Things I meant do well this year

… but I didn’t.

I have explanations, but no excuses. It was my first year in a new school, new culture and new curriculum. I had to give “transfer tasks” which were really just glorified projects with really crappy rubrics. Science Fair. Let me say that again: Mandatory Science Fair.

In any event, as this year draws to a close there are some things that I realize I should have taught, but I didn’t. I’m going to record them here so I can be sure to work on them wherever I end up next year.

1. Reading. Careful, Active, thorough, sense-making reading. I realized way too late in the year that my students were not actually reading the entire problem. It was very apparent when I asked a student to read a problem aloud, and they skipped entire sections of the text. I asked them to read it again, and again they skipped over the same section of text. We’re not talking paragraphs here, I mean all of the words after a comma in a sentence.
After I realized this, I explicitly taught a process where students read the problem 3 times, each time looking for different information to underline. That helped, but I really should have been teaching the reading process I have on this very blog from the beginning of the year!

2. Group work norms & team building. Yeah, rookie mistake. I didn’t spend time on classroom norms at the beginning of the year. I’m paying for that in spades now. There are several times where I would like to point to a poster in the room, and say “are you behaving according the classroom norms that you decided at the beginning of the year?” And groupwork, that is a huge issue. It turns out that physics was one of the few classes where students were required to work in groups all the time, and some of my students are real snooty. They are downright rude to their classmates, through verbal and non-verbal snubs. I pull individuals out to have a chat, but it’s hard to force someone to acknowledge and discuss with their group mates. Groupwork norms would help a ton – along with an icebreaker each time we form new groups.

3. Discussion prompts. I’ve actually created an assignment (as a way to bring up horrible midterm exam grades) where the students write a dialog between two students in the style of Physics By Inquiry or Derek Muller‘s presenting common misconceptions before correct explanations.  I plan on using the best of these throughout the next year as the basis for a class discussion.

4.  Use Minds on Physics from the beginning.  If you haven’t looked at this already, check out and their online Minds on Physics quizzes.  This year we got our school to foot the bill for a yearly subscription.  In the future I will gladly drop the bones out of my own pocket, because they helped provide solid conceptual practice.


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