Saturday, January 31, 2009

On to electricity, magnetism, light, and optics

At the risk of repeating this post, let me tell you where I am as we head into the second semester.

In our first semester at Rio, we cover motion, Newton's laws, UCM & gravity, momentum, energy, and heat. That is, everything that the state of California spell out in the first three of five content standard sets devoted to 9-12 Physics. "Motion and Forces," "Conservation of Energy and Momentum," and "Heat and Thermodynamics" are done.

In second semester, we cover "Electric and Magnetic Phenomena," and "Waves." There's plenty to do in those areas, and we're never done with all of it by the April CST administration.

But I would kindly suggest that if you're still meandering through mechanics when second semester hits, you don't stand a chance of making it through the state's prescribed content. I know at least one or two physics teachers for whom that is not a concern. They express their distaste for statewide standards and assessment by disregarding them completely.That's not a path I would recommend. To each his (or her) own, I suppose.

Return of the Student Opinion of Teacher Survey

High school teachers in the college town of Ann Arbor were required to undergo anonymous student evaluation at the end of each semester back when I did my student teaching there. The Ann Arbor School District developed a generic Likert scale and open-ended questionnaire that allowed students to rate teacher performance. The front of the questionnaire was devoted to 24 Likert (five-point) scale performance assessments. The back was devoted to open-ended prompts.

Students were not to include their names on the surveys. Completed surveys were collected by a student in the class and delivered to the teacher's evaluating administrator before the teacher could see them. The teacher could not access the completed surveys until semester grades had been turned in.

I brought the form with me to Sacramento. San Juan Unified had no such instrument or program. I was too chicken to use it my first year. In retrospect, I have reason to believe the results would have been much better than I expected. Oh well.

I started using it my second year, 1987-88. I was knocked out by how kind the students were in their assessment of my performance. It might have helped that I was young and they could see that I really was trying. It didn't hurt that Rio's Class of '88 was a truly exceptional group. (I perceived it even then, but my perception was verified by more veteran teachers at the time.)

I continued to administer the survey until 2006. In the early years, I learned a thing or two. And I changed a thing or two about how I conducted the class. But after a while, the annual results started to merge into a certain sameness. My stock would rise or fall within a certain range. The comments--good and bad--changed little from year to year. I lost interest.

I revived the old form this year. To make it somewhat interesting and useful to me, I changed some of the questions.

Here is the survey instrument.

Here are my results. (The graphs will be meaningless without the instrument; the graphs don't show the text of the questions.)
1. Summary Graph by Period (Physics 1 only)
2. Summary Graph (Physics 1 and AP Physics 2)
3. The Data

How my students have performed on the physics CST

We get CST results each year. The STAR reports are not always useful or logically organized. I've been on a mission to get results that I could hammer into something meaningful. Each year, I have to volunteer some time, talent, and energy to tease out results that reflect on what's going on in my own classroom.

The state generates some very broad results that they publish August 15-ish each year following the Spring administration. School districts are then charged with providing individualized teacher reports.

With the additional effort I put in, here's a presentation of how my students have performed on the Physics CST over the years. (The file is a zipped QuickTime document.)

Interpreting those results is another matter. Given the data presented in that report, I'm hard-pressed to generate much analysis. My students generally fair well. They've got a number of advantages over the average California physics student. But as far as using the results to decide what to do different next year, the picture is not entirely clear. I've already surrendered a huge portion of the second semester to electricity and magnetism. And electricity and magnetism remains an area of relatively low performance.

My Dear Machine

There are, generally speaking, two types of casual bloggers: those who have idled their blogs for a spell and those who will.

I honor of my time away from this URL, let me present Sixpence None the Richer's "My Dear Machine." Sixpence disbanded in 2004 and reunited in 2008. They returned with an EP whose title track was "My Dear Machine."

With lyrics like, "My dear machine's been idled so long, now it's time for another drive," it's hard to miss the metaphor. But I really like the track and now I'll be able to access the video easily on my blog. (It says something nice about singer Leigh Nash that she didn't mind the nostril massage making the final cut.)

Oh, you can't get the EP in stores or the iTunes Music Store. I bought it at NoiseTrade. But I don't see it there anymore. I'm not sure where you could buy it if you wanted to. Sorry. If someone knows how to get it, let me know in the comments!