A lesson from physics: Even lucid lectures on abstractions don’t work

March 15, 2012 at 8:43 am 3 comments

I used Arnold Arons’ work a lot when I did my dissertation, so I particularly liked this quote from a recent Richard Hake post.  There are direct implications for us in CS, where just about everything (from FOR loops to linked lists) are abstract ideas.  Lectures, even lucid ones on these topics, don’t work for most students.

“I point to the following unwelcome truth: much  as we might dislike the implications, research is showing that didactic exposition of abstract  ideas and lines of reasoning (however engaging and lucid we might try to make them) to passive  listeners yields pathetically thin results in learning and understanding – except in the very small percentage of students who are specially  gifted in the field.”
Arnold Arons (1997)

REFERENCES [URL’s shortened by <http://bit.ly/> and accessed on 06 March 2012.] Arons, A.B. 1997. “Teaching Introductory
Physics,” p. 362. Wiley, publisher’s information  at <http://bit.ly/jBcyBU>. Amazon.com information at <http://amzn.to/bBPfop>, note the searchable  “Look Inside” feature.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Darrin Thompson  |  March 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

    What does he mean by a “lucid” lecture?

  • 3. mrstevesscience  |  March 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    So my Arnold Arons quote that I think about and struggle to apply is:
    “Experience with learning difficulties encountered by students in introductory science courses suggests the existence of a number of basic patterns (or processes) of thinking and reasoning. . .[see
    below]. . . which underlie almost all learning and understanding. It is my conviction that helping students become explicitly conscious of those patterns, and giving them repeated opportunity to practice and exercise such modes of thought in successive, different contexts of subject matter, greatly enhances their grasp of concepts and principles as indicated by gradually improving ability to analyze physical phenomena and to make predictions in new and altered situations. In other words, helping students cultivate reasoning processes such as those to be
    described in this paper increases their capacity to learn still more. . . .It must be emphasized, however, that repetition is an absolutely essential feature of such instruction – repetition not with the same exercises or in the same context but in continually altered and enriched context. . .
    Experience with the modes of reasoning I will be illustrating . . . [see below] . . . must be spread out over weeks and months (Mr Steve asks: and years?) and must be returned to in new contexts after the germination made possible by elapsed time. Starting with only a few students being successful, each repetition or re-cycling sees an additional percentage of the class achieving success, usually a leveling off somewhat below 100% of the total after approximately five cycles. . . . [According to Jim Minstrell (private comunication), Arons calls his 5-cycle rule the “rule of hand,” rather than the “rule of thumb.”]. . . (These are empirical facts which I have observed but for which I have no explanation.)

    From Richard Hake’s paper on the found here: http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake/AronsAdvMeth-8.pdf

    (side note: how can I markup my comments and preview them? I have a lot of trouble getting things right the first time and bold for emphasis would have been useful here)



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