Posts

Reading, LGBT+ Inclusivity, and Advice for Ireland

Students need to learn how to read science texts and we have a responsibility to teach them how to do that. In a recent paper, Patterson et al make this argument and present some approaches teachers could use, including examples such as activating prior knowledge before reading, supporting reflective reading, and post-reading discussions. It's an important point worth keeping in mind when we plan curricula for next year.

Two physics news stories have been in the headlines over the past week: clamour about Stephen Hawking's last paper, which was blown way out of proportion and isn't significant; and the re-start of the LHC for its final data run before a length upgrade process.

If you'll be in Washington, DC, USA this July (maybe for the AAPT summer meeting) consider attending the fantastic High School Physics Teachers Camp. And while you're at it, come to my AAPT workshop (with Kelly O'Shea) about grouped practical assessments the previous day!

The second edit…

36 Million Authors, 9th-Grade Students, and 3D Learning

The big news this week was a fantastic study that looked at gender representation in publications across the sciences. The authors guess the genders of 36 million authors over 15 years of publication records, using the arXiv for physics. There's also a neat data visualization app, but it doesn't include the physics data. The take-away message is that we have a lot of work to do.

There's a fantastic paper by Jessica Gottlieb in JRST that looks at STEM and STEMM (that's STEM + Medicine) career aspirations for 9th-grade students. The paper is chock-a-block with interesting findings, but here are two that stuck with me: First, student aspiration for a STEM career is positively correlated with science efficacy and achievement, but not interest. Second, the standard set of predictors (these, plus questions of cost and expectancy of success) do not seem to apply to black students, and only partially to Hispanic students.

Laverty and Callabero, in a new paper on PR:PER, ask a…

Cognitive Accessibility, Lab Validity, and Cultural Aspects

There is a fascinating new paper on PR:PER this week in which Heckler and Bogdan propose a model of student reasoning based on cognitive accessibility, or "what comes to mind" (as opposed to cognitive availability, the things a student knows). A key teaching take-away, I think, is the importance of presenting students with contexts in which there isn't a single obvious conclusion. Unlike many PER papers, I think this one does a really good job presenting pedagogical implications (in the introduction and discussion), so it's worth a look!

I've been thinking lately about the question of how we should teach students to address questions of validity in their lab courses. Fortunately, there's a great paper by Hu and Zwickl that tackles this exact topic. Based on the results of a survey, they found that introductory physics students tend to focus on whether their results agreed with theory or their peers, and pointed to experimental imperfections and "human e…

Screwdriver Magnets, Ursula Franklin, and Oceans of Truth

A new video by Derek Mueller and Steve Mould looks at a fascinating phenomenon involving a screwdriver and a magnet. It's a great head-scratcher, with a low floor and a high ceiling for student responses.

The April issue of the Canadian Journal of Physics honours Ursula Franklin, a prolific and influential German-Canadian physicist who passed away in 2016. The Festschrift articles are interesting and, while the research papers are currently paywalled, this blog post by Emily Marshman gives a readable discussion of some of the work on gender differences.

Eichenlaub and Redish have a preprint on the arXiv of a chapter in a forthcoming GIREP book. It's a close and thoughtful look at problem-solving, informed by the model of epistemic games. There is some reference to interviews with students, but the overall it is an insightful meditation on how students think when they work on physics problems.

There's a perennial question when designing curricula: how do I choose topics an…

Advocacy Thoughts, g vs d, and Polarization

After last weekend's March for Our Lives in the USA, I've been thinking about how we prepare students for the sort of active engagement that drives democracy. Rifkin (high school) and Daane (university) have been developing units that link physics with social justice. National-level organizations often have advocacy arms, and groups like the Society for Physics Students sometimes have programs that train students in advocacy. I feel like we could do more, and return to Dewey:
Knowledge is humanistic in quality ... because of what it does in liberating human intelligence and human sympathy. Any subject matter which accomplishes this result is humane, and any subject matter which does not accomplish it is not even educational (Democracy and Education, p 269) A new paper in PR:PER looks at two ways to analyze student results: the PER-standard normalized gain (g) and the education-preferred Cohen's d. They conclude that g is biased in favour of populations with higher pretest…

