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Good Things Happen in an Affective Classroom

Christine Hudecki, Teacher our Lady of Lourdes Catholic HS

We were just a couple of weeks into the new semester when one of my students started to teach me and the rest of the class. It was a great moment and upon reflection, I think that the student felt comfortable ‘taking over’ because of a number of changes that have I made in my classroom. These were changes that reflect the theme of this year’s conference, Affective Physics: Harnessing Emotion to Improve Learning.

Get to know your students right at the start
I start my courses with a Googleform survey on their cell phones and have them answer questions like: Why did you choose to take physics? What mark do you hope to earn? What do you do outside of school? How many hours a week does this take? Is there anything else you wish to tell me? Now I have a spreadsheet of data about my students.

Over the course of the next week I conduct short — one to two-minute — interviews with individual students as the class does seatwork. I go over their responses and often learn even more about the young people in my class. In addition to thus, my students learn that I am interested in them as individuals who have different interests and concerns.

Choose your starting unit and activities to engage your students
I begin the grade 11 physics course with the waves unit. I do this because it’s a fun unit with lots of hands-on activities and the math isn’t particularly difficult. I figure I should get them hooked before I throw kinematics and graphical analysis at them.

I start with off with a formative lab: What factors affect the frequency of the pendulum swing? Students are not given a set of instructions but are shown what equipment is available and they plan and execute their own experiment. This is followed up with a summative lab: Does tension affect the speed of a transverse wave? They get to use the long eight-foot long springs for this. These activities let the students know that I am expecting them to be creative, independent thinkers. I am not there to tell them what to do, although I do coach them along the way.

Be flexible and open to ideas from your students
We then come to the principle of wave superposition: constructive and destructive interference. I have a worksheet on graph paper that I have used for years but this time I thought we might also use the eight-foot long spring to demonstrate the concept. It was very hard to see the interference.

It was at this point that one student suggested that he could video the interference with his iPhone using the slow-motion function. After, when I asked if he would email me the video clip, he suggested we do an airdrop between the two iPhones — so much easier! Finally, we were able to stop frame by frame and see the constructive interference. This was much more convincing and engaging than the paper handout!

It was a small moment within the course but suddenly and seamlessly the lesson went from teacher-directed inquiry to student-directed inquiry and then to a student teaching me how to receive an airdrop file. That was a good day in my books. It is still early in the semester and I hope the class steps up and directs the lessons more often.

Consider the affective domain in your lesson plans
I believe that this impromptu student-led lesson happened because I had laid the emotional and social groundwork in the first few weeks. The students felt valued as individuals because of the initial surveys and interviews. They knew that I thought their ideas were important because they got to create their own experimental designs and were given enough time to try them out.

An affective learning environment leads to curious students and curious students are ready to learn!

Editor’s Note: Christine will be giving a workshop with James Ball at this year’s OAPT conference on “Affective Teaching for 9 and 10 Science” at 10:15 Saturday May 13.
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