The Science Learnification (Almost) Weekly – July 3, 2011

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so.

Standards-Based this and that

  • SBF Grading Policy (Draft) – Bret Benesh presents a draft of his grading policy for Standards-Based Feedback (SBF), his fantastic idea where students submit a portfolio of their work at the end of the term and the collected works are meant to show mastery of all the standards. I’m very interested to see how this turns out.
  • Looking Back Before SBG – Geoff Schmit reflects on his concerns two years ago when he started using SBG by answering those concerns from his present experience.

Angry Birds

  • Angry Birds, Happy Physicists – Kotaku writes a piece on using Angry Birds for physics instruction and mentions or talks to John Burk (@occam98), Frank Noschese (@fnoschese) and Rhett Allain (@rjallain).


Modeling workshops are in full swing. Those that attend post as they go or reflect afterward. The more the merrier for these because giving up three weeks of the summer (and leaving the family for that long) is a hard sell so the more that people know to help them make a decision if they should attend, the better.
  • FIU Modeling Workshop – Day 1 – Scott Thomas is doing my favorite kind of blogging, writing for himself but making it public so that it is available for anybody who might find it useful. John Burk expands on this a bit and talks about blogging not just being about writing to get those ideas clear and out of your brain but also giving you somewhere to go back for later reflection.
  • Modeling Workshop Year 2 – Brian reflects on his year 2 modeling workshop. He has a post for each of seven or eight different days at the workshop so lots of stuff to read.
  • Inquiry Stylee: Let the Modeling Shenanigans Begin (Constant Velocity Model) – With modeling on the brain Shawn Cornally takes some high-frame-rate pictures out the window of his moving vehicle and sets up a very nice Dan Meyer style question about what speed is the van going.

Hold up on that homework

  • The No Homework Experiment – Kelly O’Shea tries no homework for the first part of a course and the kids love it. At a student’s request she started making up optional homework assignments that were just for feedback which led to this fantastic shift in student mindset toward actually wanting to use feedback productively: “after a bad test, a good number of students would ask, “Can I still turn in that optional homework for some feedback if I do it now?””


  • Mylene’s confusions category – Mylene’s summer PD seems to be being thoughtful and reflective. She has recently been working on a series of posts about confusion, how necessary it may be for learning and getting into the nuts and bolts of categorizing confusions.

Science away from school

  • Sending bottle rockets to new heights (of learning) – Peter Newbury posts about squeezing some authentic scientific learning into launching bottle rockets. I’m mildly involved with my university’s summer science camps and recently did some science activities with my son’s kindergarten class and Peter’s post hits very close to home.
  • Recapturing a Sense of Science Away from School – Brian Frank discusses his own journey of moving away from the idea that science is something done by scientists to science being done by everybody who asks the question “Huh, I wonder how that happens?”

The Physics Education Research community and Twitter

  •!/list/Bud_T/per – Some twitter handle exchanges went down on the PHYSLRNR listserv and then Bud Talbot was kind enough to make a list of the PER doers and users on twitter.
  • On service courses – Joe Redish tweeted about his new post on species and while browsing through his posts I found an especially great post on service courses which includes the following: “I therefore propose we who are delivering service courses for other scientists – and I mean mathematicians, chemists, and computer scientists as well as physicists – ought to measure our success not just by the scientific knowledge and skills that our students demonstrate, but by their perception of their value to themselves as future professionals.”

Dealing with Student Resistance to Learner-Centered Teaching

  • Hang In There! Dealing with Student Resistance to Learner-Centered Teaching – I sent this article to the Dean of Science at my university because I thought it would provide a nice starting point when she was having discussions with faculty trying to do more than just stand-and-deliver. For the most part the faculty at my “teaching-focused” (note that it isn’t learning focused) university are quite traditional. New faculty are on probation for two years after which they have something that resembles tenure. Of course with most of the faculty being quite traditional, the majority of the folks on your probation committee might be wary of anything that you do that doesn’t match their own practices. I passed this on to my Dean so that she can better facilitate the discussion between new faculty that are using student-centered classrooms and the more traditionally-minded members of their probationary committee. And so that she can help the new faculty set themselves up for better success in the future with their student-centered courses.

Spontaneous collaboration

  • Maybe the twitter/blogging department needs its own journal… – John Burk posts about some twitterers/bloggers tackling the following problem: “You have a square dartboard. What is the probability that a randomly-thrown dart will land closer to the center of the dartboard than to an edge?” The problem gets tackled from many different avenues and people with vastly different skill-sets bring them to bear on the problem. This is the exact kind of work that John (and probably anybody reading that post) would love our students to be doing instead of just solving end-of-chapter problems.

The Science Learnification (Almost) Weekly – June 19, 2011

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.


Flipped classrooms and screencasting

Peer Instruction

  • 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

Getting them to do stuff they are interested in

John Burk gets busy

The Science Learnification Weekly – June 6, 2011

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 🙂

Deliberate Practice

Dark Matter

  • Dark Matters – Jorge Cham (PhD comics) sits down with some physicists and animates their explanation of the dark matter and dark energy mysteries.

