This week, we had finals on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was scheduled as a professional development day, but an early blizzard meant we had a remote work day for term transition, instead.
AP Physics 1
For the final exam, I had students take a modified practice AP exam. As usual, students did much better on the free response than the multiple choice. I need to give some thought to what shifts might address that. I’m also giving some thought to shifting how I use the formula sheet. Typically, hand out copies of the formula sheet they’ll get on the AP exam pretty early in the year and provide those on all of my assessments. This year, I have more students than usual trying to memorize equations, which tells me they aren’t seeing the formula sheet as a useful tool.
Bigger picture, I’ve been using some of the strategies for improving groupwork that I worked on in Physics last year, and I’m seeing good results, especially in my larger class. This year in general, I’ve been seeing more competitiveness than usual, but it’s been especially pronounced in my smaller class. The small class also has only two girls out of eleven students, and the girls have been vocal that it’s frustrating to often be the only girl in a group. I’ve got some students switching hours and both sections will have a pretty even gender distribution next tri, so I’m hoping that will help shift the tone in my smaller class.
We continued the two-stage final exam, where students complete a standard written final, then do a lab practical in small groups. I saw a lot of mistakes that I think are related to students struggling to differentiate different quantities and to recognize when a letter represents a variable and when it represents a unit. I need to give some thought to how I’ll help students distinguish those concepts moving forward.
My classes have been much quieter than usual this year, both in small group and whole class discussions. Over the course of the trimester, I’ve used some strategies, like giving more opportunity for small group talk before a whole-class discussion, that have helped. Over time, students have gotten more comfortable with each other and I’ve been able to cut back on the pre-discussions, but enough students are switching between hours for next tri that I’m going to go back to those strategies for at least a while as part of re-building the class culture.
Another aspect of the term transition I’m thinking about is the fact that around half of my students next tri will be coming to me from the other physics teacher. While we work very closely together and use the same materials, I consistently find many students do not transfer skills between our classrooms. I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on how to help students transfer skills like collaboration; I treat the start of the trimester the same way I treat the start of the school year and go back to building routines, norms, and a class culture with my students. I can back off quicker than in September, but it’s no less important than in the fall.
Where I feel stuck is with students who struggle to transfer physics skills between classrooms. I periodically hear from students that their class never learned a fundamental skill like drawing free-body diagrams or even entire topics, like balanced forces. Its tricky to coach a kid through that when I haven’t had a chance to build a relationship or get to know their strengths yet, so I tend to end up either helping to the point of giving answers or coming across as harsh about what students “should” know, neither of which is a good start. We’ll be starting tri 2 with unbalanced forces, so I’m giving some thought to how I can navigate these moments more productively. I want to try some open-ended approaches, like sketching a problem scenario I know was used in both courses and asking students very broad questions about what diagrams they might use. I’m also wondering if there are some ways I could involve other group members in these conversations to help them become more productive.