Its day 2 of final exams, so I’ve got some time before I get a nice stack of tests to grade and figured I’d use it to look back on the trimester.
This trimester, I saw many of my students truly become fearless when it comes to physics. They don’t hesitate to ask questions that go beyond how to do the day’s task and are quick to propose and try experiments just because they’re curious and not because it will be on the test. They are not only starting to think like scientists, but to embrace and enjoy the scientific process.
My biggest frustration is that I’m still talking a lot during discussions. Some students tell me they aren’t usually sure what’s worth saying or talking about and worry about taking the class on a tangent. That tells me I’m framing the discussion in a way where its about what I want them to learn from a task, not what they found confusing or interesting or what they notice looking at other whiteboards. Before the next board meeting, I want to take a few minutes to have a conversation with my students to help them see their questions and observations are the point of the discussion, not a distraction, and assure them its my problem, not theirs, if we somehow don’t get to the intended content.
Next year, I need to work on the storyline I use for electricity and magnetism. Both my students and I felt like the concepts never really came together as nicely as mechanics does. I’m not sure E&M will ever build as seamlessly as mechanics can, but I want to spend some time this summer revising my sequence to at least improve the connections. I did manage to bring in a lot more concepts from mechanics to use as a foundation for E&M, and am pleased by how that went.
This course as typically been taught with a fairly traditional approach, so this time around I’ve been revising or replacing a lot of materials to put much more emphasis on conceptual understanding and active learning. There were some aspects it was fairly easy to get students to embrace. A lot of them really liked some of the visual representations I borrowed from the Modeling Chemistry curriculum. Students not only used those representations unprompted, but a few came up with ways to effectively apply those representations to new situations that surprised me. It was great to see.
The biggest struggle, however, was getting students out of a very passive approach to school. Since this course is the lowest of our four levels of chemistry, it is a class filled with “those kids” and I think that’s what they’ve gotten used to. Its interesting to me how often students would show me they could reason through how to do a problem using their conceptual understanding, but not recognize what they’d done and ask me for the steps. I shied away from doing much culture-building or metacognitive reflection since the course is pretty short, but I think I need to invest that time if I’m going to continue the changes I made. I may not cover as much chemistry, but its worth it for students to truly understand the chemistry we do get to. Even more importantly, I’d love for “those kids” to leave my class believing that they can construct knowledge, and not just receive it.