Day 17

9:02 A.M.

Block 2-5 (Physics 1,2)

Today is exam day, and I am testing students using the modeling curriculum exam (with modifications). They are apparently being tested on the “scientific method”

I have my doubts about high school curriculum that attempts to test students over the “scientific method” because my experience with the scientific method in graduate research in physics didn’t really line up with how things were done in high school.

I think a great summary of my sense that is much more hard-hitting is this TedEd Talk:

One of the things I like about the modeling approach is that students are able to formulate their own questions, make a mess, and organize their thoughts later.

Here is one of the exam questions:

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 10.03.22 AMWhat makes me really respect the modeling approach is that students could make up several experiments and these could all be valid.

In a traditional course the ONLY correct answer would be that students should try to determine what factors affect the period of the pendulum. Instead my students formulate the following goals


  • how does mass affect the speed of the swing?
  • how many times can i swing the mass back and forth before the rope breaks, if I change the rope length?
  • how many seconds does the rope take to complete a trip if I keep the mass the same but change the rope length?

I realize that I wanted students to simply state one goal that they could measure. I find this approach to physics allows me to see how students think as they get to their answer rather than demanding pat answers.

I am not saying that any answer is acceptable. For example one student wrote: “The goal of this experiment is to see how far the mass swings back and forth”.

I think what is happening with this approach to  physics is that students are able to formulate a question. What they learn from the instructor is how to make the language more rigorous and how to write up results in a way that can be universally understood and reproduced by others if they wish

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