To all business leaders, leaders of charitable organizations, philanthropists,
and everyone who is concerned about the current state of the STEM education and the educational reform.
The structure of this post (the parts of the past can be read in any order):
Page 1: a call for an action: Establishing a Coalition for Teaching Physics.
Pages 2 – 5: a detailed argument for “Why Physics is a Door into a STEM Education”.
Pages 6 - 7: a general argument for the need of a New Parading for Reforming a STEM Education.
Page 8: A brief summary about the author.
Dear Friends, Colleagues, Business and Social Visionaries,
Nowadays, business leaders and businesses of all levels are in a great need for highly qualified workforce (e.g. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/reports/2016/01/26/129547/a-look-at-the-education-crisis/).
That is why business leaders and businesses of all levels are calling for transforming current state of STEM education (e.g. http://www.stemx.us/2014/01/pharmaceutical-industry-issues-call-to-action-on-stem/).
Transforming STEM education requires a MoonShot approach!
The first step toward this goal is to be establishing
a Coalition for Teaching Physics,
which in the coming years should evolve into formally structured
an Institute for Teaching Physics,
which in the following years should evolve into
an Institute for Teaching STEM courses.
The immediate goal of this Coalition is to be gauging the current state of physics education at a middle- and high- school levels (starting from the number, level and quality of available physics courses).
At first, the members of the Coalition would develop the strategy for gathering and assessing all available data. Then all data would be collected and analyzed. In parallel with these steps, the member of the Coalition would be working on the improvement of the data processing strategies (in the future this experience will become available for the analysis of the state of school education within other STEM subjects).
Based on the results of the analysis the members of the Coalition will develop the strategy for improving the state of physics education (starting from a set of syllabi for courses available to students, programs for teacher professional development; incentives for becoming a physics teacher).
The ultimate goal of the Coalition is to reach the state of physics education when physics courses twill become available to all middle- and high- school students.
The measure of the success is to be the visible increase in the number of students entering STEM related fields, and succeeding in pursuing the corresponded careers.
The scope and the volume of the work, the timeframe of the project, the development and the use of the assessing strategies will eventually require a centralized management. That is why it is naturally to expect that, when started, the Coalition eventually will be institutionalized with the formation of a specific organization with a designated funding and a formal structure (“an Institute for Teaching Physics”).
NB: AAPT does NOT pronounce “Bringing Physics to All Students” as the goal of the association. In its current state AAPT represents a place for communication, inspiration, experience and ideas exchange, but it is NOT an agent for a societal change.
The search for the means to transforming STEM education is wide, and includes many different views. For example, fairly recently developing “Computational Thinking” and learning computer coding have been offered as possible instruments for attracting students into STEM related courses (before that Robotics was seen as an instrument for achieving the same goal, or interactive computer games, or building up engineering models, just to name a few).
Term “Computational Thinking” has become a new “buzz word” for many educators, government officials, policy makers, even businessmen. “Computational Thinking” enjoys a broad attention, an ideological and financial support from various levels of government and philanthropy.
In this letter, I want to present a detailed argument that – if we want to solve a bigger problem, which is low numbers of students entering STEM related professional fields – we have to turn to PHYSICS and use it as a door into a STEM education.
According to the Wikipedia: “Computational Thinking (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_thinking) is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out. Computational Thinking is an iterative process based on three stages: 1) Problem Formulation (abstraction), 2) Solution Expression (automation), and 3) Solution Execution & Evaluation (analyses)”.
Simply saying, a computational thinking has two parts: developing the solution of a problem (a.k.a. thinking, or reasoning), and coding (i.e. translating into computer operations) that solution using a language “understandable” by a computer.
The later part – computer coding – relies mostly on memorizing lines of computer commands (or, if using a high-level object oriented programming, memorizing a set of programming operations).
All intelligent people use a code – every day! When we read, we decode symbols (letters, words) into our internal meanings and feelings. When we write, we code our internal meanings and feelings into symbols (if you add algebra to reading and writing, you get another level of coding).
To demonstrate the importance of using a correct sequence of steps (i.e. an algorithm) to achieve a given goal (an important part of any logical thinking, including the algorithmic one), a teacher does not really need to teach how to code; a teacher can just offer a puzzle (for example, a mechanical one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_puzzle), or a practical problem (“how to boil a kettle of water?”; “how to put on a dress?”).
Imagine that you want to learn a foreign language, and you memorized the whole dictionary, so you can translate – both ways – any individual word. You still will not be able to read, or write, or talk, because you do not know how to compose a correct sentence – for that you also need to know the grammar of the language (and to practice). The exactly the same situation happens, if you learn all coding commands, but cannot develop a correct algorithm which represents the solution of a problem you need to solve. Trying to teach computer coding to students with underdeveloped reasoning abilities simply will not work.
That is why the first part of the definition of “computational thinking” – “formulating a problem and expressing its solution” – is the most important part of the “computational thinking” process.
And this is the part which is currently generally lacking in school education.
And this is the part, teaching of which requires the most of the effort of a teacher.
And this is the part which represents the type of a scientific thinking, which has a natural place and natural development WHEN STUDY PHYSICS!
