Carlos

"The Homework Lie" Article from VanDamme Academy, and the Historical Approach to teaching Physics

17 posts in this topic

The Homework Lie:

http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4858

How to teach your child Science:

http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4822

I am extremely perplexed by the no homework and Historical-Physics approach to teaching, and am curious for input from others on THE Forum.

I just cannot conceive of learning without homework, it seems like a logical part of the process that is rather fundamental in importance. Could a no-homework approach be valid for young children, but not be proper for adults?

From my experience gained in the manner by which I have revolutionized my study habits for school (while drastically improving my Physics grades!) I have found that individual time spent on homework is king. I just cannot imagine proper retention and mastery of knowledge without a decent amount of homework. I think it is critically important that a Professor/Teacher instill a firm yet benevolent structure of assignments (reading, homework, projects), so that on a near daily basis the student would be chewing manageable bites of knowledge to get their maximum "nutritional" value over time.

Secondly, I really don't understand the historical approach to teaching Physics. I have found, in explaining things such as air-pressure to someone, that it is virtually impossible to give a proper explanation of it without moving on to the more "advanced Physics" and explaining--on a basic level--how all the molecules and atoms that make up matter are vibrating and moving with a certain kinetic energy, and constantly colliding with each other. And then go on to explain how higher temperatures correspond to faster wiggling/moving molecules, and then connect that to explaining why things like ice melt when they heat-up.

Personally, before I even begin to teach someone a lick of science, I think I'd want to hand them a diagram of an atom, and in conjunction with maybe Newton's Laws (because to me, it is so fundamental to reality it is almost Metaphysical), use the both of those as a launch-pad towards a meaningful understanding of the universe.

Questions, comments?

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The Homework Lie:

http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4858

How to teach your child Science:

http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4822

I am extremely perplexed by the no homework and Historical-Physics approach to teaching, and am curious for input from others on THE Forum.

I just cannot conceive of learning without homework, it seems like a logical part of the process that is rather fundamental in importance. Could a no-homework approach be valid for young children, but not be proper for adults?

From my experience gained in the manner by which I have revolutionized my study habits for school (while drastically improving my Physics grades!) I have found that individual time spent on homework is king. I just cannot imagine proper retention and mastery of knowledge without a decent amount of homework. I think it is critically important that a Professor/Teacher instill a firm yet benevolent structure of assignments (reading, homework, projects), so that on a near daily basis the student would be chewing manageable bites of knowledge to get their maximum "nutritional" value over time.

[..]

Questions, comments?

I'll just leave the Physics part of it alone.

But as for the 'no homework' approach at the Academy, I don't think that college-level learning (which is primarily content) can be equated with the learning that should be taking place in primary school. In primary school the primary purpose of education is for the students to acquire the proper methods for learning, which they can do best with practice while being supervised and corrected by a teacher. At the Van Damme Academy, the primary purpose of a child's education, i.e. learning how to learn occurs explicitly and overtly in class with practice, with a teacher standing by. And I think this is as it should be.

If my own experience in primary schools is any indication (and I think it is), most primary schools have no good, consistent, and explicit methods to guide the teachers in teaching children how to learn (because hardly anyone knows what good methods are). So in most schools, children's learning (if any occurs at all) depends on 1) either being lucky enough to get an individual teacher capable (somehow) of teaching his students a good method of learning, or 2) (the more usual case I think) students who do fairly well need to do homework and learn, by hook or by crook, how to learn, on their own (as well as they can without help) in order to gain any benefit from their education.

Besides, most education does the opposite of helping students learn how to learn. Most education today actively cripples the minds of students. I won't go into the myriad ways in which this is done, which is an enormous topic.

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Regarding homework, perhaps the point is that it is not the amount of time that matters so much as it is what the student learns and how it is taught. If the critical learning can be accomplished within school hours, is there benefit to additional homework? In general, I found that my math and science courses in college required homework exercises to really grasp the theory, so I would be surprised to learn of an objective educational approach that entirely dispensed with homework. I can't say it is impossible, however.

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From the CapMag article Carlos E. Jordan's first link leads to ( http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4858 ):

At VanDamme Academy, the only daily, on-going responsibility given the children outside school hours is to read.

<SNIP>

And our students often do voluntary “homework”—inspired, ambitious, personal homework. When I assigned the abridged version of Les Miserables, half the class purchased the unabridged version, and read it in pace with the rest of the class.

