Unpacking One Instructional Activities–

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)

 Teacher Skills/Practices Hoping to Foster and Embed:


  • Articulating how a question relates to specific learning goal
  • Articulating how a question relates to specific student difficulties with a topic
  • Anticipating student thinking–what they will say in response to question to support different answers, both correct and incorrect.


  • Question posing (poise, clarity, pacing, and checking for understanding)
  • Setting tone and expectations for how students should engage in the task–talking to each other, listening to each other, voting, etc.
  • Monitoring and fostering engagement (as students talk in pairs and during whole-class discussion)
  • Circulating and attending to student ideas


  • Eliciting student ideas and explanations in whole-class discussion
  • Re-voicing or representing student ideas
  • Positioning students as competent learners and authors of ideas
  • Orienting students to peer ideas (to agree, disagree, compare)–reflective tosses
  • Deciding if and when to have students re-vote, talk again with neighbors, etc.


  • Summarizing arguments heard and positions taken
  • Explaining correct answer by relating students’ ideas /arguments to canonical concepts
  • Explaining away incorrect answers by explicitly addressing alternative conceptions.
  • Checking for understanding of learning goal (e.g., a follow up question), or fostering consolidation (asking students to summarize, generalize, etc.)


  • What students’ ideas came up that were and were not anticipated? What did you learn about student thinking about the learning target /question/ concept?
  • What opportunities to elicit, probe, or re-voice students ideas were taken up? Were there any that were missed? How might you have done things differently?
  • In what ways were student arguments leveraged in explaining the physics concepts? How might you have used those ideas differently?
  • What challenges if any were faced in getting participation and engagement? What actions were taken? How successful were they? What other choices could have been made?


In practicing and rehearsing, I’m imagining building in organized “trouble” that teachers will may have to “repair”. Things that I can think of that actually happen in class, include

* No students spontaneously volunteering to share their answer or ideas

* When students are asked to talk with neighbors, a significant fraction of the class remains quiet with blank stares.

* When students are told to talk to their neighbors, they immediately share answers with each other (e.g, “I picked B”, “Oh yeah, me too”), but they don’t go on to explain their reasoning to each other.

* A student starts to explain their reasoning to the class, but stops midway, and dismissively says, “I don’t know.”

* Student gives reasoning that is very brief or too vague to understand.

* Student gives an answer, but does not share their reasoning spontaneously.

* Student says his reasoning and answer really quietly so no one else can hear

* Students voices his reasoning quite aggressively or authoritatively, causing the other students to shut down (“Well obviously the right answer is C, because we all know that in textbook it says that…”

* A really difficult to understand (or perhaps even bizarre) idea is voiced

* One student voices an idea, and another student laughs or rolls eyes, seeming to mock it.

* A student gives reasoning like,”It’s probably less than, because I would have picked greater than, and I’m always wrong.”

* You try to get the class’ attention after they have been talking with their neighbors, but many students keep talking in small groups.

* When one student is addressing the class with her reasoning, several groups keep talking, making it difficult to hear what was said.

* A significant fraction of class responds in ways that suggest they have misunderstand the question… or seems to be answering a different question.

* With a sequence of question, only same three of four students participate in whole-class discussion.

* One student is completely disengaged-head down, on cell phone, etc.

* Students voices a jumble of science vocabulary jargon as an explanation

* Two students talk back and forth for a while, perhaps in a heated argument, and other students start to disengage.

Obviously, in practicing, we carefully “role” out different kinds of trouble, as to not overwhelm anyone. But in writing this out, I’m realizing even more so how immensely challenging real teaching is, having to respond to all of these kinds of situations (and more), on the fly. But it also makes me realize how beneficial it will be engage in this kind of work with pre-service teachers.

Teaching of Physics: Instructional Activities?

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;

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