Friday, February 21, 2020

POTU Evolution Part 1: From California to Rio Americano

UPDATE 2/23/20: Extant course chart added.

We plan to launch our Physics of the Universe (POTU) course in 2021-22. Physics of the Universe is the physics portion of the three-course model for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation. California is where I live and work; Rio Americano High School is where I've taught physics since 1986.

Our plan is to discontinue Physics as it has existed at the school since its inception in the 1960s, and replace it with POTU. We will continue to offer AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 (when demand exists). I plan to retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year, so the course will evolve considerably after I'm gone.

Here is a pie-chart representation of the course as it exists, in terms of the unit topics.


But August of 2021 is coming, so there is a course to create. The POTU Evolution blog posts will chronicle my development process for the benefit of both of my blog readers.

The state of California has developed a framework for the three-course (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) implementation of NGSS. (Feel free to read it real quick. I'll wait.) Physics of the Universe is divided into six segments.


As this course-development project began, my first step was two turn those six segments into twelve units. And I felt I needed to move the nuclear unit. So already, some entropy is working its way into the pie chart. Notice that where I broke one segment into two or three, I maintained color fidelity to the framework's six segments.


As I read deeper into the framework, it became clear that some subsegments were more equal than others. As I began mapping out a day-to-day schedule, my concept of the course took this shape. It's not even trying to appear appealing anymore. But that's not what's important. There are 180 days to plan, and they're not going to plan themselves.


That's probably enough on the planning for now. I'll post unit schedules as I develop them. It's hard to overemphasize how drafty these visions are right now. But they are preliminary drafts at best.

A few additional details: the principal would like our POTU course to be accessible to freshmen. Given that our district is all-in on Integrated Math, any algebra necessary in the course will need to be taught in the course.

We will be adopting textbooks next year for all science courses. Our last adoption in physics was in 2008. POTU textbooks are... largely still in development. I think Conceptual Physical Science would work nicely for NGSS 3-course Physics and Chemistry, but we'll see what the adoption options are in 2020-21.

Thoughts? Ideas? Advice? That's what the comments section is for. I'm keen to hear about what you're doing as NGSS and new assessments appraoch.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Anxiety among high school students

TL;DR: Today's high school students suffer anxiety brought on, in part, by always being connected on their phones and by a perpetual need to know what their grade-in-progress is right now. I actively remediate against both of these things, but my methods are frowned upon.

We tend to imagine ourselves the heroes of the movies we live our lives in. And those of us with blogs rarely hesitate to trumpet our own heroism. (That includes virtually everyone on Twitter, the microblogging site where virtue signaling is like oxygen.) As a publisher of a blog and someone with a Twitter account, I am in no position to hold myself above the crowd.

The theme of a recent faculty in-service session for the faculty of my school was anxiety among high school students. Counselors hoped to raise awareness and broadcast availability of services.

One potent source of anxiety was that students were constantly on their phones, connected to social networks that functioned as stock markets, chronicling the ups and downs of their individual social status.

I bit my tongue. I had a suggestion, but it would not have been welcome in this setting. This setting was to paint the picture of how bad things are for today's high school students. The aim was for recognition and accommodation. The problem was described as too pervasive and universal for remediation or solution.

Another stressor was the constant obsession with academic grades. Students and parents are in a state of perpetually refreshing their online grade book page to see if the latest assignment's score raised or lowered their grade-in-progress.

I bit my tongue again. Had the biting been literal instead of figurative, there would have been blood.

In my classroom, I do not ask students to refrain from phone use. I physically separate students from their phones as a matter of classroom policy. Violators are assigned Saturday School. That is my in-class, temporary remedial effort to alleviate phone-based anxiety during instruction.

Students hate it. My enrollments have suffered. Colleagues won't do it. Many teachers never want to be cast as the bad guy in their own classroom. So they beg/plead/bargain with students, who deploy the full measure of their genius to stealthily maintain their ongoing phone activities while instruction plays out around them. I cannot change my colleagues, but I also cannot allow my classroom to be another phone zone. I have a finite number of minutes to teach a difficult topic, so I'll don the black hat.

When I began teaching in 1986, we tendered grades four times a year. That evolved to six times. That, in turn, evolved into eight. Every increase in frequency was heralded as a solution that would lead to better student performance. In my personal experience, the actual outcome has been the diametric opposite.

With the advent of online student information systems (SIS), there is an expectation of daily grades-in-progress updates.

But I don't use my district's online grade book. I do not post daily updates to the SIS. I post updates at the district-mandated grading interims, eight times a year. (I prefer Excel over the online grade book; I can bend Excel to my will, and I like math. To me, the online grade book is a horrendous kludge.)

So when we learned that a source of student anxiety was their constant need for grade updates, I might have raised a hand and described how I didn't play into that practice. But doing so would have cast me as the jerk. Counselors and parents, too, want up-to-the-minute grades-in-progress. I make my students wait a month (a month!) between grade updates. What kind of luddite barbarian am I?

Of course, there are some who would argue that I'm actually precipitating anxiety through my solutions. While separated from their phones during instruction in my class, students might not be able to think about anything except when they will be reunited with their phones. And two weeks into that one month eternity between grading updates, students could be wracked with anxiety over what their grade has progressed to.

If this is the case, it's a Kobiyashi Maru. I have chosen one losing path while others choose another.