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)