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Goal-less problems

November 20, 2010

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):

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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.

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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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2010 8:27 pm

    I have solving goal-less problems as its own standard — a Level C standard by your book.

    These problems make perfect reassessments. Perhaps ask your kids to mark down on their paper which standards they need reassessment in, and use this quiz to only score those standards. And since goal-less problems are their own standards, kids will still have to show as much stuff as possible.

    I hope this makes sense.

  2. November 20, 2010 8:41 pm

    I like that. I think I’ll do something as well. Do you also raise/lower scores for other topics if they show understanding/lack of understanding of standards in solving the goal-less problem? That is if they draw a correct FBD in the problem, will that change their scores on drawing FBDs?

  3. November 20, 2010 9:04 pm

    I am waaay behind you guys, and will just be getting to the goal-less BFPM problems. But if a kid asks me to use the FBD on a goal-less problem to re-evaluate his/her standard for FBD, then I will, up or down.

    I guess you have to frame it like “I want you all to be awesome at physics. But that means I have to give you feedback about how you are doing. And if your response to concept Y indicates some misunderstandings of concept X, I need to tell you that you need to get help on X (and lower your grade). It really wouldn’t be honest otherwise.”


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