December 01, 2018 Filed in: Articles
Roberta Tevlin, Teacher Danforth CTI, OAPT Newsletter Editor
I am teaching the college physics course for the first time. My thirty years of teaching 12U physics and grade 9 science has not been a great guide for this. After two months, I am still struggling. Many of my lessons didn’t go the way I expected and some of them didn’t work at all!
Fortunately, two assignments did work well and in this article I will describe what I did and why I think they worked.
The first thing that I discovered about my class is that there is a huge range of abilities and behaviours — much larger than I have experienced before. Furthermore, these students are much more set in their ways. Many of them are convinced that they can’t do math. Many of them don’t see why they should come o class on time (I have them first period) or pay attention when they are in class. On the second day, one student stated cheerfully “Well, I guess I will be spending everyday in the attendance office again this year.”
My strategy for this course involves a few key ideas:
- Provide more direct instruction to ensure that everyone experiences success.
- Explicitly connect the work to the real world.
- Use the physics content as a vehicle for developing transferable skills.
Let’s see how these ideas are incorporated in their first two assignments.Careers and Electronic Literacy
I adapted this assignment from a college biology assignment that a teacher at my school (Paul Weight) passed on to me. Each student has to make a one-page poster about a college program for a particular career. Of course I altered the assignment from biology to physics. What is less obvious is how I altered the required format. The assignment was changed to help the students develop their computer skills in researching, reading and writing.
- Provide more direct instruction to ensure that everyone experiences success: I gave the student an electronic template for the poster so that they had to use appropriate headings. I also provided a sample poster for a Motive Power Technician so they could see what was expected for the final product. The instructions were clear enough that most of the class could work independently. However, some students still had trouble following the instructions. One of them went home and made a poster using Bristol board with real cut and paste words and pictures. I helped these students individually and let them re-submit their new and improved posters.
- Explicitly connect the work to the real world: These students are in grade 11 and 12. They probably paid very little attention in their grade-10 careers class. However, post-secondary reality is now in their near future and they need to get comfortable using college websites. The posters that they produced provided everyone with details of some twenty different careers that they might want to consider. It also prepared them for the college fairs that were held over the next few weeks.
- Use the physics content as a vehicle for developing transferable skills: The physics content of this assignment was important but even more important were the skills they developed. The students got better at searching websites, presenting material clearly, use the spelling and grammar check, changing fonts and attaching files to emails. When I put the posters up on the classroom wall, the students looked quite surprised and proud of how professional their work looked.
If you would like to try this assignment, you can find the template here
and the worksheet with the sample poster here
.Badminton and Electronic Numeracy
For this assignment the students had to analyse the motion of a badminton birdie after it was given a gentle hit.
I provided the students with the video and a lot of data in a spreadsheet. I got the data using Tracker software. (Milica showed me how to use this free software at the OAPT Physics Camp this summer. You can find it here
- Provide more direct instruction to ensure that everyone experiences success: Most of these students freeze when they have to deal with graphs or equations and none of the students had any experience with spreadsheets. During the motion unit, they were introduced to Excel over several lessons. As a result, most of the students had enough confidence to start work independently so I could help the ones who were still having trouble. Many of these were willing to come in outside of class to master the skills.
- Explicitly connect the work to the real world: The physics connection to the real world is not super strong in this assignment. The real-world connection is in the skills they developed.
- Use the physics content as a vehicle for developing transferable skills: The students were pleasantly surprised when they saw how Excel makes graphing so easy and looks so professional. They liked how it makes finding the equation of the best-fit line so simple and how it can do multiple tedious calculations. This assignment convinced them that Excel was not too hard to use and definitely worth learning. They had no trouble seeing how this could be a very useful skill and that maybe this course was not a complete waste of time.
If you would like to try this assignment, you can find the spreadsheet with the data with the expected graphs here
and the worksheet here
These two assignments showed the students that they can produce work that looks very ‘professional’. This has resulted in an improvement in the confidence, motivation and behaviour of the students.
Do you teach the 12C Physics course? Please consider writing an article about a project or activity that works well with your class. Some relevant articles that have already appeared in the OAPT newsletter are Margaret Scora’s article about a K’Nex catapult project
and Nassie Rafiee article about an arcade game project