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Things I’ve learned in the first week

September 11, 2012
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It’s late, but I wanted to take a quick moment to write up a few things I’ve learned this year from teaching physics. Almost all of this has come from watching Kelly O’Shea teach and our discussions.

  • Whiteboarding can be fast: Somehow last year I fell into a morass where it would take us days to whiteboard a single practice, and that left me with big worries about how to keep up with the pace of honors physics at my new school. It turns out that this has been an almost complete non issue thus far. My students can whiteboard a problem in less that five minutes, with a thoughtful mistake, if we set that expectation, and they have the opportunity to work on the problems beforehand.
  • Finding your physics soulmate: Kelly has a great way of describing how students should approach group work. She tells them they should be aiming to work together/alone, making sure they are doing 100% of the work for themselves. She also tells them to seek our their “physics soulmate”—that one person that they can argue with about physics who will challenge their thinking and get them to realize new new discoveries.
  • Seek perfection after discussion, not before: A huge problem with maintaining a fast pace through material can be students’ desire to always know they have the right answer. Kelly handles this by telling the students that after all of the problems have been whiteboarded, the class will settle on the correct answer through discussion and at that moment, everyone will have a chance to create perfect solutions. But the key to this must be making lots of mistakes beforehand so that there will be fertile ground for discussion.
  • Shorter grading discussions are better: I used to be a fan of taking a whole class period to talk about the history of grades, and while that was probably enjoyable and worthwhile for both me and my students, if my goal is simply to get my students to the place where they can take an assessment without letting their worries affect their ability to do well, it’s much better to break those long conversations down to shorter 5 minute discussions spaced out during the opening weeks. But boy, do I miss waxing philosophically about the history and purpose of grading.

I’m sure there are many more lessons I’ve also learned, but this will do for now.

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