Tag Archives: technology

Physics Teaching 2.Uh-Oh

My first talk! Given at the STANYS 2011 Physics Breakfast on November 8th, 2011 in Rochester, New York

Links to resources mentioned in the talk:

A huge thank you to Gene Gordon for inviting me to speak at the breakfast. It was great to share my passions and meet my virtual colleagues face-to-face!

I’d love any feedback you have, positive and negative. Thanks!

Khan’s School of the Future

From Hacked Education:

Khan Academy announced this morning that it has raised $5 million from the O’Sullivan Foundation (a foundation created by Irish engineer and investor Sean O’Sullivan). The money is earmarked for several initiatives: expanding the Khan Academy faculty, creating a content management system so that others can use the program’s learning analytics system, and building an actual brick-and-mortar school, beginning with a summer camp program.

“Teachers don’t scale,” I remember Sal Khan saying to me when I interviewed him last year. What can scale, he argues, is the infrastructure for content delivery. And that means you just need a handful of good lecturers’ record their lessons; the Internet will take care of the rest.

But online instruction clearly isn’t enough, and as “blended learning” becomes the latest buzzword — that is, a blend of offline and computer-mediated/online instruction — Khan Academy is now eyeing building its own school. The money from the O’Sullivan Foundation will go towards developing a “testbed for physical programs and K-12 curricula,” including an actual physical Khan Academy school.

What might Khan’s “school of the future” look like? 

In his video interview with GOOD Magazine, Khan said:

As far as the future of learning is concerned, the school is going to be one or two really big classrooms, and because everyone can work at their own pace, we are going to see the best be a higher bar and you’re going to see everyone having access to that and they can move up with the best.

One or two large classrooms where everyone works at their own pace? That sounds a lot like Rick Ogston’s Carpe Diem school:

Matt Lander reports the following from his visit to Carpe Diem:

Carpe Diem is a hybrid model school, rotating kids between self-paced instruction on the computer and classroom instruction. Their building is laid out with one large computer lab, with classroom space in the back. They had 240 students working on computers when I walked in, and you could have heard a pin drop.

Carpe Diem has successfully substituted technology for labor. With seven grade levels and 240 students they have only 1 math teacher and one aide who focuses on math. [emphasis mine]

Carpe Diem also  touts they get great results with less per pupil spending. How? Well, as implied above, they have fewer teachers and staff. Also, take a look at the Carpe Diem Parent/Student handbook and you can see why: they have NO nurse and NO food service. Other ways I bet they save on money, compared to a regular public school: there is very little equipment to buy (aside from computers and furniture) — no art supplies, no science labs, no physical education equipment, etc. It seems Carpe Diem also lack special programs: no special education, no athletics, and no performing arts. We also have the problem of using standardized test scores to measure success. I think what is more important is: How many are successful in college? How many stay on past freshman year?

Carpe Diem is really an online school that also has a few brick and mortar campuses. The curriculum they use for both their virtual and physical schools is called e2020. From e2020’s website:

e2020 then designs each lesson with student-centered objectives that maximize the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. Lessons are designed in order to provide the student with an optimal learning experience that is unique for each course.  Students progress through the lesson with a series of activities such as, direct instruction videos by certified teachers; vocabulary instruction: interactive lab simulations; journals and essay writing; 21st century skills; activities that include projects, design proposals, case studies, on-line content reading; and homework/practice before being formatively assessed with a quiz. Topic test and cumulative exam reviews are provided to reinforce mastery prior to students’ taking summative assessments.

So the kids work through the modules at their cubicles and can seek out extra help at “workshops.” You can test some of the modules if you register here. For the science modules I tested, there are periodic multiple choice assessments. The in-module labs are all simulations — no manipulation on any physical equipment. It seems kids can pass the state exams based on their module work, but I wager they will be severely ill equipped for college or the real world, especially in STEM fields.

