Tag Archives: modeling

Modeling Stories: Mark Schober

Today’s guest post is from Mark Schober, the new the president of the American Modeling Teachers’ Association. It is the third post in a series which shares the stories of teachers using Modeling Instruction.

From a childhood interest in dinosaurs and trains, my palentological affinity morphed into an interest in science and later into physics teaching — my fascination with trains has never wavered. I majored in mathematics, physics, and theater arts and then earned masters degrees in physics and in secondary education. Along the way, my undergraduate roommate (also a physics teacher) had ties to AAPT through his physics-teaching father, introducing me to the power of professional development communities, physics education research, and the breadth of innovations in physics instruction. In grad school, my advisor was testing early drafts of the University of Washington‘s Physics by Inquiry and Tutorials in Introductory Physics. In weekly meetings we would discuss the structure of the socratic questions and the conceptions the materials were designed to address, giving me a great insight into research-informed curricula that I implemented as his TA. However, when I began teaching high school physics in St. Louis, I quickly found that the University of Washington materials were so highly tailored to particular audiences (pre-service elementary education majors and first-year physics majors’ recitation sessions) that they were unusable in high school.

After my second year of physics teaching, I was encouraged to participate in a Modeling Workshop at UC Davis in 1998, led by Don Yost and Wayne Finkbeiner. Modeling established a pedagogical framework that transcended any particular set of curriculum materials, allowing me to use my prior skills and background in much more productively. In the followup workshop in 1999, I worked with other participants to develop modeling materials for teaching light. In 2000 and 2001,  Don Yost, Larry Dukerich, and I consolidated the light curriculum materials produced by all the workshops into the “standard” version. During this time, I also created an extensive website of the Modeling materials, though which I’ve met lots of other Modelers who have found it to be a useful resource. (www.modelingphysics.org)

I apprenticed with Rex and Debbie Rice in a modeling mechanics workshop in St. Louis in 2000, and in 2003 I co-led a St. Louis mechanics workshop with John Koski. In the summers from 2004-2007 I led workshops in light and E&M for Laird Kramer at Florida International University with co-leaders Matt Watson, David Kirkpatrick, and Russ Harcha. I’ve led a number of half-day workshops in conjunction with the St. Louis Area Physics Teachers and I worked closely with Rex Rice and Bill Brinkhorst to develop the amusement park physics curriculum for Six Flags St. Louis. In 2010 I led a mechanics workshop at the University of New Mexico for Jeff Saul and a Models of Light workshop at ASU.

After 14 years of teaching in St. Louis, my wife and I moved to New York City last summer. I got the chance to try 9th grade Modeling physics for the Regents in Harlem — a fantastic and humbling experience at the same time. However, the NYC DOE’s threatened layoffs of new hires sent me looking elsewhere, and this year I will be teaching chemistry and physics as well as taking on department head duties at Trinity School in Manhattan. To prepare for teaching chemistry, I took the Chemistry Modeling workshop this summer under the stellar leadership of Tammy Gwara. The coherence and development of the chemistry storyline has me very excited to teach it. Also, working with Fernand Brunschwig, Seth Guiñals-Kupperman, Nate Finney, and Andrew Stillman, we formed the Physics Teachers of New York City and have a full slate of monthly workshops for the upcoming school year.

Mark was recently interviewed for NSTA’s Lab Out Loud podcast. Listen to it here: Episode 68: Modeling Instruction in the Science Classroom.

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Why I’m a Modeler: Nick Cabot

Today’s guest post is from Nick Cabot. It is the second post in a series which shares the stories of teachers using Modeling Instruction.

My journey as a Modeler began 2 years after I completed my master’s in physics which was also how long I’d been teaching physics at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle.  I attended the first series of Modeling Leadership Workshops way back in 1995 through 1997 (yes, three summers), which were held at ASU and UI Chicago – I think I saw an ad for the Workshops in The Physics Teacher.  I was at the Chicago workshops, which were led by Gregg Swackhamer – a wonderful teacher – and it wasn’t five minutes into the first day when, like so many other teachers, I thought to myself, “Why hadn’t I been taught this way!?”  Despite my recent master’s degree, the Workshop really was the first time I’d seen Newtonian mechanics presented as a coherent whole, rather than as a series of, relatively speaking, disjointed formulas and problems.  I suppose the conceptual framework was always there, but it seemed to me that, not unlike mathematics instruction, we just turned the page and moved on.  As Larry Dukerich, another wonderful teacher and Workshop leader, is so fond of saying (and me of quoting him), “Textbooks maybe logical, but they are not psycho-logical,” by which he means that textbook authors and most teachers never consider for whom the textbooks or instruction are for.  Anyway, my whole conception of physics and physics teaching were completely overturned in favor of the Modeling paradigm.  On the strength of NSF support for the Workshop, I called in a political favor and got the school board to outfit my classroom with computers, ULIs, and probeware – and I was off and running.

