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Effective Failure

On a recent edition of Scientific American’s excellent 60-Second Science podcast, they reported on a talk by theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in which he discussed the need to help students learn “how to fail effectively”.

In the real world, most problems are not solvable exactly, and there are many competing demands. And you have to often change course in the middle in order to meet sociological issues as opposed to technological ones. And it’s very difficult for us to implement that in our teaching. But I think we do a much better job and a much better service to our students if we try and teach our students to fail more effectively.

Something to think about as we enter the high-stakes standardized testing season.

A special world where every question has one (and only one) right answer and failure is banned by federal law.

Hands-On Learning

When I took introductory physics in college, it was in a large lecture hall with 300 or so other students and some guy lecturing down front.

It wasn’t much different at other universities, or in other freshman-level classes for that matter.

Now some institutions, including MIT, are rethinking that mass-produced approach to learning.

The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

M.I.T. is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

Of course, such an approach couldn’t possible work in K12 classrooms.

Students will just have to wait until they get to college to have “hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning”.

The End of the Universe

Come this Wednesday, pop some popcorn and pull up a computer. You can watch the world end, live via the interwebs.

On that day, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also know as CERN (derived from the original French name), is planning to flip the switch on the Large Hadron Collider, an immense physics project that some claim will create a black hole that swallows the Earth.

CERN will offer a live webcast of the event for your viewing pleasure.

You can bet the folks at Milliway’s will be watching. :-)

The Beauty of Physics

While there are a few who claim that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland could open up a black hole and swallow the Earth, most people in the world have never heard of it.

Large Hadron Collider

However, this collection of photographs offers a wonderful view into how this incredibly huge science project was constructed.

The pictures also make the device that will bring about the end of the world look downright beautiful.

All Science is Either Physics or Stamp Collecting

Last month I ranted about a teacher raising the possibility of the world being swallowed by a black hole created by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Europe.

However, with my last physics class more than a few years back, I didn’t have a good grasp of what the project is supposed to do much less why someone might be afraid of it on a cosmic level.

After watching the TED talk by Brian Cox, a “rock star physicist”, I have a somewhat better understanding of the science behind the Collider.

Actually, I had to watch it three times to reach that point. :-)

But I find the concepts fascinating. And the scale of the theories being investigated at CERN certainly add some humbling context to the everyday routine of life.

BTW, you’ll have to watch the video to understand where the title of this post came from.

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