January 25, 2013

Did You Hear What I Heard? - Value of Lectures

The other morning on my way to make a few copies I saw a fellow teacher confronting a couple students over what appeared to be copying of homework - a practice that admittedly is pretty rampant at our school. I stood trapped at the copier, knowing what was coming my way - a one-sided conversation about the wrongs of copying. I braced myself and prepared my smiling and nodding muscles.

The monologue covered the predictable ground that copying work is not only wrong but results in little or no learning. I was smiling and nodding in agreement, but not feeling the passion of my colleague. Then came the unforeseen twist. This teacher goes on to explain that they intentionally change the style of bullet points used during lectures and then at the end of the lecture asks the students flip through their notes to see that they blindly copied the variety of bullet points... Using this as a jumping off point to explain that copying doesn't equate to learning. At this point in the conversation I tried to keep a straight face and not laugh at the irony.

This teacher had just equated the educational value of taking notes during their lectures with copying homework!

I couldn't agree more.

January 11, 2013

Modeling Approach Assessment with Robots

I always struggled with labs, they too easily become plug and chug fill in the blank labs or week long experiments that don't really relate to the current topic in class - the later is not a bad thing but maybe not as awesome as it should be. The physics modeling curriculum is helping on both fronts. While I'm not in love with everything about the physics modeling curriculum, the labs are simple, beautiful and well thought out. It's a great supplement to the other PER tools I've picked up.

Some awkward scheduling around exam time forced some creative thinking (when given lemons?). Rather than give a standard paper based assessment I used the school's ample supply of Lego robots as the source of motion.
Lego robots at their simplest.
The kids were asked to the create the usual representations of the motion; written, graphical and motion maps. With the robots "complex" motions are easily created. Different speeds, pauses  and changes in direction are simple to create and program - motions that are challenging at best with the more typical inclined ramp. Perfect for kinematics when the cause of motion is not an issue.
Collaboration beats the socks off silent individual work.
The results were this side of outright awesome, but the students were engaged, working together, solving familiar problems in a new context not to mention see constant acceleration for the first time.What's not to love?

For those interested I linked the handout and the RobotC files. The programming is sloppy as the idea to include a light that blinked every second was a last minute idea and I didn't have time to be clever and create a cleaner program. The first two programs involve constant velocities and the third has a linear velocity.