ABSTRACT: Mary Shepherd of the RUME list has called attention to David Bressoud's recent MAA “Launchings” columns (a) “Learning from the Physicists” [Bressoud (2012a)] at http://bit.ly/MrAuyZ, and (b) “Barriers to Change” [Bressoud (2012b)] at http://bit.ly/NkW9dE.
Unfortunately, Bressoud neglects to point out that the most important lesson mathematicians might learn from physicists is the advantage of discovering what instructional methods do and do not work by means of pre/post testing with Concept Inventories http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept_inventory - see e.g., “Lessons from the Physics Education Reform Effort” [Hake (2002) at http://bit.ly/aL87VT and “Bioliteracy and Teaching Efficiency: What Biologists Can Learn from Physicists” [Klymkowsky et al. (2003)] at http://bit.ly/9A1Arx. Pre/post testing with Concept Inventories has only recently been brought to math education by Jerry Epstein http://bit.ly/bqKSWJ with his “Calculus Concept Inventory.”
In my opinion, Bressoud is handicapped by the neglect of any mention of pre/post testing in his primary source “The Use of Research-Based Instructional Strategies in Introductory Physics: Where do Faculty Leave the Innovation-Decision Process?” [Henderson, Dancy, & Niewiadomska-Bugaj (2012)] at http://bit.ly/MWSxIU. The second sentence of their abstract reads: “Significant empirical research has shown that student learning can be substantially improved when instructors move from traditional, transmission-style instruction to more student-centered, interactive instruction [Bransford et al. (2000), Handelsman et al. (2004)].”
In referencing Bransford et al. (2000) and Handlesman et al. (2004)], Henderson et al. carry on the PER tradition of mindlessly dismissing the breakthrough research of Halloun & Hestenes (1985a) - see e.g. “The Initial Knowledge State of College Physics Students” http://bit.ly/b1488v (scroll down to “Evaluation Instruments”). As far as I know, that research constituted the first “significant empirical research [showing] that student learning can be substantially improved when instructors move from traditional, transmission-style instruction to more student-centered, interactive instruction.” Instead of emphasizing the preeminent role of PER in education research Henderson et al. erroneously imply that physicists simply followed the lead of cognitive scientists [Bransford et al. (2000)] and biologists [Handlesman et al. (2004)].
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Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles: http://bit.ly/a6M5y0
Links to SDI Labs: http://bit.ly/9nGd3M
“Physics educators have led the way in developing and using objective tests to compare student learning gains in different types of courses, and chemists, biologists, and others are now developing similar instruments. These tests provide convincing evidence that students assimilate new knowledge more effectively in courses including active, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning, assisted by information technology, than in traditional courses.”
- William Wood & James Gentile (2003).
REFERENCES [URL's shortened by http://bit.ly/ and accessed on 13 August 2012.
Hake, R.R. 2012. “What Mathematicians Might Learn From Physicists” online on the OPEN AERA-L archives at http://bit.ly/ROjN2T. Post of 13 Aug 2012 16:59:34 -0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to several discussion lists.
Wood, W.B. & J.M. Gentile. 2003. "Teaching in a research context," Science 302: 1510; 28 November; online to subscribers at