"The sage on the stage"

An interview with physicist Eric Mazur in the NY Times hits some interesting points on teaching methods in science:

Q. Perhaps this concept-based test was flawed?
A. No. But it was different. It measured their knowledge of physics forces in daily life. If they'd really understood Newtonian mechanics, they would have aced it. One student asked me: "How should I answer these questions? According to what you taught me? Or according to the way I usually think about these things?"
That was the moment I fell out of my ivory tower. It was then that I began to consider new ways of teaching.

He gives a brief description of his problem-based teaching methods -- some parts obvious, other parts less so -- and its unexpected results.

Just for the fun of it, we once put a silicon wafer into some gas we had lying around the lab. We then irradiated it with ultra-short laser pulses. What came out was a wafer as black as the blackest velvet....And today, we have a patent for this black silicon, which has important applications in communications and sensor technology.

Teaching genetics is a lot like teaching physics, without the lasers. So the idea of problem-based teaching is very appealing.

The trouble is choreographing a large class of students and managing the results. Mazur has his small groups enter answers into the computer, cutting down on the necessity for him to supervise the results.