Monday, December 3, 2012

The Evolution of my Teaching

Over the past years I have been re-thinking my approach to teaching.

The focus of my evolution as a teacher is on the shifting of ownership. After all, who is supposed to own the learning?

I am in the process of evolving from having a teacher-centered classroom where I am the provider of knowledge and the designer of assessments to focusing on developing and supporting my students learning autonomy. I strive for a learner-centered environment where students actively participate to construct their knowledge and reflect on their learning process.

As part of my teaching evolutionary process I have taken some elements to focus on each year. Last year I focused on ways to engage my students through connections. You can read my blog posting here: Engage = Connect.

Focus: Assessments
For this school year, my evolution focuses on assessments.

What is the objective of assessments?
Is it how well my students can regurgitate facts or how well they can find the “formula” to solve a problem? What if the day before an assessment a student had a cello recital to prepare for or they had a basketball game and arrived home not until 10:00 pm? How can a grade on a quiz or a test reflect their best?

The word assessment has a Latin root: assidere. It means to sit beside. In an educational context, the process of observing learning; describing, collecting, recording, scoring, and interpreting information about a student's or one's own learning. 

I see assessment as an ongoing process that informs me and my students and gauges the learning progression. I partner with my students to facilitate their learning and they appreciate not being constrained by fixed deadlines and dead-end quiz scores as they have ample opportunities to demonstrate that “they can” accomplish every single one of our Learning Objectives.

Authentic Assessments
I like to offer a variety of authentic assessments in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential physics concepts and scientific skills.

The most important feature of authentic assessments is that they provide multiple paths to the students’ demonstration of their learning.

This is an example from our kinematics unit. The students were presented with a Lab Practicum challenge:
At what position will two cars moving at different speeds collide if they are released from opposite ends at different times? Cars are 2 meters apart and one car is released 3 seconds after the first one.’

Instead of writing a traditional lab report, students created a video of their lab by engaging in a collaborative approach to the construction of knowledge. Take a look at one of the teams presenting their video as a TV show reporting on a train accident. The team used the experiment as a model to investigate the incident and demonstrated their understanding of kinematics through multiple representations of knowledge:

Another assessment asked the students to pose a question and apply their knowledge of kinematics to answer their question. Within the final product they had room for different modes of expression. Here are a few examples:

The class also completed a series of Performance Task Assessments where they were presented with context rich scenarios that required a meaningful application of the concepts. Context-rich tasks discourage the ‘plug and chug’ approach. These multi-step problems are constructed as a short story in which the main character is the student.

At the end of the trimester I gave the class a thorough class evaluation. It was meant to help them look back into the first three months of class and think deeper about their learning.
Selected questions and student responses can be seen below:

So, where are you in your evolution as a teacher?

Image Creative Commons license by Stefan 
Image Creative Commons license by toolstop 
Thank you to Kelly O'Shea and John Burke for inspiration in creating the evaluation questions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Aggregate, Curate and Create Your Own Textbook

One of the latest buzz words in social media is curation. Some media analysts ponder whether the content curator might be the next big social media job of the future.

In a review of Steven Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation, Frank Paynter wrote that: 

 'The job of curator has spread across the digital media world and may already have replaced “editor” and “publisher” in the minds of marketers and social media mavens’.
  • What are the implications of curation in education? 
  • How will content curation impact the textbook market? 
  • Will it make textbooks irrelevant? 
We are seeing more and more publishers jumping into the digital textbook market but so far the digital editions are mere pdf versions of the hardcover versions. Moreover, these e-textbooks are still very expensive. Let’s take a look at these options for a popular high school Chemistry textbook:

What? The e-textbook version costs $115 bucks and the license is only valid for180 days. Are you kidding me?  High cost is just one of the reasons shown in this infographic: How far students will go to get rid of textbooks--and why.

The Journal's article: 5K-12 Ed Tech Trends for 2012 includes: ‘Beyond the Digital Textbook’ as one of the trends with the premise of adding interactivity to digital versions of textbooks. Apple has now partnered with the major textbook publishers with the newly unveiled  iBooks Textbooks.  There are a handful of textbooks available through iTunes at about $15. These books are constrained to be viewed using iBooks 2 in an iPad with Apple iOS 5. Moreover, it looks like Apple's new products do not allow social interactivity and collaboration.

