Tuesday, January 04, 2011
What does that mean?
The other day I visited a science exhibition at my daughter’s school. As I was passing through an array of models and demonstrations, I could see every student was enthusiastically trying to draw every visitor's attention to his/her piece of work. Everything sounded good except one thing - the students were seen literally reading some sort of script to explain their work. Some smart guys memorized the stuff well so they did not require any hand written (mostly) note to assist them delivering the script but many did keep one by their side. It was hard to find someone who “knows” what he/she is trying to explain rather than forcing the stuff through using pale dialogue delivery.
There at the corner, a bright spectacles boy waved his hand calling me to see his work. I walked up to him. He was demonstrating “law of conservation of momentum” through a model that roughly looked like the one above.
After a customary greeting, he read through his memorized statements about law and looked at me with hopeful eyes asking if I understood anything out of it.
I asked him “what does this law tell you”.
He promptly, this time with more energy and desperately attempting to sound confident, repeated the law (the statements) like a tape recorder.
What do you understand from the term “momentum”, I asked him.
He was totally unprepared for the question (missing in his notes - missing test case?)
He quickly recovered gently tapping his spectacles said “It is simple sir - it is mass times the velocity”
I know that is a mathematical formula for momentum.
Student finally found something that I agree with him and said “Yes. you are right sir”.
At that instant, I remember my hero Richard P Feynman - the (most) curious character and asked him “But what does that mean? Mass times velocity?”
This time, student was not expecting that question at all.
I moved to another demonstration where they were showing double helix model of DNA and the girl explaining the model, gave a 5 minute non stop explanation of what DNA is and what genes are.
Again, some question “What does that mean” to the explanation “genes carry genetic code so that characteristics are passed on from species to species” got everything to a grinding halt.
I became pretty notorious from that day in among my daughter's friends about asking such silly questions about things that are taken for granted for the students. My daughter later told me that her friends were impressed with my “latest” knowledge of science and my questions.
Later, over the week end, one the students (harassed by me in the exhibition) paid a visit to my home apparently (I thought) to take revenge on me. He, incidentally was my daughters classmate and asked me “what do I do for living”. I said to him “I am a software tester”. While he did not understand that very much, he wanted to know how learn things. I explained him about few things that I learned of late as a student of software testing (than when I really a student to learn science). He appeared to have understood some of my approaches.
When he was about to leave, I gave this book “ Surely You're joking Mr Feynman” and told him - "learn science like this guy". I was happy that I introduced Feynman to a student hoping the “Feynmanism” spreads in the school.
I wish a very happy and prosperous New year to you all