Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good Lord, We Have a Textbook

I find it somewhat ironic that our Modeling workshop leader gave us a textbook to read. Not just some quick study, tell-me-everything-you-know-about-teaching-physics kind of book, either. Teaching Introductory Physics. This thing weighs more than my car. If I were to have seen this on Amazon, I would never in a million years even have considered buying it. Even if I had an extra $118 and had seen the six 5-star reviews.

Our first read was assigned last night. The first third of Chapter 2: Rectilinear Kinematics. Huh?* Even if I had somehow managed to obtain the book, I doubt I would have ever thought this chapter would be interesting, let alone comprehensible.

Since I am being graded on this, I figured I had better at least skim through it so I could pretend to discuss it during class.

Just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.

This chapter is about motion (yeah, that's what rectilinear kinematics means) why kids really might not understand motion, even after you "teach" it. Basically, don't feel too bad, we aren't truly wired to intuit these ideas and the ideas that we DO have are often not quite right. These concepts are not things that have been discovered, so much as invented, and even then, we didn't really start to figure it out until sometime in the seventeenth century.

Arons has spent  decades not studying physics, but studying how students LEARN physics. Instead of dryly trying to explain the concepts, he comes at it from the perspective of the student. What misconceptions do kids come in with? And more importantly, how do you get past those misconceptions and get kids where you want them to go?

For example, they probably don't have a good working definition of an instant. (Apparently, neither did I.) Arons explains what those misconceptions probably are (same as mine) and for those of use who maybe didn't get much out of our Physics 101 class fifteen years ago, offers up an amazingly simple explanation. An explanation that I could successfully use in my classroom.

Arons reiterates several times the importance of discovery when it comes to the classroom. "Teaching is significantly strengthened if one carefully abides by the precept 'idea first and name afterwards,' in the introduction of every new concept." Otherwise, you have a 'normal' classroom scene where kids are frantically trying to copy the definition of the term you just wrote on the board and memorizing the equations.

This is the whole basis for the Modeling cycle. Introduce those ideas. Let the kids discover the relationships themselves. Once they have a pretty good grasp on the concept, then put a name to it. Arons even goes so far in his discussion of velocity to suggest flipping the equation over and trying to define it, just to see what they come up with.**

I realize I have only read part of one chapter, and this is by no means meant to be a full book review, but at this point, I would encourage you to check it out.

So, tonight, I'm hoping for a reading assignment.

*Interesting fact: When I typed in rectilinear, it did NOT show up as misspelled.

**Did you know that has already been defined by geophysicists? I had no clue. It's obviously not well know as Wikipedia doesn't even have an entry.


Mr. Burk said...

Arons is a fabulous book. Its the best book about teaching physics I've found. That's great that your workshop is giving you a copy.

Cheryl Shepherd-Adams said...

I'll second Mr. Burk's standing ovation. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know . . .

Great blog, Tracie; really enjoy your writing style!

Jason said...

I wish I had this $120 lying around to buy this book, I'm very intrigued. I loved the quote about ideas first, then the name. I think that's fantastic and will definitely be something I think about as I make preparations for the coming school year.

What adjustments have you had to make (if any) to the modeling to apply it to your chemistry classes? Is it pretty comparable to how you use it in physics?

Tracie Schroeder said...

Jason - This will be my second year with the modeling so there wasn't much in the way of adjustments. There were a few places where I added in an activity when my kids weren't really catching on. I don't teach physics, but in going through the physics training I noted some differences. The Chemistry completely rearranges the curriculum from a traditional textbook. For instance, gas laws are introduced in the second unit while atomic structure is saved for the very end.

My Menu