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FCI in Teaching Physics

January 13, 2012

Students took the FCI in my teaching physics class, the three ways I outlined before:

Overall, students did quite well, all students scoring above 70%, with the group averaging 83%. The most common stumbling blocks were indicating force in the direction of motion; distinguishing position, velocity, and average velocity; difficulty comparing the magnitude of force pairs under non-equilibrium situations, and reasoning consistent with force as proportional to velocity.

After everyone finished, we worked through trying to reach consensus, and got as far as the first 20 questions. There was only one question that consensus could not be reached, and the arguments went back and forth for quite some time. Based on the particular question and arguments we were working with, it’s fair to say we’ll be visiting the horse and the wagon paradox. I feel like I did a good job of maintaining  a neutral position with respect to that answer, while still pressing upon and helping to clarify the arguments.

For the first day, things went well in terms of willingness to share, argue, listen, and respond. I was happy that for the most part that we were focused on the arguments and having reasons for changing one’s mind; although changing one’s mind for peer pressure reasons was certainly happening here and there. I usually pressed for what arguments had convinced people to change their mind. In class, I also had a chance to point out some important elements of our discourse, including some nuances in construction of counter-arguments, calls for using representational tools to resolve disputes, and being able to explain or argue for an answer in multiple ways. Some of the arguments I had never considered myself, which was nice. At one point I was able to point out that, at least for one question, that we were mostly in agreement on the answer, but with contradictory explanations for that answer.

As we worked through consensus, our conversation naturally spilled over to explaining why someone might think wrong answers. I heard lots of good beginnings for making sense of how students think. It is nice that we began this conversation in class, because this is what students are going to do for homework–empathize with the thinking of students to account for the range of alternative answers.

Tomorrow, students in my physics course get the FCI and we’ll get to see how they faired at predicting what incorrect answer students will give and predicting the difficulty of the question.

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