We are a couple of weeks away from our one and only term test in my intro calc-based electricity and magnetism course. This test comes in the second last week of the course and I pitch it to them as practicing for the final. This term test is worth 10-20% of their final grade and the final exam 30-40% of their final grade and these relative weights are meant to maximize the individual student’s grade.
Today I asked them how they feel the major course components are contributing to their learning:
How much do you feel that the following course component has contributed to your learning so far in this course?
This is a bit vague, but I told them to vote according to what contributes to their understanding of the physics in this course. It doesn’t necessarily mean what makes them feel the most prepared for the term test, but if that is how they wanted to interpret it, that would be just fine.
For each component that I discuss below, I will briefly discuss how it fits into the overall course. And you should have a sense of how the whole course works by the end.
The smartphysics pre-class assignments
The pre-class assignments are the engine that allow my course structure to work they way I want it to and I have been writing about them a lot lately (see my most recent post in a longer series). My specific implementation is detailed under ‘Reading assignments and other “learning before class” assignments’ in this post. The quick and dirty explanation is that, before coming to class, my students watch multimedia prelectures that have embedded conceptual multiple-choice questions. Afterward they answer 2-4 additional conceptual multiple-choice questions where they are asked to explain the reasoning behind each of their choices. They earn marks based on putting in an honest effort to explain their reasoning as opposed to choosing the correct answer. Then they show up to class ready to build on what they learned in the pre-class assignment.
The smartphysics online homework
The homework assignments are a combination of “Interactive Examples” and multi-part end-of-chapter-style problems.
The Interactive Examples tend to be fairly long and challenging problems where the online homework system takes the student through multiple steps of qualitative and quantitative analysis to arrive at the final answer. Some students seem to like these questions and others find them frustrating because they managed to figure out 90% of the problem on their own but are forced to step through all the intermediate guiding questions to get to the bit that is giving them trouble.
The multi-part end-of-chapter-style problems require, in theory, conceptual understanding to solve. In practice, I find that a lot of the students simply number mash until the correct answer comes out the other end, and then they don’t bother to step back and try to make sure that they understand why that particular number mashing combination gave them the correct answer. The default for the system (which is the way that I have left it) is that they can have as many tries as they like for each question and are never penalized as long as they find the correct answer. This seems to have really encouraged the mindless number mashing.
This is why their response regarding the learning value of the homework really surprised me. A sufficient number of them have admitted that they usually number mash, so I would have expected them not to place so much learning value on the homework.
Studying for quizzes and other review outside of class time
I have an older post that discusses these in detail, but I will summarize here. Every Friday we have a quiz. They write the quiz individually, hand it in, and then re-write the same quiz in groups. They receive instant feedback on their group quiz answers thanks to IF-AT multiple-choice scratch-and-win sheets and receive partial marks based on how many tries it took them to find the correct answer. Marks are awarded 75% for the individual portion and 25% for the group portion OR 100% for the individual portion if that would give them the better mark.
The questions are usually conceptual and often test the exact same conceptual step needed for them to get a correct answer on one of the homework questions (but not always with the same cover story). There are usually a lot of ranking tasks, which the students do not seem to like, but I do.
I have an older post that discusses these in detail, but I will again summarize here. For the quiz correction assignments they are asked, for each question, to diagnose what went wrong and then to generalize their new understanding of the physics involved. If they complete these assignments in the way I have asked, they earn back half of the marks they lost (e.g. a 60% quiz grade becomes 80%).
I am delighted to see that 42% of them find that these have a large contribution to their learning. The quizzes are worth 20% of their final grade, so I would have guessed that their perceived learning value would get lost in the quest for points.
I am a full-on interactive engagement guy. I use clickers, in the question-driven instruction paradigm, as the driving force behind what happens during class time. Instead of working examples at the board, I either (A) use clicker questions to step the students through the example so that they are considering for themselves each of the important steps instead of me just showing them or (B) get them to work through examples in groups on whiteboards. Although I aspire to have the students report out there solutions in a future version of the course (“board meeting”), what I usually do when they work through the example on their whiteboards is wait until the majority of the groups are mostly done and then work through the example at the board with lots of their input, often generating clicker questions as we go.
The take home messages
Groups quizzes rule! The students like them. I like them. The research tells us they are effective. Everybody wins. And they only take up approximately 10 minutes each week.
