Writing in Intro Physics
My experience teaching this summer has led me to re-think many things. Here is just one thing on my mind I don’t want to forget about:
I’d really like to include more writing in the physics curriculum. By that, I don’t mean more lab reports or more independent projects with papers, which we do have. I’d like students to have opportunity to practice formulating written explanations of phenomena and evaluating explanations and arguments. I want to give them feedback on that writing, and I want to hold them accountable to learning to do it well. Now, I have been having students write a lot online as part of pre-class reading assignments. I’ve been sharing a lot of what students do write in posts. In many cases, students are asked to make predictions and explain their reasoning, or students are asked to make some observation and have to try to explain what they observed. Some of the time I’m asking them to begin with their everyday thinking, while other times I am looking to see if students are framing their explanations in terms of physics concepts. None of that is graded or given much feedback. I use it to inform what I do in class in a JiTT-style. In class, as well, we discuss clicker questions, which often involve forming arguments, listening to arguments, responding to arguments, and reconciling competing ideas. While we do all this to learn, I’m beginning to be concerned that these aren’t explicit learning goals–ones that students practice, get feedback on, and are held accountable for being able to do.
I know there’s a lot of literature out there on writing in the sciences, and I’m tasking myself with reading up on it and beginning to formulate a plan on what might work at our institution. The truth is that I am more interested in helping students to use physics concepts to explain the world around them then to solve problems (which is our primary way of assessing students right now). I’m not saying that problem-solving shouldn’t be assessed, I’m just saying that right now it’s given way to much attention–in the substance of the course, the practice students get, the feedback they get, and the ways in which they are assessed.
Anyway, I’d appreciate any ideas, papers, blogposts, strategies, etc. There’s a lot to think about, and I could certainly use some help.