Forget Me Not

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Science  23 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6075, pp. 1410
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6075.1410-a

Since 1975, the same Prior Knowledge Test (PKT) has been given to incoming students studying physics at the University of Bristol, UK. Designed to identify areas of math and physics that might need extra attention in the curriculum, PKT scores remained constant through 1991, decreased dramatically between 1992 and 2000, and stabilized after 2001, suggesting a clear change in the ability of students in the tested subjects. Barham argues that the decrease in scores was caused by modularization of the secondary education curriculum, which resulted in students learning the material required for each module examination and failing to retain it afterward. This highlights the dangers of a “learn and forget” approach to physics and math, and the author suggests that university faculty adapt their teaching methods to allow for the changes in preparedness of incoming students, particularly in math, where large parts of multistage calculations should not be skipped over. Furthermore, he argues for encouraging the understanding that physics and math are coherent disciplines, wherein material taught at all levels must be retained for a complete understanding of the subject.

Phys. Educ. 47, 162 (2012).

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