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Leap of Faith: Day 1 of PBL in AP Physics

As we were beginning class today, I felt like Indiana Jones in this classic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as he attempts to retrieve the Holy Grail to save his father's life.

Every time we try something new in class, we are taking a leap of faith.  We must trust in and ultimately rely on our students to support us.  This term I have more faith in my students than I have in my lesson plans.  Having an open dialogue with my students about what we do in class and why we do it has gone a long way.

In fact, just today a student brought up my last blog post about the piano teacher and I was able to expand about why I thought that teacher was so great.  I was shocked to hear that one of my students had read my blog.

So today, I explained to my students the philosophy behind introducing a project based model into our classroom and what it will look like for them.  I framed it in terms of our current momentum unit.

Below is the introductory document for the unit:

I haven't given them the rubric for the project yet, but I gave them the rubric for the lab report or the objective mastery defense.  The mastery defense is a one-on-one conversation between me and the student where they describe the unit objectives and explain how they have met the objectives with follow up questions that come from me to flesh out student understanding.  The rubric for the lab and defense are the same.  The 3 labs are 3 different momentum interactions explosions, inelastic collisions, and elastic collisions.

After this introduction to the process, I asked students to give me some feedback in terms of what they were looking forward to and worried about in the project based model.  They placed +1's to endorse a comment.

I'm looking forward to 

  • Working with others to expand knowledge
  • Using videos and projects to demonstrate my knowledge
  • Print out quizzes -- This means that I will be posting the practices quizzes we do in class with correct solutions on line

  • Objective Mastery Defense
  • Quizzes with AP Questions -- because the tests aren't mandatory, I told students I would use "AP type" questions on our quizzes
  • Corrections -- students who are keeping up with their practice work will still have the opportunity to do corrections on labs and projects. Also, they will be able to retry the objective mastery defense if they would like.
  • Labs  -- the amount of hands on work will dramatically increase in the PBL environment

I'm worried about

Not having enough time to work on projects  -- The idea is that all projects will be done in class and hopefully after this first project, they'll have a better sense of how to pace themselves and that it is possible in the time frame I will give them
Experimental design on test -- for those students who decide to take the test, it is something new on tests.  In the labs we have done, they had to design their own procedure. So, they have already had experience with it, just in a different setting.
Not being ready for the AP exam -- this is a tough one and why I plan on incorporating AP-type questions into my quizzes and we will continue to do free response questions in class but they will not count as a grade.

It is my hope that students will better be able to make the connections between the content they are studying, the labs they do, and most importantly the world around them.  I hope this leap of faith takes us to the Holy Grail of education: a 5 on all AP exams true understanding, retention of content, and 21st Century Skills.

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