End of Semester

Well the semester ended last week. In the last month most of the class attempted at least one lab although they did them reluctantly and only to get the grade, not to actually learn anything from the experience. Most of them inquired as to the “easiest” one to do before choosing and one student even submitted a report for a lab that she did not perform.

So was it a success? I’m not sure. I think I’ll assess each of the reasons I had for making these changes to my class:

  1. Make the class more fun
    • Most students showed no interest in playing the game or doing any of the labs/investigations I developed. Most chose to use class time to watch the video lectures and solve practice problems. I think they see this as the easiest way to get a high grade. Or perhaps it is the familiar so that’s what they stuck with.
  2. Get students more involved in doing physics rather than just solving questions
    • As I said above this didn’t really happen. Most ended up doing one lab but only as a last resort to get the grade. Hardly any chose to do any of the investigations. I specifically designed these as lab like activities that the students could do without having to write up a lab report.
  3. Reduce the attrition rate of students
    • In the end only 12 of the original 21 students that enrolled in the course completed it. A few dropped out quite quickly (within 2 weeks). Others fell by the way as the semester wore on. In particular there was one student that complained to the district about the format of the course prior to dropping out.
  4. Get students more interested in learning rather than grade seeking
    • This one might just be a fantasy. I don’t remember being so focused on grades when I was in high school but I guess times have changed. It was a lot easier to get in to post-secondary education back then. I’d hoped that the standards based grading would help stop some of the grade seeking behavior but it did not. Specifically with the labs, students almost refused to turn them in until I’d read it once and told them what to fix. My answer was that I’d give them feedback which they could use to make the next lab report they submitted better. They didn’t want to have to do a second report and instead seem to want me to write their report for them.

There were some positives to take away from the experience. The students that stuck it out did seem to like the fact that they were not punished for attempting standards but failing. However they may have just viewed this as a method of getting a higher grade.

In the future I will need to do a better job of encouraging students to do the labs and investigations. I think I will make the labs worth more of their final grade as this seems to be the only way to get them to attempt labs other than forcing them to do them (which is what I want to get away from).

I think I will also set aside time each class for tutorial sessions each with a fixed topic. This might appease those “just teach me” students.

The worst news is that there were only 4 students registered for next semester so the district has cancelled the class. I don’t know if the changes to the course have played a roll in the decline and I can take some comfort in knowing that four other class also had to be cancelled for the same reason so it seems that enrollment is down overall. So I guess I will have to wait until next September to try again.

The Silence is Killing Me

One thing that I was worried about when giving the students the freedom to work through the class at their own pace was having the class turn into chaos with students all over the place and having lots of different activities going on at once and not being able to properly meet all the students needs. However it is the exact opposite. The class is so quiet. There are times when I am walking around in complete silence and I wonder if I’ve removed myself too much from things. The students are all on task, watching videos, working on quiz questions, or working on practice problems. I guess I would prefer if they did more of the labs. Quite a few did the uniform motion lab during the first week but since then no one has tried the accelerated motion lab or the projectile motion lab. Perhaps they’ve decided that these are too much work for too little gain. Maybe if I made the labs worth more next semester? Maybe I need to emphasize that doing the labs can demonstrate mastery of the objectives. Maybe I need to have more of the investigation type activities be more than just the instructions. If each one was an “online text” activity where the student had to enter their observations and this could count towards mastery of objectives. Maybe things will change if I just wait.

When Pigs Fly!

I was walking through the local mall yesterday and these in a store:

That video was taken in my class this year. I ordered two of these flying pigs from Boreal and the students loved them. When I ordered them I thought they were going to be quite small and probably powered by a propeller, but as you can see their wings do flap and propel them at quite a quick pace.

I have the students take data on the radius and period of the motion in order to determine the speed, the tension in the string and the angle that it is flying at. I think this year with more time being spent doing labs I will also have the students experiment with the length of the string the pig is attached to so that they can see how this affects these quantities.

Carbonless Lab Notebooks

On Friday I received my free sample of a carbonless student lab notebook:

It’s an interesting concept. I like the idea of the students having a laboratory notebook. In university I remember having to hand in my notebook with each lab and the TA would assign a grade. With these carbonless notebooks the student could hand in just one copy attached to their lab report. In the past few years I’ve handed out a single sheet of paper with “Lab Title, Date, Name, Partner” in the header for the student to fill in. The cost is fairly cheap but I’m sure that continuing education would pass the cost on to the student as part ¬†of their registration fee.

What do other science teachers use?