Skewing some of the comments on my last post are a couple of misunderstandings that seem worth going over in detail:
First, some have objected to my focus on the Philadelphia Inquirer article because its treatment of Etkina's physics instruction was, as with so many articles on education, inaccurate and superficial. As I explained to one commenter, however, the article is all most of those who are involved in k12 education are likely to encounter vis a vis Etkina's teaching. In other words, the article's inaccuracies doesn't detract from its nefarious influence. Many readers with their own influences over k12 education will come away thinking that the best way to teach physics is to completely avoid lecturing and direct instruction. And it is precisely this premise that I want to critique--because it is, at once, so problematic and (as anyone who knows anything current trends in k12 schools can attest) so influential.
Second, a few of the comments evince what I like to call the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle. While it is generally true that either X is true or "not X" is true, it's not true that either "never X" is true or "always X" is true. So when I say that it's bad to never stand up in front of a class and lecture and to only use "discovery" learning, I'm not saying that I believe teachers should always stand up in front and lecture and never use discovery learning.
One commenter who does recognize this "excluded middle" is Mr R., who twice attempted to post his remarks, which for some reason never made their way into the comments section:
As a second year physics teacher I am still trying to find thatThanks, Mr. R!
delicate balance between discovery (labs) and semi-lectures. I
sometimes wonder if that balance will vary for each group of students.
This would mean that there is never going to be a 'perfect' formula of
how much time should be used doing what :( If life could be as easy as
math and physics.
Having this said I see two major concerns using the 'only- discovery'
1) Time. We simply do not have the time to let students 'discover' all
the concepts, ideas, relationships, and formulas.
2) Related to the first is the problem of, as Noam Chomsky called it,
concision. This is an idea that the population is intentionally being
trained in not being able to understand complex and complicated
explanations or concepts.
Let's be honest with ourselves. How do most reseachers, and adults in
general, get information if not by reading - from lectures (listening->
processing-> developing). This is sometimes due to time but more often,
as in college, audience size. In a large society, people MUST be able
to understand and retain information from lectures.
When we don't lecture at all to our students or never require them to
retain any information from lectures, we are in effect training them to
not learn from lectures.
Without any evidence to support my claim, I believe that 12 years
of 'non-lecture' education will leave a student less competent at
understanding any lecture - physics or any other subject.
Sad is the day when there are no more lectures.