Several concerns about Apple's new enterprise have been voiced in the blogosphere. I recommend reading Audrey Walters' posting: Apple and the Digital Textbook Counter-Revolution.

Is there an option for a free, relevant course companion? Yes!

With information being ubiquitous, I believe that teachers can (and should) take control of their courses by creating their own interactive textbooks. It might seem like a daunting task but the availability of quality materials online and the power of tapping into personal learning networks should make this a worthwhile learning journey. 

In this post I will explain the process of creating a digital textbook, tools for each step of the process and strategies for involving the students in its development. 

The process of creating your digital textbook involves three steps:

The first step is to gather the sources of information. The best way to aggregate content is through social bookmarking.  My favorite tools are Delicious and Diigo

I would recommend Diigo as ‘its features allow teachers to highlight critical features within text and images and write comments directly on the web pages, to collect and organize series of web pages and web sites into coherent and thematic sets, and to facilitate online conversations within the context of the materials themselves.  Diigo also allows teachers to collaborate and share resources among themselves.’                                                                     
Here is a short video explaining the main features of this tool:
Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! 
Teachers can work with colleagues within their subject area departments and beyond the walls of the classroom to aggregate resources through social bookmarking.
The main sources of information for my professional learning come through my Twitter PLN and the RSS feeds from Google Reader. 
If information becomes overwhelming, use an Aggregator such as or The Twitted Times. These tools will sift through your connections' resources and gather the most significant ones.

While aggregation can be seen just as collecting websites, the process of curation involves a deeper analysis of the aggregated sites to select the ones that have the most relevant information for a particular topic,  just like a museum curator summarizes and edits intricate subjects into easily consumable and enjoyable exhibits.

Use your subject area syllabus, state standards or learning objectives to hand pick the content for a particular unit of study. Focus on the essential questions to guide your selection of resources. 
In order to make your textbook interactive try to include images, videos and simulations to engage your students.

My favorite free tools for curation are LiveBinders and!

One of the easiest tools to post resources for your course is LiveBinders. 
Take a look at this example: Señora Evans - Course Materials and Resources

Another powerful tool for curation is Scoop-it!. This free tool allows you to create your own online magazine.

Take a look at my! PhysicsLearn, “Connections to learning resources for physics teachers and students'".

Want more? Here is a post with: 
And here are some Curation Apps for the iPad.

This is the most important (and fun) part of the process as you will design and share how the curated resources will be used in your class.

Creating an online repository using a wiki digital tool such as Google Sites, PBworks and Wikispaces will enable you to organize your resources neatly. You could also use LiveBinders as you can select a template that allows you to include text for each of your resources. If you have an Apple platform you can use  iBooks Author.  The free app offers a drag-and-drop template that can be customized with images, interactive diagrams and videos to create a stunning looking book.
Learning management systems (LMS) such as Moodle,  Edmodo and Schoology are also great alternatives with other neat features for educational social networking.

My favorite is Google Sites. You can easily post images, directly embed videos from YouTube, lecture podcasts, and Google Documents. You can also embed assessments using Google Forms and a calendar. Setting up the site as a wiki by adding the students as collaborators will enable authentic interactivity among teachers and learners.

Here are some guiding questions for creating your digital textbook:
  • How are the learners going to use the information?
  • How will they demonstrate their learning?
  • Are they completing a document, creating an outline or answering a set of questions?
  • What are the assessments associated with the material?
The table below compares and contrasts the elements of the various levels of involvement of teachers and learners in the process of creating a textbook. You can use the traditional model where all steps of the process are managed by the teacher or move towards a learner-centered approach using the chart to determine which level is appropriate for your course:

Here are some examples:
Teacher as curator:
My unit on Projectile Motion includes content information, exercises, a virtual lab and a couple of assessments.
The wiki of my colleague Craig Savage with his resources for AP Biology and AP Psychology.
Students as curators:
American Democracy in Action, a digital textbook for AP US Government created by seniors at St. Gregory College Preparatory School

For excellent strategies to involve your students take a look at Silvia Tolisano's posting:  Students Becoming Curators of Information.

Here are some resources for all academic subjects:
iTunesU (iTunes University): This free app enables video, audio, and an integrated Learning Management System with available push notifications options.
CK-12 Foundation: You can customize your own FlexBooks with open-content in all subject areas.
Open Culture Links of 400 Free Online Courses from Top Universities
National Repository of Online Courses: Algebra, Calculus, History, Biology, Environmental Science, Physics and World Religions.
Also check the great resources by Jerry Blumengarten, the Cybrary Man Educational Resources

Are you ready to ditch your textbooks?