Standards-Based Grading

  • 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.

Baby-stepping toward Standards-Based Grading

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.

The Science Learnification (Almost) Weekly – May 30, 2011

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so

Facilitating student discussion

  • Facilitating Discussion with Peer Instruction: This was buried somewhere in my to post pile (the post is almost a month old). The always thoughtful Brian Frank discusses a couple of things that most of us end up doing that are counter-productive when trying to facilitate student discussion. Buried in the comments he adds a nice list of non-counter-productive things the facilitator can say in response to a student’s point to help continue the discussion.

Dear Mythbusters, please make your data and unused videos available for public analysis

  • An open letter to Mythbusters on how to transform science education: John Burk shares his thoughts with the Mythbusters on the good they are doing for science education and the public perception of science (and scientists) and then goes one step further and asks them to share their raw experimental data and video for all their experiments and trials, failed and successful. Worth noting is that Adam Savage is very active in the skeptical movement, a group of folks that consider science education to be a very high priority.

End of year reflections

Well it is that time of the year when classes are wrapping up and folks are reflecting on the year. Here are a couple of such posts.

  • Time for New Teaching Clothes: SBG Reflections: Terie Engelbrecht had a handful of reflection posts over the past couple of weeks. In this post she does a nice job of reminding us that for any sort of unfamiliar-to-students instructional strategy that we need to communicate to the students WHY we have chosen to use this strategy. And this communication needs to happen early (as in first day) and be re-communicated often (since the first day is a murky blur to most of them). On a personal side note I spend most of my first day of class communicating to my students that the instructional strategies I use were chosen to (the best of my abilities and knowledge) best help them learn because I care about their learning. Earlier this month I had a parent tell me that after the first day of class her daughter came home very excited about my class because of my message about my caring about her learning. I couldn’t have smiled bigger.
  • Thoughts on the culture of an inverted classroom: Robert Talbert discusses what is essentially a buy-in issue, with his end-of-term feedback showing 3/4 of his students seeing the value of his flipped/inverted classroom approach. This number is pretty consistent with my own experience, where I am judging the buy-in by the fraction of students that complete their pre-lecture assignments. He makes a nice point at the end that students used to an inverted classroom would probably be much more appalled with a regular lecture course than vice-versa.
  • “Even our brightest students…” Part II: Michael Rees writes about his own (student) perspective on Standards-Based Grading. We need more of these student perspective on education blogs, they are fantastic.

An experiment in not using points in the classroom

  • Pointslessness: An Experiment in Teenage Psychology: Shawn Cornally ran a bioethics class where their work for almost the entire year did not count toward their grade and they discussed readings and movies which were “interesting” (not sure what was used to qualify these things as interesting, but when looking through the list I’m pretty sure I would find most of those things interesting). Without the marks attached the students engaged in the discussions for the sake of engaging in the discussions and those students that usually try to glean what is going on from only the classroom discussions (instead of doing the readings themselves) would often go and do the readings after the discussions.

Effective communication of physics education research

  • Get the word out: Effective communication of physics education research: Stephanie Chasteen posts and discusses her fantastic talk from the Foundation and Frontiers of Physics Education Research – Puget Sound conference (FFPER and FFPER-PS are by far my favorite conferences btw). The talk discussed the generally poor job that physics education researchers do of communicating with the outside world and discussed some strategies to become more effective in this communication.

A few more posts of interest

  • It is just fine to give a quiz based on the homework that’s due today: Agreed! I do it too, but I use online homework that provides instant feedback so they show up in class having already received some feedback on their understanding.
  • Why Schools Should Embrace the Maker Movement: I’m hoping to develop an upper-year electronics course based on Arduino, and requiring only intro computer science and physics as prerequisites. Go Makers!
  • Probing potential PhDs: One of a grad student’s responsibilities is typically to be a teaching assistant and some folks at Stony Brook are taking this into account when interviewing potential new grad students by asking them to explain, at an undergraduate level, the answer to conceptual challenge problems. I think I want this collection of challenge problems for my own use.

The Science Learnification Weekly (April 3, 2011)

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the last week or so. They tend to be clumped together in themes because an interesting thing on the internet tends to lead to more interesting things.

I was busy this week helping run the regional science fair so I didn’t manage to find much time for blogging. But there almost always seems to be enough time for the Science Learnification Weekly. Spoon!

Random Standards-Based Grading Stuff

I’ve said it before: Standards-based grading (SBG) is a pretty hot topic in the blogosphere (SBG gala #5) and on twitter (#sbar). There’s a nice short overview of standards-based grading at the chalk|dust blog.

  • Khan Academy and SBG: Dan Anderson blogs on his “A Recursive Process” blog a nice little list of what SBG is and isn’t to him:

    SBG did not change the how, it only changed the measuring stick.

    I will leave the Khan Academy stuff alone. If anything, it has managed to get a lot of people talking about education in a way that they weren’t previously doing. If you’re interested in some of the heavier discussions related to Khan Academy, you can check out one of Frank Noschese’s recent posts or follow him on twitter (@fnoschese) since he is getting involved in a lot of Khan-related discussions and tweeting about it.

