Author Archives: integratedintention

Action Research Complete!

For the past year, three other physics teachers and I have been investigating how explicitly teaching an expert-like approach in problem solving affects students in a modeling based physics classroom. We presented our findings Friday July 20th at Arizona State University and our report is, at last, complete!

We didn’t find anything groundbreaking. Unlike many larger/more popular educational innovations, our conclusions are conservative. Although we believe what we did has the potential to be beneficial to some students, we don’t claim it’s a silver bullet. In fact, we found that for students who didn’t build a strong conceptual understanding in physics, our explicit emphasis on problem solving was not beneficial.

Few people will likely be interested in reading our entire paper (it’s quite long!), but some may be interested in selected parts. I’ve posted our paper, Effects of Emphasizing Intentional Problems Solving here.

Here is our abstract:

Students begin their education in physics as novice problems solvers. Instead of carefully defining a problem, using qualitative models, and planning a method of solution, students often immediately attempt to find the answer to the problem. The result of this lack of methodical approach is that students are not only unable to solve problems, they are unsure of even the basic steps that lead toward solutions. Previous research has shown that intentionally teaching expert-like strategies increases students’ problem solving ability. Other studies have found that Modeling Instruction improves students’ expert-like problem solving ability. This study was initiated to evaluate the impact on students’ problem solving skills through teaching explicit problem solving strategies in addition to Modeling Instruction. There was no conclusive evidence that the gains from the two methods were additive; however, this approach was reported to be beneficial by study participants. There was substantial evidence that without a solid conceptual understanding, expert-like problem solving ability was limited.

Standards Based Grading

I heard an interesting presentation/discussion from one of my classmates on standards based grading (SBG) today. I’ve heard people mention the term before, but I previously didn’t know what it meant in the classroom. The idea sounds fairly neat, although it also sounds like a lot of work. Essentially instead of grading students on points, students are assessed on targeted standards each unit. Unfortunately the devil is really in the details for SBG & it’s hard to explain those on a blog.

Right now, it doesn’t sounds like there are strong resources for modeling physics teachers and SBG. I think that will improve rapidly. For now though, I don’t think investing in SBG is time-effective.

Blogging with Research

Here is a short blog/article written by a modeler about 21st century learning & the workplace. One of the things Carmela does that I think is super important is cite research. I think 21st century learning needs to be research and data driven.

Summer Reading: Reinventing Project-Based Learning Part III

My final thought about Reinventing Project-Based Learning is that the book spent a little too much attention on exceptional projects. I actually would have preferred to read about average PBL instead of exceptional. Many of the projects referenced in the book were incredibly specific to the community. While I can see the value of eventually building a project like that, at first it seems more practical to do something a little more general. A few exceptional projects would have been great, but I also wanted examples of projects that failed – so I could learn from them.

There needs to be a book with specific instructions in designing projects, specific problems & specific solutions. I’m a firm believer in creativity and doing things differently. However, I also think you need to learn the rules before you break them.

Anyway, the book was decent overall….I’m just a big critic!

Summer Reading: Reinventing Project-Based Learning Part II

I liked the second half of this book slightly more than the first. It was a little more specific. One thing I was struck by while reading through the second half is how much PBL and modeling instruction have in common. For example, both emphasize asking good questions. Modeling recommends Socratic technique while PBL seems to advocate for complex, content-rich questions. Either way, the intention is to promote higher order thinking.

Another similarity between modeling and PBL is that both are extremely student centered. In both, teachers act as facilitators instead of sources of knowledge. In both, students are tasked with actively constructing meaning instead of passively consuming. Additionally both seem to sacrifice some breadth for richness and depth.

However there are some differences too. Especially for subjects like physics, chemistry, and math modeling offers one core methodology and curriculum instead of the seemly vast forest of resources for PBL. Both philosophies have advantages, but especially for the new modeler it’s nice to have access to a source of materials that are always high quality as with modeling. The other advantage of the core curriculum is that it is constantly being improved not just by a few physics teachers, but hundreds of physics teachers (I’ve even contributed a few small things). The more un-structured approach to curriculum materials for PBL does offer ton’s of variety though!

