Saturday, October 18, 2003

there is no such thing as "static" electricity

I really wish science teachers and everybody else would stop talking about "static electricity" as if it were a different sort of electricity than everything else.

Look, electricity is just electrons making the presence known, more or less. "Static" electricity is just the situation when positive charge is separated from negative charge - like in a battery that isn't being used - it's the same situation as a charged human body that has recently scuffled across the carpet but hasn't yet touched a doorknob. "Current" or "flowing" electricity is just charge moving from one place to another, such as happens in a battery (and the wires and the bulb) in a flashlight when its turned on, or when you touch that doorknob and get a shock.

Bill Beatty has a great rant on this topic (and other physics misconceptions presently confusing young people in schools) on his Weird Science page:

We need to stop confusing kids with abstract models, and teach them the basics of why things are the way they are. That kids could grasp fundamental concepts was proven back in the 70's when the "new math" came out - remember that? "The New Math" was nothing more than number theory, something that previously hadn't been taught until college. So, before "The New Math", kids were taught mathematical relationships by rote memorization, and that zero just was, and not why these things were the way they were.

Then, when some of them took math in college, they had to incorporate the fundamental theory of numbers into their rote-memorization knowledge that 12x12=144, which requires more than a little mental gymnastics.

With The New Math, kids were taught number theory first - the basic reasons why 2+2=4, and more importantly, why 5 - 7 = -2 and where the zero comes in, and stuff like that. It confused the parents because, unless they took math in college, they'd never been exposed to number theory. But the kids had no trouble absorbing it, unless (and this was all too common) their teacher didn't understand what they were teaching either.

Unfortunately, the parents made such a hue and cry over this "confusing way of teaching math" that many schools went back to the old way of rote memorization. As a result, innumeracy and an utter ignorance of math is more rampant than ever before. I know - I'm afflicted with it myself, and have spent much of my adult life catching up.

Same goes for physics. Physics can be taught at a surprisingly early age - why does stuff we interact with every day behave the way it does? Magnets and electricity and their interrelationship can be taught effectively as early as the 3rd grade - I know because I know someone who is doing it.

grumble, grumble, grumble... things will be different when I am Emperor.

1 comment:

Gordon Schumacher said...

Yeah, I'm replying to a years-old post :)

Wanted to mention on the New Math topic... remember when we were talking about this with respect to Brenna struggling with math?

Well, she had a HORRIBLE math teacher last year, so she was solidly convinced she was bad at math and always would be... I think we mentioned that we did home-schooling for the first semester of this year for both of them. About three weeks in, my rants apparently sunk in and she had the epiphany of how much that teacher had screwed her up - so she FINALLY let me work with her on it.

I want to write something regarding my techniques, but suffice it to say that two weeks of number theory (bases, visual representations of addition -> multiplication -> exponents, etc.) and she was pretty much up to speed. She still struggles with operations with fractions... but let's face it, most people do!