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Physics teacher camp wrap up

August 15, 2012

I apologize for being so late in writing up this summery of this year’s Physics Teacher Camp, and for not writing the daily summaries. Trying to engineer a move to a new house, participate in Physics Teacher Camp and keep up with blogging turned out to be too much for me to bite off.

So now I’m trying to recall the various projects we worked on after more than a week has passed, and I didn’t get to work on each of these projects. I’ll do my best.

Metacognition curriculum

A number of teachers got together to think about a way to develop a more coherent curriculum for teaching the metacognitive skills and habits that many of us have decided are essential to our courses.

Josh Gates put a lot of resources together into a shared evernote notebook which you should definitely check out.

I have a sense that this is going to be a long and ongoing project. At PTC, we were able to put together a list of many of the metacognitive traits/habits/understandings we’d like students to develop, which I’ve listed below.

  • Students need to see themselves as growing in their abilities, rather than fixed (growth vs. fixed mindset)
  • Practice/work is the key to success, not innate ability
  • Students need to ‘normalize’ mistakes/failure: see mistakes as natural and necessary. They need to engage with mistakes in order to grow – ignoring them does not help!
  • Engaging with material in a deep way makes students feel like they know less, but that’s only because they finally know what they don’t know. Students learn more after this engagement, even if they feel like they know less. Students need to gain comfort with that discomfort and need to recognize productive struggle
  • Students need to learn how to practice – active work on areas that you are not already proficient in is much more productive than repeating skills with which you’re already good; time spent on task isn’t by itself the key
  • Practicing helps; passive studying doesn’t
  • True understanding means that some things become ‘obvious’ or second-nature
  • Understanding erodes if it isn’t used; the more shallow the understanding is, the quicker it will go away
  • Understanding is strengthened greatly when it is attached to other understandings and when it can be expressed in multiple representations
  • The feedback’s infinitely more important than the number/letter attached; students need to be educated on how to use feedback and incentivized to do it
  • Compare yourself to yourself, not to everyone else
  • Models are encompassing and predictive; facts are discrete, limited, and finite
  • Today’s 10,000: people learn things at different times, and that’s OK. Don’t discourage people from learning anything at any time
  • The best news ever: you can learn all of those things that you’ve always wished that you could do, but couldn’t. The bad news: you do have to work (as have folks that you see that are good at it), not being good at something is because you haven’t put in that work (yet), and there are choices to be made – you can’t simultaneously rock everything
  • Discomfort/inability should be an exciting signal of an opportunity (because you know that you you’re learning something at that you’ll soon be able to do something new), rather than something to dread or avoid (because it signals something that you’re “bad at”)
  • There’s a ton of information out there that we don’t notice, but training can make us sensitive to cues that make things ‘obvious’ to those that are trained, but which seem mystical to those that are untrained
  • Appropriate simplification

I think the next step is to elaborate on these items. What are the triggers that should start a conversation about a particular habit/understanding? What is a good lesson or activity to teach each habit? Some habits might require only a 5 minute conversation, others might be better taught in a more extended way. How do you measure how well a student has developed one of these habits, and how do you measure growth in a student’s understanding of these habits?

New to twitter/blogging site for Physics Teachers

Now that we’ve worked on this, I’m even more in awe of how quickly Sam Shaw was able to put together the awesome site, Welcome to the Math Twitterblogosphere in only a few days. At Physics Teacher Camp, we were able to sketch out some rough ideas for the content we’d like to put in the physics version of this site, and even put together a very rough template, but there is a TON of work left to be done.

If you are interested on working on this project, please let me know. I would love someone to take over this project and get it finished before the fall.

Matter and Interactions support for high school teachers

We had 3 teachers at PTC who are teaching Matter and Interactions in their high school classes. These teachers spent a lot of time working on developing a list of standards for using standards based grading with M&I, as well a document that coordinated all released AP free response questions with individual M&I chapters. They also worked to create an improved VPython simulation of a wave propagating through a solid. I didn’t participate in this work, but if you want more details, please contact Josh Gates, Frank Noschese, or Mark Hammond—hopefully one of them will blog this work soon.