Summer Reading Thoughts: Reinventing Project-Based Learning

I’m about half-way through Reinventing Project Based Learning by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss. I’m not sure how I feel about it. The book is clearly well written, it’s probably more practical than most, and has some interesting interviews with teachers. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes & reactions so far:

“Teach Less, Learn More.”

-The Motto of the Ministry of Education in Singapore

Why don’t we follow proven educational leaders like Singapore and Finland?

“I’ll never go back….to the way I used to teach.”

This seems like a very persuasive argument in favor of investing in PBL. Modeling instruction in physics is similar – of all the teachers who learn/try modeling very few ever return to traditional instruction.

“Both teacher and students had to navigate news ways of working together as a the project unfolded, but it didn’t hurt that students saw their teacher trying new approaches and taking risks as a learner.”

Why do teachers always have to be right? I think it’s good for students to occasionally see teachers fail.

For a “field book” it’s still a little too theoretical for my tastes. One example is when Boss & Krauss talk about the importance of maximizing opportunity while minimizing risk. This is a well known strategy in everything from making money in stocks, winning football games, and successfully choosing a career. The hard part is knowing how to do it. Reinventing Project-Based Learning falls flat here – there is no actual advice about how to maximize opportunity while simultaneously minimizing risk for PBL.

When I first started reflecting on what to write in this post, my thoughts were almost all positive. Reinventing Project-Based Learning is certainly interesting enough. However, when I tried to think of the specific things I learned from this book, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete. In my opinion, that’s damning. I hope the second half is more specific!

Global Digital Citizenship: Elementary Physics Project Part I

I had a hard time coming up with an idea that incorporated global digital citizenship in a physics curriculum meaningfully. Ultimately I had my students work in small groups to plan and teach 20 minute lessons to small groups of lower school students. I had considered this idea initially, but was skeptical that it was practical. I owe a huge thanks to Roxanne Warner for putting all of the logistics together!

The planning stages of this project were very interesting. I wanted to ensure that my students were teaching meaningful physics vs. just playing with the elementary students. In that sprit, I let students know that a part of their grade would depend on the elementary students learning at least one thing from their lesson. They immediately bulked at this idea. What if their students didn’t pay attention or worse purposely sabotaged the lesson? As a teacher, it was great to see my students realize that teaching might not be as easy as they thought.

The lessons themselves were very successful – the elementary students loved them. It was fun to watch the elementary students experiment with and explain simple physics concepts. My students enjoyed the experience too. We used four class periods to complete the project  (two planning, one peer editing, and then the actual lessons), but I feel like it was time well spent. From a physics standpoint, my students were learning as they taught. I was also pleased when I heard my students say things like:


This [teaching] is hard.

You do this for five periods?



Global Digital Citizenship: Elementary Physics Project Part II

Global Digital Citizenship still feels like an abstract hodgepodge of all the other fluencies wrapped in one to me. The 21st century learning site even states:

All the 21st Century fluencies are learned within the context of the Digital Citizen, using the guiding principles of leadership, ethics, accountability, fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, global citizenship and personal responsibility.

As my students saw, teaching is almost the embodiment of this fluency. My novice-teachers solved problems, interpreted and manipulated information, thoughtfully used media, and worked collaboratively/creatively while planning and executing their lessons. Several of the guiding principles including leadership, ethics, global citizenship and personal responsibility were also key to our success. I especially like the fact that my students bought into the project as something “real.” I think it is very hard to encourage characteristics like personal responsibility or leadership in venues that seem artificial to students.

I was glad that this fluency was our last – I feel like it was great closure for our journey through 21st century fluencies this year!

Effective Tech for STEM

I learned about this pretty neat STEM technology resource today. Definitely worth checking out!

Problem Based Learning: A Manual?

As part of e21’s summer reading, I’d like to find a book about practically implementing project-based or problem based learning. Based on our trip to New Tech High, I’m already convinced that PBL could powerfully compliment what I currently do. The problem is that despite our trip to New Tech High, I don’t really know how to actually implement PBL.

I’d like to read a book containing specific instructions on implementing PBL. What are specific examples of PBL units? What are the purposes and methods of all the different components like the introductory paper, workshops etc. Perhaps most importantly, what are the common problems and practical solutions?

Anyone know of a book like this?