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

Images attributions:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Engage = Connect

As the beginning of the school year gets underway I ask myself this question:

“What learning environment will I provide so that my students can’t wait ‘til the next class?”

I believe that every person is unique and every child can learn, but I recognize that students learn best when engaged, where expectations are appropriately challenging within an environment that is both safe and that contributes to the dignity and self-worth of all. Students respond to encouragement and to a structuring of time and activities that reinforces their striving to meet and exceed those expectations while at the same time recognizing their increasing capacity to manage responsibility and independence.

I also believe that engagement depends on quality interactions resulting from connections that happen inside and outside of the classroom.

Here are some of my Engaging-Connection ideas to make learning exciting and enjoyable in Honors Physics this year:

1. I will engage my students by making connections to their passions:
In Sports:
Our first major project is to design a special issue for a sports magazine (similar to “Sports Illustrated”) for their selected sport. This project will engage them as they construct their knowledge of the concepts of kinematics and forces.
In Music:
- As part of our unit in waves and sound, the students will design and build their own musical instrument.
- Our last day of school before the holidays in December, my students will create and perform their own Physics Carols.
In Art:
For the 6th year, my students will participate in the AAPT Photo Physics Contest taking their own photos and explaining the physics behind them. For the past two years we’ve had three students showcased at the AAPT Summer Meetings where their photos have been admired by hundreds of physics teachers and professors from around the world.

2. I will engage my students by making connections to popular digital games.
Take a look at our classroom bulletin board:

Students were thrilled when they found out that I am an Angry Birds fan (well, who isn’t?).
We will have an opportunity to do a quantitative analysis of the game in order to answer some of these questions:
a. What is the mass of each of the Angry Birds?
b. What is the gravitational field in Angry Birds world?
c. Using energy conservation, calculate the coefficient of restitution when a bird bounces off the wall.
d. Is momentum conserved when the blue bird splits into three?
e. Does the white bird accurately represent projectile motion when it drops an egg?

(Thanks to Frank Noschese for his ideas!)

3. I will engage my students by making connections to the physics concepts through investigations and experimentation.
The development of physics concepts occurs best in a hands-on, inquiry-based environment. My students will design and test their own investigations as opposed to just following directions in cookbook type labs.
In the unit of Simple Harmonic Motion, my students will investigate the factors affecting the period of a pendulum. The culminating activity of this unit will be their constructing their own snake pendulum just like this one:

4. I will engage my students by facilitating their connection to the world through their own blogs.
The use of digital tools will afford them the opportunity to deepen their skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creation. At the same time, as part of a connected global community, my students will become self-starters who can model and coach while knowing how to learn and share with transparency and respect.

5. I will engage my students by enabling them to connect their learning progress to our physics learning objectives.
Our current educational systems, in both public and independent schools force the students to focus on their grades as opposed to focusing on their learning.

I have modified my grading policy to shift this focus from “getting an A” to “becoming proficient” in physics though a modified version of performance-based assessment. My students have received a copy of our Learning Objectives. As we move through the topics, the students have the responsibility of keeping track of their own progress. Their final grades will reflect their most recent learning. One nice caveat of this approach is the opportunity to skip homework assignments if they have mastered a specific topic. (Shhh, don’t tell them yet!)

6. I will engage my students by making professional connections:
a. With my colleagues at school:
Working together in vertical and horizontal teams will allow me to bring opportunities for cross-curricular activities that will enrich my students’ learning experience.
b. By participating in vibrant learning communities through Twitter and blogs and connecting with members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) I will continue to grow as a learner and an educator.

I would love to hear your strategies for having your students engaged through connections!

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

Image Credits:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

PLP Journey: Planning our Professional Learning Day

Our PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) project last year was to develop a meaningful professional development program for faculty and staff that enriches teaching and learning.

Our program is called IP21 (Individual Plan for 21st Century Teaching and Learning) is in its second year of successful implementation!

The five characteristics of our IP21 program are:
- Sustained
- Embedded within subject-specific needs
- Focused on the TPACK framework
- Aligned with the NETS-T and NETS-A
- Grounded in a collaborative, inquiry-based approach

Over 120 faculty from three divisions: Lower School, Middle School and Upper School selected a minimum of three professional goals for the current school year.

