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Archive for November 10th, 2008

Carl Wieman lecture

For those readers in the Vancouver area, here is a chance to get to know the Carl Wieman initiative, one of the most interesting developments in UBC the last few years (yeah, it’s easy to forget, but UBC is not only about building fancy condos). Carl is an atomic physicist, who was honored by a Nobel prize for his work on Bose-Einstein condensation. He then decided, in a move worthy of Miles Davis, to start something completely different, concentrating on applying the scientific method to science education. On a personal note, I first heard about Carl as an outspoken critic of the abuses prevalent in college sports,  and the way they distort the academic environment. Good man…

Carl will be giving a talk summarizing his initiative this Wednesday on the UBC campus. Here is the abstract:

Guided by experimental tests of theory and practice, science has advanced rapidly in the past 500 years. Guided primarily by tradition and dogma, science education meanwhile has remained largely medieval. Research on how people learn is now revealing how many teachers badly misinterpret what students are thinking and learning from traditional science classes and exams. However, research is also providing insights on how to do much better. The combination of this research with modern information technology is setting the stage for a new approach that can provide the relevant and effective science education for all students that is needed for the 21st century. I will discuss the failures of traditional educational practices, even as used by “very good” teachers, and the successes of some new practices and technology that characterize this more effective approach, and how these results are highly consistent with findings from cognitive science.

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So I have been pondering about Newton lately. Mostly because I heard various stories that might be apocryphal. I could not find a reference to them, but they strike me as being true. There is a legend about apples falling on Isaac Newton’s head as a story of how he discovered the law of gravitation…

 

Alas, Newton discovers too late that one should not exchange apples and moons.

Alas, Newton discovers too late that one should not exchange apples and moons.

Of course, this is probably just a fancy legend concocted after the facts to paint a more romantic picture of the discovery. What is true however, is that Newton had some hint of using a central force to explain the motion of the planets from Hooke. However Hooke could not solve the problem, and Newton had to invent calculus and differential equations to really solve this problem.

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