I’m a full-time wife & mother of two smallish children, part-time Physics instructor at the Community College level. These two things (as well as all the other little things I like to do in my “spare time”) are constantly vying for my attention. Or, perhaps more accurately, every time I sit down to work on curriculum development, someone needs a drink or a sandwich or a time-out.
I’ve been teaching on-and-off for 11 years now, though rarely more than one class at a time, so I still feel “new” at this. My formal training is limited to my graduate school TA days, and I was very fortunate to have taught a series of classes that had been converted to a “Discovery Based Learning” philosophy. However, not a lot of direction in creating one’s own course, which I
learned muddled through on the fly at the local community college, with a borrowed textbook and no ancillaries. It was mid-semester before I even learned that there existed such a thing as an “Instructor’s Manual” (with such helpful things as “suggested lecture format” and “answers to end-of-chapter problems) or a “Test Bank”. I had very little lab equipment, and had to buy most of my own materials (hooray for Radio Shack! And being single with few actual financial responsibilities!).
Why am I attempting to convert my course to SBG and Inquiry? Well, it turns out that college students (at least, the ones I’ve seen), having been brought up playing the points game to pass their classes in high-school, come to my class with the same mentality. They (mostly) don’t care about mastering the material, only to get enough points to get the A or B they need from my course to get into their chosen program — primarily Radiation Technology at this school. I’ve had students ask if they could write book reports, file papers, or wash my car to get “extra credit”. I’m tired of this game, and want to push the responsibility for learning the material back towards them. Hence, SBG. Why Inquiry? It’s been said (and was certainly true in my case), that no one really learns Physics until they get to grad school and have to teach it. And certainly, with the way physics tends to be taught at University, this seems to be what happens. But does it have to be that way? Can we hang on to that philosophy, and thus abdicate our responsibility as instructors to those who will come after us, knowing that “Physics is just *really hard*, and therefore no student can be expected to really “get it”, and no instructor can really be blamed for failing to impart understanding”???? Or should we be doing better, trying methods of instruction that are not the “toss-you-in-the-deep-end, sink-or-swim” methods by which most of us were taught? I made it through undergraduate physics by means of sheer obstinance. Most people just aren’t that silly. I think we can do better than that. I think I can be a part of it.