Science subjects are more difficult than the arts

Too much drill, too little creativity

Too much drill, too little creativity The science journalist and university professor Harald Lesch conveys complicated natural phenomena in simple language on television and in the lecture hall. In an interview, he explains how teachers can get their students excited about science, the benefits of physics in science fiction films and which subjects should be studied in the future
PHOTO: SILKE WEINSHEIMER | 2013/2

 

Educational topics: What sparked your interest in the natural sciences?

Harald Lesch: space travel. I grew into the times when the Americans and also the Russians had big projects in space travel. That was the impetus for me. I started cutting out all sorts of things from newspapers about the rockets pretty early on, and then Armstrong landed on the moon and it was very clear it had to be something with space.

MINT subjects are not necessarily the most popular subjects for most students. Do you think there is something that teachers can do to excite students more?

That depends of course on the grade level, so are we talking about the time before puberty or after it? Something else happens in the fifth and sixth grades, later it becomes difficult. You should let boys do sports, music, you should always drive them into competitions, that's what the brain needs then, just not a math class. These brains desperately need something to let off steam before they are fully functional again.

But suspend classes for a few years? Does this make sense?

For example, you can see at the British elite schools what good teaching is in order to keep boys of a certain age in school at a certain level. They have rowing, theater, music in the afternoons. So all these subjects that tend to be neglected. The important subjects in school are arts, sports and music. This creates creativity, stimulates the desire to let off steam and it is precisely this desire that is also needed in the MINT subjects. There is absolutely no point in over-academicizing schooling because we are dealing with young people who are developing.

But how do you arouse the desire and interest in the natural sciences?

For example, when I do the project 'The Physics of Science Fiction Films' at school, it sounds very different than when I say, 'This is about physics.' Nobody feels like doing that. Science fiction is great, movies are good. And then you can start speculating with the students. Can someone calculate what temperature you need to beam someone? Or you can say: 'I don't want a fried egg and now push it out of the pan and back into the bowl.' Is something like that possible? Well, it works somehow, but it is a beastly effort. But it doesn't seem to be a problem at all in the science fiction films. Above all, it is helpful to use mathematics as an instrument with which one can clarify certain questions. For example: How high does the temperature on a planet have to be for water to be liquid? The moment you bring numbers into play, you are already doing math and the students don't even need to notice.

But that sounds very abstract and seems to have little practical use ...

I always advise teachers to invite people who have to deal with it on a daily basis. Have students talk to people who need math every day. Then you see that math is actually being used. This is not an invention of someone developing the teaching, it is really needed. As a floor layer, you have to be able to work out how big an area is, and that's not just on an exercise sheet. He must know how many square meters am I laying here now? Or when you go through the department store and the sign says: Now 30% cheaper. But 30% of what? And how do I calculate that? I want the students to recognize that the world out there is complicated, but there are a few things that are easy to figure out. I would do things like that a lot more in class.

So tips for everyday life?

Yes, invite your craftsmen! The children in high school should learn that craftsmen are a very important occupational group that is perhaps much more important to our everyday lives than all the desk jobs that are out there. And that these people solve very specific mathematical problems, whether that is the thread that you need for a certain screw or the calculation of the pressure that a certain pipe has to withstand. This practical relevance is extremely important because it is the only way to motivate children to deal with the subjects. In my opinion, all the theoretical considerations of motivation completely ignore reality.

What exactly are you criticizing?

Well, for example the development of mathematics teaching in German schools. Far too little mental arithmetic, far too little percentage calculation. The elementary arithmetic operations are no longer taught, instead some kind of spaced-off stuff about set theory that no one really needs. Not enough geometry is done, spatial orientation is done far too little, and far too much algebra for that. Nobody needs that. There is far too much drill behind it, too little creativity. You have to do projects with the students, that's what most likely leads to children and young people dealing with the topic in the MINT subjects.

What kind of projects do you propose?

For example, I did a project on the topic of the energy transition with a tenth grade. Everyone was assigned some type of energy release mechanism and was asked to interview a practitioner about it. Up until then they hadn't had much to do with physics, nor with maths, but then they stood at a biogas plant or talked to someone who builds wind turbines. 'Why does our community not have a wind turbine?' They asked the mayor. The students immersed themselves in different areas of this topic and then had to report about it and show how it works and what it is about. That was what they were afraid of at first, but they made it. They have become little experts. The icing on the cake was that there were also pupils from the higher grades, and I will never forget how a pupil said to me: 'Oh God, Mr. Lesch, they are from the 11th and 12th, they have Much more idea. ”So I said:“ Nothing there, you are the experts. ”Of course, this is pretty idealized because most teachers probably won't get through a project like this during the school year, but to generate situations like this that praise children is poured out, and not just like this: 'Yes, that was already quite good, 3 minus.' But real praise: 'You did a great job, that's really great.' And you can give out an incredible amount of praise, it costs You nothing. And any person who is praised will greatly appreciate it.

So one should strengthen one's self-confidence?

Yes, especially this very strong, handcrafted character, I am convinced, is an extremely important quality that one should acquire. That you not only want to become something, but that you can also do something. To be able to do an art, to do something really, really well, that is so motivating, it doesn't matter what you can do there. Whether you can play the flute or carve wooden horses or whatever. Do you want to have these skills in your company? I can do that. And don't ask young people to be experts in all possible fields.

Do you think the pressure to perform is too strong today?

In any case. When I see all the qualifications my students are acquiring today, I am completely shocked by what they have already done, at least on paper. They have already taken three language courses and have taken ten additional seminars in business administration, in case they want to switch to industry later, and have three semesters abroad behind them, and have dealt with some kind of foundation. Yes you great god! They can't even imagine that you can just stay in one place and learn something really well first of all.

Which subjects have the best future prospects for you?

Today you should of course study something in the field of renewable energies at the university of applied sciences. I think that is absolutely forward-looking. The energy transition is already on the agenda, very clearly. Everything that goes with it, including the transition of mobility away from fossil fuels to engines that are more economical than we can even imagine today.

Then you should be there when agriculture changes in Germany towards much more organic farming. The expansion of infrastructure in the broadest sense will keep us busy. Although the expansion may not even be the right word, but the renovation of our infrastructure will be important. So bridge-building engineers will be needed because we have a lot of bridges that need to be renovated. So there is a lot for engineers to do in the future. Almost no matter in which area.

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Harald Lesch has been a professor at the Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University Observatory of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich since 1994 and teaches natural philosophy at the University of Philosophy in Munich. In 2012 he was voted University Professor of the Year. He is known to a wider audience through various science programs, currently on “Leschs Kosmos” on ZDF.


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