Many students in my physics classes in the past have been frustrated because I haven’t given them a good description of what physics is. I understand the motivation of those teachers who like to get right into “doing physics” on the first day but for this year I wanted to try giving my students a bit of background into what we’ll be doing during the year.
I printed out this sheet and asked for volunteers to read each paragraph. The students seemed somewhat surprised by the content, and some of them thought I wanted them to take the actual content mores seriously than I did.
After reading it, I asked them to turn to their partners and discuss 3 questions. The students overall came up with really thoughtful answers to these questions which are summarized underneath each question.
1. How do you think Gnome Theory is similar to the physics we’ll be learning this year?
(Answers given: they deal with the same topics, explain the world around us…)
2. How do you think Gnome Theory is different from the physics we’ll be learning this year?
(Answers given: physics can be proven/tested, Gnome Theory can’t)
3. Why do you think we will be studying physics this year and not Gnome Theory?
(Answers given: physics was developed by lots of people over many years, physics is true)
I had to help them a bit come up with ideas such as the fact that when we study physics we look for patterns that help us predict how things will behave while Gnome Theory wouldn’t. I think that overall it was an engaging activity that allowed us to think through some of the larger issues. Perhaps in the future I’d be a bit more clear from the outset what my goals are – most students seemed to “get it” but some were a bit confused.
In Algebra I started the class by handing out a “syllabus” with all the words in the wrong order. I wanted to use that as a segue into a lesson on Order of Operations (just as English is read from left to right, math has to be read in the correct order). In the past, I’ve asked a student to read it out loud, which quickly gets the quizzical looks I’m hoping for. One of my goals for this year is to encourage individual reading comprehension, so I asked students to read it and raise their hands with any questions. I was expecting the first question to be “What’s going on here?” but instead they were able to decode much of what it said and were asking me questions about the content. I think they were being too nice and were worried I had made a mistake. We then discussed the correct order of operations and I handed out the following packet with some practice problems. In the third column, I put in what I thought was a common incorrect answer to the question and asked the students to explain what was incorrect. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a good idea, since it may be more confusing for them to have spent time thinking about the wrong way to do it.