I need to step it up in terms of the perceived learning value of what we do in class. That 2/3rds number is somewhere between an accurate estimate and a small overestimate of the fraction of the students in class that at any moment are actively engaged with the task at hand. This class is 50% larger than my usual intro courses (54 students in this case) and I have been doing a much poorer job than usual of circulating and engaging individual students or groups during clicker questions and whiteboarding sessions. The other 1/3 of the students are a mix of students surfing/working on stuff for other classes (which I decided was something I was not going to fight in a course this size) and students that have adopted the “wait for him to tell us the answer” mentality. Peter Newbury talked about these students in a recent post. I have lots of things in mind to improve both their perception and the actual learning value of what is happening in class. I will sit down and create a coherent plan of attack for the next round of courses.
I’m sure there are lots of other take home messages that I can pluck out of these data, but I will take make victory (group quizzes) and my needs improvement (working on the in class stuff) and look forward to continuing to work on course improvement.
I have temporarily taken over an introductory E&M course from one of my colleagues. I’m teaching the course using his format (and notes) which means that I am (A) lecturing and (B) not using pre-class assignments for the first time since 2006. In addition to his format, I am using the odd clicker question here and there.
The thing that has been the most interesting about lecturing in a non-inverted class has been the difference in narrative. In my regular courses, I assume that the students have had contact with all the major ideas from a given chapter or section before I even ask them the first clicker question. Because of this we are able to bring all the relevant ideas from a chapter to bear on each question if needed. This is what i am used to.
My colleague’s notes develop the ideas in a nice linear fashion and very easy to lecture from, but I just can’t stop myself from bringing in ideas that are multiple sections down the road. I am having a ton of trouble, even with a set of notes in front of me, letting the story develop according to a well laid-out narrative. It has simply been too long since I have presented material in this sort of a structured way. Note that when I give a talk at a conference it takes me a ton of practice to massage the talk I have prepared into something which I am able to deliver using a nice linear narrative. Even when it is nicely laid out, I will jump ahead to other ideas if I don’t spend some serious time practicing not doing that.
It has been really interesting being the one completely responsible for the narrative instead of sharing that responsibility with the resources that I provide for my pre-class assignments.
It has also been weird not having the inmates run the asylum.
At this past week’s Global Physics Department virtual meeting Noah Podolefsky spoke with us about PhET simulations. Noah’s best practice suggestion was to let students play around with a simulation for 5-10 minutes before asking them to do anything specific. And when you ask them to do something specific, to use open / investigative questions (e.g., “explore all things that affect pH”, as opposed to cookbook directions such as “set the acid concentration to 0.010 M…”).
I asked Noah
I’m wondering how you would suggest using these in pre-class (JiTT-style) assignments. If I am ultimately going to give them some sort of a question (could be nice and open like you suggest), I feel like most students will jump to try to answer the question without first doing the “free play”. Any suggestions on getting them to do “free play” first?
Noah suggested getting them to play around with the sim and generate 2-3 questions or screenshots of “cool things” that they found, which Brian Frank echoed by suggesting I do the same thing I did when I got my Quantum Mechanics class to generate questions based on a reading. Andy Rundquist also suggested I could get them to screencast their interesting discoveries (instead of just screencapping).
My Quantum Mechanics class is in the middle of developing the Hydrogen wavefunctions (I showed them the shooting method results for the angular wavefunctions last class, thanks Andy!). We’re skipping our regular pre-class assignment this week, so I sent them a bonus pre-class assignment before we look at the Hydrogen spectrum on Monday. Here’s a slightly paraphrased version of what I asked them to do with the “Models of the Hydrogen Atom” PhET simulation:
Spend 5-10 minutes playing around with the simulation. Generate 3 items of interest — these could be any combination of questions that you have, interesting observations that you made or descriptions of things that the simulation made really clear to you that you didn’t quite get before. You can take screen captures, generate screencasts or just send me regular old text.
I’m really interested to see what they come up with. I will make sure to report back. Just for fun, I have embedded the simulation below
This is part 1 of a 3 part series on pre-class learning strategies, which can be used as part of the flipped or inverted class. I have discussed why I implement pre-class learning strategies in the past and want to focus instead more on the how in these posts.
- Part 1 focuses on some common types of assignments/assessments that you can use.
- Part 2 will focus on some different ways that you provide your students with the resources that they will be using to do some learning before coming to class.
- Part 3 will discuss some tips and some issues that I have come across trying to implement learning before class strategies.
Common pre-class assignments
These are types of pre-class assignments that I have tried out in my own classes or have heard of being in use out in the wild. Part 2 will go into more detail on the learning resources you can provide to your students, but most of these assignments types will work well with commonly used “flipped class” resources such as textbook readings, pencasts, screencasts and multimedia video.
