Modeling Workshop Year 2

The second year modeling workshop has been over for three days now. I’m rested, catching up on yard work and getting ready for the next trip. So, did I learn anything useful? Was it worth it? Would I recommend it to others? Yes, yes and absolutely.

Did I learn anything useful? – I learned a lot during this workshop. First, the more focused on your field/passions/interests that your professional development is, the more useful and meaningful it will be to you. While I can appreciate the big, whole-school, day-long workshops, it’s difficult to address the concerns of a primary music teacher, middle school math teacher and upper school Spanish teacher all at the same time. If you can manage it, get your school to devote some of its PD dollars and meeting times to targeting specific groups (e.g. grade level, subject, tech).

More specifically on the modeling front, I learned how to unshackle myself from the Big Red Binder (aka the 1st year modeling curriculum from ASU). The first year sets participants up with a wide array of units of study, including labs, teacher notes and assessments. But after you’ve used modeling for a while, you want to go beyond that initial curriculum. My AP Physics C class hasn’t been where I wanted it to be, and part of the reason is because I didn’t know how to create my own modeling unit for the topics we were studying. The 2nd Year workshop helped me to understand the nature of the modeling cycle and the narrative flow that carries the class from development of the model to deployment in a variety of ways. Constructing our own unit, as well as being students for the five other groups in the workshop, showed me the many forms that modeling can take while still maintaining the same important structure.

Was it worth it? –  Hells yes! Spending three weeks working intensely with colleagues that care enough to give up three weeks of their own summer just to be better at their job is pretty rewarding. When is the last time you participated in a PD opportunity where everyone wanted to be there? And, when you made that nerdy physics pun, everyone got it and laughed? And to see what these people created and to get their feedback on your own work was an opportunity not to be missed. But rather than speak in generalities, let me show you what everyone did:

Rotation (My group)

Circuits

Forces (for 9th grade physical science)

Measurement (for 8th grade physical science)

Acids & Bases

Equilibrium

Or if you want them all, here’s a link to the entire collection.

Feel free to peruse the files, use what you want and modify what you can. Everyone was happy to share their work and some folks even included contact info in case future users had questions. (Update: I forgot to mention that these units have not been tested in a classroom yet, so please consider that when looking over them.)

While everything was great, I should be fair and discuss pitfalls in case someone reading this is thinking of attending the second year. The only bad part about the workshop is being away from home for three weeks. Okay, the unending stream of lunchmeat wasn’t the best either, but at least it was free. Since the workshop was held in central Ohio, it means that I had to stay in Columbus each week. Being away from your family and home that long can take its toll if you aren’t used to it. However, if you’re lucky enough to live close to a workshop then you’re only looking at a small commute. If you’ve done the first year though, you probably already know this.

Would I recommend it to others? – Anyone that has taken the first year workshop should absolutely take the second year. It will strengthen you as a modeler and give you an opportunity to get feedback on your work from other teachers who use modeling instruction. Make the time to attend.

If by chance, you just can’t get enough reading about modeling workshops, check out the running posts over at Salt the Oats from a 1st year participant. The level of detail in his posts is amazing.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks a lot for putting the time in for these posts. I’m a pre-service physics teacher and as I prepare for my own classroom this level of detailed reflection and resources are wonderful.

    How do students respond to this style of teaching? Modeling seems wonderful but I can see how a school’s culture, particularly those with a test prep/college prep focus, might provide some resistance to teachers.

    1. Tony,

      Thanks for taking the time to read them and comment. It’s been a lot of fun writing these past few weeks and I hope to keep that trend going.

      In the three years I’ve been teaching using modeling, my students typically have two initial reactions: high resistance or complete acceptance. Those that completely accept it have been yearning for a different way to experience science. If my former student nRT sees this, she can probably comment on that group. I think the other group resists because you’ve changed the rules of school and aren’t lecturing/providing notes. That’s a fair response. They don’t know what to expect and are suddenly worried about how they’ll do. I work hard to be supportive and explain why things are different (I’m pretty transparent with my students) and that despite it being difficult and confusing, they can do difficult things.

      Parents are often won over during our back-to-school night which is the first chance I’ve had to talk to them. Clearly explaining how your class is structured, why it’s different, what you value and want your students to value goes a long way. Let them know that you care about their child. And I’m very lucky to have the trust and support of my admins when it comes to deciding what is best for the physics curriculum at our school. I’m always open and forthright with them about the changes I want to make.

      As for standardized testing/test prep, I’m lucky that my juniors and seniors only intersect with that in regards to the SAT II Physics test and the AP C: Mechanics test. The AP is easily handled since we offer the class as a year-long course. The SAT II Physics is a thorn in my side that I’m openly displeased with. But, I’m working on developing supplemental instruction for those students that wish to take it as well as long term plans to restructure the physics sequence to support the covering of that material.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I figured, if I’m going to take notes for myself, might as well share. What you said it so true, it’s amazing being in a room with ~25 other physics teachers. I’m used to being the only physics teacher at my school. Just being about to share thoughts with people actually teaching the same subject as you makes the workshops worth it. Learning how to teach the subject you teach better, is icing on the cake.

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