Last year, I remember being inspired by the idea of goal-less problems. Here’s the basic idea, the most important part of physics problem solving isn’t the math—plugging in numbers into equations, it’s knowing which equations to use. From an even wiser, modeling perspective, it is knowing which model to use. I don’t what my students to learn to answer my questions—I want them to learn to answer their questions. Already, my kids have 4 different tools (models)—CVPM, BFPM, CAPM, UBFPM. How do they know which one is applicable to a skiier skiing down a slope? Which one describes a parachutist? And of course, the best answer is…it depends.
This is an idea I got from Kelly O’Shea and Mark Hammond, who I think were inspired by Matt Greenwolf’s great modeling physics resources.
So the basic idea is you take all the descriptive stuff from your typical physics question, and you lose the question. Then you have kids work to figure out as much as they can in as many ways as they can. You can see how this plays out in the packet Kelly O’Shea put together (jump to page 3):
This turned out to be a great exercise for my honors students. I tried to frame it as an effort to learn to master every tool in their toolbox so far, since no painter would be happy just learning to use one paintbrush. They really enjoyed trying to figure out these puzzles and see just how much they could discover without being told everything to find.
Later in the week, we tried a second goal-less problem as a mini-assessment, which took about 30 minutes to complete.
The only challenge is going to be grading these. Once I look over the responses, i’ll try to add some additional commentary and sample responses. One thought I’ve had is to mark errors on them, and then have the students figure out their scores on various standards themselves.