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Will you join our global physics department?

March 18, 2011

In the past few days, a couple of developments have helped me to really “get” just how much the connecting with faculty around the world is transforming my teaching.

The global physics teaching chat

A week ago, Andy Rundquist proposed that the physics blog/twitter community consider getting together for an online chat one evening this week. Already familiar with the awesomeness that is #scichat (Tuesdays, 9pm), I was psyched to try it out, and so Andy sent out an invite for anyone interested to join in 9:30 last evening.

You can read about the chat on Andy’s blog (he even has a link to a video transcript of part of the chat. Our attendence exceeded my widest expectations—we had 8 participants, coming from British Columbia, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Delaware, and Georgia. In less than an hour we started to plan for a web problem database, and set up an idea for a weekly series of chats featuring a short 15 minute talk on some physics topic at the beginning, followed by general discussion. First topic, Momentum is King, by Andy. The chat took place on elluminate, which really impressed me with its functionality.

So if you’re interested in joining us for our next chat, and learning from Andy why momentum is King, mark your calendar for next Wednesday, March 23 at 9:30 EDT (Eastern Time) and join us in Andy’s elluminate session.

The global research connection

10,000 miles away in Sydney, Derek Muller, @veritasiumm has been making a series of incredible science education videos that I’ve mentioned previously in my lessons on scale post.

Frank Noschese and I have been working on increasing the reach of our Pseudoteaching Project, and Derek graciously agreed to write a guest post about pseudoteaching in multimedia presentations. But Derek didn’t stop there. When Frank showed him some of the latest stuff from Kahn Academy, Dereck produced the following brilliant video based on his own PhD research that describes some flaws with teaching students science by video, which I’ve embedded below. This video is a MUST WATCH.

If you want to read about this you should check out Derek’s guest post, Khan Academy and the effectiveness of Science Videos on Frank’s Blog.

This video has filled my head with thoughts and brought me back to some of my earlier thinking about how confusion really is a prime signal of learning, and we need to help students to recognize this. I will probably blog on this in the future.

But the bigger message here is I might never have made these realizations were it not for connecting with a fellow physics educator on the other side of the planet.

The global physics department

At all of the schools I’ve taught at, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of wonderful physics colleagues to share ideas with and learn from. But I know this is the exception, not the rule. Many schools are lucky to have just one physics teacher, and at some schools it might be hard to find colleagues who share your passion for teaching and talking about teaching.

I think the global physics department spells the end to the days of struggling to improve one’s teaching in solitude. Our meetings aren’t spent with endless discussions of budgetary minutiae or political infighting, we just talk about physics, and ideas for improving our teaching. The connections we are making through blogging, twitter, and now online chats are redefining my expectations for what is possible in professional development almost every day.

Still, I suspect we’re only getting started, and the conversation will only grow richer as we add more voices to the mix. So when will you join us?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2011 8:09 am

    I have only been on the periphery of this online community for a week, and I am awed by what is going on. Thanks so much to Frank, in particular, for bringing me in. I am definitely going to join the chat!

  2. March 18, 2011 9:02 am

    I was so impressed with Derek’s video explaining why science video presentations can fall short. I started to reassessing my own few videos that I have made for my students. Now, I haven’t made many… it’s been more of a project that I’ve been THINKING about than actually doing (like most of my projects), but I realized that thus far I have stuck with videos that show the students how to do something or some bit of vocabulary we are going to use the next day, eg: how to move a vector on a sheet of paper, replicating the angle and magnitude, using a protractor; ideas on how to remember which way the result of subtracting two vectors points; how to set up a mass on a spring, what amplitude, frequency and period mean; how to write an equation in Excel; a hint for getting started on a ranking task after a long weekend break. None of these are trying to touch on anything that is conceptual, and I’d like to think I did that on purpose (but I didn’t). The videos that I have made do fall into two categories: those that apply to the very next day and aren’t worth ever watching again, and those that involve a skill of some sort that the students might go back to again if they need a reminder. My unscientific anecdote-laden observations say the first kind of video is tolerated, but not especially useful to the students, but the second kind is.

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