Education and Science

Yesterday I had a discussion with a colleague about education. The University of Lyon started an experiment with a new pedagogical method: inverted class. Students prepare at home (lecture themselves) and the ‘lecture’ is there for questions and some small tests/exercises. In my bachelor a had a few all-day-long classes where you either prepped or studied in the first hour, and then the teacher would ask the group some questions, take a vote or demonstrate something to ensure everyone more or less understood the material.

I liked the course, and the inverted class sounds like a good idea. Even in the regular lectures where I found the time and will to prepare, the lectures were always much more pleasant. My colleague teaches and a sizable portion of student struggle with math. Making the connect between the symbolism of math and a real-world problem is not natural for many. It can be learned, but most don’t and many just get by. The two or three good professors I had, had one thing in common: they would not read out material, they would not dump a mathematical identity or proof on the blackboard; they would explain patterns, explain what class of physical problems map to what type of mathematics. At some point someone remarked that in physics often we study change, and then differential equations suddenly are an obvious tool. Such insights are what education is about, not dumping books or lectures onto students. I wish more professors would understand that the way they learned things, by intimidation, is not the best way for everyone for all time. It’s like with raising kids: some people think you need to be rough, for no other reason than that their parents were rough to them. NO! That is not how it works! You can look for better ways, after all, students evaluate such professors much better, and grades tend to be better as well. We’re scientists, and the scientific method applies to education (and parenting) too!