Too many changes?

An incomplete list of changes for next semester intro physics:

(a) Capitalize on the first day more. The first day was syllabus / take FCI day. Next semester, I plan on doing a two quick “mini-labs” and one problem-solving activity. I have 2.5 hours and I plan use it all to set the tone. … Also, a required HW after the first day is to find my office and to write their name on the whiteboard outside my office.

(b) Get away from current reading quiz system by doing a mini-SBG system. Instead of having a 5 multiple-choice quiz on reading, I am going to have 5 standards per week. I’ll explicitly assess those items (probably each twice) that week, but students can re-assess later weeks (details to be figured out). Each week I am supposed to give 2 reading quizzes each worth 5 points. In my new system 5 points will come from students showing mastery of those skills (at any time). 5 points will come from students filling out an online form where they have to write about “What was confusing from the reading?”, which must be completed before each class. This way I accomplish three things: I keep the incentive for students to read, I get feedback before class about what students think was confusing, and the assessments are more geared for diagnosing and learning.

For example, Week 1 might be

I can convert units

I can finding slope of a line given a graph

I distinguish distance, displacement, and position

I distinguish average velocity from average speed

I can interpret a position v. time graph

(c) Have warm-ups each day that make contact with content we initially learned earlier in the semester. Right now, the class runs like a freight-train. We need some reminders about what we were supposed to have learned along the previous stops. I want to keep these short.

(d) Use these quiz assessments and/or warm-ups to give more individualized feedback to students. I don’t find the computer exercises to be the most useful thing for students to do, but in the mean time they give students something to do while I write down individualized feedback on student work. In the future, I’ll hope to have better things for them to do during this time, but I think for now the computer exercises will have to do.

(e) Students will bring their clickers to my class. Right now students just bring them to lecture, which is one hour a week. Right now I am doing a lot of peer discussion-style stuff without clickers, so this is a no brainer.

(f) Manage lab activities with more scaffolding early on and organize lab time as to capitalize on dynamics between whole class and small groups. For example, I want do to the first lab activity together as a class. It’s a measure circumference and radius of different pipes to make a plot, to find slope to get an experimental measure of pi. Instead of just sending them off to do it, I want each group to measure one pipe (a different one) as accurately as they can, to find a value for pi based on their measurement alone, and to determine their percent error. At front of the class, there will be one giant plot, where each group will come up and add their data point. We’ll talk about the graph, and different ways we can get a better measure of pi by using everyone’s data— averaging everyone’s data and finding the slope. Each group will have to do the average method and the slope method to find pi and percent error, and use that to decide which one gives us a better estimate. As a class, we’ll report back what we found and learn and I’ll help students understand why the slope method works — it helps to get rid of any systematic error (i.e., look at the intercepts of the graph).

(g) Instead of checking labs in notebooks,  students will do (most of) their labs on their whiteboards. Data on board, graphs on board, calculations on the board. They have to run me through what they did, and I check them off.  Some labs, however, are supposed to be graded more closely. For these, I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I think I’ll do a group check out plus individual check out on paper, which will focus on procedures students need to know how to do, such as fractional uncertainty, weakest link rule of error propagation, how to linearize data, and how to interpret slope. I could maybe make this more SBG as well.

(h) Continue having students work problems on large wall whiteboards. This is going well. I want to use a combination of a whole-class discussion and group-group conferencing. My new job next semester is to have clearer goals in mind for what students are supposed to have learned from doing that problem, and to make sure those issues arise during discussion or conferencing.

(i) Give students clear time frames to work within, and use a timer to monitor time. I’m OK using more time when needed, but I want to explicitly make that decision, not just forget about time. This is mostly about using class time efficiently. I have 2.5 hours with them. We can get a lot done, but I have to be vigilant about squeezing the most out of the time we do have.

(j) Differentiation and balancing individual vs. group work. After students finish their whiteboard problems, I want to give them the option of doing another problem together or doing their second problem “flying solo”. For “solo” problems, I’m gonna steal from Frank and have answer key in the back of room, where students can give themselves feedback on the problem. While those students are flying solo, I can attend to those students or groups who are still struggling.

(k) Lastly, I want to make sure I have a one-on-one conversation with every student after the first exam. Not sure, how I will do this, but it’s important. I’m also going to email absent students with a note saying something like, “Hey, we all noticed you weren’t in class today. Hope to see you on Thursday!” I already started doing this with my most frequent absentee students, and it has dramatically improved their attendance and likelihood to come talk to me about physics.

6 thoughts on “Too many changes?

Add yours

  1. Regarding the online form, do you think they would benefit from seeing the responses from others? I’ve been using Google Moderator to do that this semester with very limited success, but I do think it has possibilities. -Andy

      1. I don’t require it (hard to do in a standards-based system, though not impossible) and so very rarely are there more than 1 or 2 people using it for a given day.

  2. I like (g). It seems like a good way to take focus away from how the traditional labs nickel and dimes them to death for formatting issues that have little to do with the scientific value of the lab. For the labs that you mark as groups, you might want to have a follow-up (or even at the time) set of interpretation and generalization questions meant to focus them on the really important details that happen to be more than just extracting the correct information from a graph.

    Note that I talk the talk, but when I teach lab courses I struggle mightily to emphasize, as much as I would like to, the physics, the argumentation, the interpretations, the generalizations and the conclusions.

    For (k) you can do what my office-mate does and get them to come by your office to pick the exams up instead of handing them out in class.

  3. I’m curious about (k) – what kinds of things you hope to talk about in that meeting, for how long, etc. I did a version of that one semester – had students who missed more than 3 days and students with a C or below on an exam come by my office to figure out what isn’t working. (As I type that I realize that there’s already a punitive nature to it that your approach doesn’t have – I did try to approach it as saying: what can I do to better help you?) But mostly the meetings fell really flat. They would mumble something as an excuse, I’d try to reframe the conversation, and nothing much came out of it.

    In my lab classes I get their cell phone numbers on the first day, permission to call them, and then their labmates must call them when they’re not in class. When I ask, they appreciate that someone notices they aren’t there – no one (so far) has found it big-brothery.

    1. I hope to keep the meetings short. Right now, when students voluntarily come to see me about not doing as well on exams as they would have liked, I try to get at these issues:

      First, I want find out if they working on the exercises/problems at the end of the chapters. There is no homework for this class, so it’s all on the students to practice. I find that lots of students don’t really do any practicing. They seem to think that coming to class each day then and then looking over solutions to practice exam will be enough.

      Second, I want to find out if they are working on physics with anyone outside of class. It’s a mixed bag. Some students automatically do this. Others don’t. I now encourage them to find people to work with, but I think I can play a more active role in making this happen.

      Third, I want to find out if there’s any barriers to them coming to see me during my office hours. Do they have a job? Other classes? Kids? … Lots of students work 30-40 hours on top of school or are parents.

      I already ask every student to turn in a written piece of paper answering,

      (a) What’s going on in class that’s helpful for your learning? Why is it helpful? Unhelpful? Why?

      (b) What are you doing outside of class that’s helpful for you learning? Why is it helpful? Unhelpful? Why?

      So I suppose we could talk about that as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: