Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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So far so good

Posted by Arjendu on April 7, 2008

As promised, the time I spend in front of the class ‘lecturing’ for my introductory mechanics class remains minimal — well below 1/3 the class time. Today was a case in point: As the students walked in, I handed them a card from a well-shuffled deck of playing cards, asked them to find people with the same number and to sit with them. I asked them to talk with each other for a few minutes and generate questions from the reading that they had that they would like me to discuss. I talked about these questions at the board when I had collected the few that were voiced. Once that was done, I turned them loose on the problems I had chosen for this section — and which I had mailed to them before class — and away they went. I should probably note that I have a student assistant in the class with me, circulating with me.

After the last two classes, there are a few crucial house-keeping things that I have concluded are necessary to this kind of teaching and made sure to do today: (1) The groups needed to be assigned groups, and in the absence of any strong reason to socially engineer, I went with the random method. (2) I told them why I was insisting they work in groups (because it is pedagogically valuable; I will tell them about the ‘real world’ and how they can’t avoid working in groups very shortly). (3) I also told them that they were all to turn in an evaluation at the end of the class that would comment on their contribution to their group, as well as the group’s value to them, including how they felt they were treated by the group. And (4) I asked for the standard ‘one thing you still don’t get’ feedback.

The responses were excellent — they overwhelmingly liked the groups, were surprised by how well the randomly-generated groups worked, and expressed a great deal of comfort with the structure. The point I have made repeatedly to them is that the way we test grasp of this material is through problem-solving and as such, they like that they get to practice it. And they love being most of the way through the homework so early.

A few weren’t very sure they preferred this to the standard lecture, but didn’t really see any major reason to complain yet. Except for one student, who doesn’t understand what’s going on, doesn’t feel like he’s contributing to the group, and is lost and worried. I think I know what to do with and for him, but given only 1 student complaint — so far so good. I like how I am spending my time, and I like how the students are spending their time.

Of course, this is only kinematics. On Wed we hit Newton’s laws, and that will be a crucial test of this technique.


One Response to “So far so good”

  1. […] it then, and that’s proving useful notes for me this time: Spring Break and new experiences So far so good Stable and unstable lectures Refusing to throw stones and Almost […]

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