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    Re: yet another tale from the front-lines of an ivy league university
    From: John Huth
    Date: 2011 Oct 23, 18:02 -0400
    Trying to work back to navigation here.    I think one of the attractions of navigation to folks like us is the empirical nature of it - that we can go out and test what we've learned.   For example, I had to rush out and do some ex-meridian exercises as soon as we began discussing it on this list.  

    I suspect that many of the students aren't exposed to what I might call 'real empiricism' in their educations.   By this, I mean that many laboratory experiments are really more cookbook in nature where they know the answer that they're expected to find.  

    I try to give them more open ended projects, where they can't look "in the back of the book" for the answers.  

    In a final project last year, a group of students made a sun compass and tested its accuracy against google earth.  They thought the project was an abject failure because it returned a poor value on a T test.   I pointed out that they were incorrectly using a T test and that, in fact, they were getting decent results - it was just that the standard deviations differed between google earth and their sun compass readings.

    Another group wanted to look at the orientation of Norman and Saxon churches.   There is an orientation of medieval churches in northern europe toward the east (of somewhat obscure origin, I might add).    The group thought that perhaps Saxon and Norman builders might choose different orientations toward the east, and also wanted to see if they used true east, or the position of the sunrise on various dates.   Well, it turns out that the builders used true east.   The students expected to find differences between Saxon and Norman orientations, but, statistically, it was a dead heat.   They seemed disappointed, but I said to them "you discovered something no one else has discovered."   

    Of course, there were meltdowns, like the guys who couldn't do much with lunars and digital cameras - but there are successes and failures.    

    In any case, I want to get away from overly formulaic ways of doing things (ala Feynman's gripe) and force them to think. (yet I just found myself writing six pages worth of 'equations you should know').



    On Sun, Oct 23, 2011 at 3:14 PM, Greg Rudzinski <gregrudzinski@yahoo.com> wrote:

    John H.,

    This discussion reminds me of something Richard Feynman said about undergrads being able to recite by memory from text books with absolutely no understanding of the material. I believe it was this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Surely-Feynman-Adventures-Curious-Character/dp/0393316041

    I think more field, lab, and internship work at the high school level might help some. What you mentioned about pointy (new slang to me) also seems to apply beyond college in industry. The problem with being exceptionally skilled at only one thing is that once this skill is replaced by a robot, computer, or outsourcing then the uniquely skilled individual gets to start all over from the bottom. Not a very efficient or flexible use of human resource.

    Greg Rudzinski


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