And so it begins…
August 26, 2010
First lecture last Tuesday night. I explained the philosophy behind the course, how we would be implementing that, and the manner in which it would be graded. So far, no one has revolted (which is a step up from last semester). While it is physics, and very few of my students are super excited to be there, they seemed relatively engaged throughout. Which is saying alot for a 3 hour lecture that ends at 9pm…
So what is it I’m doing? First off, a bit about my class. I teach Physics Concepts at a community college. Most of the students who come through my class are not going to be physicicts or engineers (though there are a small percentage in that group). There are a few PSEO (high school) students, but the bulk of enrollees are attempting to get into the Radiation Technology program, or perhaps Prosthetics and Orthotics. There is also the occasional pre-Education major. The course is used by the other degree programs primarily as a “weed out” course — they *need* at least a B in the class to get into Rad Tech, but competition is high so an A is much better. Students will use very little of the content they learn in my course in their later studies. So what is the point of my class? What do I want my students to take away? I’ve decided (and my department agrees with me) that our main goal should be to strengthen Critical Thinking skills, in the context of Physics.
Back in April I was invited (along with the rest of the Science department) to a workhop at Winona State University on Inquiry Methods in the classroom. About a week before, I’d been directed to Shawn Cornally’s blog Think Thank Thunk … if you’ve happened to read it, you know that Mr. Cornally is highly supportive of Inquiry methods *and* SBG. At the WSU conference they told us the story of why they’d begun implementing Inquiry labs…it turns out that many of their students, even those who planned on a STEM major, were lacking in Critical Thinking skills (as measured by the Lawson CTSR). What they’ve found at Winona State is that if low-scoring students are first placed in a “Prep-Chem” or “Prep-Physics” class which focuses on building Critical Thinking skills, these students overwhelmingly go on to be successful in their general physics/chem courses (the calculus-based ones).
Now, I imagine that “Inquiry” is one of those terms that has multiple uses and meanings. The Think Thank Thunk method is genius, however I can’t yet see how I could make it work with my class schedule…and lack of power tools. The definition given at the Winona workshop (and the one I’m following) can be boiled down to this: Data first, Theory later. Traditionally, students do experiments that (hopefully) confirm the equation that was learned the other day in lecture. This semester, we will do experiments to collect data, and somewhat collectively interpret that data to hopefully arrive at the appropriate theory. Or near it, at least. If we can identify relationships between variables, I will be relatively happy. More details on all this later….
…more on the Standards later. For now, it is 10am, and I need to feed my children some breakfast. And then go to work…I’ve got lab tonight, after all.
If any experienced bloggers should happen to read this, please know I am new to blogging. I’m still working on some of the etiquette, especially regarding links, trackbacks, and pingbacks and all. If there’s something I should be doing, please let me know!