Monday, March 21, 2011

March Madness: The Meaning of Success

By Guest Writer: Andy Schroeder, Physical Education and Health Subject Area Coordinator and Girls Basketball Coach.

March is my favorite month. We all have our favorite months: in June summer starts, August is my wife and I birthday and we usually take a vacation of some sort before the start of the school year, December is Christmas, but March, the sun starts to come out, you begin to have nicer weather, you have St. Patrick’s day, Spring break, but every March –March Madness!

If you’re not familiar with March Madness, March is the biggest basketball month. In high school if you are still playing in March, you’re an elite team, one of the few left to play. However, in college basketball, March is when the season gets really exciting. Every year in March every conference has a tournament. If you win your conference tournament you get to go to the big NCAA tournament. In the end, only one team in the country wins their last game.

When I think about the NCAA tournament I think about one of the most successful coaches in the history of all athletics: John Wooden.
Some facts about him:
- Born October 14, 1910, died June 4, 2010
- Enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961
- UCLA men’s basketball coach from 1948-1975
- He won 10 NCAA championships – next best is 4
- 7 consecutive NCAA championships – next best is 2 and nobody has won 3 in a row
- Won 88 consecutive games – next best in men’s basketball is 60
- 4 undefeated seasons – no one has ever done that more than once.

We are talking about an extremely successful man in terms of winning.
We are also taking about a man who did not win his first championship until his 15th season at UCLA. John Wooden never viewed success in terms of winning and losing, this is reflected in his most famous quote about success:

This attitude, this philosophy, is embodied in his Pyramid of Success:

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success two cornerstones are Industriousness and Enthusiasm.

Industriousness – in plain language means that you have to work, and work hard. There is no substitute of hard work. The best people whether in business, law. Plumbing or art, all share this fundamental trait, they all work very hard at their craft. Individuals like Kobe Bryan, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, to name a few athletes, are legendary for their industriousness.

Enthusiasm – simply, you must enjoy what you do. Your heart must be in it. It must be a passion. As you all grow older, if you don’t like what you do, if you find yourself whining and complaining, don’t do it, get out, because if your heart is not in your work you cannot perform at your highest level. “Nothing great can be achieved without enthusiasm”.

At the center of the pyramid is Skill – you have to know what you’re doing and be able to do it well. Furthermore, you have to be able to execute all aspects of the job. In basketball you could be a great shooter, but you need to be able to get open. You could be a great coach, but you need to be able to make adjustments, and understand people. Just as a doctor. You could be technically proficient, but you also need to be able to diagnose illnesses and understand and communicate with your patient. The point is that there are a wide range of skills, and they differ from profession to profession, but you need to master them all.

At the pinnacle of the pyramid is Competitive Greatness, which Wooden defines as “A real love for the hard battle, knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required.”

Which brings us back to success. Success is not wins or loses, but peace of mind, knowing that you did your best, to become the best you were capable of becoming when your best was required. Had the football or soccer teams lost State, the season would not have been a failure; the team may have been disappointed at the end outcome, but definitely would not be a failure. And this is the genius of Wooden's success, because when you are continually chasing your best, the best you are capable of becoming, only you can determine your own successes and failures, because only you feel the self-satisfaction in knowing if you truly did your best.

What I want you to take from this, what I hope you understand, is that although I’ve been speaking of basketball, this talk is not about basketball. It’s about what you’re passionate about, whether that be teaching, service to others, art, music, piano, medicine, your family.

At the end of March Madness, sometime in early April they will play this video, with new clips:

As you watch this video from 2010, I hope you will see, people who are passionate about basketball, these qualities that Wooden speaks of: Enthusiasm, Industriousness, along with Loyalty, Alertness, Team Spirit, and Confidence. And once we understand the qualities associated with success we can then utilize them towards what we as individuals are passionate about to have a better opportunity of achieving success in our future endeavors.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

21st Century Science Teaching: Getting Students beyond Formula Hunting Strategies

In AP Physics (and many other science studies) the journey to find an answer to a problem is the most important component of the learning process – not the answer itself. Our need to make sure students think deeply about the subjects they study is one key reasons the College Board AP Program is undergoing revisions of several courses and exams in history, science and world languages.

The science course changes are driven by data from the National Research Council Report (2002) and aim to implement improvements in content and pedagogical approaches that represent best practices in teaching and learning.

