Monthly Archives: August 2013

Forgot I wrote this. On meanings and messages

This passage was posted on my course page for general physics about 10 months ago.  Now, at the beginning of a school year I can’t think of a better bit of writing to reflect on.


What do you do on a regular basis in school?  Listen?  Take notes?  Study?  Take tests/quizzes? Follow rules?

What are your expected outcomes from school?  To be a better communicator?  To think critically? Check out your Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs) for more.

If the expected outcome from a high school education is that each student fits the ESLRs, teachers must strive to implement those characteristics in class daily, not only during semester projects.  The methods and day-to-day practices teachers implement to help students learn is the medium of education.  Saying that the “Medium is the Message” implies that the actual things people do in class strongly influences what they end up learning.  If you spend your time listening to lecture and taking notes, you may become a good lecture note taker… not necessarily an expert on the content of the lecture.  If you study for and take weekly multiple-choice exams, you may become exceedingly good at that, too… regardless of the content.

Of course you only do well at those things if you buy into the idea that they are valuable.  That goes for the content of the courses, too.  If you don’t care much for World History, or Physics, it won’t matter how good a lecture-note taker you are, you will not learn much.  So, it is incumbent upon the instructor to develop a medium of instruction that meets his (and the school’s) learning outcomes.  If students should be “effective communicators who listen, speak, write and use symbolic language,” then the instructor must have them do just that every day.  If students should be “critical thinkers who formulate appropriate questions,” they must do it regularly.

It is my goal, as your teacher, to effect such changes during this school year.  While I want every student to know and understand Newton’s 3 Laws of motion, I also want them to be able to write good questions asking how those laws play a role in their daily lives.  I want students to be effective at communicating what they know, and more importantly, what they don’t know yet.  By increasing the number of critical thinking assignments, facilitating communication between students, and eliminating busy-work, I hope to make such a difference.  

But it takes time.  This is as new to me as it is to you.  So, be patient with me.  I promise to be patient with you!