Author Topic: Teaching Errors  (Read 4949 times)

Offline stephako

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Teaching Errors
« on: May 01, 2013, 06:26:47 AM »
Hi Everybody,

I will be giving a seminar in a couple of weeks for new TA's about how to teach physics to undergrads. During the prep phase I attended a similar course given by the math department and got into a discussion about presenting incorrect solutions in the problem solving sessions. To clarify: The students usually get a set of problems that they have to solve within in a week and then hand in. The TA grades it, hands it out and during the session the students have to present their solutions and discuss them.
Many of the math TA's (mostly people studying to become teachers) said that they only let people present their solution if it is 100% correct. As a reason they said that otherwise the students might remember the incorrect part and do it wrong in the future.
I have usually put students in front of the class to present even incorrect solutions, letting the other students figure out where the error is. Therefore I was wondering if I did it wrong. I have given it  a bit of thought during the last couple of days and came to the conclusion that it is OK to do this. My argument was the following (and maybe that is a difference between physics and math): The students train to be scientists and once they get into their masters and PhD they will have to read papers. Of course published papers should be correct but some are not. Even if the papers are technically correct many of them use assumptions that can be challenged. So I think if they have never learned to question things that are presented to them they will miss a huge part of what it means to be a scientist.

I know that many of the people here have been TA's or are teachers so what is your opinion on the topic? Am I wrong?
Null results, open questions and a bit of my writing: JUnQ

Offline bobmath

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2013, 08:25:45 AM »
I'm more used to the situation where students have to be "encouraged" to participate in class, not just "let", but maybe your students are different.

Any time you have students participate at all, you run the risk of having them make a mistake. Even if you think they already know the right answer.

In any discipline, you need to view other people's work with a certain amount of skepticism. That's certainly not unique to science.

Offline CthulhuKid

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2013, 10:18:06 AM »
It's a great idea, especially since all scientists have to face someone who will question their conclusions/answers.  If they don't want someone to nitpick through all their methods and publicly show errors made, then a new career must be in order.

And this is coming from an accountant, who spends all day looking through work trying to find errors.

Oh, so many errors.

Offline bn

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2013, 12:03:23 PM »
everyone makes mistakes all the time. mistakes are good. they keep us honest.

but I think the big problem about letting students present incorrect solutions isn't that the other students will see the mistake. It's that correcting the mistake will take up valuable time. also, students who are only half-paying attention won't learn.

yaaay. teaching!
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Offline scikopas

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2013, 10:57:09 PM »
I agree with you stephako,
I usually let someone present a solution if the method is correct, even if they made a small mistake somewhere.  Even if this student didn't get the right numbers at the end due to some calculator error or sigfigs or something, these students who have a complete method areoften better at showing others how to do it, and often came up with their own clever way to understand a topic that someone like us might not think of... Sometimes the students who get the answer 100% correct don't remember how they got there, or they understand the material so much better than the class that they are unable to relate to the other students (or worse--they don't show any work at all, or copied another student)
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Offline stephako

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2013, 01:36:06 PM »
Thank you all for the feedback. I didn't get around to replying before the seminar but I read your comments and was a lot more secure about the topic :)

I'm more used to the situation where students have to be "encouraged" to participate in class, not just "let", but maybe your students are different.

Well it helps if they have to present a certain number of times to pass the course  8)

but I think the big problem about letting students present incorrect solutions isn't that the other students will see the mistake. It's that correcting the mistake will take up valuable time. also, students who are only half-paying attention won't learn.

Thats true. Emphasizing certain things was another point in the seminar. I guess if time is running out I wouldn't do it either.

yaaay. teaching!
Yaaay :) I really like teaching. But alas there are not many jobs where you can teach (under)grad physics.
Null results, open questions and a bit of my writing: JUnQ

Offline bn

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2013, 06:11:03 PM »
well there's one: undergraduate physics instructor.

that said. :( there seems to be one for every 100 applicants.

we live in a strange time.
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Offline stephako

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2013, 03:27:34 AM »
well there's one: undergraduate physics instructor.

that said. :( there seems to be one for every 100 applicants.

we live in a strange time.

Well in Germany there is not even that option. You can just try to become a full Prof. But then teaching is more an optional than a requirement in getting the position. But I guess the applicants/position ratio is about the same.

Good to know that the chances in North America are about the same.
Null results, open questions and a bit of my writing: JUnQ

Offline Ed Lolington

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Re: Teaching Errors
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2013, 01:49:12 AM »
I think that showing students common mistakes/misconceptions and then correcting them is a great way to teach. It's pretty likely for more than one person to make the same mistake, especially if they have the same teacher, TA, textbook, or other resources. You probably don't have the time to go through and point out each mistake every student makes, but by putting some mistakes (maybe even hand-picking mistakes) on the board and pointing them out hopefully you'll be able to help many students who are all making the same mistakes.

I've arrived at this opinion somewhat from my own experiences, but mainly from this TED talk by Derek Muller (Veritasium): http://youtu.be/RQaW2bFieo8
His PhD thesis, "Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education" touches on the same topic.