Well, to make a long story somewhat shorter, based, in part, on my modest successes as Modeler, in 2001 I was awarded an Einstein Fellowship to the NSF where I had the opportunity to work in the Division of Undergraduate Education with the folks who manage their science teacher preparation portfolio.  I very much enjoyed the perspective afforded me by seeing the initiatives and proposals universities all over the country were submitting to reform undergraduate education and teacher preparation so as to take into account the years of research in science teaching and learning – finally!  Building off that experience I decided to get a Ph.D. and in 2008 (I continued to teach full time except for one year), I successfully defended my dissertation on the impact of Modeling Instruction on physics teachers.  Since then I’ve been at UNC Chapel Hill as a clinical assistant professor mostly teaching math and science methods and math content classes to pre-service, graduate, and post-baccalaureate elementary and secondary teachers.  And by virtue of being clinical faculty (as opposed to tenure-track, trapped in the publish-or-perish grind), I’ve also been able to work with math and science teachers and teacher educators in Thailand, China, and the Galapagos Islands.  I attribute it all to the broadening of my horizons that occurred because I showed up at a Modeling Workshop in Chicago one hot day in June, 1995.

So, why did I join the AMTA?  Mostly because I want to do whatever I can to help keep the dream alive and growing.  Modeling is a better science pedagogy because, more than any other with which I’m familiar (and I’m familiar with most of them), it brings sharp instructional focus to the two most important aspects of teaching science: models and classroom discourse.  Humans are natural modelers – it’s how we explain phenomena to ourselves.  Even though many of our models of the physical world are non-Newtonian (mostly because we can’t see frictional forces), they work pretty well (else we’d be dead!).  And because they are, in fact, generally “adequate,” trying to teach over the top of them is like speaking a foreign language – just so much gibberish that doesn’t jibe with everyday experience.  Modeling acknowledges students’ prior experience and provides opportunities for them to confront and challenge their everyday models.  Classroom discourse is a vital part of this experience because it gives students real-time feedback.  We’re expecting our students to undergo conceptual change from their everyday models to more scientifically aligned models – well, this takes mental energy (our brains are “lazy”) and guidance.  For the vast majority of students, the necessary prodding and guidance is available only in a classroom setting with a teacher who recognizes these incontrovertible facts about learning, that is, a Modeling teacher.  Modeling is our best chance to tap the reservoir of initiative and creativity in our students that historically has been ignored by those science teachers who couldn’t understand why their students didn’t understand.  How could I not help?

Nick Cabot is on the board of the American Modeling Teachers’ Association.

Why I’m a Modeler

This is the first in a series of posts sharing the stories of teachers using Modeling Instruction.

My name is Frank Noschese and I’m on the American Modeling Teachers’ Association Board of Directors as Member-at-Large. Here’s my modeling story:

I had heard about modeling instruction on various physics teaching email lists when I began teaching in 1998. “Awesome,” “life-changing,” and “the best professional development I ever had” were phases my virtual colleagues frequently used when describing modeling and the intensive summer workshops.

After my first few years of teaching, when I was finally able to keep my head above water, I investigated the Modeling Instruction program and poked around the ASU modeling website. I found the mechanics worksheets. I had struck gold! I was excited to transform my classroom into the hands-on, minds-on, discussion-based physics course I had been longing to teach. I opened up the first document file like it was my 6th birthday all over again.

I’ll be honest: At first glance, I was not impressed. The worksheets seemed very pedestrian and had problems just like any other textbook. Additional representations like motion maps and energy pie graphs seemed juvenile.

But the praise kept pouring in on the email lists. And there was this nagging voice that wouldn’t go away. It kept saying, “Maybe there is more to this modeling thing.” So I enrolled in a 2.5 week workshop called “PHY 620: Powerful Ideas And Quantitative Modeling: Mechanics” run by Buffalo State College’s Physics Education Department. The workshop leaders were Dewayne Beery, Dan MacIsaac, Marie Plumb, Chris Filkins, Joe Zawicki, and Kathleen Falconer.