Support for homework-less classrooms

Going homework less is the new hotness in physics classes these days. While this is awesome, too many students can fool themselves into thinking that a homework-less class means they don’t have to work in physics. So we set out to create a set of resources for teachers and students to help them see what a homework-less class is really about—students deciding for themselves what work they need to do to increase their understanding of physics. Here are the various things we came up with that students could use advice on in a homework-less classroom.


Here again, we came up with a lot of ideas, but developing these ideas into documents that are short, readable and egging to the students is a project that’s going to take more time. Here’s the initial collection of google documents we started to write.

Again, if you’re interested in helping to develop these further, I’d love to hear from you.

AMTA work

We had the distinct pleasure of having both the President (Fran Poodry) and Past President (Mark Schober) of the American Modeling Teachers Association attending Physics Teacher Camp. Did you know AMTA has over 750 paying members? If you want to support a great science curriculum, developed by teachers for teachers, why don’t you join today?

Fran and Mark were able to work on a number of things for AMTA, including a response to the truly awful Scientific American Article about developing good science teachers.

Video production

Fran Poodry, Mark Schober and Dorrie Bright are an incredibly productive film crew. They turned out more than a dozen videos that you can use in your physics courses for video analysis. They even learned Peter Bohacek’s awesome tools for making direct measurement videos (you can find Peter’s complete collection of these videos at Carleton’s Science Education Research Portal.

Check out this awesome video of an inertial balance experiment.

Physics Teacher Camp 2013

So what do we want to do for Physics Teacher Camp next year? First, I’m tired of it being small and invite-only. This is something we’ve had to do because we’ve been hosted in faculty homes at St. Andrew’s and housing is very limited. But after seeing how the math folks were able to just book a hotel (who would have thought?), I don’t see why we can’t open PTC up to as many people as want to come. In addition, there might be some chance that we can arrange for dorm housing here at St. Andrew’s if there are no camps at that time.

So I’m actively exploring how we open PTC up to whomever wishes to come and is willing to pay their travel expenses and possibly cheap lodging expenses at the Hampton Inn.

There are a few other cool things about TwitterMathCamp I’d like to try to incorporate into Physics Teacher Camp. I really like how teachers at TMC spent some time working collaboratively to solve problems. I think working together to solve physics problems or complete labs could be a fun activity at PTC. I also like how TMC participants each gave presentations, and signed up in advance, and I think it’s a good idea to try to make some more room for this this at PTC. But at the same time, I think the very best feature of PTC is that we take on long-term projects that take multiple days (and then some to complete), and have benefit to others, so I’d like for this to stay the central focus of PTC.

One last thing I’m thinking of is wether a change of venue might be nice for PTC. TwitterMathCamp was held in St. Louis, and so participants were able to catch major league baseball games, movies and even eat at Pi Pizzaria. St. Andrew’s has a beautiful campus and excellent facilities, but it’s a half hour drive to catch an awesome minor league baseball team, we don’t have a movie theater close by, and we don’t have any restaurants nearly as cool as Pi Pizzeria. Might it make sense to move to a more urban location with more to do, or a location closer to the center of the US that might allow more of our west coast friends to join in the fun?

That’s what I’m thinking about Physics Teacher Camp at the moment. It was great fun, and I’d appreciate any suggestions you may have for improving it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2012 1:27 am

    That list of traits is pure gold. Having a group of good people in one place thinking about what really SHOULD be important in a classroom experience for students is the best way to get such a thing together. You all hit the nail right on the head.

  2. August 15, 2012 11:00 pm

    Great mindset materials. Can’t wait to sift through this stuff to develop my mindset curriculum this year. Thought it was cool to see the angry birds grading picture in there!

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