Balancing a stick / lump of clay; commentary about teaching science

From: Nicholas Bodley (
Date: Wed Mar 28 2001 - 08:55:14 PST

The actual wording on your site implies that a specific material,
clay, is a class of objects/substances that includes electrical tape.
Not a big problem; more amusing than anything else.

More generally, this is a great site!


There's a problem in science teaching such as citing Bernoulli's
principle as an explanation for aerodynamic lift. (Balancing a ball
on an air stream...) Although I have a very good self-education in
physics, and understand how nearly everything works, Bernoulli's
principle has never been something I understood at all well on an
intuitive basis, and I'm not alone. (I'm sure that a few minutes with
a good physics teacher (there are still a few alive, btw) would
clarify this for me.)

I find intuitive understanding to be extremely important, in math, as
well. (I'll have a comment about quantum phenomena later!)

Science teaching seems often to cite a Famous Principle as an
explanation for something else, as in explaining lift from an
aircraft wing. The students are never permitted to say that they
don't understand the Famous Principle; whether or not they do seems
irrelevant (in badly-taught classes). (The teacher might not
understand, either!) Using one "non-understood labeled concept" as an
explanation for another phenomenon is cheating while teaching.

There also seems to be a rather uncomfortable similarity between
religious beliefs and frequently cited Holy Principles in science
teaching. While the principles of science are derived from tight
intellectual discipline as well as physical evidence, one might not
know that in poorly-taught science classes.

I adored the comment by one of my very few heroes, Dr. R.P. Feynman,
in which he told students about to learn about quantum mechanics,
that what they were about to learn was in many cases quite contrary
to common sense. He went on to say that if they let themselves get
hung up on that aspect, that they simply were not going anywhere.

Newtonian physics is a different story; with good explanation, it can
all make sense; just takes a while.

I really wonder how often Newton's Third law is really understood,
and how often misused where it doesn't apply.

No reply needed, btw. Keep up the good work!

Nicholas Bodley |@| Waltham, Mass.
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