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kilobug comments on Two More Things to Unlearn from School - Less Wrong

55 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 July 2007 05:45PM

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Comment author: kilobug 22 September 2011 12:33:22PM 4 points [-]

Maybe I was lucky to have "better than average" teachers, or maybe the french school system is a quite different from the US one, but I remember several counter-example to those problems from my high school and university time, in maths, physics, chemistry and biology, I'll tell one example from each.

In maths, we were often asked to figure by ourselves (intuitively at least) if a "theorem" would be true or not, before being a proof of it being true to false.

In physics, we were given experimental results and asked to draft what law could the results follow. It lacked the "devise new experiments to test your law" part, but it's still better than nothing.

In chemistry, we were once given a substance (potassium permanganate, but we weren't told what it was) and a set of solutions, and we were told the substance was used to test solutions, but not how, and we had to figure out what it could test (acidity).

And in biology, in genetics, it wasn't uncommon to give us some experimental results over generations, and ask us to devise the way a given characteristic was reflected in gene (using one or two gene, on sexual chromosome or not, dominant or not, ...). I remember even being told "try to make a law on part on the data, and then test it on the rest of the data", which is close as we can get to real experimental method on paper.

Another one in biology was a very interesting "proof" of evolution : we had two boxes, on each we were putting cotton with water and sugar, a pill of antibiotics in one side, and some bacteria in the other side. One box was to be exposed to UV light for a light while every day, the other not. Then we had two weeks to explain what will happen and how, and after we explained the predicted outcome, we would look at the boxes. (In the box that was exposed to UV light, the bacteria colonized everything, but in the one not exposed to UV light, the bacteria couldn't get near the antibiotics. After a few more weeks, the bacteria did spread everywhere in the two boxes).

Also, most of the teachers I had were very receptive and encouraging when pointed to a mistake they did (as long, at least, as the mistake was politely pointed at, not aggressively so), mitigating somewhat the "authority effect".

But I agree that those were rare, not exceptionally rare, but still much less common than the "here is the laws of newton mechanics, now compute the movement of a projectile with that initial speed and direction" or "here are the laws of thermodynamics and the gas state equation, now compute the final temperature of that system in which that compression was done". Which is better than pure "guessing the password", since you've to apply the laws and do computation, but which are still "here is the truth, apply it".

And I definitely would like we had more of those few examples, they were teaching much more than just giving the answer.

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 April 2012 06:18:13AM 1 point [-]

Also, sometimes teachers try to teach that way and fail miserably.

Like my genetics class: I did the experiments as well as I could and got a result different than what the teacher expected. This was marked as "wrong". Yet... was it actually wrong? Perhaps I did the experiments wrong, I'm not sure. But if so, that should have been pointed out. I actually think the fruit flies just didn't behave as neat little models but instead as complicated messy lifeforms, and as a result I got the "wrong" answer by being too close to reality.