So, right around Week 4 of Fall semester, I fell into a pit of despair.

It was very much like this.

Not much will to blog, for a couple weeks, and by the time I felt better about the class too much time had passed to really jump back in. You know how it goes, right?

So how did Fall 2010 end up? Not to shabby, I think. I stuck with the Standards Based Grading the whole way through. And while it was a lot of work coming up with new assessments every week (plus the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and/or 6th assessments for the odd student), I think it may have been worth it. I haven’t read my evaluations yet, but I did get some spontaneous feedback from the students:

11th or so week of the semester, “traditional” student (in the 18-22year range) walks into lab:

I’ve finally figured out how much I need to study for this class!

Thanks to SBG, his prior grades weren’t set-in-stone and he brought his course grade up from a C to a B.

    A few students thanked me for the opportunities to re-assess on standards.
    With so much emphasis on personal responsibility, there was a good post-class conversation about the mindset of people who come to class once every three weeks.
    Two students told me (one via email, one in person) that they enjoyed the class and learned a lot.

Two students…doesn’t sound like much. However, it’s been about two years since any students said they liked the class at all. I’ll take it.

Week 3

January 28, 2011

NOTE: this was written on September 11-ish of ’10. I wasn’t finished with it at the time, but I never did get back to it. See: 3rd sentence, re: nausea.

Three weeks in. Three lectures; as many labs. The abject panic has mostly subsided, the nausea has not. I wanted to have labs and lectures pretty well set before school started. For various reasons (ranging from beautiful summer days at the lake to funerals), that just didn’t happen. So, instead, I’m scrambling to get things done in time. Although this is the way I usually do thing, it is not the way I like to do them.

We’re still on Chapter 1 — mostly Kinematics. Is that where we should be starting? Heck, I don’t know. It’s simultaneously familiar and confusing, with the words we already know but now define slightly differently (what? you mean acceleration isn’t just speeding up?!? I can be slowing down and still accelerating???? …my family still brings up on occasion a particular Thanksgiving dinner, at which this was a primary conversational focal point. It’s almost at the “land-use/urban-planning argument” status in familial lore. I’ll save that fascinating story for another blog post.). In any case, the book starts with kinematics, so that’s where I start. At least for this semester. A rather difficult part of deciding to embark on SBG and inquiry methods is allowing myself to not be stellar this first go-round. No, my standards are not quite what I want them to be — but I think they’re better than what I used to have. No, I don’t test out my brand new labs on real students *before* I give them to my *actual* students — and sometimes it doesn’t work out quite so well. As of now we’re essentially following the layout of the book — maybe in a semester or two we’ll start with really important things, like Energy, and leave the kinematics for later.

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….

Standards…in formulating my standards I went with Jason Buell’s method, from over at Always Formative.

…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!

…overcome the first obstacle of starting a blog: the name.   You know, something relevant, but not too pretentious and obscure (Shoulders of Giants, Everything Else is just Stamp Collecting), or silly and inside-joke-from-long-ago-y (What a Bunch of Bosons, Mmmmmmm….slanty).    Thus, “uNclear Physics” which, yes, is a not-so-clever play on Nuclear Physics, my topic of study in graduate school. It is also how most of my students view their coursework.   And now, it’s the title of my brand new baby blog.  About Physics.  And the teaching of Physics.  And specifically, a documentation of my journey through simultaneously implementing Standards Based Grading (SBG) and Inquiry Methods in my Physics Concepts course.

This is my blog.  I hope you like it.