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20 minute pulse checks!

January 7, 2011

A colleauge of mine, @jgough, asked us to try a new experiment to build in a formative assessment into our class, and help break learning up into 20 minute chucks that are more productive and digestible for students.

Here’s how this went down in my class:

  1. 20 minutes into class I asked everyone to get a sheet of paper and write down what they learned in the first 20 minutes of class. No names.
  2. I collected the responses and then distributed them randomly to other students.
  3. We went around and each student read the response he/she had been given. This was a nice trick to preserve anonymity and give kids a chance to be really honest in what they were learning. This is a powerful formative assessment, since it helps me see what the students are taking away from the lesson, as well as gives the students a checkpoint themselves to see if they’re picking up the main ideas.
  4. We then tried to come up with a single sentence summary, which I posted with the hastag #20minwms. The powerful thing is that about half a dozen or more other teachers are trying this at my school, and so we all get to see what is happening in other classes.

Here are all the individual responses:

I learned that I am one of the most confident people with vpython in my class.

I learned that the = sign in physics really means “get” or “is”

I learned how to code the line bus.pos=bus.pos.vbus*deltat, and that = means gets

I learned that I am pretty good at CAPM and CVPM

I learned that you can use vpyhton to solve just about any problem we’ve done all year

In computer language, bus.pos (new) = bus.pos (old) only in the language. And writing the equation in vpython for both CVPM and CAPM is easy.

I learned what a terabyte is and who created the internet.

I learned that you can use vpython to solve complicated equations or statements with 30 or 40 lines processes.

I learned that I am a lot more competent at vpython than I thought I was.

I learned to take a vpython program and sort of translate it into physics speak.

I learned that with practice, I can do anything with vpython.

I learned how to better create velocity in vpython.

That most lines of code can be manipulated into a different command much in the same way as a math eqaution.

vpython makes a lot of new possibilities for physics.

vypthon is like a superpower, but only when completely mastered. Kinda like the new TV show with the cape.

Other class’s responses
I learned that vypthon can do graphs.

I learned than an = symbol in some cases can have different meanings.

I learned that I am a lot less confident in vpython that by hand, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I learned that vypthon is powerful, and I don’t know how to use it well.

I learned how to make objects move on vpython and I learned the different meanings of =

I learned how an = can mean so many things and about how vpython is great and very useful.

I learned that an = sign can mean very different things in different situations.

I learned more about the potential and capability of vpython.

I realized that when we are faced with something new, we underestimate our ability to solve new problems. And
math and science have a different language

I learned that = signs in math, physisc and computer worlds mean slightly different things.

Here’s the collective sentence we decided upon:

We are learning that vpython is a powerful tool for solving problems via computer programming #20minwms

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2011 8:07 pm

    It was my priviledge to witness this in person. I was very impressed with the openess and honesty of the comments from your students. They did not seem bothered, at all, because I was observing.

    I love that one of your students wrote “I learned that = signs in math, physics and computer worlds mean slightly different things.” We talk about this all the time in Algebra I.

    Right now, we are grappling with the different ways the negative sign impacts an expression. We are struggling with when a negative sign means the opposite and when a negative sign says to take the reciprocal. So “I learned than an = symbol in some cases can have different meanings.” was another of my favorites.

    Your learning evironment is very safe and secure for kids to risk and learn. I am thrilled to read “I realized that when we are faced with something new, we underestimate our ability to solve new problems. And
    math and science have a different language.” Isn’t is so true that often our students underestimate what they can do?

    I say BRAVO! Thank you for participating in our experiment. Will you continue with us next week?

    I blogged about the original plan at

    Thanks for letting me visit today. I’ll be back!

    • January 7, 2011 8:11 pm

      Thanks for visiting. It was great to have you in class to turn to as the math authority as we tried to decode the statement
      x = x + vt
      I’ll definitely try this with my classes next week, and am looking forward to trying it out with my intro classes which is having a few more struggles, which I need to blog about.

      • January 8, 2011 11:39 am

        You made a GREAT point about language having your students
        decode x = x + vt. I kept thinking that we are all speaking the
        same language but with different dialect. I’m coming back! I want
        to observe a physics class deemed intro. I want to learn and know
        what my students need to be well prepared for their learning with

        • January 8, 2011 6:32 pm

          I’d love to have you visit my intro class any time. We’re having more troubles there. I’d also love your feedback on the final exam postmortem I posted where I went into some detail about the difficulties I’m seeing in my students being able to use their mathematical skills to develop physical insight.

        • Anna Moore permalink
          January 9, 2011 11:55 am

          JG, I really appreciate your comment about visiting classes “outside” your discipline/ “outside” your grade because it helps you, as a teacher of STUDENTS, see what your students need to be prepared at the next level in a more global way. Awesome point. As a new teacher, I was given a mentor (a technique I really love and thank my school for) and I was asked to go watch him teach a class (he also is required to come watch me teach a class). In retrospect, I realize that this, in addition to my own failure to be creative, made me think that I “could not” or “should not” spend time watching other folks teach. But, how cool for me, as a hs teacher to go watch a jr high class… these students will be in my room soon. How cool for me, as a science teacher, to go sit in on an art class or French class or math class… it’s a community. Last semester, through serendipidy, I did sit in on a jr high class (yours) and a Bible class (Dr. Y because he was a former teacher of mine). Both classes were great ; I left both classes with thoughts about my own class. Conclusion: all of this make me even more eager to see what comes from the ATL-EDU-3six5…and it really points out why the #20minwms is so cool. I feel so empowered and alive being part of such a dynamic community of learners who are committed to teaching young students.

        • January 9, 2011 7:56 pm

          At a previous school, we had a special place on our email client where teachers could post “invites” to their class when they were teaching interesting lessons or wanted feedback on something they were trying. I wonder if we could get something similar going…

  2. January 8, 2011 9:06 am

    Thanks for posting about #20minwms so quickly!

  3. January 27, 2011 1:14 pm

    You guys are all doing some really cool things in your classes. I like how stopping every twenty minutes to reflect on what you’ve learned, helps to reinforce that very learning. Keep up the innovative, great work!


  1. Achievement-Action: #20minwms « It's About Learning
  2. Teaching computational thinking part 5: vpthon = (gets) awesome « Quantum Progress
  3. Ever feel like you’re in the wrong place? Part 1: The Questions | Experiments in Learning by Doing

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