Faculty acquired the competencies through instructional technology support or by self-learning using the resources compiled in the NETS-T wiki. Everybody has documented evidence that demonstrate acquisition and application of competencies in teaching and learning.

This is the link to our 2009-2010 project: Parish Episcopal School PLP Action Research Project

Our PLP team read a very articulate posting by M.E. Steele called 'Unconference: Revolutionary professional learning' that got us thinking about adapting the idea of an unconference to design our own Professional Learning day at school.

According to M.E., unconferences are part of the learning revolution. They’re participant-driven professional learning gatherings. The “un” refers specifically to the fact that there is no top-down organization, no registration fees, and no vendors. The unconference is organized and led by participants.

One of the best parts of an unconference like Edcamp is that it creates a level playing field for discussion. Since the attendees drive the conference and the attendees also serve as presenters there is no hierarchy between presenters and attendees. Teachers can present in front of administrators and administrators can engage teachers in dialogue with both parties taking an active role in the discussion.

Our faculty has been very active throughout the year implementing innovative teaching strategies and creating engaging projects that fit their IP21professional goals.These goals are not mandated by the administration but rather selected by each teacher. Giving ownership to teachers to design their professional growth makes these goals relevant and meaningful to our teaching practice.

Why not apply this fact to designing our Professional Learning day?

The focus of the PLP Year 2 teams has been on Project-Based Learning.
We decided to use a PBL approach to guide us through the process of design a Professional Learning day that encourages teachers to facilitate and participate in conversations discussing their ideas and passions as they relate to their IP21 professional goals.


 How can we engage our faculty and administrators in meaningful conversations about teaching and learning? 

Our IP21 Edcamp needs to include the following traits of optimal Professional Learning:
Relevant, Meaningful, Applicable, Adaptable, Differentiated, Enjoyable, Safe and  Diverse

This is how we created our action plan:

Take a closer look at how our plan developed:

Faculty will complete an online survey to reflect on their personal learning as a result of their participation in the IP21 Edcamp.  The survey invites the teachers to relate:
- What they learned 
- Impact of their learning on their teaching practices
It is our hope that all of our colleagues find value in their participating in the conversations throughout the day.
IP21 Edcamp Reflection

Creating our agenda was the final task in our process. Our IP21 Edcamp day will include a Keynote, four sessions with 24 conversations, a lunch with a Pecha Kucha round and a Closing Remarks session.

Take a look at the final program here: IP21 Edcamp Agenda

So there you have it: Professional Learning 2011 Style! 
Cross-Posted at Voices From the Learning Revolution (PLP Network)

Image Credits: Sunset on Boracay by wili_hybrid. Attribution-NonCommercial License

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Science Simulations: A Virtual Learning Environment

Experimental work is an integral part of science courses. Although excellent science learning can take place using the simplest equipment, the integration of laboratory activities with classroom work requires careful balancing between time allocation and budget restrictions.

Technology can be a powerful tool for learning science concepts and developing skills of measurement, analysis, and processing information. Virtual labs and simulations should not substitute for laboratory experience, but may be used to supplement and extend such experience.

In this posting I will discuss the advantages of using simulations, different types of simulations, simulation resources, and instructional strategies about implementing simulations in the science classroom.

What Education Research says

Education research shows that:

1. 'Students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application, when they are in control of and responsible for their own learning.'
(Active Learning on the Web by Bernie Dodge, Department of Educational Technology, San Diego State University)

2. 'A survey, based on 62 courses with total enrollment of 6542 students, strongly suggests that the classroom use of interactive engagement methods can increase mechanics course effectiveness in both conceptual understanding and problem solving well beyond that achieved by traditional methods.'

3. Kozma and Johnston (1991) conceptualized seven ways in which instructional technology can support learning:
  • Enabling active engagement in construction of knowledge
  • Making available real-world situations
  • Providing representations in multiple modalities
  • Drilling students on basic concepts to reach mastery
  • Facilitating collaborative activity among students
  • Seeing interconnections among concepts
  • Simulating laboratory work
(Kozma, R.B., and J. Johnston. 1991. "The technological revolution comes to the classroom." Change 23(1):10-23.)
Projectile Motion by Walter Fendt
What are the advantages to using simulations?

