Wednesday, April 19, 2006

La Fizica

On a whim today, I sat in on a 10th-grade physics class. A few

1. I hadn't been in science class since I dropped AP biology two
weeks into my senior year of high school. That was nearly six years ago.

2. Class was taught in much the same way as I envision it in 1970s America. Grigore Fyodorovici, the physics teacher who should have
retired years ago but has no replacement in the village, knew his
material and explained it clearly enough that even I understood it.
He slowed down to ask questions, and at least a few students were
responsive to him.

3. The teacher stopped himself several times in the middle of class to retrieve visual aids from the back room. Today's lesson was about electrical circuits, so he had a transistor radio. Later, he
picked up a transistor to show the measurements written on it in ВµF (if I had taken electrical physics instead of mechanical physics, I would remember what unit of measurement this was).

4. Today there were only six students in the class of 16, and all
of them were girls. All of the boys had cut class. Grigore
Fyodorovici lamented to me after school about the fact that no boys
came, because "they're the ones who really need physics." Girls don't
need physics, he reasoned, because most of them will go into
languages or history. Boys aren't as good at learning languages, but
they are very good at math and science. I pointed out that my host
mother in Costesti worked in a science lab. He conceded that yes,
girls need science, too, because "in the kitchen, there are so many
electrical appliances. Or if they're ironing and they don't know how
to be safe about it, they could electrocute themselves or ruin the
table." If Lawrence Summers looking for a new school, he would be
welcomed as president of Chisinau State University.

5. I only saw one lesson today, so I couldn't gauge whether science classes in Moldova performed a lot of hands-on experiments. I remember that in all of high school, physics was the most difficult for me to grasp, with the exception of metal shop and computer-aided design classes, which were my lowest grades in high school. What
helped me understand physics were experiments and demonstrations. We had lab tables set up with computers and sensors, and we seemed to perform an experiment every other lesson. But today, I didn't see the room set up for experiments; the desks were in rows instead of in work groups, there were no scientific apparatuses in sight, and there were definitely no computers. Once again, I have no way of knowing after watching one lesson how often these students perform experiments, but it didn't look like that was a focus for the classroom.

So my observations today weren't shining, nor were they condemnatory. You can't make conclusions about the entire curriculum after seeing one under-attended class. Remember, this is part of the same country that launched Sputnik, so they have a history of teaching science well. Even if it is "more for the boys."


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