- Reading Quiz - Reading quizzes are usually administered at the beginning of class and marked for correctness. I have used clickers, bubble sheets and index cards to administer them. The problem with reading quizzes is that they have to be reasonably easy and target recall or very basic understanding so that students that put in an honest effort to do the reading will get most of the questions correct. As a result it is hard to come up with questions that aren’t reasonably easy to guess. The administration through index cards refers to the times that I have asked them to draw or explain something in a way that shows their understanding, but the overall performance of the class on these types of questions has usually ended up being low. I moved on from reading quizzes after just one term of using them.
- Guided Reading Quiz - Instead of asking the students to read and try to figure out what are the most important ideas from their pre-class resources, you supply them with a set of questions to guide their initial learning. And then a small handful of those questions are used for the start of class reading quiz. I have not tried this in my own courses, but I came across it in a effectiveness of peer instruction in computing paper by my friend and former CWSEI STLF Beth Simon. If I was teaching a giant section of a course, I think that I might use this method. If the students try to take a shortcut and just learn the answers to the questions, they still end up touching base with the most important points from the pre-class resources (assuming well-constructed questions) which means the assignment will still have accomplished its purpose. Haha, gotcha shortcut-takers.
- Pre-Class Online Participation Questions - This is my generic name for the type of pre-class assignments used in Just-in-Time-Teaching . Students are asked to answer questions online (through your CMS, online homework system or plain old email) at least a couple of hours before class, giving you time to review their answers and modify your lesson plan or seed your class notes with their words and questions. These questions are not marked for correctness, but are instead marked for completion, usually based on answers that show that the student put in some reasonable level of effort to learn the material. I get the most mileage out of asking them to answer relatively easy conceptual multiple-choice questions and asking them to explain their answer. Easy is a very relative term and I am usually happy if anywhere from 50-100% of the students are able to get the question correct after consuming the pre-class resources, but it is most important to me that I can see from their explanations that they had to mash the ideas around in their head a bit before being able to answer the question. For these questions I usually just pull a clicker question straight out of my notes. Other types of questions that work well for this type of assignment are estimation questions and short calculations (I will be discussing when these go poorly in Part 3). As I have discussed in a previous post, this is the style of pre-class assignment I currently use for all my courses (intro, upper-year and labs) other than my project-based upper-year lab course. One of my main open questions with this type of assignment (to be discussed more in Part 3) is how best to provide feedback to the students.
- Student-Generated Questions - (added an hour after the orginal post went live) I can’t believe I forgot to include this. As part of the pre-class online participation question assignments I usually provide an extra box on the web-form where they are encouraged to ask any questions that they have regarding the content in question. If there are some common themes to these questions I bring them up in class. For more isolated questions that won’t be addressed in class, I usually respond to that student’s question via email. This year in my 3rd-year quantum class I had the students generate some questions after reading an 8-page excerpt on the postulates of quantum mechanics and some compare/contrast points between classical and quantum mechanics. They generated fantastic questions and we spent a whole period going through these questions and tying the ideas from these questions to each other and to their previous courses. The best part was that if I had prepared a lecture to discuss those exact same ideas from their questions without having had them first generate the questions, they would have been nowhere near as invested in what I had to say. It really personalized the whole thing. I want to try this type of thing again in the future.
- Summaries - Get them to write a paragraph or three summarizing the main ideas or their understanding of the pre-class resources.
- Reflective Writing - The purpose of the student writing in this type of assignment is for them to focus on the ideas that they are having trouble understanding and to highlight or summarize those ideas through their writing. This type of assignment is marked for completion and evidence that they were writing for their own understanding, but is not marked for correctness. Calvin Kalman is a proponent of this type of writing to learn strategy.
This post is in response to Chad Orzel’s recent post about moving toward a more active classroom. He plans to get the students to read the textbook before coming to class, and then minimize lecture in class in favour of “in-class discussion/ problem solving/ questions/ etc.” At the end of the post he puts out a call for resources, which is where this post comes in.
There are three main things I want to discuss in this post, and (other than some links to specific clicker resources) they are all relevant to Chad or anybody else considering moving toward a more active classroom.
- Salesmanship is key. You need to generate buy-in from the students so that they truly believe that the reason you are doing all of this is so that they will learn more.
- When implementing any sort of “learn before class” strategy, you need to step back and decide what you realistically expect them to be able to learn from reading the textbook or watching the multimedia pres
- The easiest first step toward a more (inter)active classroom is the appropriate use of clickers or some reasonable low-tech substitute.
I also realized early on in my career that salesmanship is key. I need to explain why I want them to do the reading, and the 3 JiTT (ed. JiTT = Just-in-Time-Teaching) questions, and the homework problems sets, etc. My taking some time periodically to explain why it is all in their best interest (citing the PER studies, or showing them the correlation between homework done and exam grades), seems to help a lot with the end of term evals.
