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Teachers giving as little information as possible

  1. Aug 9, 2012 #1

    I am wondering, from a pedagogical point of view, would professors give as little information to the student's. What I mean is, what is the point of deriving a bunch of equations during lecture, and then giving problems not related to a derivation of an equation on the test. I mean, you should test on what you lecture, no?

    I feel like the professors are intentionally trying to weed out people. They know what they are going to give you on the test, so why not do things related to that in lecture?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2012 #2
    To what extent? A student should be familiar enough with the material that they can answer questions that they haven't seen before and that aren't directly related to lecture material. My first algebra class didn't cover quotient groups, but we were expected to be comfortable enough with group theory to solve problems about them on the final when presented with the definition, which I thought was perfectly fair.
  4. Aug 9, 2012 #3
    I think to a rather large extent. A time pressured exam is not the place for putting on never-before-seen material, there is already enough stress involved with the exam as is. I think a ''no surprises'' approach to testing is much better. Surprises should be left for your birthday.
  5. Aug 9, 2012 #4
    I know a student has learned when they can go beyond just what they've seen. If you've seen it, of course you should know it. I see tests as a way for students to show that they learned the concepts and not that they've memorized a bunch of steps.
  6. Aug 9, 2012 #5
    Depends on the class, but I think you're right with the weeding out idea.

    More specifically, the test should show differences in student capability. If you have students scoring 100% on the test, it is not a fair test to those students. They might have been able to score 110%, and their score does not accurately represent their learning.

    If the subject is simple, it might be necessary to go beyond the lecture material in order to demonstrate the difference in student aptitude.
  7. Aug 9, 2012 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    This is your third complaint. The first one you were looking internally for the cause of not doing well, but the next two were all directed at the teacher. Is it possible you were right the first time?
  8. Aug 9, 2012 #7
    I still did well in the class, but I was not happy with the professor's way of handling his exams. He needs to be competent in teaching the material before going out of his way to make his class into a weeder course, which he self admitted was his intention. Thank goodness I had the tenacity to study all day and beat the curve, but it was still lame.

    I'm just saying there needs to be a better way to do this. No wonder people are pushed away from science at such an early age in the US.

    I know there are plenty of science classes out there with class averages of 30-40%. There is a reason for this you know, other than the most obvious reason.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2012
  9. Aug 9, 2012 #8
    This ''if you've seen it, of course you should know it'' is not really true whatsoever to me. If you saw some people speaking chinese, does that mean you should now know it?
  10. Aug 9, 2012 #9
    Well not unless you could lip read... :biggrin:

    But your comparison isn't really comparable.

    If you heard someone speaking Chinese you could repeat the sentence based on sound alone. But as you stated you wouldn't be able to speak Chinese.

    If you see a problem, you should be able to do it. Perhaps with some learning but you would be able to do it. What you won't learn in the entirety of Algebra or Calculus or whatever field as you implied...
  11. Aug 9, 2012 #10
    If you've seen it, you should know it... Or take the time to learn and know it. My point is that knowing just what you've seen is the bare minimum. We all learn at different speeds. I would not say that students should be able to do it instantly as it seems that you've assumed I implied.

    Is that really what learning feels like to you? Like an English speaker listening to Chinese? If not, then that is an odd comparison.
  12. Aug 9, 2012 #11
    I don't know but it seems like a lot of professors are chinese and trying to speak english to me
  13. Aug 9, 2012 #12
    Agreed. That is a big problem sometimes.
  14. Aug 9, 2012 #13
    Ok, just to put it in perspective, I'm at a community college and my tests are harder than the tests provided on the MIT opencourseware page. There is something wrong here. Walter Lewin hardly ever wasted time deriving equations, if only all professors could test and lecture like him.
  15. Aug 9, 2012 #14
    Why should a community college be easier or harder than any other institution?

    If you can get credit for the CC class at another university, it should be roughly the same. If you don't like a specific professor, you usually have the option to drop with a refund within a week or so.

    Also, CC classes are way cheaper than most universities... Do you expect the same quality as MIT?
  16. Aug 9, 2012 #15
    In what way is deriving equations a waste of time?
  17. Aug 9, 2012 #16
    Unless I'm asked to derive an equation on the test, I feel it is a waste of lecture time, especially if the textbook will take the ink to do the same thing. It's mostly algebra manipulation anyway. It goes away from the meat and potatoes of physics in my opinion.

    I'm not saying you need to shoot guns in class to prove your point like lewin did, so I guess your opinion is that CC professors ought to be lower quality than what you get at MIT?

