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Lectures: We Love Them But Left Them

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.432.1 - 5.432.13



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Paper Authors

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Kenneth D. West

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Craig W. Smith

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Session 1526

Lectures: We Love Them but Left Them

Craig W. Smith, Kenneth D. West Paul Smith’s College

Steady State Circa 1992

By 1992, we had each been teaching at Paul Smith’s College for nearly 20 years and had inherited a set of calculus-based physics courses about a decade before. We also were in the fourth year of a technical physics course we had been asked to develop for students in the surveying major. Our lecture notes had been through several revisions but were looking a bit tattered. In each of the physics courses, we lectured for three periods per week to some 16 to 30 students. These classes were quite informal and were held in the laboratory to make demonstrations more convenient. Students were encouraged to ask questions at any time. Although we presented the basic concepts in the lectures, we concentrated on the major derivations and solving many example problems. We tried to invent cute practical problems that would keep the students’ attention. The students responded with interested faces and nodding heads. Lecturing was great fun.

Although we were pleased with our lectures, we were especially proud of our labs. Our lab space had four work stations each equipped with an 8088 Zenith computer set up with Quattro spreadsheets. We would place teams of up to four students at each station so we would often have two 3-hour lab sections per course. We developed labs that reinforced some important subject of the week. We even published a couple of our experiments in The Physics Teacher.

To insure the students would understand the lab activities, we would lecture to them for 40 to 50 minutes on the experiment they were about to perform. The experiments were not just designed to reinforce the week’s subjects but also to progressively develop laboratory and reporting skills. Each student was required to turn in a carbon-copied lab report by the next lab meeting. We nearly drowned in the sea of yellow paper!

An Impulse Hits

In May of 1993 we attended The Conference on the Introductory Physics Course1 at RPI in Troy, NY. The conference, held in honor of Robert Resnick’s retirement from RPI, was of international scope. We expected to get a bit of fine-tuning on our physics courses.

Within hours of the commencement of the conference, we became aware that a tune-up would do little for the rods protruding through the head of our teaching engine. Speaker after speaker presented data that unambiguously showed lectures promote very little student learning. Their evidence showed that merely listening to an expert does little to shake a student’s deep-seated belief in an incorrect mental model. We, too, had moments of disbelief -- no one wants to believe that they spent 20 years in the pursuit of student boredom. Nonetheless, the seed of

West, K. D., & Smith, C. W. (2000, June), Lectures: We Love Them But Left Them Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8542

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