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Day 2: New Pilot Section of Algebra-based Physics (First Day)

August 25, 2015

Today was the first day in a pilot section of a newly developed algebra-based physics course. I am piloting one section and a colleague is piloting the same in a second section.

Some details about the changes include

Text: Changed from a Home-grown text to Knight’s College Physics

Homework: Changed from no HW to Mastering Physics

Labs: Changed from confirmation labs to a variety of lab format including qualitative explorations of phenomena, guided investigations, and application/challenge labs.

Equipment: From teacher control over lab equipment to open student access to a variety of vernier lab equipment (sensors, cart, tracks, etc).  Each day students must retrieve and return at last some their equipment. On “challenge” labs, students have to decide what equipment they want to address the challenge.

Shelf Labels

Groups: From lots of unstructured group work to more structured group work (a lot of this came about from students having free access to equipment… we only wanted one person per day to be retrieving/returning equipment). This led us to think more critically about group roles. We still have some work to do in building assessment (peer/self/whatever) to our structure.

Hours:  From Two 2.5 hours studio session + one 1.5 hour lecture to two 3 hour student sessions.  Mini-lectures are interleaved with collaborative problem-solving, labs, clicker questions, etc.

Clickers: Clickers were used exclusively in the 1.5 hour lecture, now they are integrated into the studio sessions.

What are the biggest differences in philosophy?

– Units were organized around “Culminating Challenge Labs” (like practicals in Modeling Instruction).  We designed backwards–asking first what do we want students to understand and be able to do –> then what lab challenges would representatively sample that terrain of understanding –> then finally what learning experiences would give us confidence students would be able to succeed. Our lab activities and problem-solving sessions are intended to equip students with the skills necessary to be successful with the challenge lab. This semester, we’ll be discovering what gaps we’ve made to large and what gaps we’ve overly smoothed over.

– Students having open and free access to the lab equipment is rooted in us trying to give students more agency in the lab. Previously, it always felt like, “we owned the lab equipment” and we set it out for students to use when and how we wanted. We are trying to provide an environment where students feel like it’s their equipment and they get to use it when they need it. Part of that of course is helping them to feel confident in their ability to use it, but releasing control. We will be working on getting the balance right, but I’m happy this is a driving factor of our course.

– A stronger focus on qualitative understanding and conceptual reasoning. We have better balance, which is largely supported by having the new text, using “lab explorations” to introduce topics, and implementing collaborative exercises and clicker questions that focus on that aspect. We tend to move from phenomena –> qualitative representations –> quantitative representations.

Outline of First Day: Introduction and Motion Diagrams

1 hour for course introduction /logistics and pretest

1 hour to interactive lecture demos, clicker questions, and collaborative exercises about motion diagrams

1 hour for lab introduction to logger pro and motion detectors (I created a file to have motion detector make motion diagrams instead of graphs… students practice getting equipment for the first time, connecting their equipment, accessing software, and then they are guided to make predictions/observations for various motions of objects including their hands, fan carts, etc.)

Overall, it went well.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2015 1:20 pm

    The idea of having logger pro make motion diagrams intrigues me. Is this something you’d be willing to share?

    • August 27, 2015 3:28 pm

      Yes… you can direct message me your email on twitter (@brianwfrank), and I can send you the file. Basically, you set motion detector to sample at a low rate (~2 / second). Then you make a graph with a dummy variable on one axis and position on the other. If you want to have motion that turns around, you want your dummy variable to distinguish toward/away. For example, I made a calculated column that takes velocity/abs(velocity), which ends up putting the motion map slightly above when moving away, and slightly below when moving toward. This keeps the motion map from overlapping. Maybe I’ll write a post about it?

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