The Quintivium

Chemists, biologists, and other scientists may think that they have been discriminated against. That is by no means the intention of the statement above. The ability to read is essential for understanding and appreciating literature and poetry, and their exclusion in the statement does not devalue literature and poetry. Chemistry, (molecular) biology, and other sciences are the literature of physics and their exclusion in the statement does not denigrate their importance. As for mathematics, its teaching is crucial because it is the language in which physics is spoken and written.

How do we accomplish the seemingly impossible task of teaching our youth physics and mathematics? The same way we teach them any skill: practice, making mistakes, more practice! To learn our mother tongue, we practice, make mistakes, and practice more, and the brain builds a place to permanently store the language. To learn to play an instrument, we practice, make mistakes, and practice more, and the brain changes itself to accommodate our musical ability. To learn to write, we practice, make mistakes, and practice more, and the brain creates a place to store the writing skill. Physics and mathematics are no exceptions.

The only way to learn physics and mathematics is to practice physics and mathematics, make mistakes, and practice more physics and mathematics.

That’s how physicists learn physics and mathematicians learn mathematics. If you don’t believe this, ask any accomplished physicist or mathematician, or any of the thousands of homeschooling or immigrant parents, or countless Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, and … teachers, whose children or pupils learn to master differential equations before finishing high school!

The brain will make the task easier by eventually finding an evolutionary path to change its anatomy to permanently store physics and math skills. … Yes, even in our 5-year-olds!


2 thoughts on “The Quintivium”

  1. I always tell my first year chemistry students that the way to get good at doing chemistry problems is to do chemistry problems until they are bleeding from their eyes. Or that if they are having dreams from waking up from a dream that they are doing chemistry problems then they have ALMOST done enough problems.

    However, none of them want to believe me about this and think that it’s going to be just like high school where if they show up they pass the class. None of them seem to realize that there is no requirement that anyone pass the class. I just finished grading finals and have students emailing me about how they should have a higher grade because they tried just as hard as everyone else or that if they don’t get a higher grade then they will be set back a year in their progress. Neither of them apparently thought about any of this from the beginning of the semester. It sometimes makes me wonder if I’ll make it to retirement age in about 15 years. 🙁

    1. To me, any science is a skill, the derogatory word that “educators” use to discourage true learning. And as you correctly observed, to learn a skill, you have to repeat it over and over again. “Educators” look at science and math learning as a “process,” which eliminates the end result and emphasizes attempt: as long as students “try,” they are in the “process” of learning and should be given credit!

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