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Reflections before a weekend away from blogging…

September 17, 2011

I’ve been thinking and posting a lot about my intro physics course:

The price of being thoughtful

My thoughts on the flipped class

Misunderstanding components

Comparing Goal-less Problems

Eyeing Improvement

What’s Missing

Why I shouldn’t teach

My flipped class summary

Reflecting back on how the past few weeks have gone, I just have the following remarks to say about reform physics instruction:

Flipped classes, computer-guided feedback, clickers, projects, group work, and white-boarding are not the ingredients for meaningful learning. Rather, these structures merely create opportunity for the construction of meaningful student work, for the real-time monitoring and responding to student work, for the cultivation of learning-oriented community, for enhanced epistemic agency. These opportunities are not only contingent upon how student learning is structured, but attention must be paid to what specifically students are to be learning and how best to structure their work specifically within those arenas. These opportunities are also highly contingent upon an instructor’s attention and responsiveness to community-building and to the fostering of individual’s agency to act within that community. Realizing opportunity is quite different from merely creating opportunity.

Elsewhere, I have seen and been in classrooms where students have the opportunity to make contact with some forms of meaningful work (of one kind at least), but the conditions are such that community and agency are stifled. I have found this to be the case in many worksheet-driven, research-based curriculum. Students make contact with many important physics ideas by dragging them through well-thought-out and tested curriculum. These kinds of classrooms can get results, but I feel they often come with much collateral damage–community, agency, attitudes, joy of learning, etc. I can understand why some would advocate for the use of such materials. I think I can appreciate what value others see in them now more than ever. It is interesting to contrast my uneasiness with such curriculum with my current uneasiness. They are almost polar opposites.

I am learning that I am just not interesting in teaching under conditions void of meaningful disciplinary learning OR meaningful learning community. I want both. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for. I know that it’s hard work–especially for me but for anyone who aims for it. But it can’t be too much to ask for.

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