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Week One of Teaching Physics

January 9, 2012

I have been waffling for over a month on how to start the first day of my “teaching of physics” course. My first inclination was to start by doing some science together. However, I have really decided to better capitalize on certain aspects of place and time.  See, in the course, we are going to be examining a lot of artifacts and events of student thinking. This will involve analyzing student data from diagnostic instruments, analyzing students’ written work to problems, observing student discussions, facilitating student discussions, watching video of students’ working on physics, and watching me interviewing students, analyzing video of my interview students, interviewing students, etc. The course is really an inquiry into student thinking. Along the way, we’ll be reading and writing a lot.

So I have decided to jump right into this kind of work, but tied spatially and temporally to what’s going on else where in our department. See, this Thursday is the first day of my teaching physics course. On Friday, however, I have to give out the FCI to students in my algebra-based physics course. So here’s what we’re going to do the “teaching of physics course”

Part I: FCI answers and predictions

On Thursday, I’m having students in my teaching physics course take the FCI three ways:

  • By indicating what they think the right answer is
  • By trying to predict the most commonly chosen wrong answer (from my class)
  • By trying to predict the percentage correct (maybe even with upper and lower bounds that would be surprising if the actual value fell outside)

As a class, we’ll look over our choices of answer and try to reach an agreement on the right answers, noting places where we are not able to. All of our data goes in a googledoc.

Part II: FCI explanations

For homework, they have to pick four (?) problems to discuss more thoroughly. For those four questions they must,

Explain why they chose their answer, including a discussion of any changes to their thinking that might have happened while taking the FCI, while discussing it in class, or while thinking about it afterwards.

Discuss why a student would pick the predicted wrong answer: What might they have been thinking? What reasoning would lead someone to this answer? What experiences might a person have in the everyday world that support this answer? Why is the right answer not appealing?

Explain why they chose the percentage they did: How did you decide whether this would be an easy or hard question? What about the question? What about the content? What about students? impacted your decision.

Part III: FCI Comparisons

They have the weekend to complete the part II, just before I send out the data from the FCI for my class, also in google doc. Here is the new assignment due following Thursday based on data:

For each question, determine what the most common wrong answer was. In places, where you did not correctly predict the most common wrong answer, discuss why you now think students might have chosen this other answer so frequently and not the one you predicted they would.

For each question, determine the percentage of students getting the answer correct. Make a plot “Predicted percentage vs. Actual Percentage”. Explain the meaning of plot, making sure to discuss the meaning of points that fall far above, far below, or near to the diagonal. Pick your two worst predictions and discuss the discrepancy between what you thought would happen and what actually happen.

At this point, they should be sufficiently exhausted.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2012 2:41 am

    This is such a fantastic idea! Much of what teachers need to do is to listen to their students, to diagnose their misunderstandings, and to set a structure in which the students can revise their understanding themselves. An inquiry into what students are thinking in physics is perfect. I wish I were taking your class.

    • January 10, 2012 1:24 pm

      Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for the support. I’ll certainly keep everyone updated on what we’re doing in class and what we are learning about student thinking as a result.

  2. Christopher permalink
    January 10, 2012 3:11 pm

    Wow. This is lovely. How will you handle a case where your future teachers come to incorrect consensus on an FCI answer?

    • January 10, 2012 3:28 pm

      I have been thinking about this a lot, because it’s certainly likely to happen. Four options I’ve been considering

      (1) Letting them know how many wrong consensus answers they have, but not which ones. They’ll have to keep this in the back of their minds as they inquire into the data. Part of their homework would probably be to identify which ones.

      (2) Each of us (including myself) takes the exam, and our answers are posted anonymously in a google spreadsheet. We can’t have immediate consensus on wrong answer if I choose the right one. Whenever we don’t have consensus, I suggest we need to hear arguments on both sides. I’m happy to argue for and against right or wrong answers, so I might be able to disguise who I am.

      (3) Explicitly draw attention to and discuss wrong consensus answers before I send them off, so that it doesn’t confuse or muddle their analysis of the data.

      (4) Don’t say anything, and see what happens.

      What do you think?

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