Perhaps the best thing about The Mechanical Universe is that it might be the best that traditional lecturing can provide. Oh, I know it isn’t quite the same. Students can’t ask questions while watching a video. But the main point is that if you want to go with some type of traditional lecture style format for a class, you would be hard pressed to do better than this. Or maybe something similar – there are other good video lectures out there.
I, for one, do not think traditional lecture is the best way to go. Mainly, I think this because I don’t want to be replaced by a video. Fine. Then what do I do in class if I don’t lecture. I like to think of the lecture as opportunities to ad value to the textbook. Here are some ideas:
- First, I expect students to read the textbook. If I just go over what is in the textbook in class as a lecture, why would they read it?
- If all I did was to let them ask questions and I answer them – that wouldn’t be too bad. That is something that a textbook can’t do – at least not yet.
- Ok, I lied. Sometimes I do go over stuff in the book. But I expect the students to have read it first – and then I just go over the super-complicated ideas. If the students have already wrestled with these ideas, a lecture can be helpful.
- Clicker questions. These are awesome. The students are obviously engaged when doing student-response questions. Win-win.
- Practice problems. In a smaller class, letting students do a practice problem can be very useful. They can help each other and they can ask me questions. Another variation is to let them work on problems in groups and then present their solutions to the class (on a $2 presentation board)
Now that I think of it – I have another problem with The Mechanical Universe. It is these “morphing equations”. If you don’t remember them, let me show you a sample. Suppose they are talking about the momentum principle. Here is a starting equation and a sequence of screen captures. (I couldn’t find an embedable video of this)
I see what they are trying to do. They are trying to mathematically manipulate these expressions to show something. I get that. The problem is that this looks magical. And perhaps there are people out there that feel this is some sort of magic. Not Harry Potter type magic, but magic in the sense that they couldn’t do this. Maybe there is no way around this problem for these videos.
The other problem I had with the morphing equations is that they would do something I hate. They would “move” a variable from one side of the equation to the other and put it on the bottom. This drives me nuts (although some would say I am already nuts). The problem is that students often fail to understand the sacredness of the equal sign. It means “these two things are equal”. So, to maintain equality, you must do to one side what you do to the other side. The end result is that it LOOKS like a variable moved to the other side, but it didn’t. (Here is a slightly more detailed version of my equal sign rant)
In looking for an example of the morphing equations, I found a couple of other things to complain about with the Mechanical Universe. So, it is not perfect. This is probably similar to the Buck Rogers series. When I was a kid, this show was awesome. However, when I re-watched it as an adult, I realized I should stop watching it before it ruins my childhood memories.