Very Large Contexts _VLCs_

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					Very Large Contexts (VLCs)

           By David Weaver
       Chandler-Gilbert Community
            College (CGCC)
      Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa AZ

124th AAPT Meeting
            Caveat Emptor
 I’m going to talk very fast and leave no time
  for questions (on purpose!)
 This presentation will soon be available on
  my school website (
 Also available at Curt Hieggelke and Tom
  O’Kuma’ TYC site (
 All of my curricular materials are/will be
  available at those sites
 I offer the following with extreme humility,
  recognizing that many of you have far more
  knowledge and experience than I…
Embarked on (yet another) New! And
 Improved!!! way of teaching physics in which
 I eschewed topics and embraced contexts

     How I got here

     What I did

     Where I go next
The Holy Grail
I want every student to be totally engaged in
   learning practical physics at all times in each
   of my courses.

   “Did” a PRISMS workshop in ‘92

   Began attending Winter AAPT meetings in ‘93

   Met Curt and Tom in ‘94

   Been suffering from both the agony and the
    ecstasy ever since…
It’s the journey, not the
My grail is not attainable, but the goal of having
 every student to be totally engaged in
 learning practical physics at all times in each
 of my courses is worth pursuing.

In the last decade I’ve used portions of:

   PRISMS, ALPS, CE/OCS, Workshop Physics,
    ActivPhysics I&I, JiTT, Modeling methods, and
    Physics In Context (PIC) as instructional strategies
    as well as many tools such as MBL, CBL,
    Interactive Physics, Video Analysis, and Physlets
…things’ve been improving
Saw steady increases in FCIs and
  student/teacher attitudes improve,
 No single PER approach/tool set completely
  resonated with me

   Frankenstein-ing multiple approaches caused
    cognitive dissonance (at least with me)

   We have SO many topics to cover

   I’m not sure what “practical physics” means…
Enter the PIC workshop in
Dayton, OH (11/00)
Another Tom and Curt Boot Camp that saw us
  build digital control circuits (DCU) and explore
  teaching within contexts rather than topics.

   Introduced the DCU to my 2nd semester
    course the next semester (Spring ’01)

   Tried a context in the 1st semester course as

   However, 1/3 context oriented and the rest
    topic oriented didn’t get me to the grail…
Summer Curriculum
Development Project
The TYC-21C project provided summer
  curriculum development support to construct
  six VLCs for use in a two-semester
  algebra/trig based course sequence.

 PHY   111
   Mousetrap   Powered Egg Delivery Vehicle
   We Be Chillin’ (WBC)

   Play   That Funky Music (PTFM)
Summer Curriculum
Development Project (cont.)

 PHY   112

  Play   That Funky Music Right (PTFMR)

  You    Light Up My Life (YLUML)

  Calling   Art Bell (CAB)
PHY 111 MPEDV Topics
Build a Mousetrap Powered Egg Delivery
   Vehicle that will carry a raw chicken egg off
   a ramp, land and come to a stop without
   cracking the egg.
 Mechanics
     Displacement, velocity, and acceleration
     Motion in a plane
     Forces and momentum
     Work and energy
     Rotational motion
     Mechanical properties of matter
     Gravity
PHY 111 WBC Topics
Build a cooling system that will lower the
 temperature within Styrofoam cooler at
 least 5o C below ambient temperature.
Fluids               Heat
  Pressure             Temperature

  Viscosity            Internal   energy and heat
  Fluid   statics      Change     of state
  Fluid   dynamics     Thermal    properties of matter
PHY 111 PTFM Topics
Build a stringed instrument capable of
 playing a full octave from A4 (440 Hz) to
 A5 (880 Hz).

 Waves   and Sound
   Harmonic motion
   Mechanical waves
   Sound waves
PHY 112 PTFMR Topics
Build an 8 W speaker system capable of a flat
  (?!) response for 100-10 kHz.
 Electricity
       Electric charge
       Electric field
       Electric current
   Magnetism
       Magnetic fields
       Electromagnetic induction
       Capacitance and inductance
       Alternating current
       Electromagnetic waves
PHY 112 YLUML Topics
Build a stage lighting system that involves
 one (or more) of the following:
  Effect Lighting, LASER, Intelligent Lighting

 Optics
   Geometrical     optics
   Wave   optics
PHY 112 CAB Topics
Design a means to travel to a planet orbiting
 Alpha Centauri A and return within one
 generation. They need not build the system
 to get full credit (but I’d give them extra
 credit if they did!)

