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ToPPS Workshop Update, Teacher in Transition

July 23, 2011

Yesterday I finished up the ToPPS (Teachers of Physics and Physical Science) and AAPT/PTRA workshop on Kinematics and Dynamics.  I documented the workshop on this Google Site.  Other than being really tired and forgetting my luggage at the school (who does that?), it was a great experience.  It was a week full of investigating, exploring, experimenting, questioning, struggling, laughing, collaborating, and sweating (it was over 100 degrees F each day).

It’s interesting how easily teachers turn back into high school students.  And I am not referring to getting shot with a NERF gun.   (BTW, they missed.)  I mean how they react to certain assignments.  When the teacher-participants were given a low-structured challenge, they became truly inventive.  They didn’t feel constrained to their lab table.  Some went out in the hall and some even crawled on the floor to test their ideas.  I often found myself saying, “hey, that’s a cool idea,” or “I never thought of that.”

When given a scripted or canned or cookbook investigation (you know what I mean: multiple pages, white paper, black ink instructions and answer lines), I observed wrinkled foreheads, lowered eyebrows, and expressions of frustration.  I often got, “So what are we supposed to do?”  Even though what they were supposed to do was written on the paper, the paper itself made their minds numb.  We talked about this informally, but I wonder if they could sense the same thing from their “student” perspective.

All this is not really surprising, of course.  But, honestly, I am a creature of habit, and I still have a boat-load of the latter type of lab investigations.  Guilty.  But now when I make a lab handout it is usually one page and never more than two.  Sometimes none.  Dilbert’s boss was right in this regard: less is more.  My curriculum is in transition, and, it would seem, so am I.

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