(BTW: in such terms like “computational thinking”, or “scientific thinking, or “critical thinking”, etc. the most important part of a definition is “thinking”).
When learning how to solve ANY physics problem, a student – under the guidance of an experienced teacher – uses and develops his or her problem-solving abilities, which have a universal nature, or meta-nature (more on What does “thinking as a physicist” mean? at: http://teachology.xyz/sp.htm).
Everyone who learns physics, automatically develops the most important part of a “computational thinking” (which is - thinking!), and can easily learn computer coding – the opposite is just not true (this is the first reason for “WHY students need to learn physics”).
A large number of people still do not realize that nowadays physics is currently used far beyond just physics and engineering. It has entered many other professional practices including business, medicine, even sport.
Everyone who considers a career in a STEM related field, has to take physics, and the sooner it’s done the better (this is the second reason for “WHY students need to learn physics”). Physics will become a door into a STEM education for all students, especially for students from low income families.
Everybody CAN learn physics.
Everyone who knows a multiplication table, and can solve a quadratic equation can learned a high level of physics - like quantum gravitation (under a guidance of a professional teacher, and with the use of a certain time and effort). And everyone can get an A. Of course, different people may need different time and effort to get it, but everyone can succeed in a physics course. If someone tells a student that physics is hard, and he or she can’t learn it, that person is just not a good teacher.
It is essential that by the end of a physics course students had changed their perception of physics from “hard” to “perfectly doable”, and a perception of themselves from “I can’t do physics” to “I’m actually smarter than I thought!” (this is one of the indicators of good teaching; more at http://www.teachology.xyz/6LT.html).
People often say that to learn physics one has to be good at math. That’s not true. That’s another myth. To learn algebra based physics people need to know a simple, elementary, rudimentary mathematics available to everyone (starting from the 8th grade). Yearly stages of learning physics would practically not require almost any algebra at all.
As a school subject, physics is uniquely positioned as a bridge between an abstract world of mathematics and a real world of actual phenomena.
In a way, learning physics is similar to learning a foreign language. One needs to memorize a set of new words. One needs to be able to look around, to see things, to name those things, to classify those things and relationships between those things. Physics as a science is based on experiments, but when we learn physics most of the work is happening in our brain. We have to use the power of our mind to manipulate with different images, ideas, other abstract objects. That is why the most important tool for learning physics is imagination – like in reading and writing (and this tool is available to everyone).
When starting learning physics, a student follows the reasoning process which_ had been developed in the history of science (but streamlined, of course). That process had been proven to be a very efficient instrument for understating the world and making predictions. A student starts from utilizing everyday knowledge about material objects surrounding the student, and about observable processes happening to those objects. Following the steps of a scientific reasoning developed in physics a student acquires skills which can be applied in every professional field.
The third answer to “WHY school students need to learn physics” is: because it helps to advance reasoning skills (meta-skills). Because of that every middle and high school student needs to take a physics course (the scope and the level of that course might differ).
This is why I firmly believe that we all need to join our forces to promote the idea of
Physics as a Door into a STEM Education.
As an instrument for a practical realization of this idea, I propose to establish a Coalition for Teaching Physics, which in the coming years should evolve into an Institute for Teaching Physics, which in the following years should evolve into an Institute for Teaching STEM courses.
With establishing this entity, an institution (or a coalition of institutions, or a state) which will establish this entity the first, will take a leadership position in developing and bringing into a practice new innovative approaches to teaching physics, and through that – will lead to uplifting the state of STEM education at all levels.
Recently I have started holding discussions with various stakeholders at Boston University (where I work), and also contacting a number of officials, policy makers, business and social leaders. During our discussions, me have found a mutual agreement on the need for a broader state of teaching physics, and new approaches to introducing students to physics and STEM in general.
However, this is the first document where I introduce an idea of a “Coalition” as a vehicle for promoting and realizing this idea.
Dear Friends, Colleagues, Business and Social Visionaries,
I would appreciate an opportunity of having a meeting, where I could present with more details my views on a structure and functioning of such a Coalition.
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
http://www.teachology.xyz/6LT.html => This is “all” we know NOW about teaching
Nowadays, business and social leaders of all levels are in a great need for highly qualified workforce.
That is why business and social leaders of all levels are calling for transforming current state of STEM education (a typical example). However, everyone who is familiar with the history of education knows that similar needs and calls are nothing new. Since the first shock of the Russian Sputnik (1957) politicians, government officials, business leaders have been trying to transform STEM education to prevent the U.S. from losing its competitiveness (for instance, just check the list of corresponded federal and state laws).
A logical person should ask, why, despite all the efforts (and billions of dollars) the urgency in transforming STEM education hasn’t lowered?
The answer is actually simple. We live in a very different world than it was decades ago, but the discussion about education has not changed a bit. The decades-long battle can be summarized as a collision between “charter schools and merit pay” supporters vs. “we need job security and more resources” advocates.
I came in education from physics.
