Trying new old things (part II)

First, I think it is amazing that everyone I talk to about my concerns and issues with teaching (be it the flipped classroom, or just general issues) is very supportive and sympathetic.  I have yet to meet anyone, thankfully, that is patronizing or condescending.  So thank you!

Back to what I posted about the other day, on the topic of why students seem to not be very interested in thinking or learning, I’ve been doing some reading of other blogs, posts, articles, etc.  Of course (and unfortunately) there is no magic bullet.  Kids are kids.  Some will adapt to new styles of instruction, others won’t.  Some will complain, others will suffer in silence.  And some will perform well, and others will fail… seemingly with no real correlation to ability on occasion.

Here are a couple of good resources I’ve picked up while doing some research:

In a nutshell I’ve learned that I need to do what I’ve wanted to do, but resisted doing for one reason or another: in-class discussion of ideas/concepts as a method of developing understanding, mixed with hands-on inquiry-based activities.  There will be resistance by “lazy” students.   All things with mass have inertia, and are “lazy”, and require a net force to alter their motion (or lack thereof).  And students, who have acquired years of poor academic ideals, have edu-nertia* and will also require a force to change their motion.

Techniques

The Question Formulation Technique (book) was recently brought to my attention, though it is similar to what Postman and Weingartner discussed in their book (they also talk about students resisting thinking, because it is hard!).  The idea is to have students approach an idea by asking, then refining questions.  The ultimate goal is to have your students be able to actually ask good questions.

Implementing this technique could take significant class time if done repeatedly.  While I’d love to work on question-asking for days, I’d also like to have them do physics.  So, perhaps starting with a non-physics topic to get them warmed up, and then introducing physics ideas as time goes by would work.  I’d also like to utilize our learning management system (LMS) Canvas to move these questions refinement tasks online.

Canvas also features an excellent discussion feature.  Students can post, comment, and repost in a discussion and receive credit for it.  I can assign peer review of other students posts, and make comments on everything.  And, since it is online students can participate at home, in school, during lunch, or wherever/whenever they have an internet connection.

The way I see it

  1. Students are asked to think about and question a topic
  2. Questions are refined and discussed
  3. Hands on activities are completed to build a conceptual framework
  4. Conceptual framework is discussed and tested through further investigation
  5. Results are shared and discussed
  6. Students get Advanced on the standardized tests.

Of course, the biggest gripe students have with physics, and math for that matter, is that it seems removed from real life.  They get that momentum is related to cars moving, and forces are required to make things move sometimes, but they see through the thin veil of “real world application” hanging over most  physics problems.  The real trick is to apply the techniques above while simultaneously making the class more applicable to their lives… and simultaneously remaining sane.

*Thanks for the edu-nertia reference @clonghb

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