Education and learning are strange beasts. At school and university, people seldom understand even close to everything, and forget most of what they did understand soon after the final exam. But yet we trust doctors to prescribe correctly; professionals to know their jobs; or professors and teaching assistants to know what they are talking about. Where does this knowledge come from??
It’s the end of my first term of teaching assistant duty — I’ve been teaching and marking (grading) for physics 2, which is a general physics requirement for all second year undergraduates. On Saturday I taught a quiz review, which is a summary of the material and further examples offered in preparation for an upcoming test. I’ll be doing this every second Saturday, for a class of well over a hundred students. It was a surprisingly stressful experience — the review itself went well in the end, by the feedback I’ve had, but the preparation of an hour and a half of novel questions and a handout took quite a while. Then during the review there was the tension of wondering whether I had prepared enough material, and also whether I was offering a useful review when I’ve never been to a Caltech-style quiz review before. Somehow I managed to pull a muscle in my elbow (probably from pulling down blackboards), so be warned that teaching can be physically risky!
The teaching assistant experience has, however, reminded me again of how completely I understand basic physics, and how easy it seems. But I remember finding it hard at the time, and not at all obvious. So somehow, in the intervening years, material on which I had a mediocre grasp has become entrenched. I’ve forgotten the lessons, but somehow learnt the physics.
I’d be very interested to hear if there’s been research or study put into analysing how we handle knowledge which was learnt years before. It seems to me that society depends a lot on this “second stage” of learning. Despite supposedly being really bright, there are a lot of students in this course I’m teaching who are not mastering much. And amongst my friends studying various professions, the talk was always of how hard work was, or of what to focus on to get the best mark possible — not really a convincing argument that any of us were mastering our fields.
Yet somehow people become professionals, and know more than they ever seemed to while studying. And hopefully that’ll happen for me with string theory at some stage!
|« Previous post in category||Next post in category »|