledge.

Finally, learn something about the history of science, or at a minimum the history of your own branch of science. The least important reason for this is that the history may actually be of some use to you in your own scientific work. For instance, now and then scientists are hampered by believing one of the over-simplified models of science that have been proposed by philosophers from Francis Bacon to Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper. The best antidote to the philosophy of science is a knowledge of the history of science.

More importantly, the history of science can make your work seem more worthwhile to you. As a scientist, you're probably not going to get rich. Your friends and relatives probably won't understand what you're doing. And if you work in a field like elementary particle physics, you won't even have the satisfaction of doing something that is immediately useful. But you can get great satisfaction by recognizing that your work in science is a part of history.

Look back 100 years, to 1903. How important is it now who was Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1903, or President of the United States? What stands out as really important is that at McGill University, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy were working out the nature of radioactivity. This work (of course!) had practical applications, but much more important were its cultural implications. The understanding of radioactivity allowed physicists to explain how the Sun and Earth's cores could still be hot after millions of years. In this way, it removed the last scientific objection to what many geologists and paleontologists thought was the great age of the Earth and the Sun. After this, Christians and Jews either had to give up belief in the literal truth of the Bible or resign themselves to intellectual irrelevance. This was just one step in a sequence of steps from Galileo through Newton and Darwin to the present that, time after time, has weakened the hold of religious dogmatism. Reading any newspaper nowadays is enough to show you that this work is not yet complete. But it is civilizing work, of which scientists are able to feel proud.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lyrics Trip: Out of my League by Stephen Speaks

LSS of the week. Not that I'm complaining. I love this song. For some reason, it makes me smile. Aside from the lovely piano introduction, maybe it's a twisted fantasy of mine that someone somewhere is singing this song for me. Not that Ivan would be caught dead humming this cheese-fest(and, for the record, dear to my heart, I'm definitely not out of your league).


It's her hair and her eyes today
That just simply take me away
And the feeling that I'm falling further in love
Makes me shiver but in a good way

All the times i have sat and stared
As she thoughtfully thumbs through her hair
And she purses her lips, bats her eyes as she plays,
with me sitting there slack-jawed and nothing to say

Coz I love her with all that I am
And my voice shakes along with my hands
Coz she’s all that I see and she’s all that I need
And I'm out of my league once again

It's a masterful melody when she calls out my name to me
As the world spins around her she laughs, rolls her eyes
And I feel like I'm falling but it's no surprise

Coz I love her with all that I am
And my voice shakes along with my hands
Coz it's frightening to be swimming in this strange sea
But I'd rather be here than on land

Yes she's all that I see and she's all that I need
And I'm out of my league once again

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lyrics Trip: 68 Dr. Sixto Antonio Ave. by Eraserheads

I've known about the song for years. I don't know why I sought it out, now. It's an interesting lyric. I wish I knew where this place really was.


Isang pulis na nangingikil
Upang may pambili ng beer
Bisikletang paru-paro
Animnapu't walo
Sumemplang sa kanto

Pag may bagyo'y lunod sa luha
Nagbabaha sa kalsada
Isang gabing maulan
Aking napagmasdan

Dalawang nakaitim
Isang may hawak na patlim
May galit ang kanyang mukha
Sa pagkidlat ay nawala
Nangyari ay ano kaya

(voiceover first 2 stanzas)

68 dr. sixto antonio ave
Hulog ka ng Langit
Gumising ka na

Isang bulag na motorista
May nabaril sa kalsada
Masagi na ang lola
Huwag lang daw ang auto niya
Lakas tumawa

Tuloy-tuloy ang panaginip
Maghihintay na lang ng jeep
Nakakabulag ang ilaw
Libu-libong sumisigaw
Lumipad ang araw

Di mo na napapansin
Mga naghuhukay sa dilim
Araw-araw, buwan-buwan
Sumisikip na ang daan
Wala ka nangg mapuntahan

Wala ka nang mapuntahan
Hindi malaman kung saan
'Di ko malaman kung saan