And I completely agree. I changed a lot of little things between my first and second year of teaching intro physics, but the thing that seemed to matter the most is that I managed to generate much more buy-in from the students the second year that I taught. Once they understood and believed that all the “crazy” stuff I was doing was for their benefit and was backed up by research, they followed me down all the different paths that I took them. My student evals, for basically the same course, went up significantly (0.75ish on a 5-point scale) between the first and second years.
A resource that I will point out for helping to generate student buy-in was put together for Peer Instruction (in Computer Science), but much of what is in there is applicable beyond Peer Instruction to the interactive classroom in general. Beth Simon (Lecturer at UCSD and former CWSEI STLF) made two screencasts to show/discuss how she generates student buy-in:
- Introduction to PI for Class: In this screencast Beth runs though he salesmanship slides in the same way that she does for a live class. “You don’t have to trust the monk!”
- Overview of Supporting Slides for Clickers Peer Instruction: In this screencast Beth discusses informally some of the supporting slides which discuss the reasons and value for using Peer Instruction.
Reading assignments and other “learning before class” assignments
This seems to be a topic that I have posted about many times and for which I have had many conversations. I will briefly summarize my thoughts here, while pointing interested readers to some relevant posts and conversations.
When implementing “read the text before class” or any other type of “learn before class” assignments, you have to establish what exactly you want the students to get out of these assignments. My purpose for these types of assignments is to get them familiar with the terminology and lowest-level concepts, anything beyond that is what I want to work on in class. With that purpose in mind, not every single paragraph or section of a given chapter is relevant for my students to read before coming to class. I refer to this as “textbook overhead” and Mylene discussed this as part of a great post on student preparation for class.
I have tried reading quizzes at the beginning of class and found that it was too hard to pitch them at the exact right level that most of the students that did the reading would get them and that most of the students that didn’t do the reading wouldn’t get them.
Last year I used a modified version of the reading assignment portion of Jitt (this list was originally posted here):
- Assign reading
- Give them 3 questions. These questions are either directly from the JiTT book (I like their estimation questions) or are easy clicker questions pulled from my collection. For the clicker questions I ask them explain their reasoning in addition to simply answering the question.
- Get them to submit via web-form or email
- I respond to everybody’s submissions for each question to try to help clear up any mistakes in their thinking. I use a healthy dose of copy and paste after the first few and can make it through 30ish submissions in just over an hour.
- Give them some sort of credit for each question in which they made an effortful response whether they were correct or incorrect.
I was very happy with how this worked out. I think it really helped that I always responded to each and every one of their answers, even if it was nothing more than “great explanation” for a correct answer. I generated enough buy-in to have an average completion rate of 78% on these assignments over the term in my Mechanics course last time I taught it. I typically weight these assignments at 8-10% of their final grade so they have pretty strong (external) incentive for them to do them.
As I mentioned previously, my current thinking is that I want the initial presentation (reading or screencast) that the students encounter to be one that gets them familiar with terminology and low-level or core concepts. As Mylene says “It’s crazy to expect a single book to be both a reference for the pro and an introduction for the novice.” So that leaves me in a position where I need to generate my own “first-contact” reading materials or screencasts that best suit my needs and this is something that I am going to try out in my 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics course this fall.
It turns out that for intro physics there is an option which will save me this work. I am using smartPhysics this year (disclaimer: the publisher is providing the text and online access completely free to my students for 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 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.
Since writing that I have realized that the text from the textbook is more or less the transcript of the multimedia presentations so in a way this textbook actually is a reference for the pro and an introduction for the novice. They get into more challenging applications of concepts in their interactive examples which are part of the online homework assignments. For example, they don’t even mention objects landing at a different height than the launch height in the projectile motion portion of the textbook, but have an interactive example to look at this extension of projectile motion.
The thing with smartPhysics is that their checkpoint assignments are basically the same as the pre-class assignments I have been using so it should be a pretty seamless transition for me from that perspective. I still haven’t figured out how easy it is to give students direct feedback on their checkpoint assignment questions in smartPhysics, and remember that I consider that to be an important part of the student buy-in that I have managed to generate in the past.
(edit: the following discussion regarding reflective writing was added Aug 11) Another option for getting students to read the text before coming to class is reflective writing, which is promoted in Physics by Calvin Kalman (Concordia). From “Enhancing Students’ Conceptual Understanding by Engaging Science Text with Reflective Writing as a Hermeneutical Circle“, CS Kalman, Science & Education, 2010:
For each section of the textbook that a student reads, they are supposed to first read the extract very carefully trying to zero in on what they don‘t understand, and all points that they would like to be clarified during the class using underlining, highlighting and/or summarizing the textual extract. They are then told to freewrite on the extract. “Write about what it means.” Try and find out exactly what you don‘t know, and try to understand through your writing the material you don‘t know.