<SNIP>

Over half the 8th graders have completed the school’s rigorous grammar curriculum, and can both write with impeccable grammar and parse any sentence under the sun. Their parents refuse to send me an e-mail until it has been edited by their children.

<SNIP>

And:

Many VanDamme Academy graduates leave 8th grade having completed Pre-Calculus or Calculus.

I'm guessing that if all primary schools taught science in historic sequence, as VanDamme Academy does, there would be nothing but CalTechs and MITs all over this land; that, and kids with little or no homework.

JohnRGT

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I believe RoseLake is on the right path. However, I see learning within the context of school a bit differently. I agree that during the "grammer school" phase the goal is for students to learn to learn. It is at the higher levels that get more into content. However, even at the higher levels, I'm suspicious about how much homework really helps.

Given the context of the current higher level education system, it is no surprise to me that Mr. Jordan found much success in his classes with the completion of homework. I actually believe that currently the only way to learn is through doing the homework. This is due to the way professors teach. Teachers stand and give a lecture in the form of a recitation of concepts. They may even connect certain concepts together, but they don't ever help the student to think about the facts. It is left up to the student to induce the concepts themselves (or to decide that no induction is possible and the concept is floating). Homework is necessary as the only guide (albeit crude guide) to helping the student induce the concepts.

Math practice is done in math class. We give students ample time to learn, practice, and master new concepts under the close supervision of the teacher. Essays are written in writing class.

Notice how at the VanDamme Academy, there is no homework because, outside of reading, none is required. The students complete the activities that homework is supposed to accomplish in class. There is a teacher always present and helping to guide the student's thoughts on the subject. Instead of the student having to somehow match up the concepts with something in reality (or not), they now induce the concept for themselves and then practice using it. Since the students both learn (induce) and practice using the concepts at school, what else is there for the students to do at home?

Mrs. VanDamme offers us a great display of what there is left to do at home.

And our students often do voluntary “homework”—inspired, ambitious, personal homework. When I assigned the abridged version of Les Miserables, half the class purchased the unabridged version, and read it in pace with the rest of the class.

One year a 10-year-old student, inspired by his study of European history and Shakespeare, took up fencing, and wrote an entire iambic pentameter play over the summer.

The students no longer sit and try to induce the concepts and practice their usage at home. Instead, they are left free to integrate them into their lives!

The no homework method is just as plausible for higher level learning. Does the nature of knowledge or of learning change when a student enters a university? I do not believe it does. Concepts still need to be induced and the student still uses the same methods as before to induce them.

What is wrong with education is that there is no guidence from professors in inducing concepts. This leaves the entire burden on the student who's only guide is the homework assignments. This is why homework is so important. However, when a student is properly led by a teacher there is little need for homework as the work of learning is done in class.

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The no homework method is just as plausible for higher level learning. Does the nature of knowledge or of learning change when a student enters a university? I do not believe it does. Concepts still need to be induced and the student still uses the same methods as before to induce them.

What is wrong with education is that there is no guidence from professors in inducing concepts. This leaves the entire burden on the student who's only guide is the homework assignments. This is why homework is so important. However, when a student is properly led by a teacher there is little need for homework as the work of learning is done in class.

I strongly disagree. A typical Electricy&Magnetism homework assignment takes over thirty hours to complete for a reason:

Physics is hard, and no amount of attending class, taking notes, and listening to the Professor lecture is ever going to replace what a proper, rigorous homework load could do. If I were teaching a class--and it could be guaranteed that the students weren't copying off each other--I would be tempted to make homework maybe over 50% of their grade for the course.

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I'm guessing that if all primary schools taught science in historic sequence, as VanDamme Academy does, there would be nothing but CalTechs and MITs all over this land; that, and kids with little or no homework.

JohnRGT

I strongly disagree here as well, because I really don't understand the value to historically teaching Physics. Just because it happened to be the order in which Science was discovered, does that automatically make it the proper order to teach it?

If students are having enough trouble learning Science, then why on earth dump the extra load of a Humanities and History course on their shoulders as well?

I would bet that the reason the Historical Approach works is because it is a conceptual approach to teaching Physics, which is something no one does for Science or Math anymore.

When I was in highschool, I was regularly failing all of my Algebra II tests because it just didn't make sense to me: we were taught to approach solving a problem in Algebra in the same manner a computer would use an algorithm to solve a problem--blind, mindless memorization and repetition of steps.

"Let's look at the equation y=5(x-12) To find where it crosses the x-axis, we look at what is inside of the parenthesis, then count over from zero that many..." The explanation never went beyond that, math was presented as a series of tricks and memorization.

