Lost time

I’m taking a physics class over the summer.  It’s five weeks of monday – friday 9am – 4pm and largely unstructured.  We’re working through an inquiry curriculum at our own pace, or nearly our own pace.  We’re working either with a partner, or in groups of three.  I’ve been working with a toxic partner the entire time, and it’s definitely put a big damper on the experience.

Each section of the curriculum begins with a pre-test.  Throughout the sections, there are checkout points where you have a discussion with an instructor.

In the grand scheme of things, this is fantastic.  If you need more time to learn something, you take more time.  Easy learning means you can move as fast as your pen can write down the answers.

But if you come in with a large amount of physics knowledge, you still start off at square one in their curriculum.  Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.  So with the exception of a few scattered moments throughout the last 4 weeks, I’ve been bored out of my mind.  I find myself dragging out the parts where we run an experiment, simply because there is a bit more to think about with reducing experimental error.  Out of 20 pre-tests, there are only 2 where I was not confident in my answer.  One of those I was wrong.  The set-up is there, why can’t they actually look at the pre-tests, and use it to better choose a starting place?

It’s a shame to have everything in place for totally tailored instruction, and stop just short.

p.s.  No one, except the head instructor knows how our grades are calculated.  It does take the discussion of points and grubbing for A’s off the table, but it is also introducing a mild fear of the instructors.  Knowing that the grade won’t be lowered for personality conflicts would take a big edge off the stress of this class.

p.p.s.  As I am reading a book on project based learning, I am realizing that I have taken on a monumental task in trying to do project based learning correctly.


3 thoughts on “Lost time

  1. Hi hillby,

    Welcome to the blogosphere. Caught up on your blog and enjoying it so far. I found you via your excellent comment on Shawn’s blog re: averaging. Well said. Nothing really to add except to let you know I’m following. If you’re on twitter I’m @jybuell so say hi and introduce yourself to everyone. I guess I should add that it’d help if you either posted or put in the about something about what you teach. It helps provide a context if you ask questions. I’m guessing high school math and physics though.

    PS – If you figure out PBL, especially the just in time nature, BLOG THAT. It’s a constant and never ending source of frustration for me.

    • Thanks! And thanks for being the first commenter. I’m getting a bunch of help with the project-based learning, so hopefully I’ll be able to post most everything as I learn it. Right now I’m working my way through the Project Based Learning Handbook from Buck Institute for Education. I’ll put up a post once I’ve finished reading it.

  2. Oh yeah, I skimmed the binder I got from the library but didn’t take as much time as I would have liked. My primary issues seem to be with creating projects that demand learning new knowledge (the just in time aspect) rather than it just being an add-on (explain how so and so relates to what you just did).

    So for physics, good JIT examples might be those kinematics projects where you need to hit something (hit the teacher with a water balloon). That requires learning about projectile motion and forces in order to actually do it.

    The flip side would be projects where the knowledge isn’t actually required to do it. So in class we do water rockets. It’s “explain how Newton’s laws…” and “Calculate the force…” “Draw a free-body diagram” type of stuff. That knowledge isn’t required to make a good rocket or even to launch the rocket in the first place.

    I want more of #1 and less of #2.

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