The curriculum frameworks for the new science courses are organized around subject specific ‘Big Ideas’ with a strong focus on scientific reasoning and inquiry. The courses will emphasize depth over breadth and will include cutting edge areas of research within each discipline. The College Board recently released the Biology curriculum framework.

For students to be successful in these courses, teachers will need to use instructional strategies that require higher-order thinking skills that help develop a deeper conceptual understanding of the topics.

This is the first post in a blog series that will explore how the AP Science Practices can be integrated in the 21st century science classroom with a variety of strategies for the implementation of digital tools. While the primary focus will be in physics, the series will have relevance for other courses such as biology, chemistry and environmental science and could be used at the middle and high school levels.

Scientific Problems and Representations

The first science practice states:
The student can use representations and models to communicate scientific phenomena and solve scientific problems.

Problem-solving is a major part of a physics course. When confronted with challenging problems it is common to hear students say: “If I had the formula, I could solve this problem.” After all, finding the right equation is a key element in most textbooks’ problem-solving strategies and is often reinforced in the classroom through lectures, quizzes and tests. In most cases, by using appropriate equations a student is able to find the correct answer, but I will argue that finding the correct answer to a problem does not necessarily reflect a deep understanding of physics concepts. There are several studies in Physics Education Research that substantiate this claim. See the works cited on “An investigation of introductory physics students’ approaches to problem solving

Effective Approaches to Problem-Solving

The ability to relate physics concepts to the situations presented by problems and questions is fundamental for success. A powerful strategy in developing a deep conceptual understanding is the use of Multiple Representations of Knowledge.

The diagram (*) below is an example commonly seen in kinematics problems. This example demonstrates how physics equations are only one representation of knowledge.
The Power of Multiple Representations

Here as an analysis of each of the representations and its usefulness in helping the students deepen their conceptual understanding:

- The real situation is the context of the problem; i.e., a car moving down a hill. It is common to represent real scenarios with a pictorial representation such as a sketch. It helps the students that have a preference for visual learning.
- A verbal representation could describe the motion of the car in the context of the problem, in this example students could say that the car speeds up as it travels down the hill, or the student can describe the energy transformation that occurs. It helps the students articulate what is happening in the given scenario to specific physics principles.
- The equation that describes the velocity in an inclined plane is the mathematical representation. This equation is usually derived from a free-body diagram by analyzing the forces acting on the car while it is accelerating.
- The situation can be represented in a numerical representation by providing data of position and velocity with respect to time. Data acquisition is often done in physics labs where students have to opportunity to gather the information in a hands-on experiment.
- The data obtained can be represented graphically in a velocity versus time graph. Graphical representations are commonly constructed from data collected in a lab experiment. Through graphs students can obtain information from the slopes, intercepts and areas under the curve. In this example the slope of the line represents the average acceleration and the area under the line yields displacement.
- A motion diagram can be used to illustrate the velocity vectors. This is another example that helps the students visualize the situation (a car speeding up) =i.e. increasing arrows as velocity vectors.

Students can demonstrate a deeper level of understanding of physics concepts by their ability to translate (move back and forth) between different representations of knowledge.

Multiple Representation Resources

Rutgers University Physics and Astronomy Education Research (PAER) group has written a document with the rationale about using multiple representations in physics, how to implement them in the classroom and how to score them: Multiple Representations in Physics

You can also download power points with multiple representation exercises:
1. Mechanics: kinematics, dynamics, energy, momentum and statics
2. Electricity and Magnetism: electrostatics, DC circuits and magnetism

Digital Tools for Multiple Representations

Verbal Representations
These tools can be used individually or in collaboration among students

Pictorial Representations
Image Editors
Sketchcast (Record a sketch with or without voice)

Mathematical Representations
Google Docs includes an Equation Editor

Graphical Representations
Google Docs: Spreadsheets
LoggerPro: software for data collection and analysis through graphs

Another powerful tool that helps with the implementation of Multiple Representations is the use of virtual simulations. In the next posting of this series I will be describing effective strategies for using simulations and a variety of resources for simulations in all core areas of science.

(*) Figure adapted from: Redish, Edward F. Teaching Physics: with the Physics Suite. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2002

Cross-Posted at Voices From the Learning Revolution (PLP Network)