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Me learning to examine the pedagogical thinking of future physics teachers

February 2, 2012

I have never taught a teaching physics class before. An interesting thought keeps popping into my mind: As the students in that class are learning to attend to student thinking about physics, I am learning to attend to their pedagogical thinking.

Anyway, here is a bit of my thinking about their thinking…

Last week for homework, I asked students in my teaching of physics to work through the University of Washington 1D acceleration tutorial with a classmate. I asked them to discuss what they learned, where in the tutorial they learned it, and how the tutorial helped that learning to occur.

Then I asked them to analyze the tutorial in terms of the difficulties that students might have opportunity to work through.

Here are some snippets of what three students wrote (emphasis added):

“I really don’t think that these questions would help most students overcome difficulties in their understanding of motion. These problems would be better for revealing what difficulties students have.”

 

“Problems like these confront students with contradictions between their common sense and the laws of physics. Students can reconcile the two, provided they get reminders about what acceleration and velocity are. These problems are valuable in progressing the students’ abilities to distinguish physical quantities. However, there should be considerable discussion on each question. These questions should not be rushed.”

 

“I think this is an excellent worksheet that progresses students through some situations that will make them make them face some common misconceptions and (hopefully) reconcile them…Making the students draw the graphs next to each other for the scenario makes them think through…I really like how the worksheet makes the student flip the direction of the positive-direction. Having students actually reproduce something they have already done with the direction flipped is far better learning tool then just telling them to remember it is dependent on how you set up your axis… I really like where it asks you to agree or disagree with an incorrect  statement–questions like this go deeper than a number answer. They address concepts, not just equations.”

I really appreciate aspects of all three of these very different responses

The first is focused on what a knowledgeable instructor would be able to discern from students making mistakes while doing the worksheet. The responder, however, doesn’t seem confident that students would be in a position to notice or work through those difficulties themselves. The response suggests that an expert must be around to notice and make the most of teachable moments. I see this response as the beginnings of asking, “What is the role of the instructor when students are doing this worksheet?” and I think that this future teacher will likely benefit from more opportunities to watch students working things out for themselves.

 

The second response is focused more on the possibility that students could be able to work it out themselves, but that it might require something–some scaffolding that draws their attention to the disciplinary ideas of acceleration and velocity, as well as, thoughtful discussion among students I see this response as the beginnings of asking, “What can we do to promote student discussion and meaningful engagement when they do these kinds of activities?” I’m curious how this future teacher is thinking about that question.

 

The third is focused mostly on specific features of the worksheet that make it likely that students will have an opportunity to wrestle with some difficulty or to notice some inconsistency. The student sees value in having students coordinate among multiple representations, in having them look at the same problem from a new perspective, and in having students considere and respond to reasoning. I see this response as the beginnings of asking, “What kinds of problems, questions, activities are likely to engage students in meaningful learning?” I also notice in the students’ writing the phrase “make them face”… and “make them think”, and I’m thinking about the use of the word “make” in particular, and I wonder what that means in relationship to the first two students who think you can’t “make” them do it.

 

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