Set standards ahead of time

For several courses now I’ve been letting the students weigh in on what the standard for each day should be at the end of the class period. Here’s my post about it. Usually this entails a debate among “I can calculate …”, “I can derive …”, “I can use Mathematica to …”, and “I can discuss the foundations of, usefulness of, and ramifications of …” However, for this semester’s general physics 2 I’ve decided not to do that and to instead set them all myself before the beginning of the semester.

I really like letting the students weigh in, and to really debate those choices in the previous paragraph. It works really well in an upper division course when there can be some great debate over what’s interesting. In such a course we spend the day grappling with weird/deep ideas, and we end the class recognizing that we’ve only used broad strokes in class and that the details will come from further resources (the text, my screencasts, etc). The students have taken a bunch of physics courses so they get the subtleties involved in when they should study a derivation vs studying applications.

However, I don’t think this works as well in an intro course. Physics majors are a minority in my general physics 2 course, with the majority being students who really feel like they’re supposed to learn calculations and applications. I don’t actually fully agree with this, but it’s what they think they should do and so that’s what they always vote on at the end of each class period.

What’s even worse, though, is that we’ll spend the day doing the broad strokes and students will vote that the standard should only cover those. I get a lot less of that in the advanced courses, but I found myself quite frustrated with that last year in this intro course.

I don’t think setting up the standards ahead of time is really that bad, even in the advanced courses. I think I’ll do it for intro and play it by ear in the advanced courses as I move forward. One really nice thing about doing it ahead of time is that the day spent in class is very focussed. The students know what they’re going to be assessed on so they can help nominate further resources that they think they’ll need.

Thoughts? Here’s some starters for you:

  • I’m going to be in this class and I think this is a cool idea. Here’s why . . .
  • I’m going to be in this class and I think this is a dumb idea. Here’s why . . .
  • What are some examples of standards that made you frustrated in the past?
  • How has this worked in your non-science-major courses?
  • If you set all the standards up ahead of time, what happens if you fall behind?
  • I think having intro students doing derivations is a waste of time. I hope you don’t ask them to do any for your standards.
  • I think having students do derivations is the only important thing. I hope that’s all you ask them to do.
  • All students should be in the class because they love physics. If they don’t you should force them out.

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
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