My issues with this blended/hybrid model of school:

  • The conception of learning seems to be isolated, rather than group.
  • It appears to teach/assess mostly low-order practices.
  • I can’t see how physics and chemistry could be done well, and thus contribute to  developing the STEM workforce.
  • How can ONE teacher be versed in pedagogically appropriate ways of helping students across SEVEN grade levels?

Blended learning schools like Carpe Diem pale  in comparison to what schools like High Tech High are doing:

Where would you rather go to school?

Newton’s 3rd Law (or How to Make Effective Use of Video for Instruction)

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:
Download the high-quality video clips for each collision.


Same Planet, Different Worlds

What is the future of learning?

Vision #1: Doing Old Things in New Ways

Vision #2: Doing New Things in New Ways

(Thanks to David Smith of the Da Vinci Discovery Center of Science & Technology for bringing the Cyberlearning video to my attention)

Cross-class Collaboration Projects

Today’s post comes from Daryl Taylor, a high school physics and astronomy teacher in Connecticut. It was originally posted in response to this question on the NSTA Physics Listserv: “Has anyone had students collaborate with another class in a different locality for any class projects or assignments?”

I have, and love to, run collabs with various schools around the world just about any chance I can.

  1. We’ve recently run a parallax project (Astro-based) with a physics class in California; results weren’t great, but made the point.
  2. I run, based on a CIESE NJIT collab project, a “Circumference of Earth” collab any time I can get a school far away and at a very different latitude; results are always within a few %; unheard of accuracy in the Fizzix classroom.
  3. A few yrs ago, we ran a collab with a Forensics class in South Jersey. They were doing a “Who Done It” type of project and they (a teacher I used to work with) enlisted my Fizzix class help. They sent us images of blood spatter and foot and hand prints and the “crime” scene in general. My kids had to research and learn a little “blood spatter” physics, (including enlisting a guest expert from the local police dept!) and submitted their “FBI (Fizzix Blood Investigators) lab report” via PDF files and a Skype session. The Jersey Forensics class then went further and held a mock trial type thing with their Mock Trial Team and we watched as the audience and expert witnesses via Skype. Was great fun and kids (and I) learned the proverbial ton.
  4. Year-long project with another school to build a “self-sustaining human habitat in a locale considered non-habitable”. Kids decided to build a habitat under the Pacific Ocean (I thought the Moon or Mars, but NOOOOooo….) complete with alternate energy sources (including a ‘back-up’ nuclear plant…) and even a specific population hand-picked by the “planning committee”. Really cool. Did a lot of Distance Learning stuff and covered topics that absolutely amazed me.
  5. Also based on a CIESE project, The Boiling Point Project, I try to find a physics and/or chemistry class somewhere at a very high elevation, like Boulder or Denver or Mexico City, to run two collabs at once: boiling point of water and acceleration of gravity. If properly equipped and labs are run precisely, results on both are great. Email, text, and Skype are used to keep classes up to snuff with each other. In fact, each Lab group includes two of my kids and two of their kids so they HAVE to share and collab differently than a self-contained classroom situation.
  6. I’ve even just taken a basic high school lab like diffraction and ran a collab (Co-Lab, get it? I crack myself up….) with another school just to get twice the data and more worthy results. Also gets kids involved outside the “four walls”. It’s also quite cool to collab with a local or not-local college on regular class labs. They normally have fancy machines that go ‘ping’ while we don’t. Run the same lab and compare. Sometimes, the expensive machines that go ‘ping’ do no better than a meter stick and persistence. Sometimes the expensive machines that go ‘ping’ kick the meter stick’s butt.

Hope this helps. Anyone want to join some collabs this year?

Daryl L Taylor
Main website for teachers : DarylScience.com
Main website for students : DTFizzix.com
Teacher/Personal Blog: http://darylscience.blogspot.com/
Student Blog: http://dtfizzix.blogspot.com/

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:

Red, Blue, and Yellow Angry Birds

Download the original video files:

Angry Birds for Google Chrome

You can now play Angry Birds in Google Chrome! This makes getting footage for video analysis much easier. Here you go:

Download the video file for your own analysis. I used Camtasia Studio (free trial) to do the screen recording.


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