This writing itself is not marked since the students are doing the writing for the purposes of their own understanding. But this writing can be marked for being complete.
Clicker questions and other (inter)active physics classroom resources
Chad doesn’t mention anywhere in his post that he is thinking of using clickers, but I highly recommend using them or a suitable low-tech substitute for promoting an (inter)active class. I use a modified version of Mazur’s Peer Instruction and have blogged about my specific use of clickers in my class in the past. Many folks have implemented vanilla or modified peer instruction with cards and had great success.
Clicker question resources: My two favourite resources for intro physics clicker questions are:
- The Ohio State clicker question sequences and,
- The collections put together by the folks at Colorado.
I quite like the questions that Mazur includes in his book but find that they are too challenging for my students without appropriate scaffolding in the form of intermediate clicker questions which can be found in both the resources I list above.
Clicker-based examples: Chad expressed frustration that “when I do an example on the board, then ask them to do a similar problem themselves, they doodle aimlessly and say they don’t have any idea what to do.” To deal with this very issue, I have a continuum that I call clicker-based examples and will discuss the two most extreme cases that I use, but you can mash them together to produce anything in between:
- The easier-for-students case is that, when doing an example or derivation, I do most of the work but get THEM to make the important mental jumps. For a typical example, I will identify 2-4 points in the example that would cause them some grief if they tried to do the example completely on their own. When I work this example at the board (or on my tablet) I will work through the example as usual, but when I get to one of the “grief” points I will pose a clicker question. These clicker questions might be things like “which free-body diagram is correct?”, “which of the following terms cancel?” or “which reasoning allowed me to go from step 3 to step 4?”
- The other end of the spectrum is that I give them a harder question and still identify the “grief” points. But I instead get them to do all the work in small groups on whiteboards. I then help them through the question by posing the clicker questions at the appropriate times as they work through the problems. Sometimes I put all the clicker questions up at the beginning so they have an idea of the roadmap of working through the problem.
An excellent resource for questions to use in this way is Randy Knight’s 5 Easy Lessons, which is a supercharged instructor’s guide to his calculus-based intro book. The first time I used a lot of these questions I found that the students often threw their hands up in the air in confusion. So I would wander around the room (36 students) and note the points at which the students were stuck and generate on-the-fly clicker questions. The next year I was able to take advantage of those questions I had generated the previous year and then had all the “grief” points mapped out and the clicker questions prepared for my clicker-based examples.
Not related to clicker questions, but they are related to the (inter)active class: group quizzes are something that I have previously posted about and I have also presented a poster on the topic. I give the students a weekly quiz that they write individually first, and then after they have all been handed in they re-write the quiz in groups. Check out the post that I linked to if you want to learn more about exactly how I implement these as well as the pros and cons. Know that they are my single favourite thing that happens in my class due to it being the most animated I get to see the students being while discussing the application of physics concepts. It is loud and wonderful and I am trying to figure out how to show that there is a quantifiable learning benefit.
This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so.
Reflections on Standards-Based Grading
Lots of end-of-year reflections from SBG implementers
- SBG with voice revisions – Andy Rundquist only accepts (re)assessments where he can hear the student’s voice. When they hand in a problem solution, it basically has to be a screencast or pencast (livescribe pen) submission. The post is his reflections on what worked, what didn’t and what to do next time.
- Standards-Based Feedback and SBG Reflections – Bret Benesh has two SBG-posts one after the other. I was especially fond of the one on Standards-Based Feedback where he proposes that students would not receive standards-based grades throughout the term but would instead produce a portfolio of their work which best showed their mastery for each standard. This one got my mind racing and my fingers typing.
- A Small Tweak and a Feedback Inequality - Dan Anderson posts about providing feedback-only on the first assessment in nerd form: Feedback > Feedback + Grade > Grade. This is his take on the same issue which lead Bret Benesh to thinking about Standards-Based Feedback, when there is a grade and feedback provided, the students focus all their attention on the grade. He also has a neat system of calculating the final score for an assessments.
- Reflections on SBG – Roger Wistar (computer science teacher) discusses his SBG journey and the good and bad of his experience so far.
- Modeling Workshop: Week 1 (Fear and Respect The Hestenes) – Shawn Cornally tells us about his first week at a summer modeling workshop and he seems to be loving it.
Flipped classrooms and screencasting
- Lecturing, Screencasting, Flipped Classrooms – Mylene posts some thoughts about lecturing after attending a recent webinar on flipped classrooms. Great conversation ensues in the comments.
