Modeling Workshop: Behind the Curtain

I’ve been using modeling instructional methods for the past five years in my physics classes. My first experience was in a one-day teaser workshop, which I followed up with the full first year mechanics workshop. A few years later, I returned for the second year advanced workshop which focuses on teaching you how to take the modeling framework and use it to develop your own materials. Now, two years after that, I’m back again, only this time, I’m co-leading a mechanics workshop in Columbus, OH.

The idea of introducing a room full of my colleagues to modeling instruction and teaching them how to use it in their classrooms is intimidating and exciting at the same time. Tomorrow is the first day of the workshop and it primarily involves introductions, the distribution of materials and paperwork, but we may have time to start on the ball bounce intro lab. Our plan for the next three weeks looks something like this:

  • Intro Modeling Units (Ball Bounce and Pendulum)
  • Constant Velocity Model (Buggy Investigation and Game of Chicken)
  • Constant Acceleration Model (Cart on Ramp and Police Chase)
  • Balanced Force Model (Hover Disk, Modified Atwood Machine and Force Table)
  • Unbalanced Force Model (Wiggling Force Detector, Modified Atwood Machine and Atwood Machine)
  • Energy Transfer Model (Kelly’s Intro to Energy and Energy Transfer Lab)
  • All pretty standard, but that’s because it’s all great stuff and it works to introduce new folks to how their classrooms will change.

    One of the great things about modeling workshops is the distinction between student mode and teacher mode. For much of their time here, we ask the participants to work in student mode, acting as if they were students in a physics class, making mistakes and asking questions that they think their own kids will in the fall. We, the facilitators, use this to show how to navigate the issues raised by students (including pushback). By going through this themselves, the participants see how to transform their students from passive sponges to active participants in their own learning. We give plenty of time for teacher mode though, in which the participants reflect on the experience and how it will need to be modified for their own classroom setting. The three weeks we spend together here can be intense, but I’m hoping that each of the teachers, who have chosen to give up part of their summer for this experience, finds it rewarding and transformative.

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    2 comments

    1. I don’t know about “wiggling force detector” or “game of chicken”, and I’d love to know more if you have the chance to elaborate, or know a link to where someone else describes it!

      1. “Game of chicken” is just my name for the constant velocity lab using two different speed buggies. Students place them at opposite ends of the track and predict where they collide.

        The “wiggling force detector” is new to me as well. My co-leader uses it for Newton’s 2nd Law instead of the modified Atwood machine that is described in the modeling material. I’ll be sure to write up a bit about each.

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