This week I tried something new. I've been looking for a way to make lessons on physics content more rigorous and more student-centered, so I developed a framework for an inquiry-based lesson with my mentor and launched it Tuesday.
To start, with groups of 4 and 5 sitting around tables with markers and whiteboards, I asked the class to "draw what it looks like when a fast moving skateboarder hits a curb." This was not as engaging as I had hoped. Mostly the groups would let one or two people draw and the others were passive. I called attention to and celebrated detailed work like labeling and diagrams.
Next I showed them a demonstration of inertia, where a weak piece of tape can pull a weight when drawn slowly but breaks when pulled quickly. I asked them to draw what they had seen in as much detail as they had the skateboarders. To explore the concept they were told to come up with questions that might help them explain what had happened. I guided them from questions that were too specific to questions that asked about the general way that things work.
I failed to deliberately have the groups summarize what they learned or really wrap up very well. Reflecting on this I wrapped up the next morning. I did this by asking everyone to write out questions they still had on sticky notes and discuss them. I then posed them the question of "Do things always slow down or is it possible that with enough space things could keep moving forever?". This made for a great discussion and led us into the topic of inertia, my original goal. I asked everyone to record what they knew, think they know and wonder about what we had talked about and done the previous day. These were discussed again with their groups and recorded in their notebooks.
For some reason I completely missed that I had been given a great lesson planning outline in my Math Methods course that I'm taking. It helps a teacher be really thorough in thinking through how students will receive and hear information. I especially like the "Launch, Explore, Summarize" format. I was all over the place trying to cover everything I wanted with the kids when I pushed this lesson and wish that I had used this format to be more concise. Though it's a stretch, I still find it useful to try to anticipate how students will think through the material.
The only assessment associated with this lesson is an assignment I call 5 Questions. I gave them the starting prompt of "Why did the tape break some of the time?" trying to guide them to link the inertia discussion with the illustration we had done earlier. We'll see how their writing comes out.
For this week I want to be more deliberate in my assessment but still work it into the group work that is planned for next Tuesday. After summarizing what they've done/learned I would like to present them with a more technical or challenging version of the content and see how they approach it as a group. I'm not sure if I would prefer to give each member of the group their own copy and encourage them to work together or require that they turn in the same work. The goal is that as a group they can discuss and try something new.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.