Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Window on Physics

Dr. Bob Fuller was through again, this final day of 2006. We had coffee at Peet's (hazelnut latte for him, eggnog latte for me, and thanks Bob, for buyin' -- on me next time).

Since last May, he's completed that article for CISE (see Vol 8, Issue 5) regarding how computing is figuring into college physics classes, a topic I gleaned info on at New Mexico Tech as well (Dr. Sonnenfeld let me study his final for his strenuous Matlab in physics course).

Bob briefly reviewed the history of the Calculus Reform movement for me (a lot about Harvard), part of which he saw from the vantage point of West Point academy, where civilians had been hired to implement said changes.

Students would now know how to look at calculus through four windows: graphical, textual, analytical and numerical (think of the four windows of a tetrahedron).

What helped big time at West Point was the discipline of rank: the department head would be a colonel, the classroom teachers captains. So if the order from on high was to "reform calculus," then by golly that's what happened, provided the mission was well planned and well executed (and at West Point, you'd expect higher odds of that happening).

For my part, I relayed more information regarding my summit in April, with The Shuttleworth Foundation, on the subject of revamping analytical thinking courses using peer teaching models, for ages 8-18, in the RSA.

Again, although these various "reform" movements (think of them as well established voices of dissent, counter-cultures) don't tend to dramatically take over all that often, they do remain simmering sources of back burner thinking, thereby tending to influence even front burner offerings over time.

For example, in this case, the mainliner calculus texts which to this day dominate the market, are more "reformed" than they used to be.

Early Calc Reform mottos: "lean and mean"; "a pump not a filter."

Tara got one of those Lego Minstorms™ products for Christmas, so now I'm off to the store in search of ziplock bags, given the myriad little pieces (over 500) that come in the kit. She and Brenna want to build the humanoid on the box, more fun than the little demo guy we built together on Christmas.

Later, Dawn and I watched the retrospective on Ed Bradley's career on 60 Minutes.