    Your forgetting CC has lost funding (atleast in CA), so you might only have 1 or 2 professors for a certain subject, and the other professor will be at the same time as your math class or whatever.

    The point I wanted to make here was that I think educators should lecture what they know they are going to put on the exam, or atleast things of similar nature, atleast get the blood flowing to think like a problem solver. Don't waste my time deriving equations if the test is going to have problems in them that involve analyzing situations and applying the equations to the situations.

    It adds insult to injury when the professors do this on purpose as a ploy to weed people out, I didn't know there was so much ego in science until I started to immerse myself in it, which was only about a year ago.
  18. Aug 10, 2012 #17
    Hi guys,
    kinda new here and wanted to add my experience in this.
    I once had a teacher who came into the final test wearing a t-shirt that said (you're going down), mind you many people were failing the class.

    On the final he put a question which wasn't in the book and he never spoke of in class. The only place I noticed the question or a similar one was on a copy of a 3-4 year old final that he gave us along with other previous final exams.
    It was a formula we had to derive, thank God I managed to figure it out but to be honest it wasn't in line with the concepts we were thought throughout the year.

    Many people complained about it, but it was kinda of conflict of interest for me to complain since I had got it right, I don't know what ended up happening though. But it seemed very unfair to me, especially seeing that majority of the class was already failing. I think only a third of the class graduated.
  19. Aug 14, 2012 #18
    The thing is, you are in a science course. Not an engineering or history course.

    In a philosophy class, you would have similar. They would cover the concepts and ideas of a major philosophy, then on a test would have you write an essay translating a scenario in the context of the philosophical stance. This scenario would never have appeared in class, you would be expected to apply the philosophy to show that you understand it, not just spout off dates of birth/death/publication for the major followers of the belief.

    In Science, the teacher spends time deriving an equation to help show you what the pieces mean, so that you can extrapolate a universal application from the problems in your homework.

    Homework problems will typically deal with a single variable being absent and solved for, or optimized, or being adjusted and observed. A few problems per assignment should integrate multiple equations at once.

    Test questions ought to require application of multiple equations, but each application be relatively simple, or require multiple steps of application of a single equation/technique. These kinds of questions will show understanding of the material, and should be possible if you were learning concepts, instead of memorizing facts.

    It is roughly equivalent to learning sentence structure in English, then being asked to write a proper paragraph. You are doing synthesis, instead of regurgitation.

    As for you wanting to be asked to derive equations on the exam: Unless you want to be spitting back out the exact steps he had done on the board (raw memorization), you are asking to be given a task of deriving a completely new equation, based on learning the techniques of derivation during observation in lecture. And THAT is something which is very far beyond what you ever want to be asked to do. Especially with a time limit.

    And of course if you DO just want to spit back what you saw on the board, you would suddenly find that many of the "small steps" which you ignore during class because they seem pointless are absolutely vital to avoid ambiguity, and omission of them can cost you almost all points for the problem. Or that the professor provided some steps verbally only, due to complication of being unable to present it in a linear manner (or need to use calculus beyond what is a prereq for the class), and you forgot about them... so again miss a vital point and fail to answer properly. Yes, when the professor is doing a derivation in front of the class things are simple and it is a yawn fest. But the moment you have to sit down and do it for yourself, you'll realize how many thousands of possible directions you can go at each point. (I will assume at this point you have learned the equation for the period of a pendulum. If so, stop right now and attempt to derive it from just F=ma and a free body diagram)

    Of course, all of this is just my own views on instruction. Each instructor has their own preferences, but they will be flavored by the field they are in, and what they have seen before (which compounds the flavoring by field, since a teacher will have mostly seen previous material from their own field). And in Physics, the primary interest is in scientific thought and processing. Memorization in physics is not just devalued, but in some cases almost considered a handicap (many things you learn in lower level classes are just approximations. Very good ones, but if you want precision, you have to abandon them as incorrect. Though when you don't need precision and want speed or easy to follow steps, then you have to re-accept them as valid...)

    To get back to answering just your original post though so this doesn't just sound like I am saying "you are wrong" I will clarify that it is less an issue of the professor giving you as little information as possible, and more an issue of the professor speaking a different language than you do. In the professor's mind, if you see where the equation comes from, how each piece works, then you can apply it anywhere. For you, maybe you need to see the equation applied in numerous locations and different manners, then you'll begin to understand where the equation comes from and how the pieces work. You both approach the knowledge along the same paths, but from opposite ends.
  20. Aug 14, 2012 #19
    I had a community college experience more in line with what you would like Woopydalan, and you really do not want all your classes to be that way. Derivations are vitally important to properly learning any subject and there needs to be a good mix between derivation and problem solving.

