Honors Physics Reflection

I previously shared my end-of-semester reflection for my regular physics class. I wanted to do the same for my honors physics class which is significantly different from my regular physics class. We do not use Modeling Instruction, and it is a fast-paced, problem-solving focused, class. It is basically an AP Physics B class that covers all topics except for fluid mechanics, thermal physics, atomic physics and quantum effects, and nuclear physics. We actually cover some topics beyond the scope of the AP Physics B curriculum. That said, it does have many progressive elements. We are now in our third year of standards-based assessment and reporting. There are no points as it is a mastery-based system. Many labs are not scored but serve as discovery labs through guided inquiry. We leverage some aspects of Modeling Instruction such as whiteboarding and socratic dialog.

We move through units at a very fast pace. In the fall semester, we covered Giancoli Chapters 1-7 and 9. While the curriculum is “a mile wide,” it isn’t “an inch deep.” The mastery system requires our students to develop a significant understanding of these topics. That said, multiple representations are noticeably lacking. I’m always surprised when I see that graphical representations for kinematics is an optional section in Giancoli (but not in the class).

Since implementing SBAR, I’ve been pleased with the learning that occurs in honors physics despite its more traditional elements. To check if I’m completely misleading myself, I administer the FCI at the beginning and end of the fall semester. This year’s gain was 0.58 which was just a tad lower than the gain of 0.60 the previous two years.

My reflection regarding honors physics this fall has been focused on why the structure of the class seems to be working. Should I be satisfied with the degree to which students are replacing and refining their preconceptions about mechanics? Would I see a deeper level of understanding if I moved to Modeling Instruction? At what cost?

While musing on these questions, I thought back to my own experience in high school and college. As best I can recall, I learned physics in mostly traditional classrooms. How was it that I developed a decent understanding without many misconceptions in these environments?

The conclusion that I have arrived at is that I perform a mini-modeling discourse and modeling building with myself as I listen to a lecture or practice solving problems. I have an ongoing commentary in my head where I’m asking myself questions that connect one idea to the next, finding patterns, building models, testing models, refining models. I never was, and still am not, good at memorizing stuff; so, I had to construct and derive solutions on the fly.

I appreciate that not all of my students in honors physics do this, but I believe that many do. Whenever I hear that students cannot learn from lecture, I wince a bit since I believe that some students can. I think that those that can intrinsically do what many progressive pedagogies do explicitly with the entire class.

I don’t think that the current structure of honors physics is perfect by any means. While we are going to make some minor SBAR-related changes this semester (post coming soon), I don’t anticipate any major changes next year. Instead, I’m going to focus my efforts on preparing for a new AP Physics B class that I will be teaching. Furthermore, before I make any significant changes to honors physics, I want to see the new AP Physics B curriculum. I have a feeling that it will require significant changes to honors physics if not replace the course entirely. That will provide an opportunity to reassess all of these ideas.

If you think I’ve missed something major in my analysis, please don’t hesitate to call it out. Likewise, if you’ve come to a similar conclusion, I’d appreciate the reinforcement.

2 thoughts on “Honors Physics Reflection

  1. Matt

    I’m a first year modeler, and in addition to switching up my “regular” class I made the choice to convert my B class over to C mechanics while switching it up to a more modeling friendly format. I had similar Gains (hovering around 0.6 for the past few years) with my B kids, but I loathed the pace with which we encountered the material. I will be very surprised if I see any change in that Gain score, it might even go down. The benefits to the modeling structure, and the reasons I made the switch, were the emphasis on Nature of Science and a related desire to get away from dead white guy science. Part way through a year of it, I’m not married to the idea of doing AP with modeling, but it has definitely been an enjoyable experience.


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