Epicurean Physics

Two day. Spring seems to be ebbing rapidly into summer. Reminds me of Fort Leavenworth: Spring and Fall were the nicest two weeks of the year. Modal day at gym. Sparse population, no bullying weight bouncers, but the podcast episodes were not very sticky. Best that came through was a discussion of the risk of gene modification (of humans) proving to be detrimental several generations removed. Not sure I understand why if it’s due to a gene modification that the modification can’t be reversed. Or is this some hidden association with the collapse of civilization due to our mounting stupidity? Anyway the interviewee then poo-pooed the idea. 

This gave me occasion to think about other things. Part was my on-going effort to learn stochastic differential equations. Lots of math, little obvious physics yet. And consider an article [Link] I saw the other day about how students learn physics better if they get to feel it. The example given was the old gyroscopic motion demonstration using a swivel stool and a bicycle wheel. Seems this improves grades (statistically) by 0.07! 

Which is a whole lot smaller that the standard deviation among teachers of physics. 

In my day any student who wanted to touch could usually do so. The only people who didn’t sit on the stool and get dizzy were the uninterested, the Greeks, and those who suffered from motion sickness. Even the women participated. There were some things we had to just watch, mostly because of safety concerns which were a lot less in those days before litigation looniness. 

This makes me wonder how depraved college instruction must have become. We went to class – my biggest was a bit over a hundred students and that was introductory graduate quantum mechanics, my freshman physics class was about two-thirds of that – and lab and watched and felt simple experiments and demonstrations and took notes and went home and read the text and worked problems. So how much of that has changed? Evidently quite a bit. 

There is a bit of a conundrum in college physics lectures. The larger the class, the fewer the questions; the better the lecturer, the fewer the questions. So make the class big enough and you can’t tell how good the lecturer is. 

One of the problem is that if you don’t get something in lecture or get it wrong, and it isn’t rectified THEN, you are damned because you never can unlearn what you first learn. That’s why old STEMs are hopelessly out-of-date. 

What is it about the education process that the more we try to make it better the worse it gets?

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