  • Violating the Laws of Grading: A Repeat Offender’s Story: Terie Engelbrecht (@mrsebiology) recently started blogging and there was much rejoicing. In this post she talks about some of her problems encountered in implementing SBG, and reminds us of the laws of grading at the high-school-level (which get downgraded to rules of thumb of grading at the University level):
  1. Law of Right Answers: I get all right answers, I get A…right?
  2. Law of I Can’t Get a B Because I Always Get an A: The “oh man are they in for a surprise when they get to university” law
  3. Law of GPAs: chewing gum and ruining lives

Flipped/Inverted Classroom

Learning From Mistakes

This was a delightfully hot topic this week.

  • Proof of concept: could students learn more if Kahn made mistakes? John Burk (Quantum Progress blog) shows off a screencast of a worked example with a purposeful mistake in it and a nice discussion about using this as a learning tool for students follows. I even propose a study in my own courses in fall, but it’s not yet fully fleshed out.
  • The Mistake Game: Kelly O’Shea (Physics! Blog!) takes the above idea one step further and gets her students to embed mistake(s) in their presented whiteboarding solutions in response to them being bored with seeing the correct solutions all the time.

Shared Labs

  • Shared labs: Andy Rundquist (I’m not watching TV blog) talks about how he manages to get multiple groups using the same experimental apparatus by having one group write-up procedure and theory, the next week another group takes the data, and on the third week yet another group does the data analysis. So each group gets exposure to 3 labs over this period. I wonder in the comment how this model can be adapted to self-directed labs.

The Science Learnification Weekly (March 13, 2011)

This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past week or so. They tend to be clumped together in themes because an interesting thing on the internet tends to lead to more interesting things.

Moving beyond plug-n-chug Physics problems

  • Dolores Gende talks about representations in Physics and how these can be used to move the student problem solving process beyond just formula hunting. Translation of representation is a very challenging task for novice Physics students and a typical end-of-chapter exercise can be made much more challenging by asking them to translate from one representation to another, such as asking them to extract “known quantities” from a graph instead of being given explicitly in the word problem. I must say that I prefer Knight over other intro texts as a source of homework and quiz problems because he has a lot of these physics exercise +  translation of representation questions. Gende links to the Rutgers University PAER (Physics and Astronomy Education Research) multiple representation resources, but there are a ton of other excellent resources throughout the PAER pages.

Scientific thinking and the nature of science

  • Early this past week, Chad Orzel from the Uncertain Principles blog posted three posts related to scientific thinking and the general population: Everybody Thinks Scientifically, Teaching Ambiguity and the Scientific Method,Scientific Thinking, Stereotypes, and Attitudes. I won’t even try to summarize the posts here, but one of the main messages is that letting the average person believe that science is too difficult for them is not a great idea.
  • On Thursday I wrote a post which featured a couple of activities that can help teach about the nature of science. Andy Rundquist brought up in the comments the mystery tube activity which was also discussed in a recent Scientific Amaerican post which discusses that schools should teach more about how science is done.
  • Habits of scientific thinking is a post from John Burk of the Quantum Progress blog . A nice discussion follows in the comments. His example habit is…

    Estimate: use basic numeric sense, unit analysis, explicit assumptions and mathematical reasoning to develop an reasonable estimate to a particular question, and then be able to examine the plausibility of that estimate based its inputs.”

  • Chains of Reasoning is a post from the Newton’s Minions blog. He is trying to work on getting his physics students from information to conclusion through logical (inference) steps. I’m trying to directly, explicitly work on students in physics reasoning well.  His main message for his students is one that sums up well the disconnect between the common perception of science and the true nature of science:

    “Science isn’t about ‘knowing;’ it’s about being able to figure out something that you don’t know!  If you can’t reason, then you’re not doing science.”

What Salman Khan might be getting right

  • Mark Hammond’s first post on his Physics & Parsimony blog talks about some of the positive things that we can take away from Khan’s recent TED talk that has recently been a hotly discussed topic on the old internet. I had been paying some attention to the discussion, but didn’t actually watch the talk until after reading Hammond’s post. It is much easier to tear something apart than to do as Mark did and to pull out some important lessons. Mark’s two things that Khan is getting right are related to flipped classrooms and mastery learning, and it is important to remember that the audience being reached by this talk have mostly never heard of these education paradigms which are generally supported by the greater education reform community (myself included). I commented on mark’s blog:

    “In terms of public service, I feel that he could have sold the idea of the flipped classroom as something that every teacher can do, even without his videos, but that his academy makes it even easier for teachers to implement. I’m sure this is the first time that many people have heard of a flipped classroom, and it would be nice if people understand that this is a general teaching strategy and not something brand-new that you can all of a sudden do thanks to Khan.”

Collaborative scoring on oral assessments

  • Andy Rundquist posted a couple of videos showing him collaborate with students in scoring oral assessments for his upper-division Mathematical Physics course, which also happens to be his first Standards-Based Grading implementation.
The Science Learnification Weekly (March 6, 2011)