- How I make screencasts: The whiteboard screencast – Robert Talbert continues on with his how-to screencast series.
- Why should I use peer instruction in my class? – Peter uses a study on student (non)learning from video by the Kansas State Physics Education Research Group to help answer this question. The short answer is “Because they give the students and you to ability to assess the current level of understanding of the concepts. Current, right now, before it’s too late and the house of cards you’re so carefully building come crashing down.”
The tale of sciencegeekgirl’s career
- How a Scientist Became a Freelance Science Writer – Stephanie Chasteen (sciencegeekgirl) talks about how she earned her physics PhD while also developing as a science writer.
Getting them to do stuff they are interested in
- The Future of Education Without Coercion (Video) – Shawn Cornally (Think Thank Thunk blog) talks about how to rethink what exactly productive student work is. And it all starts with getting them to do stuff that they’re interested in.
- Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom – Speaking of things most people are interested in, Frank Noschese posts about some physics-based investigations students can do using Angry Birds.
John Burk gets busy
- John Burk (Quantum Progress blog) has been a very busy blogger over the past couple of weeks. Highlights include a couple of Rhett Allain-esque Google doodle analyses (here and here), some Arduino fun (stay tuned for my post on DAQ systems which includes arduino), “The time has come to stop playing defense and change education” (let’s not just sit there and criticize Khan Academy, let’s go out and show what can be done that is better), and a first vPython assignment for high school students.
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.
In a recent post I discussed my plans for my fall 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics 1 class and one of the things on the list was that I was planning on doing a full flip for this course. Bret Benesh asked in the comments to hear a bit more about my flipping plans so here we are.
For anybody needing to catch up, a flipped (or inverted) class is one where there is some content delivered to the students before class (by video/screencast, reading, worksheets, whatever) and then in class you have that freed up time to do more productive things than stand at the front and lecture. My two favorite recent run-downs of flipping the class are here and here.
First of all, I plan to call the complete package of what they do before coming to class “pre-lecture assignments”. In the end these will actually be quite similar to what I have been doing in my introductory Physics courses with textbook readings, but the upper-year textbooks are (in my experience) a much tougher read for the students. So I will be using screencasting of some form to present the easier-to-grasp ideas from the text and then use class time to build on those.
Why am I flipping this class?
There are two main things that I am trying to accomplish by flipping this class:
- Buying myself more time for the fun stuff. In class I use a lot of clicker questions and whiteboarding. I would sum the approach up as I give them some basic tools (the pre-lecture assignments) and then use class time to get them to explore the intellectual phase space of these tools and what can be built upon these tools.
- Reducing student cognitive load by having them learn, before they come to class, the basic tools and associated new vocabulary so that their precious working memory isn’t mostly occupied trying to deal with that low-level stuff when we’re trying to work on the more advanced stuff.
In the time it has taken me to get this post together Brian Frank has posted twice (with rapidly growing comment threads) on topics related to the point of vocabulary first. There are tons of great conversations to be had related to this, but for now my mindset is that I have a good chunk of the in-class activities for my course fleshed out, so what I am going to work on is trying to have the students show up as prepared as possible to do those activities, with as little headache as possible for them. Most of what is found in a Quantum text does not qualify as basic tools or easier-to-grasp ideas so my screencasting plan is to extract those parts from the text and present them so that they are not overwhelmed trying to read the text.
My plan looks something as follows, but I have to do some trial runs on the first couple of pre-lecture assignments to find the first-order issues. Assume that these get assigned on a weekly basis.
- Sit down with the sections of the text that will be “covered” that week. Determine what I would realistically expect an average student to get from reading those sections before they came to class: vocabulary, simple and fundamental concepts, the easier examples and derivations. Let’s call these “base ideas”.
- Make some short screencasts that present the base ideas and try to put a framework or narrative around them to make them look like a cohesive set of fundamental ideas that can be built on. I am not great at helping the students build a larger framework and showing how all the ideas fit together, so this will be a very productive activity for me.
- Give them 3-5 questions that ask them to wrestle with with these base ideas. In my intro courses I typically use my easiest conceptual clicker questions for this purpose and expect that I will do the same here. These easiest questions typically force the students to deal with the new vocabulary and get a chance to apply the fundamental concepts to reasonably simple situations. They are much like the “check your understanding” questions typically found at the end of a section from any recent intro physics textbook. Other options for these questions are ones that ask the students to go one step beyond what was presented in an example or to fill in a critical step in the reasoning process in a derivation. These assigned questions always require both an answer and an explanation of the answer and are submitted the evening before class. In order to get credit the students do not need to be correct, but their answers need to demonstrate that they put in an honest effort to figure out the answer to the question. There will also always be a “what question do you still have after completing the rest of this pre-lecture assignment?” question.
