Saturday, June 06, 2009

Westaway Comments on What Physics Is

F. W. Westaway wrote many books. The most useful of the lot may be Science Teaching. Just about every imaginable aspect of teaching science in early 20th century England is covered.

Help all the boys to acquire the art of reading. Let the old catch-words, " weigh, weigh, weigh ", give place to " read, read, read ". That weighing and measuring is the very life-blood of scientific method is, of course, true, but let the boys know all about the thing they are measuring and weighing. Too, too often, physics is treated just as if it were mathematics; a boy takes readings mechanically, settles down to arithmetic and algebra, and labels his work " physics ".

Ignoring the rather gender-biased notion that the students are all "boys," Westaway has found a true kernel of wisdom here. Science is not about weighing or performing mathematical tricks. He suggests that students read about the subject under investigation. He even says that students should, where possible, read the works of the original science investigators.

While Westaway is in favor of using students own experience to help them understand science, he recognizes the impossibility of carrying this approach through an entire school life of science. Eventually, students simply don't have the requisite experience and can't acquire the equivalent on their own or through lab work. Then, they must do the next best thing. If possible, read what the scientist responsible for the discovery said. Alternatively, find a good reporter of the work.

That's much more interesting than reading a textbook, in my opinion.

© 2009 by Paracomp, Inc., U.S.A. www.smartscience.netFollow this author on ETC Journal.

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