Sunday, July 6, 2014

You're in charge here (but I'm really in charge here)

Last Wednesday was an exciting day!   The bowling ball force exploration is fabulous, and has renewed my zeal for the quest to acquire a set of 7 or 8 for myself (although it's worth noting that a local bowling alley let me borrow that many balls for a week, if acquiring them outright is too challenging an initial goal).  I've only taught the bowling ball activity once, and I think (as with many of these learning activities) my debrief of what students figured out from it could have been a lot more meaningful and in depth, based on what Bryan started to do with it at the end of the day.  I love the idea of working in some video analysis and timing multiple segments of 2 meters when bowling the ball down the hallway to verify and reinforce the constant speed motion.  I'm interested to see if/when the phrase "Newton's First Law" comes up in the discussion on Monday.

The Ramp-n-Roll activity is something I've tried to do with students before and had a huge flop.  The UI was confusing, my students didn't have a strong enough conceptual basis to get far with it beyond guess-and-checking, and I was trying to do it as an independent activity while I was consulting with subgroups on Cedar Point projects, which meant I wasn't available to help guide their efforts.  It was eye-opening and fun to see that it was challenging even for two confident physics teachers in teacher-mode to get the details of the three models right.  I think I'll try it again, but with more respect for its challenges to students and teachers, and with a stronger conceptual foundation, being more careful about where I place it in my lesson sequence.

I'm also super excited to dig into more.  My initial impression is that it's a fabulous tool for quickly checking more for myself what misconceptions students might have about a particular topic as I prepare for discussions.   And I'm intrigued by the pre-test / post-test possibilities for working with students.  (And more emergency sub plans are always good.)

Wednesday some of us also got to take our first try at facilitating a discussion in this workshop.  I had the opportunity to take the lead when my group was facilitating, and it was fun!  And easier with teachers in "student mode" than real students, in my experience.  I, for one, was helped a lot by "Student Eric" spontaneously writing down ideas other students suggested on his whiteboard.  My real students have done this exactly never.  (Although maybe they will once I am a Super Modeler?)  

The aspect of it I found most intriguing was how much I was accessing the "student mode" part of my brain as I was facilitating.   My new slogan should be:  "Student mode -- not just for playing a student".   I have tried to whiteboard physics problems with my students in the past, and I am usually trying to draw students beyond the presenting group into the conversation (rarely as successfully as I'd like, at least in part because I'm usually rushing things and not consistently enough giving time and space for alternate approaches to the problems).   The sensation of working in student mode to control the pacing of the presentation and put myself in the quiet students' shoes was new and super helpful.  

There are obviously a ton of things to talk about in the Modeling reading we were assigned this weekend.  (As a side note, I have read a lot of scientific papers and a fair number of education journal articles in my time, and this is strikingly the most elegiac of them.)  The part of the article I think I'm having the most resistance to is this idea that a guide-on-the-side, facilitator-not-teacher "never acts as an authority or source of knowledge"  but simultaneously "remains unobtrusively in control of the agenda".  

It seems disingenuous to simultaneously tell students directly or indirectly, "I'm not in charge here -- you have to figure this out for yourself" and simultaneously tell them, "But here's the learning activity we're doing today, and I'm going to steer the discussion to get us where we need to go".  I see why we need both the students to take control of their own learning and the teacher to make sure things don't go too far off the rails.  But adolescents are expert, super-sensitive hypocrisy detectors.  How do we get them on board with "you're in charge here (but I'm really in charge here)"?   

Maybe I need to be clearer about what we're each in charge of?  Another question I'm pondering after reading the article is:  What's the difference between a "physics coach" and a "physics teacher"?  I've never been a sports coach.  But it seems like the coach's job is to help the players build skills and strategies so that they can go out and perform independently at a higher level.  And the coach giving too much physical help with the conditioning or skill building exercises does no good to the student when they go to their competition and the coach is relegated to the sidelines.  So maybe I need to think of it as, "the students are in charge of building their own physics questioning, experimental, reasoning, and conceptual skills; I'm in charge of providing them activities and guidance that will give them the opportunities to build those skills"?     

How do y'all think about that dichotomy:  we want the students to take charge of their learning… as long as it follows our agenda?

1 comment:

  1. Guide, facilitator, coach. I think all 3 of these things denote being a helper whereas teacher implies a 1 way transmission mode in my mind. "sit back and I'll teach you a few things."

    So we guide them on their path to conceptual understanding. We make suggestions. We facilitate their discussions until they don't need us to do so anymore. We encourage them and coach them on their skills and performance but ultimately they have to construct their own knowledge and trust their own thoughts and observations. They have to reason through the possible solutions and choose the one that makes sense to them. This is where it is vital that we let them.

    To take the analogy further, during the game if the coach steps onto the field in most sports that is a penalty. Same should be true of when a student is learning. Stay out of the way. Let them do what needs to be done. Maybe offer a suggestion during the timeout huddle (whiteboarding?). The important part in my mind is if we are seen as the authority, then students will always rely on us to give them the right answer. We have in essence given them a 'get out of class free without thinking pass'.

    Ok. I think I've stretched this about as far as I can! See you tomorrow.