Even though I teach physics and love science (and physics), I am not a physicist. My degree is not in physics. So even though this book is supposed to be a layman’s guide to how Einstein derived his famous equation, I found myself a little confused in places. At first I was a little embarrassed with myself, I then I decided to cut myself some slack. I gave myself a break because here’s the real problem as I see it: just because I have taken a course and made a grade, that doesn’t mean I really know anything. That’s what we all say about our classes and grading.
There is quote from the book I really like: “Everyone gets confused and stuck. Very few people understand difficult concepts at first.”
That brings me to the point of this post; when and where does learning really take place? For me, I didn’t learn while reading; I learned while reflecting. It was when I was scribbling at an equation or taking a walk with the dog that I had those moments of understanding. While I was reading I gathered information. Later as I processed the information I actually constructed meaning – I learned.
I am trying very hard to figure out how to make this happen for my students. I don’t see how they can truly learn physics or any other subject without taking their learning beyond the walls of the classroom. I understand the push against homework if it is only the brain-killing worksheet that we are talking about. What I don’t understand is how a student can really learn without thinking at home, or at least outside of class.
I hold the belief that class is where students are exposed to content and given an opportunity to engage with the content. I feel they have to take that information and exposure, digest it, think about it, and construct their own understanding from it. That has to happen on their own time, wherever and whenever it happens.
If we can design opportunities for the student to reflect and struggle and construct knowledge or questions outside of class we are helping them. You can call this homework if you like. If you don’t like that word, then what do we call it? I just know that real knowledge and understanding for me isn’t created in a room at a specified time and place. I doubt it is for my students either.
I don’t pretend to have any good answers. Until I figure it out, I think I will continue to model for students how I learn. I will also try to be honest with them about how I sometimes struggle and get frustrated. Maybe I can at least inspire them to think and struggle and learn themselves.