Physics had known a similar “clan vs. clan” collision. Close to a hundred years ago physics was in a crisis (like the current education is!!). Physicists debated if the newly discovered tiny objects are particles - just like tiny balls, or waves - like ones seen on the surface of a lake. Eventually the crisis had been resolved.
Turned out the question itself “is it a particle or a wave?” was just a wrong question
(like: “Who won Super Bowl on Mars in 1616?” - the question itself has no sense!).
The new microscopic objects (electrons, protons, neutrons, even atoms and molecules) were neither particles nor waves. To resolve the crisis scientists had to invent a completely new way of thinking about the nature.
Turned out that the old way of thinking, which perfectly worked for analyzing macroscopic phenomena, just could not be applied for analyzing the microscopic world.
A new paradigm had to be developed and be used to replace the old one.
The fact that decades of reformation still left education in a state that still needs serous reformation is a clear sign that the debaters need to seek a new paradigm, because, clearly, the current one does not really work.
Yes, there has to be a way to weed out teachers who are not good at teaching. Yes, there has to be a way to provide incentives to teachers who do a good job. But on the other hand, there is no evidence that a merit pay works. And on average only one in five charter schools visibly outperform public school in student learning outcomes “the majority do the same or worse” (http://www.teachology.xyz/cs.htm).
Continuing the debate and seeking the solutions using the old paradigm will NOT bring the so-needed changes in STEM education.
The history of business demonstrates that often a breakthrough in a certain technological field is brought by an outsider in the field (Netflix – as one of many examples); because sometimes only an outsider can envision something truly EXTRAordinary. Currently business and social leaders provide tremendous efforts to support STEM education by helping teachers with solving everyday professional problems. However, from a strategic point of view, the time has come for business and social leaders to drive the reformation of the way STEM education is currently being reformed. Business and social leaders (and everyone else who seeks new approaches to reforming education) – as the outsiders to the field of education – could and should generate the search for a NEW PARADIGM of the educational reform.
I would be happy to offer my view on the most important elements of the new paradigm.
If you would like to learn more, or to become a part of the force driving the reformation of the way education is currently being reformed, please, feel free to contact me and/or to set up a short meeting, or please pass this letter to your associates.
http://www.teachology.xyz/WNSF.html => this is what we fund NOW
I’ve been in education for many years. Since my graduation with my Masters in theoretical physics I’ve been teaching algebra based physics, calculus based physics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, even logic, and problem solving. During my teaching, I also have been studying teaching physics and math, problem solving strategies; helping teachers with teaching physics, math, and solving their professional problems; consulting administrators on the efficient managing of teaching. I had received a PhD in education with the concentration in teacher professional development. I have developed and taught courses to middle and high school teachers, and developed and taught a physics course for students with learning disabilities.
So, I know a thing or two about teaching, and I am good at that. My website GoMars.xyz provides all information about me. It also tells what my former students say about my teaching (http://www.teachology.xyz/evvv.html). This is the best proof any teacher can have of a good teaching (capital G, capital T). I’m pretty proud of this, considering that when I moved from Russia to Boston I couldn’t speak or understand any English (and had no support from any professional network). Today I teach and wright. I am very productive. I publish papers and even books (http://teachology.xyz/mathhealth/papers.htm#_SELECTED_CONFERENCES_AND).
The first time I realized that I was good at teaching was a long time ago. I was teaching physics to two-year college students. It was the first or second week of the course. The class had to solve some problems, and every student had to show the work to me. A girl was walking to me slouching and scared. She handed me her notebook. I looked at it. The solution was absolutely correct. I said “You are absolutely right, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be done”. Her face lightens up, she smiles, and she says “I wouldn’t ever think that I could solve a physics problem on my own.”
Since then every time when I begin teaching a new course, I look at my students, and I see an anxiety or even fear in many eyes. Based on my surveys, student feedback, and just everyday conversations with students, I know that many of them are scared of physics, they think physics is too difficult, and they can’t get a good grade in physics. That is why at the very beginning of every physics course I always tell my students “You can learn physics. Everybody can learn physics. Everyone who knows a multiplication table, and can solve a quadratic equation can learned physics!”. And most students do very well.
I want to finish this letter with a question “If everyone can learn physics, does it mean that everyone can teach it?” The answer is “No”. Why? For a short answer, I recommend to read the “Fundamental Laws of TeachOlogy” at: http://www.teachology.xyz/6LT.html. It takes just five minutes. For the full discussion please read my book “Becoming a STEM teacher” (available at Amazon).
And this exactly is why we all have a strong need in a specific Institution, which would lead the theoretical exploration and practical application of
Teaching Physics as a Door into STEM Education.
tags for this web page:
Education, education reform, innovations, education innovations, physics, STEM, teachers, teacher professional development, science, science of education, data mining, educational data mining, closing a gap, school innovation, school transformation, school district, superintendent of schools, charity, philanthropy, philanthropist, non-profit for education, charitable foundation, business for education, businesses for education, business leaders, for education, Mark Zuckerberg, Zuckerberg Chan foundation, Chan Zuckerberg initiative, Bill Gates, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Elon Musk, Yuri Milner, Warren Buffett, business for education, National Science Foundation, NSF.