Rambling thoughts on flipping the physics classroom

I seem to have some sort of a knack for writing comments that are longer than my original post ever was. Simon Bates commented on my last post about possibly flipping a couple of courses at his own institution and I started to write a long comment on some extra things to consider, which I may have discussed had I written a post about flipping my courses in general as opposed to a post specifically about flipping a third-year Quantum Mechanics course. Here is what I was writing as a reply to Simon, massaged instead into a post.

SmartPhysics as an alternative to making my own screencasts for intro Physics

For those teaching intro physics that are more interested in screencasting/pre-class multimedia video presentations instead of pre-class reading assignments, you might wish to take a look at SmartPhysics. It’s a package developed by the PER group at UIUC that consists of online homework, online pre-class multimedia presentations and a shorter than usual textbook (read: cheaper than usual) because there are no end-of-chapter questions in the book, and the book’s presentation is geared more toward being a student reference since the multi-media presentations take care of the the “first time encountering a topic” level of exposition. My understanding is that they paid great attention to Mayer’s research on minimizing cognitive load during multimedia presentations. I will be using SmartPhysics for my first time this coming fall and will certainly write a post about my experience once I’m up and running.

Level of student participation in pre-lecture learning

I have found that student participation on the pre-class reading assignments with introductory physics students (no matter how many marks I dangle in front of them) is at best the same as student homework completion percentages. In my case this is around 80% and I have heard similar numbers from others. The thing that I have found the most challenging in using pre-class reading assignments is resisting quickly “catching-up” the 20% that didn’t complete the pre-class assignment. In the end, this just reinforces their behaviour and makes the whole process of flipping my class somewhat redundant. Since my class-time is mostly driven by clicker questions, it seems that the reluctant 20% end up building a bit of an understanding of the topic at hand through peer discussion. Of course, the students in that 20% tend to clump themselves together physically in the classroom making things even more challenging for themselves.

Getting started on screencasting

In terms of the resources to help get you up and running doing actual screencasts, some folks in PLN that have posted about their experiences include: Mylene at Shifting Phases (in these post you will find a great conversation that we had about screencasting vs. reading assignments there), Andy Rundquist at SuperFly Physics, and Robert Talbert at Casting Out Nines.

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2 Comments on “Rambling thoughts on flipping the physics classroom”

  1. […] the purposes of evaluation). To explain what smartPhysics is, I will pseudo-quote from something I previously wrote: For those teaching intro physics that are more interested in screencasting/pre-class multimedia […]

  2. […] reading assignments, screencasts or other multimedia). I have touched on these things before (here and here). In terms of consistency, it seems inappropriate to stomp around telling them that I […]


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