Fall Inquiry

One of my biggest goals for this year (if I have a job) is to continue down the path of less notes and more inquiry.  While I was pretty happy with how things went last year in my first full year of teaching, it was easy to identify areas for improvement. In particular, I thought that in Physics 12 we spent too much time doing notes. Physics 11 was more collaborative but perhaps too de-contextualized.

I’m now a few weeks into the full swing of physics classes for 2012, and it looks promising that I will stay in this job until the end of the year. So while I haven’t done much planning ahead (since I didn’t have a job to plan for), I think I’m still managing to improve upon last year.

Physics 12 We’ve almost finished kinematics and we’ve barely spent any time at all on notes and transmission teaching.  Classes have been centered around Peer Instruction and Inquiry.  Of note is that rather than telling the kids about how to problem solve for projectiles, instead we went outside and shot Nerf darts in the air. On top of this, I didn’t ask the students any questions about the darts. I prompted them to come up with questions and once they had some good ones (eg how high does the dart go?), I asked them to figure it out.

Peer instruction is also working well, along with conceptual clicker questions.  By asking timely questions and formative assessment, we’ve found a couple of areas of weakness and the kids really appreciated the time spent on strengthening these areas.

Physics 11

This course is a bit further behind in that we spent some time talking about significant figures and graphing.  Sig Figs was worked in with our first inquiry activities where the students estimated and found the mass of the air in the room. Now we’ve started working with recording timers and whiteboarding. Like in PH12, I’m getting the kids to come up their own questions and not giving them specific recipes or procedures. We compared that to junior science, where all the labs are like following a recipe. In fact, the class cheered the idea of having more autonomy and input into their lab work. It’s also really cool to see students incorporating their new found skills (using graphs and sig figs) in their presentations without me prompting them.

Issues So far I have very few reservations on what we’ve been doing and how we’re doing it.  The students are engaged and oral feedback has been pretty good.  For the PH11 students I will be starting with more formal assessment this week, which will give us better info on how they’re doing. Overall my biggest concern is that since we are learning by doing, students that miss class (for the 642 extra-curricular reasons that exist) are at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps in a more traditional classroom missing a class isn’t as important: you just get the notes later, sk8r. That currently is not the case in my classes so far this year though. I’m not sure that our school community understands this. I still provide notes on what we cover but they play more of a “reference” role as opposed to learning.