Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Physics Teacher's Formula for Increasing Student Learning

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices
By Buffy Sexton

A few of my TLN colleagues and I were recently discussing the X PRIZE Foundation and that its next challenge—and prize—will be focused on education. As we brainstormed ideas for challenges and prizes, I couldn’t help but wonder how an external prize can be created when, in reality, our students’ education is the prize. Better yet, growth in their learning is the prize. And even better than that, our students’ ability to increase their own learning is the prize. Now there’s a challenge.

What could that kind of challenge look like? Let me turn up my imagination for a bit. . . .

Okay, physics teacher stepping in here. Let’s say that knowledge gained can only travel in the positive direction (that whole “never forget how to ride a bike” thingy), just like distance traveled. We need a unit of measure, so let’s use grade level, or gl. I will assign knowledge the variable k. Let’s also say that we will use the Greek letter ∆ (delta) to represent the amount of change in k. We can then use this formula for the amount of change in k: ∆k(gl)=kfgl-kigl, where f stands for final and i stands for initial.

Alright, looking good. But we need to know how much time passed for this ∆k. We’ll use ∆t, which just happens to stand for change in time. And, let’s use a school year, or y, as the unit of measure.

Let’s review:

Symbol
Meaning
k
knowledge
∆k
Change in knowledge

gl
The unit of measure for ∆k. (a grade level)

∆t
The time interval used to reach that ∆k. Measured in school years.

We are rollin’ now! So the challenge: at minimum, we want to get students to a ∆k of 1gl/1y. Ah, but we know it has to be student-driven ∆k. So, how do we get them to want to increase their ∆k?

Research has shown (that would just be my nine years of teaching) that while some, if not most, students do want to increase ∆k, not all students seem to care enough to try/stay on task/come to school on a regular basis/____________________. You can fill in the blank with the issue of your choice.

So what are concerned, exhausted, at-their-wits'-end educators to do?

Here are my humble thoughts:
  • Embrace the Common Core standards (or, for my state, the Kentucky Core Academic Standards). They let us know what students should know and be able to do at the end of a given grade level. Will the first year of implementation be messy? Yes. Easy? No. There are a million if’s, and’s or but’s out there surrounding the Common Core. Transfer that resistive energy to kinetic energy. For science, the Common Core outlines what good science teachers already do.
  • Stop fighting the things that already keep our students on task (albeit tasks they want to do). By this I mean their technology. Smart phones. iPads. Tablets. iPods. Xbox. Wii. We have been so busy trying to make sure students aren’t texting during class that we’re losing the chance to use the same equipment to keep them on task.
  • Here’s the scariest one—yes, worse than cell phones in the room! Give, put, place, or throw the responsibility for learning on the student. Yes, I said it. Don’t stand and deliver. Watch and facilitate. Get on the sidelines and coach. Get out of the game and let them play to learn.
Give students appropriate tools, guidelines, and scaffolds. Turn up your imagination for a minute. What could this look like in your classroom? Picture, if you will—Twilight Zone, just go with it—a normal classroom on a normal day like any other. Only the desks aren’t desks. They are round tables. The students aren’t sitting, taking notes from a teacher standing in the front of the room. Some students are taking notes from a real text book. Some are taking notes on iPads. Some are conducting a lab. Some are filming said lab. Some are conducting online simulations of the lab.

Look, there’s a kiddo watching the video of the lesson he missed yesterday. Watch him. Stop. Rewind. Play. Stop. Rewind. Play. Stop. Write. See here? Here’s the teacher. Cruising around the room. Stopping to encourage her. To push him. To question her. To answer his question with a question. Each student has her own learning target. And each student is giving individual evidence of ∆k. How much of an increase in ∆k will students push themselves toward?

This isn’t the Twilight Zone. It’s the new educational landscape: student-driven learning. Will this be messy at first? Probably. Easy? Could be. Let’s see what kind of challenge the students design.

A physics teacher provides a working formula to increase and improve student achievement best practices.

Buffy Sexton teaches science at Meyzeek Middle School in Jefferson County, Kentucky. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and a member of CTQ’s Implementing Common Core Standards team.

1 comment:

  1. Physics is most fundamental of all sciences and provides other branches of science, basic principles and fundamental laws. The study of physics involves investigating such things as the laws of motion, structure of space and time, the nature and type of force that hold different materials together, the interaction between different particles.

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