   Twentieth-Century physics
       Quantum mechanics
       Relativity
       Atomic and nuclear physics
General Course Structure
 16 week semester
 Dedicated ~5 weeks to each context
 Met 2x week for 2:45 (Integrated Lec/Lab)
 Class limited to 24 (or 27!)
 Most students are ASUE students:
       Technology
       Aviation (Pilot as well as management)
       Agribusiness (Pre-Vet)
 Worked in teams of 3-5
 Tuesdays for tool development (I guide)
 Thursdays for project work (they guide)
Other course elements
 No lectures (15 minute rule)
 Gave minimal directions as to how to proceed
 No written tests
 At the end of each 5 weeks, students:
       Demonstrated project (group)
       Gave PowerPoint presentation (group)
       Submitted written report (group->individual)
       Submitted their notebook (individual)
       Had a 15 minute private interview with me
   Grades based on notebook, self/peer
    evaluations and attendance
Let’s look at a week in detail
   On 2 subsequent Tuesdays we did:
       Graph matching with motion detector
       Translating between
            English descriptions of motion
            Motion Diagrams
            P vs. t, V vs. t, and A vs. t graphs
 On Thursdays, students attempted to use
  MBL to collect data for their MPEDV to build
  graphical and mathematical models of their
  vehicle’s motion
 In this case, Tuesday and Thursday activities
  were explicitly linked (often weren’t)
More detail
 We did similar lab-type activities with
  thermodynamics, sound, static electricity
  (sticky tape), electric current (CASTLE),
  optics, and atomic/nuclear physics.
 The connections between the Tuesday
  activities and the Thursday project work were
  not generally very explicit
 Walked fine line twixt providing some
  direction to underlying physics and giving
  virtually no guidance on project design itself.
 They needed to decide what to teach
 All submissions were deemed (by me) either
  acceptable or not
 If not acceptable, reworked until acceptable
 All students had to submit acceptable work
  for all basic requirements to pass with “C”
 In addition, “B” and “A” students needed to
  complete additional (acceptable) work as well
  as being held to higher attendance and
  participation standards
 This format allowed me to assign grades on
  quantity of work rather than quality
 Students tricked: no tests/homework=easy?
How did we do?
  FCI – no statistically significant gain
 E&M – ditto
I maintain (rationalize) that the lack of
   measurable growth on the concepts
   inventories is due to the fact that we spent 5
   weeks total on the whole of Mechanics (same
   with E&M).
In addition, the students had to:
   build the projects, prepare a PowerPoint
   presentation, a technical report, and their
   notebooks as well as teach themselves and
   each other most of the relevant physics.
How did we do?
In a recent workshop, Alan Van Heuvelen
   shared the results of 4 surveys and reports
   that identified and ranked important skills
   needed/used by those outside academe.
Problem solving, team work, technical
   communication, system/experimental
   design/analysis ranked high, physics
   concepts and most of the rest of what I used
   to do were ranked low.
I need to find out how to better assess the
   important stuff, but here is some (positive)
   student feedback from last semester.
          How did we do?
        (student comments)
 Enjoyed format, a lot of work and liked the
  time to work at own pace and according to
  own needs
 I liked this class and think i learned more in
  this sort of class than i would in a normally
  structured class
 This is definitely a much better approach to
  learning than reading a textbook and
  answering questions on a test.
          How did we do?
        (student comments)

 I like the course set-up, it is a relaxed
  atmosphere.keep doing what you are doing, it
  gives the hope of students like myself who
  have low self esteem in science!
 You are an instructor that I will remember and
  one that has taught me well. I will recommend
  you to others even if they don't need physics.
  You have succeeded......
         How did we do?
       (student comments)
Dave, I just want to thank you for a great
 semester. Your class was the highlight
 of the semester in a bunch of boring
 lecture classes. I could always look
 forward to the tue. thur. afternoon when
 I could get with a group of great people
 and learn about a useful and very
 entertaining class and subject. (cont.)
         How did we do?
       (student comments)
I only wish every teacher could take the
   path you have started here with this
   great new style. The new style I feel has
   prepared me for a job or the "real world"
   so much better than a lecture lab set up
   would have.

Well, I hope you keep up the great work
 and continue to enrich students lives as
 you have enriched and touched mine
 through this one class.
            How did we do?
          (student comments)
   Student comments were NOT all positive:

    I did not learn as much physics as I thought I would
       during this project because during the course of
       the project my group and I were more focused on
       design of the project and how it would perform
       rather on how it would work

    I thought that we were left to fend for ourselves
       without really ideas or input from the instructor on
       what to do.
           How did we do?
         (student comments)
I didn't learn a whole lot of new ideas or
   concepts I didn't like all the time spent in
   class. I didn't like not having any tests

I did not like the fact that we had to basically
   teach ourselves many of the required topics
   in this course.

Sometimes I felt like research was limited. -
  There were frustrating times when trying to
  meet deadlines. -Sometimes I felt like we
  were to do the impossible.
What will I change? PHY 111
 Replace MPEDV with mechanical egg
  launcher (ala` Junkyard Wars)
 Replace PTFM with any sort of musical
  instrument capable of playing a specific
  octave (Middle C up). However, no
  cannibalization of existing musical
  instruments for parts is allowed.
 Require much more rigorous physics models
  for each project
 Make sure (during interviews) that notebooks
  reflect real understanding and not just good
What will I change? PHY 112
 Replace PTFMR (speaker) with
  building/analysis of Soccer Robot kit
 Replace YLUML with design/building a BEAM
  Solar Roller. Made entirely (?!) from
  cannibalized electronics parts of old
  Walkman, etc.
 Require much more rigorous physics models
  for each project
 Make sure (during interviews) that notebooks
  reflect real understanding and not just good
Additional Resources
   This presentation, all of the VLC materials I
    developed this summer, all of the student
    comments from each of the 6 projects during
    fall ’01, and all of the updated curricular
    materials for this semester (so far) are
    available at:
       My school website ( and
       Curt Hieggelke and tom O’Kuma’ TYC site

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