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Something I forgot to state in my second post was that after thinking about it, I don't think no-homework for young children is a bad thing because they are "learning to learn" as several members have said.

But for education beyond that, I think it is positively critical.

Also, I don't want anyone to view my questions and criticism of the Vandamme Academy in the wrong light, I think it is absolutely amazing to read about the great work they are doing with these young minds :D

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I strongly disagree. A typical Electricy&Magnetism homework assignment takes over thirty hours to complete for a reason:

Physics is hard, and no amount of attending class, taking notes, and listening to the Professor lecture is ever going to replace what a proper, rigorous homework load could do. If I were teaching a class--and it could be guaranteed that the students weren't copying off each other--I would be tempted to make homework maybe over 50% of their grade for the course.

When I took E&M back when I was a physics major I don't recall an assignment taking 30+ hours to complete, though they did take quite awhile sometimes. They were on the order of about 4-5 hrs. per assignment.

I take issue with your claim that physics is hard. It does take effort to understand physics, but how is it any different than another branch of study? Does one's mind suddenly require more effort to use when contemplating physics? I've never understood why some subjects are "harder" than others. They're all just as easy (or hard) to me.

Perhaps you've misunderstood what I mean by a lecture in the no-homework system. There would be very little note taking and very little sitting listening to a professor. The class time would be spent observing a phenomenon and then having the professor guide the students (through a discussion?) toward the correct conceptulazation of the phenomenon under study. At that point, the material may be used deductively to solve problems and reinforce understanding. I'm not an expert on teaching so this is as specific as I can get here.

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When I took E&M back when I was a physics major I don't recall an assignment taking 30+ hours to complete, though they did take quite awhile sometimes. They were on the order of about 4-5 hrs. per assignment.

Are you talking about the Freshmen level E&M course, or the Junior/Senior Level one? Colleges often have two. The last time I had a homework assignment that was 4-5 hours long was my Sophomore year--everything beyond has been much longer and more difficult.
I take issue with your claim that physics is hard. It does take effort to understand physics, but how is it any different than another branch of study? Does one's mind suddenly require more effort to use when contemplating physics? I've never understood why some subjects are "harder" than others. They're all just as easy (or hard) to me.
I know lots of people that dual-major in Mech/Civ/Elec. Engineering and Physics, Chem and Phys, Math and Phys, etc., and from what I've gathered, I think Physics is just about the hardest thing you can do on the Undergraduate level. Some subjects are harder than others.
Perhaps you've misunderstood what I mean by a lecture in the no-homework system. There would be very little note taking and very little sitting listening to a professor. The class time would be spent observing a phenomenon and then having the professor guide the students (through a discussion?) toward the correct conceptulazation of the phenomenon under study. At that point, the material may be used deductively to solve problems and reinforce understanding. I'm not an expert on teaching so this is as specific as I can get here.

I still disagree: you would have to be some kind of a freak genius to be able to sit through the lectures you describe--and not do any homework--and still come out of the course with the knowledge that is expected of you.

No amount of class-time can ever teach you how to mathematically solve a Physics-problem without doing homework, that's just not the way it works. Solving some problems can require literally pages of math-work and hours of time; how could you learn to do that solely from lecture?

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My experience in the inductive approach to learning has only been in literature and philosophy. I would use the same approach in learning anything else. I'm at home with that method, not an expert, but at home, in that it is the primary method I know how to learn with. Ever since I listend to Peikoff's Objectivism Through Induction, I knew I didn't know what learning was prior to it.

But this is not the point I want to make, but rather: if the Van Damme methods work, if this no homework policy does work, then I can see other benefits for a more fulfilled life. The time at home can thus be spent with one's parents and deepening the love one has, on learning painting, reading literature, watching good movies, learning an instrument, deepening a friendship, learning farming, i.e., becoming a loving, benevolent, renaissance man.

Now all we need is to apply this no-homework policy in the workplace. :D

Jose Gainza.

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I think it is clear from what she wrote that the reason no homework is required is that the equivalent work is done in school in addition to the explicit instruction. At a more advanced level that is not possible because of the time required, including the "incubation" necessary for creative, complex problem solving. But the Van Damme Academy is clearly not omitting the kind of independent thought and work required for "homework" -- the "homework" is simply done within time allotted at school. It may also be more efficient that way because it is integrated into the instruction with active oversight by the instructors where needed.