- Before class, I will respond by email to each of their submitted answers. I do this in my intro courses and feel that it helps communicate to them that I am reading their submissions and that I am there to support them at every stage in their learning. There are often quite a few copy and paste explanations as part of my responses to their wrong answers since the reasoning behind their submitted answers mostly falls into only 2 or 3 different camps. But I still make sure to personalize each response even if the bulk of the response is a copy/paste job.
- Pull student answers and questions into the lecture material. I don’t usually re-organize my class-time plans much based on their submitted answers, but I will use their words in place of my own as much as possible or present their questions to motivate something we were already going to discuss or an activity we were already going to do. Since the questions I use are mostly my easier clicker questions, I will usually show the question again in class at the appropriate time. More often than not I will skip over voting on the question and instead just try to have a discussion with the students that looks similar to the one we would have after they had just done a group vote on a Peer Instruction question. If most of the people nailed the question in the pre-lecture assignment, I usually skip the question in class and move on to a more challenging question on the same concept or one that builds on the question from the pre-lecture assignment. This gives the students that didn’t get the correct answer a chance to catch up because we are still addressing the concept in class.
Many folks will note that much of the above is a Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) implementation. The JiTT bits are the pre-class content with questions to be submitted before class and the adjusting of what is done in class in response to the answers to those questions.
Some last thoughts
One thing that I will use to help me sort out which are the “easy-to-grasp” ideas is the collection of student questions from the last time I taught this course. Last time I had them send me (for some bonus marks) questions from their reading of the textbook before coming to class. The completion rate was usually 4-7 of the 10 students and the questions were mostly about things they had trouble understanding from their reading (but there were real-world application and other interesting questions as well).
There is a great conversation about flipping the class going on over at Jerrid Kruse’s blog with lots of great ideas being brought up (same goes for the pair of posts by Brian Frank that I link to above). Like I have previously mentioned, I already have a lot of resources (mostly clicker questions and some whiteboard activities) and a general course trajectory laid out, so the plans I have laid out here are ones that are meant to help make my current plan work better. Given tons of time and more experience running Quantum courses I would probably be inclined to move further toward an exploration before explanation model. What I will do is keep good notes of my reflections along the way for possible ways to bring in more exploration-first activities. I will also take advantage of OSU’s Paradigms Wiki and try out some of their appropriate exploration before explanation activities.
This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so
Flipping/Inverting the classroom
I am just about done writing a post in response to Bret Benesh’s request to hear a bit more about my plans for flipping my upcoming 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics I course. Until then, here are some posts of interest.
- What should we flip? Jerrid Kruse posts about putting exploration before explanation in the context of the flipped classroom. In the comments Brian Frank reminds about Dan Schwartz’s Preparation for Future Learning (nicely summarized by Stephanie Chasteen in this post), which is exploration before explanation with the larger goal of transfer due to student understanding of underlying structure.
- Vocabulary and Jargon: Related to all of this, Brian Frank asks if it is better to frontload the introduction of vocabulary vs. trying to establish conceptual hooks for the students to attach their vocabulary to. Based on thinking about it a bit recently, I have to agree with what Andy Rundquist says in the comments: backloading vocabulary (teaching it after the concepts are in place) makes more sense when students are dealing with concepts that deal with everyday things or for which their intuition provides a basis upon which to build. Frontloading the vocabulary (which is part of my current strategy for my Quantum Mechanics course) makes more sense in advanced courses where the concepts have no basis in everyday experience and where student intuition regarding the concepts and phenomena is not something that you want to build on.
- How I make screencasts: Lecture capture, part 2 – Robert Talbert continues on with his series on how he makes screencast. In this post he talks specifically about doing lecture capture for non-Keynote/Powerpoint software using Camtasia. Does anybody use Windows anymore? I do, it’s total counter-culture
- A Gauge for Measuring Effective Practice – Lots of examples for the type of practice required to develop expertise in any and all things via John Burk (@occam98)
- Dark Matters – Jorge Cham (PhD comics) sits down with some physicists and animates their explanation of the dark matter and dark energy mysteries.
- Academic Damage – Tracie Schroeder reminds us that there will always be point-grubbing students that figure out how to earn higher grades than they should have with her quick story of a student in her chemistry class.
