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Subject:

Re: Not a true story

From:

Jean Kaufmann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 17 Nov 1999 11:29:05 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (100 lines)

You probably already know this, but the article in question is "Angels on a Pin,"
which was originally published in Saturday Review, Dec. 21, 1968, and reprinted
(among other places, no doubt) in David Skwire's Writing with a Thesis.

Norman Stahl wrote:

> >From: Barak Rosenshine <[log in to unmask]>
> >Subject: Not a true story
> >A not true story:
> >
> >Some time ago I received a call from a colleague. He was about to give a
> >student a zero for his answer to a physics question, while the student
> >claimed a perfect score. The instructor and the student agreed to an
> >impartial arbiter, and I was selected.
> >
> >I read the examination question:
> >"SHOW HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO DETERMINE THE
> >HEIGHT OF A TALL BUILDING WITH THE AID OF A BAROMETER."
> >
> >The student had answered, "Take the barometer to the top of the building,
> >attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then bring the rope
> >up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height
> >of the building."
> >
> >The student really had a strong case for full credit since he had really
> >answered the question completely and correctly! On the other hand, if full
> >credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade in his physics
> >course and to certify competence in physics, but the answer did not confirm
> >this.
> >
> >I suggested that the student have another try. I gave the student six
> >minutes to answer the question with the warning that the answer should show
> >some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he had not written
> >anything. I asked if he wished to give up, but he said he had many answers
> >to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one.
> >
> >I excused myself for interrupting him and asked him to please go on. In the
> >next minute, he dashed off his answer which read: "Take the barometer to the
> >top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer,
> >timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula x=0.5*a*t^^2,
> >calculate the height of the building."
> >
> >At this point, I asked my colleague if he would give up. He conceded, and
> >gave the student almost full credit. While leaving my colleague's office, I
> >recalled that the student had said that he had other answers to the problem,
> >so I asked him what they were.
> >
> >"Well," said the student, "there are many ways of getting the height of a
> >tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the
> >barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the
> >length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by
> >the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the building."
> >"Fine," I said, "and others?"
> >
> >"Yes," said the student, "there is a very basic measurement method you will
> >like. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the
> >stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer
> >along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you
> >the height of the building in barometer units."
> >
> >"A very direct method."
> >
> >"Of course. If you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the
> >barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the
> >value of g at the street level and at the top of the building.
> > From the difference between the two values of g, the height of the building,
> >in principle, can be calculated."
> >
> >"On this same tact, you could take the barometer to the top of the building,
> >attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, and then swing
> >it as a pendulum. You could then calculate the height of the building by the
> >period of the precession".
> >
> >"Finally," he concluded, "there are many other ways of solving the problem.
> >Probably the best," he said, "is to take the barometer to the basement and
> >knock on the superintendent's door. When the superintendent answers, you
> >speak to him as follows:
> >
> >'Mr. Superintendent, here is a fine barometer. If you will tell me the
> >height of the building, I will give you this barometer."
> >
> >At this point, I asked the student if he really did not know the
> >conventional answer to this question. He admitted that he did, but said that
> >he was fed up with high school and college instructors trying to teach him
> >how to think.
> >
>
> *********************************
> Norman A. Stahl, Acting Chair
> Department of Literacy,
> Intercultural and Language Education
> GH 223c
> Northern Illinois University
> DeKalb, IL 60115
>
> Telephone:
> (815) 753-9032 {office}
> (815) 753-8563 (FAX)
>
> Email: [log in to unmask]

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