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day 2: teach me!

August 20, 2010

Thought for the day: The first days of school are always so great—so much energy, willingness to try. Where does this go?

I started classes today with one of the discussions I enjoy most. Basically, I ask kids 3 questions:

1. What is something you really understand?
2. How did you come to understand this?
3. How did you come to know you really understood it well?

View this document on Scribd

I love this discussion for a few reasons. One, I get to hear about some pretty amazing things my kids understand—Magic Tricks, DJing, the success of Arsenel and more. I also get lots and lots of sports. As students describe for the class what they understand, I write up highlights on the board, and then we begin look for patterns, and lots of interesting things come out

  • It takes a lot of practice: most kids have been studying their “understanding for years”
  • you really have to be interested to understand
  • You have to learn by doing lots of different things (drills, scrimmages, watching film, reading rules)
  • You often need a coach, and you have to really use their advice
  • You really can’t tell what someone understands with a single test
  • The best tests are really performance based (games and matches) that force you to improvise
  • You recognize you don’t understand everything, and that is ok. You know what the next step is.

Then we compare this to something students don’t usually understand, like the quadratic formula, and they all can see that they don’t understand it because they can’t derive it, they don’t know when it’s useful, they don’t really enjoy it, and on and on. This leads to a great conversation about why the things we learn in the 8-3 school day are so different from the 3-5 school day, and lots of interesting points come up. Even at a super selective private school that costs 20K/year, kids still feel “forced” to learn in school, and “want” to learn in sports.

So I tell them I want physics to be something they understand, and something that is more like a sport than a class, and we noodle a bit on how we can make that happen together. This year, I really tried to push them to see how much of a role their own mindset plays in whether something feels like a sport or a class.

Next, I tried something new and had one student try to teach me something (I learned how to make a paper box in one class, and how to read guitar tabs in the other). It led to a little bit of discussion about how hard it is to learn guitar without a guitar, which I think should make some connections to doing science without experiments.  After that, I had kids pair off and teach each other something. This led to lots of good discussions one-on-one, but I’d like to find a way to pull things together more.

Finally, I helped kids see a few more details of the grading process in the class. Here’s another powerpoint.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2010 6:24 am

    I really like this. I’ve tried similar things as well. Found your blog via Frank Noschese and have subscribed. Your powerpoint looks like it’s been taken down. I’d like to see your grading scheme if you wouldn’t mind re-sharing. You can email me directly if you don’t want to make it public. I’m on twitter at @jybuell as well. Thanks.

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