Video Review: A Private Universe
Schneps, M. H. and P. M. Sadler (1987) Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, Science Education Department, Science Media Group, A Private
Universe. Video. Washington, DC: Annenberg/CPB: Pyramid Film and Video, 18 minutes.
Reviewed by Bill McAllister, Faculty Consultant, TRC and Department of History
This video offers a thought-provoking portrayal of how, and often how poorly, students inculcate the information we teach them. It begins with an arresting sequence, which takes place at Harvard on graduation day, in which students and faculty are quizzed about some basic concepts of science. Most fail to answer correctly. Viewers cannot help but marvel at the disjunction between the formal instruction these people received and their demonstrated inability to incorporate certain facts into their knowledge base. In order to explore this phenomenon in detail, the main portion of the A Private Universe focuses on a bright high school student. The video documents the difficulty she experiences in jettisoning preconceived false notions about fundamental science concepts, even after receiving correct information.
Watching this film impels us to address important issues we often do not think about. How do misconceptions block learning? Can we assume that because we have "taught" a subject, our students have "learned" it? A Private Universe does not offer easy answers to those questions. It does, however, cause us as teachers to reconsider what is happening in the minds of those on the "receiving" end. I highly recommend viewing A Private Universe to provoke further discussion about teaching.