PC: Jasper Nance via Flickr

15-16 Recap: General Physics

Last week I wrote reflection posts for AP Calculus and AP Physics, today I’m going to take a critical look at how my General Physics class went this past year and how I can improve it for the upcoming school year.

I teach two periods of physics to mostly juniors and seniors. We have a sizable population of international students from all over the globe, so I sometimes have a few international freshmen and sophomores in my sections as well. Similar to AP Physics I use the Investigative Science Learning Environment, created by a team led by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen, approach in my physics classes, which helps students build these skills, not just computational skills. Specifically I use their Physics Union Mathematics (PUM) curriculum with some resources from Dean Baird and others mixed in.

What Went Well

  • I had my students take the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) at the beginning and end of the year and statistically significant growth in my classes as a whole.
  • I emphasized the use of multiple representations (words, graphs, charts, tables, equations) throughout the year, so students got used to expressing their understanding that way.
  • Students had really productive struggle throughout the year and their biggest aha moments came when I took myself out of the learning equation as much as possible. Having well developed curriculum gave me a lot of freedom to step back and let them do the learning.
  • Students got to do a lot of hands on work throughout the semester.
  • My 5th period class was probably one of the most unique, supportive, loving classes I’ve ever taught. They went through a phase where they gave me akward compliments for minutes at a time. I had to call another teacher over and leave my class a few times, just because I was so embarrased. Plus they always seemed interested in learning!

What Can Improve

  • On the FCI, I had students who did worse, which either means that they guessed on both the pre & post tests or they developed more misconceptions throughout the year.
  • Homework was a disaster. I tried lagging homework like I do in my math classes and that didn’t work at all. The PUM homework was overwhelming for a lot of students, so I moved away from it as the year went on.
  • I haven’t figured out how to do reading assignments (I really dislike my textbook). Toward the end of the year I started assigning reading out of The Physics Classroom which my students didn’t seem to mind. Unfortunately, it’s an online only textbook, so that presents its own challenges.
  • Notetaking/notemaking. I need to teach students how to do this and why it’s important. Especially in science classes, where the reading is significantly different than in humanities, students need to be taught how to comprehend what they’re reading.
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