Saturday, March 19, 2011

Stop teaching calculating, start teaching chemistry

The blog post title is a slightly revision of the original title of Conrad Wolfram TED talk Stop Teaching Calculating, Start Teaching Math

Wolfram Demonstration Problems
Physical Chemistry
Chemical Kinetics 
Organic Chemistry
Inorganic Chemistry
General Chemistry


Janus J. Eriksen said...

Surely the art of 'good' teaching depends strongly upon the educational tools employed in the teaching but the human factor cannot be neglected. Professor Richard Feynmann (or 'the greatest science lecturer of all time') may be the best example to this.
The link below contains a number of lectures from 1979 given by Professor Feynmann using only chalk and a blackboard and you might wonder what he might have been capable of teaching-wise if he had had the ressources of today in his possesion.
As a note, the site also contains several other public lectures.

Jan said...

I agree that the "human factor" is very important. For example, if the teacher does not find the subject interesting, then the students won't either.

I think of this post as being related more to the problems we assign, than what we teach in lecture. Programs like Maple and the Wolfram Demonstration Problems allow us to assign more interesting problems.

Here's a quote from the preface of the Feynman Lectures on Physiscs:

"I don't think I did very well by the students. When I look at the way the majority of the students handled the problems on the examinations, I think that the system is a failure."

"I think one way we could help the students more would be by putting more hard work into developing a set of problems which would elucidate some of the ideas in the lectures. Problems give a good opportunity to fill out the material of the lectures and make more realistic, more complete, and more settled in the mind the ideas that have been exposed.

I think, however, that there isn't any solution to this problem of education other than to realize that the best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher—a situation in which the student discusses the ideas, thinks about the things, and talks about the things. It's impossible to learn very much by simply sitting in a lecture, or even by simply doing problems that are assigned."

Also, be sure to check out his Messenger Lectures

Steinmann said...

A very interesting video indeed!

I have a slightly provocative comment though:
Say everyone is taught by moving sliders to "optimize" or "locate" a solution, who will provide the next generations next-generation problems?

Jan said...

If I understand your question correctly this falls under the "hand calculating procedures teach understanding" objection.

Wolfram's answer (about 11:30 into the video), and mine, is teach programming.