Our school has no late policy, thus I rarely get any assignments in on time. However, today was the deadline for my physics 20 projects to come in for feedback. I got EVERY single assignment! Students WANT feedback so they can improve. On top of this amazing phenomenon, students had written questions to me in the margins of their assignments (since they knew they were rough). Some pertained to basic grammar, etc, but others were higher-level questions about the physics.

At the beginning of this project, I had a group of students suggest to me that if assignments were handed in on time, one could assume that the students enjoyed the physics, because they did it before everything else. Well, I guess this shows a level of enjoyment, because every group had their stuff in on time!

Now to get back to the feedback pile…


What’s Worth It?

It’s interesting how students will find something interesting that I felt was not the best use of our time. For example, today, I took a group of students working on a project based on off ramps to the closest thing we have to an off ramp in our small city. There wasn’t much to consider, but still the students said it was helpful in visualizing what they were doing. A lot of students had off ramp and overpass mixed up. Also, we talked about banking curves and why they do…. “there’s way more to consider than just building a flat circle I guess”. 🙂

Also, I am finding this way of learning does motivate all students to some degree. It’s taking much longer for them to cover these basic concepts than it would normally take in a Physics classroom, but the learning is so much more meaningful to the students. I am lucky that I have time to teach it this way in class, but in a regular physics 30 class (which is where most of these concepts come from) I probably would feel pressed for time. I think I would need to take more time and construct projects that explore more concepts to make the learning efficient + meaningful + context-based. Also, I used projects from various sources but think that next time I would try to build my own projects to learn from – that way they would better match my curriculum and objectives to be considered.

Thoughts and Problems

So, many students are progressing nicely in their project. They are learning the relevant information and learning well on their own. However, there are a few problems with assessment: 2 students continually miss project days. Thus, when they do come, they spend basically the entire class catching up to the rest of the students and can’t really contribute to any new discussions.

How do I assess this? They aren’t really helping their group, and I am not sure if they are learning the information so I can’t really give them their groups marks. I am thinking of giving an alternate assignment, but hate to have them miss this opportunity.

Writing a Rubric

Ok, so my kids are fully engaged in this problem-based learning project, and loving it by the way. Then I ran into a wall – how will I assess this thing? After some research, I decided to try to include the students as much as possible. Their assessment broke down into three parts:

1. The Report Handed In

2. Personal and Peer Reflections

3. Group Rubric

Students were given a chance to write their group rubric. They enjoyed this process. Students liked being in control over what details they would be marked on, and some came up with unique ideas. I.e. under shows interest in physics, one group justified that students handing in their assignment on time shows an interest in the project. I never would have considered that.

Students felt that writing the rubric made them think more about the project. They had to really consider what they were going to do, since they were being marked on it. Also, they have been in charge of the project, so they said they knew more specifics about the thinking behind it, so it made sense they decided how it got marked. Finally, they liked that they were writing different rubrics for different projects – that way they could get specific instead of writing a general one they wouldn’t know how to read.

Problem-Based Case Introduction

Yesterday, I introduced my projects to my students. They were put into 2 ‘Engineering Firms’, 3 ‘Medical Teams’ and 1 “Crime Scene Investigation Unit” with Physics-based problems to solve. They were PUMPED!

The students took their booklets and worked as a team to find the basic information of each case. Even the medical team, which I was worried would be overwhelmed with the amount of research, was busy sharing facts about food irradiation and sickness. I was so impressed, and excited to learn what they learned!

The students came in to class today with their booklets out, and ready to talk with the other students in their groups. Unfortunately, we weren’t working on our projects. However, when I asked the students why they wanted to work on it, I got responses such as “Because I found it interesting”, and “Because I liked teaching myself about stuff we hadn’t done in class.” Students obviously like this type of learning, and I’m excited to see how things turn out.

However, I do have a question for everyone out there, any ideas on how I should be assessing this thing? I have students handing in a report, which we will develop rubrics for – but I don’t know if I should be assessing their daily contributions or not. Any thoughts?

Speculation and Exploring Explanations

This Thursday’s task was to choose one of the following three questions and attempt to answer it using your knowledge of Physics.

What would happen if:

a) Everyone on earth jumped at the same time?

b) The sun was blue?

c) The moon were bigger than the earth?


Students were put into groups and told to pick a question they wanted to answer. All three questions were chosen (some more than once). Students have not formally learned the physics required to fully explain these concepts.

I was amazed at some responses, and found that some students couldn’t care less about Physics. One student began teaching her group how gravitational pull would change the rotation of the earth and explaining how we would orbit the moon. WOW! Talk about previous knowledge – why did she only do mediocre on our first unit test then? On the other hand, a student who generally scored very high grades in science and math could not even make a prediction, even after probing questions.

I want to improve my instruction with this project – and for the student with high previous knowledge, I can see the confidence growing that wouldn’t normally occur. However, for the student who is generally good in sciences, I can see that he is struggling with the ‘more important’ part of science – the qualitative (coming from the quantitative). How can I reach them both without compromising?

Tutoring Frustrations

I have spent hours trying to improve my Physics instruction… and to me, this means that I build thought provoking questions that makes students think about the physics they are encountering. I’d rather see a student that can qualitatively interpret a kinematics graph and then apply it to the math, then one that can simply do calculations. It is much more time consuming to teach both, but they understand it much better when we do!

Today I was tutoring another Physics student and found that all the examples brought to me were ones which required math. I asked the student to explain what was happening in the graph so that we could figure out what to calculate. I was met with a completely blank look. I had to take 3/4 of our tutoring session to teach the student what the graphs meant, and then (their words not mine) “The math was a breeze.”

I understand that math has its place in a Physics classroom – but can it be the sole focus of instruction in a PHYSICS class?