Teaching with style: Physics to stake your life on

by Stephanie Chasteen on June 29, 2011

A friend just sent me this YouTube video, and I show it here as an example of how lecture can be used to utmost effectiveness.  A bit of showmanship, a memorable experiment, and crystal clear explanations:

What strikes me is that this instructor has got this class in the palm of his hand. Not just because he does this wonderfully classic experiment with a bit of the magician’s flair, but because he knows just what he wants to show them — and why — at each moment.  He doesn’t let the ball swing unless he is demonstrating something specific — the breaking of the glass pane, or the place to which it will return (his chin) at the end of the swing. He sets up the demonstration with some description of how mechanical energy relates to everyday life, giving students a common referent on which to hang their understanding of his unfolding explanations.  He language is sparse, without wasted words and rambling.  And he is supremely confident of his role in the class, masterfully directing the action and using his voice and body to direct the students’ attention.

How does someone learn all those skills???


Alom Shaha June 29, 2011 at 8:50 am

You might find this alternative view of Lewin’s lectures interesting: http://fnoschese.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/pt-pseudoteaching-mit-physics/

Peter Lyons June 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I saw an old Mr. Wizard episode where he does this except he makes one of the kids stand there instead of himself!

Micah S July 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Seconding the strong possibility of pseudoteaching. My students got a lot from the Energy Skate Park simulation from PhET: http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/energy-skate-park

Stephanie Chasteen July 8, 2011 at 4:17 am

Thanks, Alom and Micah, for pointing out the pseudoteaching posts to me — Frank had directed me to those when that discussion was in progress, and I was swamped and didn’t get a chance to look.

I like the definition of pseudoteaching, and can definitely agree that Lewin’s lectures (from what I see) fit that definition. Though it’s hard for me to say from this one snippet what else is happening in his lecture, from the Nochese post it suggests that student learning gains are low in his lecture, as is student engagement.

What this says to me is that brilliant lecture is insufficient, but not that it is unimportant. I point you to my previous posts on a Time for Telling — http://blog.sciencegeekgirl.com/2008/10/10/a-time-for-telling/. This embodies my current philosophy on the role of lecture. I believe that there is a role for brilliant lecture, but it is *after* students have had a chance to wrestle with the ideas. This creates a “time for telling”, where the clear expert explanation and orchestrated demonstration makes sense to the attentive student.

So, thanks dear readers, for keeping me honest and making me think more critically about Lewin’s lectures. But I do think that such good lecturing has its place. I wonder how Lewin would compare to a less skilled lecturer if each did an interactive activity before the lecture portion?

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