1. Simulations can help students translate among multiple representations.
Simulations contain physical systems represented in many different ways in two or three-dimensions: pictures, graphs, words, equations, diagrams, data tables, contour maps, etc. The students can make sense of the concepts by seeing the connection between the representations and how one variable affects another.

2. Simulations can help students build mental models of physical, chemical, biological, geological or astronomical systems.
Simulations allow students to visualize concepts that appear on textbooks or hear from their teachers in lectures. By using the simulation they can see a concrete situation that helps them build a mental model.

3. Simulations can give students engaging, hands-on, active learning experiences.
Simulations give students control when exploring scientific concepts and phenomena.

4. Simulations can help students understand equations as physical relationships among measurements.
Simulations are great tools to help students recognize how equations relate observations and measurements. Using a simulation where the students are able to vary parameters and see the effect of these variations, the role of equations is powerfully enriched.

5. Simulations can serve as a vehicle for student collaboration.
Students working in groups can use a simulation to explain and describe their understandings to each other.

6. Simulations can allow students to investigate phenomena that would not be possible to experience in a classroom or laboratory.
Students can have access to investigations and equipment not commonly available in the classroom like studying a nuclear reactor.

What is needed to use simulations?

Integrating simulations into the traditional classroom practice does not require sophisticated equipment. The basic equipment consists of a computer, a LCD projector and availability of an Internet connection though this is not necessary if the simulations are in a CD-ROM. Students can also access simulations individually in a computer lab or in a laptop environment.
The most common requirements for using simulations are free plug-ins like Flash, Shockwave, and QuickTime. Your browser must support Java for some simulations.
Most simulations are in the form of a Java Applet, a short program written in Java that is attached to a website and executed by a web browser.
A large amount of simulations include general directions; an audio clip and the most refined include multiple representations (vectors and graphs) and let the user modify the parameters to collect data.

How do I implement simulations in the science classroom?

Digital technologies require us to rethink our approach to the educational process.
The real challenge is not the actual technology, but finding pedagogies that use these digital tools to give our students an improved learning environment.

The following are some ideas about using simulations in the science classroom:

• Lectures
- To help students visualize abstract concepts: the use of simulations brings a visual and dynamic nature to a lecture presentation.
- To initiate a discussion on a reading assignment: simulations open up avenues of thought and discussion that are not typical of a textbook question.
Physlet Problem 4.1 Which is the correct free-body diagram?1
• Interactive Demonstrations
Simulations can be used to ask students to make predictions, run the virtual experiment and then discuss the observations made and/or the collected data.
pH Scale
• Pre-Lab Exercises
Simulations can serve to introduce the ideas and equipment of the lab experiment allowing the students to work through the laboratory faster and with less confusion.
Here is an example from one of my students’ blogs about using a DC Circuits simulation to explain the concepts of voltage and current in different circuit arrangements prior to going to the lab : AC/DC Not the Band

• Cooperative Group Problem-Solving
Simulations can be given to a student group to solve challenging problems that require multiple steps. This strategy allows students to understand the material more clearly by engaging in a demanding, higher order thinking skills problem.
Physlet Problem 11.5: Determine the torque on a yo-yo1

• Virtual Labs
In many cases where time is a constraint or the equipment is not available virtual labs can provide the students with an accurate idea of a particular experiment by manipulating variables, collecting data, calculating, graphing and drawing conclusions.
Gravity and Orbits
Where do I find simulations?

One of the best websites for science simulations is PhET from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Originally founded by Physics Nobel Prize laureate Carl Weiman, PhET provides fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free. These simulations can be downloaded or played directly on your browser.
Teachers can access the Teacher Ideas & Activities page for teacher-submitted contributions, designed to be used in conjunction with the simulations.
These are the links to the core science courses simulations. The PhET website also contains excellent Math simulations.

Simulation Resources

Comprehensive list to virtual labs and simulations
Comprehensive list to virtual labs and simulations

Comprehensive list to virtual labs and simulations

Earth Science/Geology
Comprehensive list to virtual labs and simulations

My website contains links to hundreds of simulations.

In the next blog posting I will discuss the second Science Practice about using equations.

1. Mario Belloni and Wolfgang Christian. Physlet® Physics: Interactive Illustrations, Explorations, and Problems for Introductory Physics ISBN 0-13-101969-4, Prentice Hall, 2004

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

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)