Saturday, November 19, 2016

Evolution of Physics Curriculum

As I NGSSify my curriculum I find myself removing some pieces of my curriculum that I've done for a long time. Sometimes they are replaced with better activities, sometimes they were dead weight, sometimes I'm sad to see them go. I'm not there yet but it is a process for which we still have several years as the NGSS assessments might be ready by 2018. You've got some time.

While making these curriculum choices I ask myself:
- Does this activity align with NGSS in content (addressing a Discipline Core Idea or Performance Expectation)?
- Or does it align with the Science & Engineering Skills?
- If not is it an essential skill to support NGSS acquisition? (i.e. graph making)
- Is it content that they need to support late NGSS content? (i.e. Newton's 1st and 3rd Laws)

As we approach the middle of the 2nd quarter I find that I am "behind" my past self by almost two weeks. This has meant moving Energy, Work & Power to second semester rather than cram it in first semester. My time crunch is due to a few big changes in my classroom that are still getting the kinks worked out:

1) This year I do not have required homework other than finishing labs. There are some "suggested homework" each night and the problems that I really like are worked into the class period. I suggest that struggling students do the homework each night, it is very briefly reviewed each day because less than a quarter of the students do it nightly. A lot of my students are in more than one AP class, sometimes I am their only non AP class, so if they are understanding the material they don't have to "waste" time doing homework if they don't need it.

2) So how do students know they should try the optional homework? Each week students take a low-stake weekly quiz based on the homework. That way they and I know how they well they are understanding the concepts. I grade their notebooks at the same time so that I can look over their labs for the week. Timing has been an issue so far. Sometimes the quizzes are too long and take most of the period. Absences have also delayed getting the quizzes passed back so in the future I think I will excuse the absent kids. This mean I don't have a chance to see how they are doing before the big assessment and the other quizzes in that category count more but it should improve the pass back time. I want students to have near immediate feedback on these formative assessments. I have been crudely tracking the standards addressed in each quiz in an Excel sheet but they have not been in a way that can be easily shared.

3) Students complete problems on whiteboards in small groups. This has been successful but sometimes not universally so depending on a few things. Some students dominate whiteboards just as they do labs so now I ask students to pass the marker on after each problem. Some students don't feel confident enough in their abilities to problem solve while others are watching. If the group is motivated to be "done" as fast as possible then they miss out on the conversations and growth to get something written ASAP. Yet some of the best problem solving think-out-loud collaborating discussions my students have ever had have taken place this year. They correct each other by citing previous activities, "Remember when she said this? Remember that one lab we did?".

Overall I like the changes and will be keeping them, with some revisions. I need to focus on making sure the weekly quizzes tackle common misconceptions just as much as calculation practice. I need to emphasize and normalize doing the suggested homework without making it seem required. It should feel like an opportunity for students; I want struggling students to want to do it to improve themselves. For whiteboards we have to set up community expectations that include all the students of the group at once and makes it a safe space for all of them to try, make mistakes and try again. And I have to work on my timing by probably further cutting some material. But that will be a topic for another post ...

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