Day 144: Mutiny


I started class today by showing off more features of Blue Harvest, which then shifted to a mutiny, which led to a discussion, which ended with me handing out new lab notebooks (pictured).

The mutiny was mostly fueled by my decision to shift from quizzes (opportunities for mastery created by teacher, very passive for student, etc.) to portfolios coupled with Blue Harvest (more active for students *plus* BH tech hurdles, etc.).

We discussed how I felt my assessments were not focused on the learning/scientific process, but rather just the quizzes, and that I wanted to change that. They weren’t taking labs too seriously, or some of the whiteboard problem solving in class. So I decided to try portfolios to shift the focus to the process.

I told them about the physics class I TA’d in college. It was Physics 101-102 and it was “auto-tutorial.” Kids came to the physics lab and worked on labs, demos, practice problems, watched videos, etc. Then at the end of the unit, they met with a TA for an interview. The TA ked through their lab notebook, orally quizzed them about their lab work, the problems, etc. to see if the students really did it themselves and understood it. Once approved (not always, some kids were sent back to do more work), they could schedule to take an exam in the exam room. They had 3 chances for each unit exam, and the highest grade counted. There were many versions of each exam to reduce cheating between students who took it first and those who took it later. The exams were scored immediately in front of student so they left knowing their score.

It was a cool system, but it lacks the whole class discussion and dynamics that I love about modeling (in a perfect world). There was a suggest timeline and clearly laid out matrix of work to complete. It actually reminds me of Paul Anderson’s classroom, which Paul describes in his TEDx talk, “My Classroom is a Video Game.”

Some kids also expressed frustration with the “finding things out” part. One said, “If you would just tell us the formula, we could do so much more with it. What we spent 2 periods doing with the spring oscillations lab, you could have delivered a 10 minute lesson and then we could be *using* the concepts/equations to do something.”

Part of me thinks that student is wrong, and the other part says he’s right.

As cliche as it sounds, I want kids to experience physics as a journey of learning and discovery, rather than as a pile of quizzes that end up in the trash.

My head is spinning right now. I need to find a happy medium between process and product, methods and content, portfolios and quizzes, growth and mastery, details and the big picture.


About Frank Noschese

HS Physics Teacher constantly questioning my teaching.

8 responses to “Day 144: Mutiny”

  1. Anonymous says :

    Frank – if your head is spinning the so must be their’s! Try a blended approach rather than completely flipping everything. When the learning objective is the journey (process) then make it so, when the learning objective is specific to the application of a particular equation for example then cut to the chase and give it to them and make the journey ‘practise to mastery’ of that equation – invariably discussions about the ‘roots’ of the equation will come out when they have developed the confidence associated with mastery…….

  2. M Magnuson says :

    CYA. Let your dept chair and principal know about this and what you are trying to do. One or two calls from "concerned" parents to the principal can become a nightmare for you if the higher-ups are in the dark. You are trying to do the right thing, but the unconventional thing. Someone else you know got burned by being unconventional.

  3. Anonymous says :

    this just popped into my inbox and dovetails nicely with with my previous comment:

  4. Anonymous says :

    @Brian: Yes, blending (as in a happy medium) is key. We don’t always do "find the equations." For example, in the energy unit, after doing qualitative bar/pie charts, we have a semi-quantitative discussion about the factors affecting KE, Ug, and Us. And then they are ready to receive the formulas for them to use in the next lab.@MMagnuson: I wasn’t clear in my post, but the class period ended on a positive note, and lab notebooks were an agreed compromise.

  5. Casey Rutherford says :

    This is mostly a response to the last, ‘finding things out’ piece of the post. I have a significant number of students, particularly in non-honors physics, who just want to be told how to solve problems. Today one of my honors students posted this on our facebook group; . We then had a (mostly one sided, online) discussion about how I think this is exactly the problem with lecture. Problem solving (which is something even modelers resort to lecture for) looks easy when the steps are laid out for you. It is much more difficult to creatively find the steps and concepts needed, especially if the problem is ‘real world’ such that they have to sort through information that may or may not be useful. Every year I hear from students who say the lectures made sense but then they get home and can’t do it. I believe (and as you know, the research in generally supports) that when students DO physics (modeling, inquiry, lab design, etc), that is when they actually retain the info. Keep strong, you are an inspiration!

  6. pshircliff says :

    problem solvers and problem finders are what the world needs and what one needs to be in demand. we need school to do much more work in these areas, as well as finding relationships between things (figuring out the formula). My students (HS) cant see two numbers changing and see that one is double the other. Learn how to learn. Me giving you the answer is not learning and I am not going to follow you around for the rest of your life. I am working towards portfolios..they dont get it. I have many who still dont take pictures of their work, after 32 weeks.

  7. Jim Deane says :

    Frank, there is quite a bit of research and discussion over student/parent/administrator resistance to modeling, specifically the push for students to DEVELOP physics from experiments rather than just giving them formulas and making them plug and chug problems.Students are not (generally) experts in learning. They may not see the value in actually doing the scientific process and discussions leading to simple little equations, but that is why you are teaching them and they aren’t just reading a book for credit.I think there are times when just using a formula tool plucked out of a book or computer black box is OK; perhaps more esoteric experiments, or if a class is running out of time. For the most part, though, I think the modeling process is far better at instilling genuine understanding and scientific /skills/ along with rote knowledge.

  8. Jimmy Wu says :

    Yeah similar things have happened to me before as well and I had to step back and look at what is what. Change is never easy and if we wish to change Education we need to take risks and push through some hurdles. Kids aren’t always going to BUY IN not matter how much we feel the new approach is healthier and better. Change takes time and it takes brave patient people who understands that flexibility is needed. With that said, I also learned an important lesson that my students don’t just take my Physics class and that they have other challenging classes as well. An overly extensive “journey – inquire – discover” approach 100% of the time can easily overload some of my students; especially if all the other classes are all doing the same thing. Reality is that my senior students have so much energy, time and maturity to handle so many journeys with their limited Senior high years and to meet the traditional standardized testing results for many post secondary institutions. Too much of a good thing can be harmful as well. I think one of the things educators need to look at is a more holistic approach to students learning rather than focus on each individual course and or department. My two cents

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