Community Building

Our class time at school has been pretty messed up in the past week or two.  Job action restricted class hours and then last week we missed three days due to the strike. This was followed by two days of classes, but they were compromised because of the upcoming 2 week spring break (which we’re in right now).  Many students were absent and it’s difficult to start a new topic at this time, which is exactly what I’ve wanted to do for the past 2 weeks.

In Friday’s physics 12 class I decided to skip the intro to electrostatics and instead we did some class building.  I had the students split into groups and asked them to discuss what they thought about our current approach to class work and homework. I sort of thought that the groups wouldn’t take it too serious, and I was right.  After only a few minutes it was obvious that not a lot of on-topic discussion was happening so we then gathered as a group and I started asking everyone for their thoughts.  For the next 30 minutes everyone was engaged and part of a community experience.

I think the students really enjoyed and appreciated having a voice in what happens in our classroom, and I think both myself and the students gained a lot from the discussion. I now have a better feeling for the students’ point of view and have some new great ideas, while the students have a better understanding of my philosophy and where I’m coming from.  Key topics that were raised include:

  • Students want more example is problems done for them
  • Some students think there could be homework checks
  • Many students think they are solely responsible for homework
  • While starting new topics, it was suggested that I should explicitly link parts of our notes to specific learning objectives (great idea)
  • Some students appreciate being given a chance to solve problems before I do the question
  • No one likes the problems in the textbook, and they don’t like carrying the textbook
  • Some students would like more practice questions and I explained that I’m slowly building up my stack of questions

In terms of my input, the following were the bits that I focused on:

  • I philosophically, with the support of research, oppose the idea of doing many example problems. This takes away from active learning and changes the learning into more of a process oriented, teacher-centered activity.
  • I don’t like going over problems when many (most) students haven’t attempted the problem yet – but I appreciate that I should attend to this more.
  • I don’t like the idea of classifying questions into “types” of problems. In my opinion, this reduces the problems to formulaic solutions. The goal is learn about physics, not learn to follow a process for solving word problems
  • A few students identified how they like to try and work through problems with their classmates, and I tied this to the polling / peer instruction that we do, and why it is important

I think our group discussion not was very worthwhile, and it was interesting that almost every student had something to say.  I’ll make a few minor changes to what happens in class, and now that I know some of the students’ concerns I can hopefully be a bit preemptive to problems they may have.