A quote from Bill Gates:

>>    Whenever I talk to teachers, it is clear that they want to be

>> great, but they need better tools so they can measure their progress

>> and keep improving. So our new strategy focuses on learning why some

>> teachers are so much more effective than others and how best

>> practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the

>> average quality goes up. We will work with some of the best teachers

>> to put their lectures online as a model for other teachers and as a

>> resource for students."



Date:    Thu, 19 Mar 2009

From:    Matt Greenwolfe <matt_greenwolfe@CARYACADEMY.ORG>

Subject: my letter to the Gates foundation


Here's my letter responding to the Gates foundation request for video tapes of lectures.  Please take up Jane's request and send in your own letter.  It will take a response from a lot of us to get their attention.


Dear Gates Foundation,


I would be pleased to respond to your request below and provide video of my lectures, except that I implement best educational practices by not lecturing any more at all.  There are many reasons for this, but one is that technology is rapidly making lecture obsolete as an educational practice.  Your request itself makes my point very clearly.  Anything that can be delivered by lecture can be recorded and put online.  But there are actually far more efficient ways to deliver the same content than watching videos of the lecture in real time.  Even reading is faster.  A well-structured web site with problems for students to check themselves and supplemented with java applets is even better.  Why waste valuable class time delivering this same content in an inefficient manner?


Because technology can deliver content so much more efficiently, classrooms will increasingly focus on adding value through interaction and cognitive apprenticeship. It is the relationships built among teacher and students and the student-to-student as well as student-teacher interaction that will help students learn how to think creatively. I teach high school physics using the modeling method of instruction, an outstanding constructivist teaching method.  Student discourse is the key feature of my physics classes. I don't introduce new topics by lecture, but instead guide students to discover the laws and equations of physics through analysis of experiments, which they have to design. Without the aid of example problems to imitate, students then apply what they learned in the lab to solve problems, which place the lab concepts in different contexts. Students work problems in groups and present answers to each other during class discussions that resemble a poster session and presentation at an academic conference.

Much of my final exam this year consisted of open-ended questions which describe a physical situation, including measurements that can be made, but do not direct the students to solve for any specific quantity. Part of the problem is to determine which variables it is possible to find. These problems invite students into open-ended exploration of a physical situation using their physics knowledge, rather than close to an insignificant point referred to as "the answer."  They penalize the student who just tries to plug numbers into equations, and reward students who have a solid conceptual overview of the subject, see connections among major ideas, and think by first applying concepts.


Modeling instruction cannot be disseminated by watching a lecture.  Nor is it a particular set of materials that can be compiled into a book.  It is transmitted through intensive month-long workshops in which teachers work full time alternating in roles as student and teacher as they practice the skills needed to guide students Socratically.  Six years ago, I took a modeling workshop and it changed my career, renewing my commitment to teaching and making me by far a better teacher.  Now I am a modeling workshop instructor myself, help to manage a DOE grant to provide modeling workshops in North Carolina, and serve as vice president of the American Modeling Teacher's association.  Just last weekend, one of my workshop participants remarked that the recently concluded workshop had affected him just as powerfully as it affected me six years ago.    It will permanently change his approach to teaching, just as it did mine.  The workshops are effective with experienced physics teachers, new teachers and cross-over teachers with years of teaching of teaching experience in other sciences but lacking physics content knowledge.  All teachers in my recent workshop experienced strong gains in their students' end of course test scores.


If it's helpful, I will be glad to provide video tape of some of my classes, although it would be difficult for a teacher to observe a few classes taken out of context and understand what is happening.  Every modeling workshop is an emotional journey, challenging participants to make a fundamental paradigm shift in their view of teaching itself and to overcome obstacles and fears at making such a dramatic change.  Just like effective teaching, it requires intensive personal contact for success.  I invite you to come to North Carolina to observe my classes and a modeling workshop, and to learn more about this method of teaching.  There are more than a thousand modeling teachers across the country who would probably be glad to extend the same offer.


If you want to make a difference for science teaching in the U.S., support the modeling instruction program and forget about lectures.



Matt Greenwolfe