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CASLL-L  January 1996

CASLL-L January 1996

Subject:

From Calvin Kalman

From:

Russ Hunt <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 29 Jan 1996 14:06:32 AST

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (134 lines)

This came in as an error message: I think it was intended for CASLL.

                                        -- Russ

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

Date: Mon, 29 Jan 1996 13:00:36 -0400
From: PMDF Mail Server <[log in to unmask]>
 (by way of [log in to unmask] (Calvin Kalman))

From: [log in to unmask] (Calvin Kalman)
Subject: re accountability?
To: CASSLL/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>
Cc: [log in to unmask]


My wife Judy Kalman

[log in to unmask]

forwarded your note.  Judy and I wrote an article, "Writing to Learn",
which is to appear in the American Journal of Physics. The article was
wriiten in response to just such a challenge - to drop compulsory English
courses.  I use writing in my Physics courses to encourage critical
thinking about concepts and it is always clear from the clarity of written
expression which students have taken the English courses.  I am proud to
say that I have been having success in encouraging colleagues to use and to
increase the use of writing in their courses.  To help you in your attempts
to save the courses I append a piece that was printed in "The Point", the
organ of the teaching centre at UPEI.

Writing to Learn Mathematics and Science
******************************************************************
*  Calvin S. Kalman                   Phone:    (514) 848-3284   *
*  Professor,Department of Physics    Fax:      (514) 848-2828   *
*  Fellow, Science College                                       *
*  Member, Center for the Study of Classroom Processes           *
*  Concordia University                                          *
*  Montreal,P.Q.  H3G 1M8             [log in to unmask]   *
*                                  or [log in to unmask]        *
* homepage- http://fermi.concordia.ca/Facultypages/Kalman.html   *
* Phys conf at ConU: http://fermi.concordia.ca/Particleconf.html *
******************************************************************


        In a recent letter, a student who had just completed his final
semester at Concordia with a GPA of 3.75 wrote that the course he had taken
with me in his final semester "is definitely one course that I will
remember."  He valued the course not only for teaching him electromagnetic
theory, but also because it "taught me how to think."
        Taught him how to think.  A student who regularly received A's.
How could this be?  Moreover what did I do that taught him "how to think"?
The magic formula is writing to learn--the stuff of our standard courses in
English rhetoric, which the student in question had managed to evade.
        Science is not composed simply of equations and of problems to
solve.  Real science is described in Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions.  To understand real science, you need to deal with concepts.
Yet how do you read a book and understand the conceptual underpinnings?  If
nothing else, we should be training students to take unseen pieces of
scientific texts and analyze them critically.
        This is what my student had learned to do.  My students have to
freewrite on the textbook material before class and then produce a one-page
preview of important ideas to be discussed in class that week.  The preview
sheet includes two or three mini-objectives for the week.  After the week's
lectures, students write again, this time a one-page summary of the
important ideas, presented in properly written paragraphs.  At the end of
the course, students prepare a course dossier based on a sample of 8 or
more of these post-summaries.  The students ultimately arrive at an
overview of the course using the following procedure:

     First entries:  Have two friends read the material you have
     collected and make comments.  Record the comments.

     Second entries:  Reread the material you have collected and
     write freely about what strikes you about the material.

     Third entries:  Use your second entries to develop some common
     theme(s) that you see running through your work.

     Fourth entries:  Develop the themes into a draft of an
     overview.

     Fifth entries:  Have your two friends read your draft and
     record their comments.

     Final entries:  Revise your draft into an overview of the
     course. The suggested length is three pages, but there is no
     page limit.

         My student wrote that "the post-summaries and the POST post
summary (the course dossier) . . . served two purposes.  They allowed us to
think on what had been presented in a critical manner and they made us
translate our thoughts to paper in a clear manner. I believe that these two
items can't be separated from each other. It doesn't matter how well one
understands the material if one is not able to transmit the 'digested'
ideas.  I don't think that one could present ideas clearly without a
thorough understanding of such ideas; so in a sense I think that the two
items are really one.
        "Once again, during the nearly four years of courses at the
university I had so little opportunity to try to express the ideas covered
that the only problem that I see with the course dossier method is that it
should have been introduced to us from the beginning.  Physics is a
beautiful and profound subject but most of my courses dealt with the
mathematical formulation and with solving problems.  Due to this lack of
wrapping up, I feel that my knowledge in some fields could have been
greatly increased if I had had time to translate this mathematical language
and apparently unrelated ideas into a coherent and structured 'all' ".

         What I taught my student in my course in classical electromagnetic
theory is how to write to learn.  This is the true subject as well of our
English Composition courses, which are not courses in grammar but courses
in rhetoric, in how to analyze material critically.  As such they should be
compulsory for science students.

     Calvin Kalman credits his wife, Judy Kalman, who has had many
     successes in teaching writing  at Concordia University, with
     inspiring much of his effort to bring writing into the science
     classroom.  She also convinced= him to set aside his initial
     skepticism of such writing methods as journall= ing to attend an
     intensive 2-day workshop at the Univeristy of Vermont that
     impressed him enough to try some new techniques himself.


References

Kuhn, Thomas S.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  2nd ed.
(enlarged).  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Countryman, Joan.  Writing to Learn Mathematics; Strategies that Work.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, .

Conolly, Paul, and Teresa Vilardi, eds.  Writing to Learn Mathematics and
Science. Teachers College, Columbia University. New York and London:
Teachers College Press.

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