I have been interested in trying out a Standards-Based Grading implementation in my own classroom. I have been keeping my eye on Andy Rundquist’s implementation in his classical/mathematical physics course all term (and chatting him up about it quite a bit). My own third-year Quantum Mechanics 1 course this coming fall seemed like my own best candidate to SBG-ify. A lot of the things that Andy did would translate easily. After giving it a bit more thought, I have decided to back off a fall implementation and instead try to get as much as possible in place during this fall’s Quantum Mechanics 1 course, beyond the actual shift from traditional grading to Standards-Based Grading. So this will be some sort of a giant baby-step toward a full SBG implementation.
What I’m going to do this coming term
This is what my course will look like in general
- Flipping it: screencasts with pre-lecture assignments (for marks!). The pre-lecture assignments will probably be worth 10% of their final grade, which is about where I have set it in introductory level courses and had roughly 80% completion. Last time I ran this course, I had optional reading assignments, but I’m coming into this one with a fully flipped mentality where there is some initial level of learning that they need to take responsibility for before showing up in class. This will be my first experience with screencasting.
- Mondays and Wednesdays will be mostly clicker questions and whiteboarding, which is how I run most of my courses. Straight-forward examples and derivations will be part of the screencasts and pre-lecture assignments. Examples and derivations that are less straight-forward will be worked through in class: being clicker-facilitated, done by the groups on whiteboards, or a mish-mash of the two.
- Friday will be mostly an assessment day. Homework is due first thing, class will start with a quiz, and a couple of students each week will have an oral assessment of some sort. These oral assessments will be somewhat modeled after Andy’s oral assessments, but in addition to on-the-spot questions (with a bit of time to prepare a whiteboard), I will sometimes ask them, a week ahead of time, to they present a homework-style problem that wasn’t on their weekly homework. I will use an SBG-style rubric (a 5 or 10-point scale that focuses on level of mastery) and will probably get the whole class involved with determining level of mastery.
- Questions on the homework and quizzes that deal only with or mainly with a single learning goal will have the relevant learning goal explicitly stated with the question (so it is similar to how in SBG you usually tell them which standard is being assessed). I currently have a set of approximately 75 learning goals for this course, but want to trim this number done. Always making the learning goals front and center on the homework and quizzes will help me figure out how to make them more coarsely grained and assessment-driven to get down to 40-50 standards at most. 40-50 standards would work out to 3-4 standards per week over the term which seems like the upper limit.
- Questions on the homework and quizzes that deal with many learning goals will not have the relevant learning goals explicitly. To my mind, students need to be able to take their toolbox that they are building in a course and figure out which tools are best for the job, so there also needs to be some amount of not making the learning goals explicit.
- I will do my usual thing where I have a term test near the end of the course so that the studying for that also serves as formative assessment for preparing for the final. For these I will probably not make the learning goals explicit on the test that they are writing.
Why not jump all the way in?
I am still lacking in experience in teaching this course. This will only be my second time teaching the Quantum Mechanics 1 course and it is still the only upper-year course that I have taught that is not a lab. The rest of my teaching has been a second-year electronics lab, a third-year standalone lab course (a.k.a. Advanced Lab) and a handful of intro courses. And last time I taught this course I received my worst set of student evaluations thus far. I learned a lot last time, but I still feel that I have a lot to learn about teaching this course.
It’s also a lot of work. As I mentioned above, this will be my first time that I use screencasting as part of the pre-lecture assignments. I am expecting the screencasting process to chew up quite a bit more preparation time than my standard reading assignments have. Adding trying to work through all the hiccups of a first SBG implementation could be a potentially overwhelming amount of work and not leave me with enough time to do as good a job as I can with the course.
I’m playing it safe. SBG would be new to both me and the students. And I’m still working on generating student buy-in with the upper-year students; many of whom have never previously taken a course with me. So far I have found that I am able to generate much more buy-in from the students for reform-minded instructional strategies that I have some experience with. It has been a little harder to sell them on these strategies when it was my first time trying to implement them. So screencasting and the oral assessments will be the major new things in this course and the rest of the changes will be mostly tweaks.
Summary of the baby-steps toward SBG
Here’s the list of the things that I will be doing that will hopefully make my transition to a Standards-Based Grading system the next time (after this fall) that I teach the course much easier.
- Making my learning goals front and center on most assessments.
- Paying careful attention throughout this upcoming version of the course to how I can get from my 75ish learning goals to 40-50 assessment-driven standards.
- Trying out some new types of assessments (short oral exams and homework problem presentations) with a Standards-Based Grading “marking” scheme.
- Trying to generate quiz questions which would be suitable as SBG assessments. I typically use a lot of conceptual questions, but many of them are too short to be able to reasonably judge level of mastery.
Well that’s about it. I think that this should give me some experience with many of the things which underlie SBG and allow me to reflect on what other changes will need to be made so that my eventual first SBG implementation will be a less overwhelming.