According to my observation, there are two main types of motivation for learning. One is to obtain higher grades in examinations; the other is to understand nature because of an inner interest and desire to think creatively. Different motivation leads to a different learning attitude and approach. Students with the first type of motivation seldom relate the theory they learnt to their experience. They would just try to memorize and recognize patterns in well-defined problems, and then to fit those patterns into any given problems. Using this approach, they may be able to easily score highly in examinations without really understanding the concepts. However, after examination they would return all that they have learnt (or more precisely, memorized) to their teachers. On the contrary, the students with the second type of motivation for learning have built in their brain a systematic cognitive structure that represents an image of nature. Whenever they learn, they use new knowledge to expand and simplify the structure. (Science has the advantage of using relatively few concepts and rules to describe nature.) Therefore, the knowledge they have learnt, old and new, theoretical and empirical, is merged and integrated into one. To them, textbook is merely a means for acquiring knowledge, not the end.
Based on the observation above, I believe that a good teacher should strive to achieve the following objectives.
- Create a cooperative but challenging atmosphere in order to nurture students’ interest in nature and love of learning. Encourage the joy of grasping a new idea. Too much focus on grading details may kill the joy of learning.
- Discourage rote learning. Be clear, fair, and consistent in administrative and class management so that students are encouraged to learn.
- Visualize abstract concepts, explain how concepts are derived from natural phenomena, and develop intuitive feelings for concepts. (Mechanics concepts are usually abstract, and in my opinion, creative thinking is impossible without intuition.)
- Whenever possible, engage the students in research, letting them not only see established results, but also allow them to experience the thrill of discovering new ones.