    I think, albeit it can be frustrating, that it is entirely fair to test beyond the material presented in lecture. Granted, some professors go too far with that.
  21. Aug 14, 2012 #20
    Well my grade came in, got an A! Woot! I still think there has to be a better way to do this whole education thing...
  22. Aug 14, 2012 #21
    Why do you think so though? You worked really hard and got an A in a class apparently harder than MIT... where's the problem? Is education supposed to be easy?
  23. Aug 15, 2012 #22
    1. Teachers should be good at speaking english
    2. They should not hide information (I think they should tell me everything they know about a subject provided that it is at the level of the book)
    3. Not be secretly trying to weed kids out, this is deceptive and immoral if you ask me

    I didn't say that my school is harder than MIT, I was just using lewin as an example and extrapolated it to other classes, I don't know if it's like that for all of them. I would have liked to work less than 10-12 hours a day studying to get an A, that is not reasonable.
  24. Aug 15, 2012 #23
    1. I don't precisely recall poor communication being previously mentioned, but this is a vague statement, so I will assume it is mostly venting about something that has built up for a while.

    2. This is quite impossible for almost any subject. I imagine that your book itself was too much material for the semester. Did you cover every single section of every chapter? And even at that, I can think of no subject in which I could not spend a full semester on the first 2 Chapters alone and STILL feel that I have not covered all details. What a good class should do is cover the basics in great detail, and show you how to analyze anything else in terms of those basics. Trust me: your professor is VERY upset at the impossibility of covering everything he is supposed to in the time he is allowed. Attend Office Hours and he can go into more depth about everything, and will likely confide this frustration to you.

    3. Absolutely agree on this. With the caveat that they should not TARGET anyone to be "weeded out." However, having a difficult course which anybody who doesn't apply themselves can fail is not a bad thing. As long as that difficulty is required by the quality/quantity of material.

    4. The annoying thing about getting an A is that you have no idea how much less you could have done to get it.

    However, if you view classes as just a mechanism to enter grades in a ledger, you will always suffer. Try to focus on what you learn and retain, grades will happen.

    As well, your 10-12 hours could be a result of poor study habits as easily as overly complex material. Very few students actually know effective study methods, and almost nobody even attempts to teach them anymore. The few who do are often confronted with defensive reactions instead of actual consideration of potential merit in the information they provide.

    I would also note that your desire to do less work yourself directly opposes your desire that the instructor cover more material.
  25. Aug 15, 2012 #24
    So how do I effectively study? Tell me the secret
  26. Aug 15, 2012 #25
    There is no one method. Just as there is no one method for teaching.

    Your learning style will heavily flavor your ideal study practices. The instructor's teaching style will marginally influence it as well though.

    One tool that I find few people know about, but is almost universally beneficial is 24 hour review.

    Within 24 hours of attending lecture, review your notes.

    Fill in things which are cryptic (many times we tend to write a brief note, assuming it will make sense later, but find when read out of context from that particular lecture, we cannot remember what we meant.

    Also write summaries of your notes during this review time. Set aside space on the margin (or reserve the entire back side of the prior page) for these summaries.

    Any derivation done in class that you put in your notes you should use your 24 hour review as a chance to fill in any steps that were skipped in class. Make a short note explaining what was done and why to move between any two lines in the derivation.

    Doing all of these enhanced retention dramatically. Study before a test is essentially pointless, since the material remains "fresh" longer. But study is also more effective, because you eliminate the cryptic "what did I really mean?" portions from your notes, and because you have the summary section which allows you to pick up the important pieces quickly on review.

    As I said, learning style does influence what works for you though. People who learn well by reading text books benefit incredibly from the above. People who learn well by listening to a lecture may not benefit at all (some who are deeply into this learning style do not even take notes... Though the merit of that decision is debatable).

    People who do not favor those two learning styles tend to suffer in American academics. But there are ways to internalize material for artistic types and kinesthetic types as well. I knew one guy who wrote parodies and raps about each major subject we covered. They were hilarious, and also his primary study tool. I would venture he was very artistic in learning, but he also wound up spending a lot of time with the material in the course of trying to find terms that were appropriate and fit the rhym or rhythm that he needed for a verse.

    If your school has an education degree program, go there to find some people who have studied how to study, and can help you custom tailor a program that works for you. Psychology or Sociology professors would be a second possibility, but their research interests/emphasis would have to miraculously be on the topic of study.
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