Learning physics and computational modeling through worked examples
Today I saw this excellent post by Mark Guzdial, A report on worked examples and self explanations in media computation. In this post, Guzdial describes how he gave students an assignment to take a complicated piece of code, a worked example, and then had to develop line-by-line explanations of how the code functioned.
This got me thinking that this could be a great exercise both in helping students understand computational modeling in physics, and to assess that understanding. We already give students nearly complete pieces of code, but some of our work this past year interviewing students showed that they still have considerable difficulty explaining what how a program works, and I think producing a line by line explanation–perhaps as a screencast in Jing–might an excellent way to help them build that understanding.
I also realized that this doesn’t just apply to worked examples in programming. It could work just as well with fully worked out physics or math problems. Give a student a worked example to a problem, and then have them narrate this solution, giving justification to each line of work. Again, you could easily make this a screencast assignment using Jing, and I think it would push students to explain their reasoning in a way that simply solving a problem does not. And the variations are endless—if you really wanted to push things, one could even introduce mistakes into the worked examples, and ask students to explain the problem and the mistake.
Update 8:30AM 7/17/2012: Frank Noschese tweeted a bunch of additional links and resources about worked examples: