My summer quest: The Physics Problem Database
This was the last week of the semester, and so naturally, I was reminded of the dark side of standards based grading. Namely, students visiting at every hour of the day, wanting to show mastery of every concept, and me basically becomingly the physics problem pez dispenser, while desperately trying to cling to the bigger picture that this process is about learning, not checking off concepts. I will have much more to say about this in the near future, once finish with exams, but there is one thing that I keep fantasizing about that I believe would be a tremendous aid in helping me to achieve the vision of learning I have for my class: the problem database.
The Physics Problem Database was an idea that we hatched last year at Physics Teacher Camp, and Andy Rundquist was kind enough to jump in a slap together a very quick prototype that we sort of sat on. Now I feel a burning to do this right, and live my dream of working for a software startup, if only for a summer.
I’m going to start up a collaborative effort here on the internets to build this database, and after talking with Andy about this a bit, we’re going to try to do this right way, by working through the steps of developing a robust piece of software, starting with carefully outlining the use cases.From there, we’ll try to develop a feature list and get some user input on which features are most critical for a minimally viable program to be running by this fall.
This has led me to do a little bit of reading on writing use cases. Basically, as I understand it, the first step seems to be listing the actors who will interact with this software, and as best I can tell, I can only think of two possible actors, teachers and students, though the likely first version will only support teachers.
A use case consists of a simple description of a task that a particular user would try to accomplish with the problem database, followed by a benefit of that task. Here are a few examples:
- As a teacher, I would like to be able to add a problems to the database that contain both images and equations in order to faithfully represent problems I already use.
- As a teacher, I would like to be able to search for problems covering a particular concept, level of difficulty or author in order to prepare custom assessments for students.
- As a teacher, I would like to be able to select problems from the database and output them on a single assessment that I could give to a student.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would use this form to submit use cases that you can think of for the Physics Problem Database.
I am far from a pro software developer (though I did get my certificate from Udacity CS101—so I should be able to code my own search engine). I’m learning a lot of this as I go, and would love your advice in this process, and I’d like to avoid layering on unnecessary complexity in this project. Again, the goal is to create a simple functional version 1.0 of the database that is ready to go by the early fall.
Finally, we do want this to be as collaborative as possible, and I want to start by collecting names of people interested in contributing to this project in any way. We are also trying to hold discussions about the project for half an hour after the Global Physics Department meetings on Wednesdays. You can see the recording of our first meeting here (the brainstorming session starts at 1 hour into the recording, but you might also want to check out Steve Dickie’s awesome talk about using Arduino to build probeware).
I’ve created a second form for people who are interested in contributing to this project over the summer. Please complete this form if you’re interested in contribute to this project in any way—either by submitting problems, helping to test out the database, or helping to develop it.