21 May 2009

What should the goals of my class be?

Should I be preparing students for college physics? Or should I be preparing them just for a comprehensive final exam (an AP test)?  The following is a response I gave to a student who was "irritated at the lack of new material" covered in the class (this is a second semester high school physics class) and possibly disappointed in the lack of calculus teaching I did. Little does he know that Calculus IS a prerequisite. The test was much more calculus heavy this year than in previous years (according to the scuttlebutt on the physics teacher forums).  So without further adieu, here is my response to this student(s):

I appreciate the obvious thought you put into composing the comments which will count as your final exam for AP Physics II.  First, I would like for you to look at the title of the course. Should it be challenging? Should you have to put in hours and hours of practice and study to be successful in the course? Were you at a distinct disadvantage by missing 90% of the lecture due to the fact that you were not actually attending the class? Was that compounded by the fact that you sat through all of my lecture to Physics I again? Could that be what caused you to feel that "While the basic concepts are extremely effectively conveyed, they were somewhat lacking after the basic level"? Would it be possible that since you got a double helping of the basics, while being required to go beyond into more basics, you felt slighted by my lack of explanation "thoroughly in depth toward the end of the class"?

I am disheartened that you feel I didn't follow through on my end of the bargain to help you be successful in Physics II (if you measure success in your understanding of the concepts covered). It seems that you and I discussed what would be required for you to be successful before you ever enrolled in your sports class instead of attending Physics II. I believe we discussed EXTRA study time, coming in for EXTRA face time during tutoring, and me extending my Facebook policy to include those of you in my class for EXTRA help through Facebook chat or messaging. I ask, which of those did I not do? Which of those did you not do? How often did you ask for extra help OUTSIDE of class? I can only think of one time in which you came for tutoring. There may have also been one time you came in early or stayed late for EXTRA help.

I appreciate that you and "many a student within the Physics II C (mechanics) class were extremely irritated by the high amount of review, and low amount of new content, citing an extreme lack of in-depth, thorough explanations of the mathematics required to solve the problems past conceptual applications.  Many students have brainstormed ideas as solutions for the problems that surface in the class, ranging from simple solutions such as asking the teacher". Why then did no one ask? Could it be that many a student in the class cared more about what was going on outside of class and expected to "get it all" within the very short hour and a half we are able to spend together? If you all were irritated at the high amount of review, maybe I did my job too well last year? (please forgive that, I was a new teacher)  I believe we covered all of last year in the first nine weeks of this year (par for the course based on the syllabus schedule). So everyone was irritated at that? Maybe we should go back and review test scores over that first nine weeks. If everyone was irritated at the lack of new material then they should have made an "A" because they already knew it. I don't recall everyone being THAT successful, but maybe my memory fails me. I guess I should look back at the gradebook. *pulls up first nine weeks scores*  No. My memory does not fail me. The class average of all 6 tests we took during the first nine weeks was a 78.8% with a high of 86 and a low of 67 for the class averages. Hmmm that doesn't sound like our high school's best students reviewing what they did last year. It sounds like our high school's best students blowing off time meant to study by thinking they aren't learning anything new and then brainstorming about it! It might also indicate a teacher who expects students to think a bit more and dig a bit deeper within the "basics that are required to understand more advanced" concepts.

Just to be clear, other than String Theory and my brief mention of quantum mechanics and a brief mention of relativity, we have never done anything other than the basics in Physics I. You are correct in thinking that you must have an understanding of the basics to be able to grasp more advanced concepts. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the basics. There is a whole semester of basics yet to cover. It's called AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism.  What you got in my class was a true glimpse of college physics. Contrary to what the college coordinator will tell you, my class is NOT designed to take the place of College Physics. It is designed to prepare you for college physics.  Let's think back to Monday, when last year's Physics II students visited to talk about their experience this year..."you guys shouldn't worry about physics, this class has prepared you well" is one quote off the top of my head.  Let's look at the data...of last year's students who took college physics (7 total) 6 made an "A" in college physics and 1 made a "B".  I'd say just from looking at the data that this class is accomplishing its goal.

All of this to say, if "many a student" had frustrations and lack of understanding, why did no one speak up? Why brainstorm together instead of brainstorming with the one person who could change the direction of the class (the teacher)?  Learn a lesson now...if you have questions, don't ask another student! Ask the teacher/professor! They know more about the subject than anyone else in the class.  If there is a student who knows more about the subject than the teacher, drop the class. The teacher is not doing their job.  If you feel I didn't fulfill my part of our contract, I apologize deeply for that. It was not my intent. I did my best to adequately prepare you for a test which is designed to validate your knowledge (or lack of) of a particular subject. I worked toward a goal BASED ON MY PAST EXPERIENCE of the AP tests.  Many people felt that the test was calculus heavy when compared to previous years. I can only imagine since I have so little experience.  Another quote by a previous Physics II student "we didn't even use calculus this entire semester". So I ask you, should I prepare you for one test? Or should I prepare you for a semester of college physics?

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this post.