A New Way to Learn: Students Argue About Physics
If you walk into Eric Mazur's Harvard physics
class at the wrong time, you may think you're in a lounge instead of a
lecture hall. Students argue furiously. They're loud. They're unruly. "It's
absolute chaos," Mazur admits. "It's great."
His students are arguing about physics. Every 10 minutes, Mazur's class
has a ConcepTest–an on-the-spot, ungraded quiz that pinpoints an
underlying concept of physics. Students record their answers and the arguments
begin. "I tell them, turn to your neighbor and convince them of your answer," Mazur
After a few minutes, the question is put back up. Freshly convinced students
record their answers in a second round of testing. Mazur can see their
responses as they are entered into a computer; when 50 percent of the
students get the answer right the first time, the second showing is closer
to 90 percent.
In 1995, the ConcepTest System was chosen to be included in NSF's Profiles
of Innovative Projects, a booklet highlighting 50 of NSF's education ventures.
Developed with the help of a 1993 grant from NSF's Division of Undergraduate
Education, ConcepTest is now widely distributed through seminars, workshops
and Mazur's Web page.
What ConcepTest accomplishes, says Mazur, is getting students to stop
memorizing and start thinking. Explaining a concept forces students to
grasp the issues, he says. "It's not hands-on. It's brains-on."