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By way of introduction…

Some of you reading this blog may be familiar with the area of mathematics known in the A Level syllabus as ‘mechanics.’ Whether you are or not, it is worth stating that the early parts of mechanics  build upon concepts familiar to those who’ve studied GCSE mathematics before. There’s nothing absolutely groundbreaking in the M1 syllabus, and certainly nothing at the start of the course that isn’t just a logical extension of things already known.

Which is why I was left quite baffled this morning at the way that our class’ first mechanics lesson panned out. First of all we did some basic calculations using distance (d), time (t) and speed (s), then we launched straight into S=(u+v)t/2, v=u+at equations without even the explanation that s now represents displacement rather than speed, or that v and u are starting velocity and end velocity. We then proceeded to be told “the units for acceleration are ms^-2 without being told why those are the units or why we are no longer writing them as m/s^2

We then proceeded to get given some example questions and told how to plug the numbers given into a formula.

As I said on twitter at the time, it was a lesson in how *not* to introduce a class to mechanics.

Anyone studying mechanics will already have become familiar with old favourites such as v=s/t, and the subject very much lends itself to working out, with guidance, the logical next steps for such an equation. Why not introduce a real world example of movement, speed and acceleration and start with the things you know about it, then work out how we might be able to get the information from this with the addition of nothing but logic. Such an approach would give learners a fuller understanding of the subject, why the formulae are what they are, and an ability to work them out again if they forget them.

Instead, we were presented with a handful of equations, expected to commit them to memory by a process of repetitive use and call upon them when needed. Very little context or explanation was given and, as a result, a subject which is very dynamic, applicable to the real world and logical was presented as one of abstract formulas, rote and repetition. Unsurprising, therefore, that the first word uttered on our table when we were given time to work through the questions, was “why are the units for acceleration like that? Is it because its metres per second per second?”

The one last point on the subject is that, having spoken to others in the class about it, there’s a feeling that it was a bit ‘rushed’ because we’re nearing the end of our available course time. However, I’m not convinced that the way to get through a topic quickly is by taking out the bits that will help people understand! Seems somewhat counter-productive to me…

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