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Teaching of Physics: Instructional Activities?

April 11, 2013

Brain-dumping ideas about next year’s version of teaching of physics, and what kinds of instructional routines I want to be at the core of the things students learn to do in class. There’s way too much here for a one semester course, and at the same time it doesn’t cover everything… anyway, here it my current brain dump:

Launching and monitoring small-group exploratory activities that are well-structured and designed so that students are expected (and likely) to author initial ideas about a set of phenomena that are “close to” canonical.

(e.g., PBI has students develop an operational definition for uniform motion as they explore motion of ball’s on track).

 (e.g., Many examples in which students develop rules and ideas for relating motion-detector graphs to how a person moves)

 (e.g., develop generalizations about the patterns that do and don’t allow a light bulb to light while exploring with a piece of wire, a battery, and a bulb)

This seems to be generic enough to cover lots of good research-based materials. Students would get “exposure” to such curriculum, and analyzing curricular structures that make them effective. Opens up with some issues in managing materials, classroom space, and group work; and in listening to students, using questioning to check for understanding, and using questioning in order to guide students in different directions.

Facilitating a classroom discussion around a conceptual question that targets a specific learning goal (e.g., interpreting kinematics graphs) and addresses specific student difficulties (e.g., distinguishing position and velocity).

I’m really think about peer instruction here. I think this a a good first step toward practicing eliciting student ideas, fostering engagement in a whole-class discussion, probing for student to explain their reasoning, re-voicing and representing students ideas, and orienting students to other students’ ideas. It also build capacity for thinking about learning goals and student difficulties, and thinking about properties of good questions. I big part here is also in explaining canonical physics by connecting it student arguments/ideas and explicitly addressing alternative ideas. What I like about this is that it’s a short cycle, one that can be practiced–starting with anticipating what students will say, to question posing, eliciting ideas in a whole class discussion, and summarizing arguments in order to emphasize underlying physics.

Introducing a pedagogical representation (e.g., motion maps) and providing opportunities for guided practice with feedback (e.g., providing students with various scenarios to work through, then white-boarding and discussing one’s that groups perhaps diagrammed differently)

This I think is important, because it can provide a model for “lecturing”, and “seat work” that can be done meaningfully. It gives students a chance to learn about lots of pedagogical representations they might not have learned (motion maps, schema systems, energy pie charts, whatever). It also begins teachers thinking about how to monitor students work in order to decide “what’s juicy enough or that the whole class” needs to discuss to further learning.

Launching a problem-solving activity (e.g., where will fast and slow buggy meet?) and facilitating a strategy-sharing discussion (e.g., whiteboard meeting).

When I think of launching problem-solving, I think a lot about Dan Meyer’s three acts kinds of stuff, but I also think a lot about “Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussion”, and those two together form the core of how I think about a lot of this.

Launching, structuring, and monitoring a laboratory investigation in which students are to collect data to determine a quantitative relationship (through graphing).

(e.g., analyzing position and time data for constant velocity buggy)

(e.g., investigating relationship between spring extension and hanging weight)

(e.g., investigating relationships between force, mass, acceleration)

This, of course, isn’t the only kind of laboratory work, but it’s a kind of laboratory work that is common and useful. Lots of materials management and group work managing, etc. Modelling curriculum has lots of good examples of this kind of thing. Many of our students will have only experience “confirmation” labs, so this gets us away from that model and toward a model of uncovering relationships, etc. There are other kinds of labs that are missing with this, but may be able to be incorporated, but thinking about claim-evidence-reasoning structure, etc.

Collaboratively establishing classroom expectations through student engagement in activities and discussion. (e.g., Marshmallow challenge, Weird paper airplanes, Science Notebooks)

This is something I’ve been thinking alot about, especially since one of our students has really struggled with classroom management. I realize that it’s not fully my job, but we can model some ways to do “science-y” activities in order to get students to contribute to establishing procedures about how the science class is run. Each of these examples is not just about classroom routines or expectations, but links to the nature of science or learning in meaningful ways, if done right.

Establishing and enacting structures for self/peer assessment of work

This idea is fuzzy in my head a little bit, but I’m thinking about how this is pretty important.

Providing (narrative) feedback to students based on work they have done.

This, too, fuzzy in my head. But I think it’s a kind of thing to get them examining, interpreting student work in ways that aren’t about “grading”, but understanding what students are saying, etc.

These next two are more about “larger planning”, about how to productively plan for and respond to student ideas and thinking in order to help them learn something difficult or learn something over a long period of time.

Sequencing and enacting a set of activities/discussions in order to help students understand a particularly difficult concept or situation.

  • Elicit-Confront-Resolve (prior knowledge is problematic in some way)
  • Bridging Analogies (prior knowledge is useful but needs refinement)
  • Inventing in order to PFL (build some new prior knowledge to leverage later)

Eliciting student ideas/explanations for a phenomena and supporting them in a process of developing ways of testing and further developing their ideas.

 (e.g., develop an initial model of magnetism as they explore the magnetization of a nail, and help them t test those ideas)

a lot of ISLE activities are structured like this;

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2013 10:26 pm

    Hi Brian, this reads like a table of contents for things I want to get better at. When are you running this course? Would you be willing to have a non-credit interloper in your class, for some portion of that time? I’m on leave January – April of next year, and starting to think about traveling. Feel free to write back via email if you like.

    • April 11, 2013 11:23 pm

      That would be stellar. We actually run the course each spring, and are moving the course time and also securing funds to entice more practicing teachers to take the course for graduate credit. So it totally makes sense to have you. You would be more than welcome-and if it fit with your plans, my wife says our guest bedroom is all yours.

      • April 12, 2013 7:51 pm

        Wow. Would love to do this. Do you know the start date?

      • April 12, 2013 11:08 pm

        Spring of 2014 starts Jan 16th and ends April 30th.

      • April 24, 2013 4:52 pm

        I’m thinking through some possibilities here, and wondering what you suggest. To do this, I’d have to secure some funding, which is why I’m thinking so far in advance. What would make the most sense — for me to take the entire course or sit in for some part of it? (If the latter, which part? I’m guessing the beginning, so I can be part of the group-forming, and also to see how you launch it).

        Is it possible to audit the course? If not, what’s the best route for a non-degree-status student (especially one who doesn’t have an undergraduate degree?) If I should be talking to your registrar about this, let me know. I expect to apply to an M Ed program this year — not sure if that affects the enrollment options.

        I’m guessing I could sit in unregistered for a short period of time without raising too many eyebrows, especially if there is something I could contribute (no thoughts here, but I’m open to the idea) — let me know what you think about that.

        Thanks to both you and your wife for considering putting me up. I’d be grateful to take you up on this for a short time, especially while getting my bearings. If I was staying for a longer period, I notice that the campus has apartments available that can be rented for an entire semester. Any other recommendations about housing options?

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