To the extent that teaching physics in accordance with an "historical approach" becomes more of a history course than the method of selection of the order of topics, less problem solving is required because the course is more descriptive. The greater the degree to which that happens, the more the course would become something other than what is normally thought of as a science course. But I don't know if that is happening at the Academy or if it is some mixture. According to her reports, whatever they are doing is very successful as preparation for further education.

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I find myself agree with the bulk of what Carlos has to say. I think that most physics or math assignments need to be completed individually with students actually solving the problems themselves. It is ridiculously hard to watch someone do something or explain something and be able to do it yourself. Also, much of the phenomenon in physics is nearly impossible to view, especially as a class.

I do however, think that the no homework way might work, as long as sufficient class time is alotted for the student to work problems on his own. In fact, it might actually work better because I often wish that I had a math or physics professor who I could talk with or bounce ideas off, both to see if I understand the concept and while I'm working the problem. Most of the time when I get a problem wrong, I can't understand why my method didn't work.

Obviously the largest factor in whether or not the students learn the material or not is how good the teacher is. The teacher must both understand the subject (inside and out) and be able to explain it properly. If we want better schools, we need better, more enthusiastic teachers. Mathematics, and some of physics too, is based on proving stuff, not just memorizing a bunch of random formulas. Yet none of my teachers ever write proofs. I have to go home and write them myself. For me, writing one proof to figure out WHY something happens is worth doing fifty homework problems.

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From Lisa VanDamme’s lecture, Role of Hierarchy in Education:

“Last year, my husband Tom tutored one of my former students, Kevin, who is now a sophomore in high school.

“One day, Kevin came to their session asking for help in preparing for a test on protein synthesis. Tom went over the process with him, helping him to memorize the following:

“‘Messenger RNA is synthesized by complimentary base paring with the oxyribonucleotides, to match a portion of one strand of DNA called the gene. Subsequently, ribosomal subunits attach to the messenger RNA, and amino acids are joined to form a polypeptide’ and so on and so on.

“Kevin had successfully memorized this highly complex process by which a protein is produced, when Tom asked him a very insightful question:

“He said, ‘Kevin, what is a protein?’

“Kevin had no idea.

“This method is typical of every class, and every textbook, in every school I have ever seen or heard about, whether a public school, a Catholic school, or a Montessori school. I know of no school, other than my own, that teaches science by an inductive, hierarchical method.”

+++

According to the lecture, Dave Harriman is responsible for VanDamme Academy’s science curriculum.

“Dave’s is an essentially historical approach to science, because to teach it historically is to teach it hierarchically. The earliest discoveries in science are necessarily the simplest, the closest to the perceptual level. And later, more advanced principles, build on the foundation they provide.”

A "can't resist" quote from the lecture’s Q&A:

“One year, Dave Harriman taught science for me. [H]e was commuting from San Diego, so he could only come up once a week. [H]e was teaching 7th and 8th graders physics for three hours every Monday, and they maintained an attention span for three hours. So once again, if the material is intelligible to them, if they’re motivated because they see its importance, then they really have a big attention span. It’s grossly underestimated how long their attention span is.”

http://tinyurl.com/yh3lyd

Last, a point from one of Dr. Ridpath’s lectures: Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations for his 15-17 year old students!

JohnRGT

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My experience in the inductive approach to learning has only been in literature and philosophy. I would use the same approach in learning anything else. I'm at home with that method, not an expert, but at home, in that it is the primary method I know how to learn with. Ever since I listend to Peikoff's Objectivism Through Induction, I knew I didn't know what learning was prior to it.

But this is not the point I want to make, but rather: if the Van Damme methods work, if this no homework policy does work, then I can see other benefits for a more fulfilled life. The time at home can thus be spent with one's parents and deepening the love one has, on learning painting, reading literature, watching good movies, learning an instrument, deepening a friendship, learning farming, i.e., becoming a loving, benevolent, renaissance man.

Now all we need is to apply this no-homework policy in the workplace. :)

Jose Gainza.

My son (7) goes to VanDamme, and I can tell you from personal experience that both the inductive method of teaching and the no-homework policy (other than a little reading in a book which his whole reading group reads, discusses, and analyzes together) are great. He's smart as a whip, and has an incredibly active "social life" which is definitely helped by his not having to do a bunch of homework.

Plus, his friends who are the same age, but who are in the public school system (a "Distinguished School" in fact) are blown away by the type of work he is doing compared to them -- like long division, grammar, literary analysis, scientific experimentation, history above and beyond memorizing disconnected facts which they forget by the next week, etc.

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