In the workshop, the power of modeling became clear. It wasn’t about the worksheets. It wasn’t about the labs. It was about the discussion and discourse and the questioning and the arguing and the failing and the guiding and the succeeding that happened as we worked through the material. The multiple representations aspect was exceptionally helpful and powerful, not juvenile. I was hooked. I returned to school in September feeling more excited (and nervous) than before.

That first year went really well, I thought. As did successive years. Though I feel my discussion/questioning skills have been getting a little rusty and I’m longing to take a second workshop in E&M or Waves.

The Modeling Listserv has always been an invaluable resources for sharing ideas and asking questions. As have other email lists. But I slowly started noticing other teachers (particularly younger teachers and math teachers) reaching out for help and offering advice by blogging and tweeting. They weren’t connected to the email lists and weren’t going to hear about Modeling Instruction the same way I had. Upon first hearing the word “modeling,” they might incorrectly think it means “I do, We do, You do”-type teaching. I wanted to reach out to these other teachers and showcase modeling and other physics education related pedagogies. So in the summer of 2010, I joined Twitter and started this blog. The word is getting out, even if it means shouting over the voices of less effective pedagogies which have been getting the lion’s share of the money and media attention.

I became an AMTA member because I want Modeling to continue and thrive. And I wanted to be on the Board to help bring AMTA and Modeling into the view of educators beyond physics and show the world what effective science instruction looks like.

I hope you’ll join me.

Interview with MSNBC.com

A few weeks ago I was interviewed for MSNBC.com’s “Future of Technology” series for a story on Khan Academy and online lectures. I appear in these two videos:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

View it on MSNBC.com: Khan Academy sparks education reform debate
(mobile friendly link)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

View it on MSNBC.com: Teaching with technology: What works in class
(mobile friendly link)

I am grateful to the show’s producers, Matt Rivera and Wilson Rothman, for giving me the opportunity to share my work in the classroom and for staying true to my main criticisms. And extra kudos to Matt for what I fear is now commonplace in journalism: he was a one-man show — he brought and set up all the equipment (camera, lights, and sound) AND conducted the interview. Thanks!

Khan vs. Karplus: Elevator Edition

Exhibit A: Sal Khan on elevators


Exhibit B: My students on elevators
Framed around the Karplus learning cycle (Exploration, Invention, and Application) my students construct the conceptual and mathematical models themselves.

1. Exploration Phase:

2. Invention Phase: 

  • Draw a motion diagram for the object attached to the scale when the scale is stationary, then being pulled up and then stops.
  • Draw a force diagram for the object attached to the scale when the scale is stationary, then being pulled up and then stops. Decide whether the force diagram is consistent with the motion diagram. How is the force diagram related ot the reading of the scale?
  • Use the force diagram and the idea under test to make a prediction of the relative readings of the scale.
  • Observe the experiment and reconcile the outcome with your prediction.

(Video and questions for this phase taken from Eugenia Etkina’s awesome site Physics Teaching Technology Resource which has many more video experiments.)

3. Application Phase:

Instead of showing our students a better lecture, let’s get them doing something better than lecture.

UPDATE: Welcome New York Times readers! Other recommended posts:

Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom

I recently blogged that you can now play Angry Birds in your web browser. This opens up all sorts of video analysis possibilities for physics lessons and assessment. Students can easily make their own videos or you can pre-record your own. Videos can be recorded using Jing, Screencast-O-Matic, or Camtasia Studio. Analysis can be done in Logger Pro or Tracker.

Here are some possible investigations to carry out (shared by Michael Magnuson on the WNYPTA email list):

1. Make a reasonable estimate for the size of an angry bird, and determine the value of g in Angry Bird World. Why would the game designer want to have g be different than 9.8 m/s²?   Download Angry Birds video.

2. Does the blue angry bird conserve momentum during its split into three?  Download Red and Blue Birds video.

3. Does the white bird conserve momentum when it drops its bomb? Why would the game designer want the white bird to drop its bomb the way that it does?  Download White Bird video.

4. Describe in detail how the yellow bird changes velocity.  You will need to analyze more than one flight path to answer this question.  Download Yellow Birds video.

5. Shoot an angry bird so that it bounces off one of the blocks. Determine the coefficient of restitution and the mass of the angry bird.  Download Red Birds and Falling Block video.

You can download each video using the links above or get them all here.

Other posts with ideas about how to use Angry Birds in physics class:

How have you used (or will use) Angry Birds in the classroom?

