Matter & Interactions II, Week 4

This week was entirely flipped in that class time was devoted to letting students do whatever they needed to do to practice with the material in chapters 13 and 14.

Until now, no one has touched the WebAssign problem sets or much programming. In an administrative environment where “teaching” is defined as lecturing from a textbook and “learning” is defined as “taking notes and working reams of repetitive problems” I feel tremendous guilt at letting student try to learn at their own pace and for using precious class time for such individual efforts. I feel so guilty about it, in fact, that I sometimes consider it borderline incompetence on my part.

However, there is an upside. When students begin to ask, out loud, questions like

  • “So what is vector r?”
  • “How do I calculate a dipole’s field?”
  • “How do we get r cubed in the demoninator?”
  • “How do I estimate the amount of charge on a piece of tape?”
  • “What does epsilon_zero stand for?”
  • “How would I code this in VPython?”

then I know that the time is well spent because most of the students are actually engaging for the very first time, which is what learning is all about. They’re finally asking the questions that should arise while they read the corresponding textbook chapters. This helps me pinpoint where they have not yet gained understanding, where the need to go from here, and most importantly…where they are right now. That last thing is a perpetual problem in my environment becuase with very few exceptions, students lack motivation and expect ME to do most of the motivating and drag them along as we progress. I am trying very hard…sometimes I think not hard enough and sometimes I think too hard…to put that onus on them. These are questions that should have been raised and addressed over the past two or three weeks.

So despite my guilt, I think there is really good justification for using class time like this. The downside is that it’s probably frowned upon in the stuffy, old fashioned, traditional, ineffective models that still exist at many institutions and, probably, in too many community colleges across the country. I hope I’m wrong.

Feedback welcome.

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