Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Flashes from the Past: A Great Teacher

"There's two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery."

Who was this? He was a great teacher and he had interesting ideas about how to teach students.

Some highlights:
- his lectures were called "intuitive and geometrical, rather than analytical"...he liked to teach students to learn how to ask questions and then how to solve problems
- he invented a game in class in which students asked questions and had to pay each other if they could not give a satisfactory answer
- students were encouraged to use simplifications and analogies to solve problems
- he had an unusual knack for identifying simple principles and fallacious assumptions
- he was extremely patient with explanations, and seemed to enjoy taking more time to clarify a point
- he spoke and wrote slowly with "an economy of carefully chosen words"
- he said he had a poor memory, but kept an "artificial memory" with copious notes, calculations, and summaries
- he gave out his lecture notes ahead of class because he admitted that he had always had trouble listening and taking notes at the same time
- out of his 15 graduate students, 4 of them won the Nobel Prize (he did too)
- a co-winner of the Nobel Prize admitted that she had been put on the right track by a single crucial question raised by him

Who was this? This was Enrico Fermi, splitter of the atom, innovative teacher, and inventor of "Fermi questions", questions that were impossible to know with precision, but rather demanded the making of reasonable assumptions under the context of indefinite information.

"If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist." - Enrico Fermi

Physics Today June 2002
A Great Teacher
Fermi Problems
Garden of Fermi Problems
Fermi Math League
EideNeurolearningBlog: "...played practical jokes on unsuspecting...

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