BY LIVIU POPA-SIMIL
Los Alamos Academy of Scientists
In the article published on Jan. 29 (see link: https://losalamosreporter.com/2019/01/29/u-s-education-is-in-deep-trouble-and-there-is-no-easy-solution/ a contest was announced https://losalamosreporter.com/2019/02/07/los-alamos-association-of-scientists-announces-contest/ and a month after that some clues and clarifications were added: https://losalamosreporter.com/2019/02/17/clarifications-and-hints-on-laas-math-contest-questions/ )
I have stated that kids have no real incentives to learn something for life, and the actual learning is superficial, just for the sake of a momentary show of a grade, made without any passion for that knowledge, which was learned only to show it to teacher to get a grade and then forget about it, with the highest pleasure.
The reasons are simple, but they represent an inconvenient truth, and nobody wants to hear or acknowledge it, and therefore their chances of producing meaningful corrections are practically nullified by this attitude that relies more on speech than on supporting truths.
The system is not perfect; it was conceived to produce an obedient workforce, compatible with capitalist exploitation, well-trained, narrowly qualified, with minimal interdisciplinary knowledge and minimal initiative, able to follow without questioning what they are told. A kind of servants of the rich.
The dropouts and the kids with bad results have been proven in many cases to be more successful in life than the nerds, but these cases come out more as exceptions of a distressed majority.
On the other hand, we Americans like to brag that we are the best of the best, and that goes in flagrant contradiction with the sad realities of the international tests as Pisa previously analyzed in detail, Olympiads (Physics, Math, Chem., etc.).
Recently we learned that the rich 10% of population are more prone to cheating, because their kids are suffering from “affluenza”, and start performing in average worse than middle-class kids. Looking statistically at the cheating phenomenon in US colleges, the weight trends to be under few %, but that is a hot issue, and will never be precisely known.
It has been shown that kids from poor families are distracted and under-perform, and the only proven solution is to enroll them in a boarding school, one year for free, and then free based on merit. In essence, a Boarding School is a college preparatory institution where students and teachers live and study together in a safe and secure campus environment. The only problem is that it is necessary to lower the admission age to as low as 6 years old, kindergarten age, in order to assure them a solid early education and prevent them from being already formed and prone to failure by parents who cannot handle them.
In an “advanced society” based on speeches and connections, as the US society, the theorists got the monopoly of education in the last 50 years, and the manuals became very theoretical, often disconnected from reality and with doubtful practical use, and AP manuals excel in verbosity. In nowadays learning literature, chemistry, physics or math learning almost makes no difference, because most of it is addressing the memorization and reciting mechanism, and very little the judgment and cognitive functions similar to computer games that develop the connection between eye and fingers avoiding the deep brain.
Moreover, each class syllabus became independent and non-synchronized with other past or parallel classes; therefore one subject taught now does not relate to subjects taught in the past. A Physics syllabus is not waiting for a mathematical apparatus to be taught, understood and used in a math class, therefore students will have difficulties in Physics classes. More important, there is no correlation between classes and day-by-day realities.
For the sake of nice theoretical expressions, the reality of the nature experiment is lost, and as some give credit to Einstein for the saying: “When the theory does not match the experimental data, change that data!” Our school seems to do exactly that.
In support of my statement, I proposed a problem from the daily life, using a property of nature that accompanies us the entire life – friction! We encounter and use it in order to walk, crawl, roll, drive, grab objects, touch, etc. from early childhood to death.
The question was: how many educators and students understand these fundamental manifestations of nature and are able to use them to solve a day by day life problem?
I expected teachers and College students to know that for an entity not relating too much to other entities. The friction (a) is what generates and limits all the forces for movement.
Then, they should have been able to understand the limits of adhesion (b), that is friction ellipse: if an object is using all its friction on a direction and is skidding, it also loses all control and stability on any other direction.
That happened most recently with a Nike sport shoe during a basketball mach when a sport “celebrity” fell unexpectedly.
Then another notion was about air resistance as aerodynamic force (c) and wind, air pressure, air density variation (d).
I assembled all these elements in a daily life problem involving high performance cars, to make it more attractive, and compared an imaginary vehicle with insane power, as Elon Musk recently proposed for the fun of it, to some real high performance cars, in order to highlight the differences, and not only the fact that are very expensive, and that’s why they can do anything they like…(Hi, hi).
My intuition and factual data told me that these elements were not taught in schools well enough, but I had not anticipated that the reality was so bad, and even the teachers are strangers to the subject, although they are driving daily without understanding what happens under their seat. No worries, nowadays the cars are smarter, to compensate for their drivers.
The very sad result:We have received 3 answers only, in 2 months: one clearly did not understand the problem and failed from the very beginning, one incomplete, making only 1 question out of 5 but good, and one better, but I had to disqualify it because he was outside Los Alamos area, (Dr. Mateescu from NJIT), who is also my friend, and is teaching Physics and Mathematics in New Jersey area. Because he met fully all conditions to be disqualified, I used his cooperation to elaborate the answer in a more student-accessible manner.
We awarded an honorable mention only, and no 1-3 prizes as promised and we are now publishing the solution for the problem, with the associated details in order to clearly place the border between our approximations and reality.
The problem challenge and competition announced on Jan. 29, 2019 see link: https://losalamosreporter.com/2019/01/29/u-s-education-is-in-deep-trouble-and-there-is-no-easy-solution/
As a proof of my statement, I challenge the science teachers, students and community members to solve the problem in the picture below, taken from normal life, because I believe that very few of them understand it and can solve it, and therefore it is not possible to transmit this knowledge to students.
For those most advanced there are two extra questions:
4. If the Cy=0.5, the lateral surface is 5 m2 and cross wind is 20 m/s, in Los Alamos, what will be the movement of the vehicle accelerating forward on the x direction?
Cx, Cy are the aerodynamic coefficients for movement of air, x is forward, y is lateral and z is upwards, g=10 m/s2.
5. What power is reasonable for the vehicle and how does it have to be applied in order to minimize the acceleration time?
SOLUTION to Problem questions: https://www.scribd.com/document/405669518/Solution-to-the-problem-contest-from-the-article-US-education-is-in-big-trouble-and-there-are-no-easy-or-intended-real-solutionsProblem-Solution
Other links are:
for some hints on how one can solve the problem
the original article from Los Alamos Reporter on Jan. 29, 2019