Dual-Process Theory, Diagrams, and AC/DC Transmission

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The dual-process theory of reasoning looks like a really effective way to understand student reasoning. It is described well on the second page of this new PR:PER paper by Gette, Kryjevskaia, Stetzer, and Heron, and the work also presents some illustrative examples and explores an implication of the theory. In short, when students encounter a problem they develop a "gut feeling" model, which is passed along to the slower, analytical side of the brain depending on confidence. The process is modelled in the flow chart below:


Referring to a diagram is usually an effective strategy in physics, because it helps students think using multiple representations. However, in some cases, a problem that contains a diagram may short-circuit a student's conceptual reasoning. This is the conclusion of a new paper by Maries and Singh. In light of this, and also dual-process theory, I am going to be more thoughtful about the role of diagrams I include in problems.

I've never been hap…

Amazing Kids, Growth Mindset Research, and Social Justice

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Frank Noschese just retweeted an amazing video of kids playing on a rotational motion apparatus.


In other news...

A thorough and definitive meta-analysis of growth mindset research [paywall] was published this month [sci-hub]. They find a weak (but significant) correlation between mindset and achievement, and that mindset-focused interventions have a small overall effect.

In the USA, many students participated in a walk-out to protest government inaction to prevent school shootings. This New York Times article discusses why participation in political activism can be beneficial for teenagers.

There has been a debate this week about social media outreach by scientists. At the heart is this comment in Science, which refers to PhD student and Instagram star Samantha Yammine.

This summer, Lisbon is hosting the International Physics Olympiad. The old problems (and solutions) are available online, and make for interesting reading.

Mark Lattery is running an online Modeling Instruction cours…

Cosmic Dawn, Burbidge, and Skyrmions

There were two big physics stories this week. First, a team of astronomers has announced surprising observations that could provide a first indirect indication of the nature of dark matter. The radio waves emitted by hydrogen gas at the "cosmic dawn," just 180 million years after the big bang, tell us that the gas was notably colder than we would expect. The team concludes that this could only happen if there is an interaction between the hydrogen and dark matter and, given how effectively this interaction cooled the gas, the dark matter must be made of particles with masses comparable with hydrogen atoms. It's an unexpected and exciting result, but we should probably wait for confirmation from a complementary study before getting too excited.

The second story is one that seems to have gotten blown a bit out of proportion, perhaps because of the exotic vocabulary involved. A team of researchers was successful in creating an electrodynamics simulation using a quantum mec…

Modelling, RIOT, and Jerk

Modelling means building and evaluating conceptual models to represent phenomena, and there seems to be a growing consensus that this is one of the core skills we're trying to teach students. In this month's The Physics Teacher, a team associated with the Compass Project at Berkeley detail an activity in which new university students build models in an attempt to understand the famous "slinky drop".

Another exciting paper from TPT is about the Real-time Instructor Observing Tool [RIOT] built by Paul and West. RIOT is a protocol and application that makes it easy to track how instructors are interacting with students. It works especially well for classrooms with a lot of active group work. I've been using it to track TAs in introductory university labs, for example. I think the best parts are the reflections and conversations it inspires, and the paper provides an example.

There's an interesting paper in IJSE that looks at results from a sort of digital textb…

Fizeau, UK Astronomy, and the Physics Bowl

A team at the University of Mons has a paper in Physics Education in which they explain how they replicated an experiment to measure the speed of light using a low-power laser, a chopping wheel, and a couple historical buildings 8 km apart.

The print version of Physics World this month reports on a census of the UK astronomy community, also summarized here. Remarkably, their data suggest that the "leaky pipeline" in UK astronomy and geophysics is robust between undergraduate applicants and post-docs (30% and 40% are female, respectively, for those two fields).

This week's #iteachphysics chat was about remote robotics telescopes in astronomy education. There were lots of school astronomy resources and projects shared; two new to me were Solar Siblings and the CAPER.

If your students are still flipping water bottles, there's an excellent analysis by a team from the University Twente.

Registration for the (excellent!) AAPT Physics Bowl closes 26 February.

Seen on the w…