UPDATE 12-28-2011: Our class has been featured on CUNY-TV’s “Science and U!” Jump to 10:25 in the video below:

Khan Academy: My Final Remarks

Many people aren’t getting the nuances of my recent Khan Academy arguments. I’ll make my final remarks and then put this thread to rest.

Khan Academy videos are nothing new. MIT OpenCourseWare has been around for TEN YEARS now. Walter Lewin’s awesome physics lectures have been available for most of those 10 years — despite the fact they are pseudoteaching, and his students emerged with no greater understanding of physics than those of professors before him.

And I didn’t have a problem with Khan Academy (as a collection of videos) until very recently.

For me, the problem is the way Khan Academy is being promoted. The way the media sees it as “revolutionizing education.” The way people with power and money view education as simply “sit-and-get.”

(c) tcoffey (via Flickr)

If your philosophy of education is sit-and-get, i.e., teaching is telling and learning is listening, then Khan Academy is way more efficient than classroom lecturing. Khan Academy does it better.

But TRUE progressive educators, TRUE education visionaries and revolutionaries don’t want to do these things better. We want to DO BETTER THINGS.

Ironically, everything that is wrong with Khan Academy has been addressed in two previous TED talks:

According to Dan, today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect — and excel at — paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. How does Khan Academy foster problem posing and creativity?

Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, we should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together. For example, instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, the Modeling Instruction paradigm emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world. In comparison to traditional instruction, Modeling is extremely effective — under expert modeling instruction high school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics.

Watch one Modeling class in action:

In the clip, the teacher says, “I don’t lecture at all. Instead, I create experiences for the students either in the lab or puzzles and problems for them to solve and it’s up to them to try to figure that out.” I’ve often wondered why this type of teaching hasn’t gotten more attention in the media. Maybe because the teacher is using simple things like whiteboards and bowling balls rather than shiny iPads and SmartBoards?

While Khan argues that his videos now eliminate “one-size-fits-all” education, his videos are exactly that. I tried finding Khan Academy videos for my students to use as references for studying, or to use as a tutorial when there’s a substitute teacher, but I haven’t found a good one. They either tackle problems that are too hard (college level) or they don’t use a lot of the multiple representations that are so fundamental to my teaching (kinematic graphs, interaction diagrams, energy pie graphs, momentum bar charts, color-coded circuit diagrams showing pressure and flow, etc.) Khan Academy videos do not align with proper Physics Education Research pedagogy.

I find it troublesome that the Khan Academy team is not spending time and energy on the pedagogy of teaching math and science, but rather on refining the gaming mechanics of Khan Academy in response to “good” and “bad” behavior of students working through the software exercises. The “gamification” of learning in Khan Academy has had disastrous consequences at the Los Altos school pilot.

There are some truly innovative learning technologies that have been
around for years. If Khan Academy wants to grow out of their infancy as electronic worksheet drills, I hope their team takes a look at these more transformative educational technologies, all of which have been researched and tested:

Khan Academy also promotes the “usefulness” of its dashboard for its exercise software. I find most of that information useless, like knowing how many times a student rewound the movie, how many times she paused it, or how long he spent on a module. Those times could be affected by distractions from family, self-imposed distractions like facebook and texting, etc.

Feedback I would find WAY MORE useful:

  • knowing how many times a student attempted the same problem
  • knowing the student’s answer history to each problem; i.e, what the student’s wrong answers were
  • knowing the type of mistake a student made when choosing a wrong answer; e.g., did he forget to square the distance, did she apply kinetic energy conservation instead of momentum conservation, did he disregard the fact that the forces where in opposite directions, did she confuse force of friction with coefficient of friction, did he assume constant velocity when in fact it was accelerating, etc.
  • software that anticipates and recognizes those common mistakes (like all great teachers do) and gives the students immediate, tailored feedback during the exercise

Finally, everyone is talking about using Khan Academy as a way to do more inquiry and more project-based learning. However, Bill Gates and Sal Khan are not showing any examples about what students and teachers are doing beyond Khan Academy. The news stories are not showing the open-ended problems the kids should be engaging with after mastering the basics — instead they show kids sitting in front of laptops working drills and watching videos. The focus is on the wrong things.

Khan Academy is just one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. (If it’s the only tool, that is a HUGE problem.) Khan Academy can be useful for some kids as vehicle (build skills) to help them get to better places (solving complex problems).

Now let’s please shift the focus (yours and mine) toward the destination.

Important Talks/Media about Khan Academy

More Blog Posts Critical of Khan Academy, from me and others

Khan Academy-Related Blogs