"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reading a Primary Source

In some of the posts in this blog, a primary source is highlighted. A copy of the abstract is usually provided in these instances. The abstract is basically a very short version of the paper. It contains the objectives, methods, results and significance of the work described in the paper. Reading primary sources is quite challenging. As noted in a previous post, "Vocabulary and Learning", abstracts of scientific articles contain on average 128 rare words per 1000. That is more than ten percent, that is, in each sentence composed of ten words, it is very likely to find one word most people have not encountered before. 128 is an average number and the actual number depends on the field. Papers in the natural, biological and medical sciences are more likely to contain highly technical vocabulary. Since this blog particularly pertains to basic education, I am assuming that the primary sources I cite in this blog are still within the reach of readers of this blog.

Papers in physics and chemistry can be quite challenging to read. I remember meeting a professor from a university in North Carolina two decades ago when I was still a student. The professor made a remark that it took him several months to read and comprehend one of the papers I co-authored with my mentor. The following is the abstract of that paper:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.463586
The above paper is 17 pages long. It is from the Journal of Chemical Physics, and I have to admit, this particular journal is not really leisure reading material. Although peer reviewed research articles are not for general consumption, it is important that students get introduced to this particular type of literature. These are indeed quite different from what one reads from a newspaper, magazine or even a textbook. The primary source is the direct communication from those who performed the study and made the discovery.

I regularly receive updates from the Teaching Channel, the home of videos from inspiring classrooms. In one of the updates, I saw a video of how a science teacher in high school introduces primary sources to her students:



Shelia Darjean Banks teaches at the John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana. I think Banks does a fine job.

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