Evidence and Power

Day 2 of our discussion of STEM as a path to obtaining money and power addressed a couple big topics. First, we talked about potential barriers that could stand in our way. Racism and sexism came up, with some prodding in a couple classes.

To look more at the question of sexism, I asked every student to take the Gender-Science Implicit Association Test. Some got bored trying to do the whole thing themselves, so they traded off with a partner… Kinda defeats the purpose of doing it yourself, but still yields a more interesting result than just mashing the keys, another popular strategy.

We then discussed the results, and in a few sections some particularly honest and insightful ladies expressed surprise that they’d shown some bias associating men with science. Getting the point of the exercise at this point was rare, which isn’t a surprise. We were both trying to uncover real bias, AND point to the fundamental difference between a hunch and an idea backed up by evidence.

Then, I warned students that we’d be getting into something more emotional, because it had to do with more than just success in STEM. I showed them a clip from a PBS doc (watch it at http://bit.ly/pbsiatvideo ) that lays out the results of the Race IAT in a very intuitive way by comparing to Yankees and Red Sox fans. But the last sentence is shocking: “75% of white Americans have trouble connecting ‘black’ with ‘good’.”

Some students responded to this alarm, some were blasé about it, some were glad that the number wasn’t 100%. When I just asked for thoughts, the room was eerily silent, but after I asked students to “Turn and Talk” for a minute they generally had a lot to say. Some said, “This doesn’t affect me, I’m going to do what I do no matter what others think.” Some said, “I think that people form stereotypes based on what some black people do, even though most people do those things.” Some said, “This makes perfect sense, since people always prefer people who look like them. I bet that black people who take the test end up showing the same results on the other side.” I’ll have to revisit the topic briefly tomorrow, to emphasize that this does not mean that 75% of white people are closeted bigots, but that it does provide evidence for something we feel every day, and can work to fight.

One last thought: Earlier in the day it was clear to me that a few kids really didn’t get what the test truly meant, but DID recognize something terribly wrong with that last statement. I got comments like, “I don’t agree with that statement,” and “I don’t think that people can be described with a percentage.” I tried to clarify a potential misunderstanding, but I’m not totally sure if this worked for everyone. Later in the day I spent a moment before the video unpacking the connection between the gender result and what they were about to see. “These results do NOT say that women shouldn’t do science, or even that most people THINK women shouldn’t do science. The video we’re about to see is about racism, but it does NOT suggest that racism is correct or ok.” I even paused the video before that last sentence to reiterate how challenging the sentence would be, and call special attention to it as a focus for our interpretation and discussion. This led to better and more open discussions.

Thanks to Moses Rifkin for his support, and for starting the conversation about bringing conversations about social justice into the physics classroom.

##socialjustice ##physicsfirst


Who wants money and power?

Today was an interesting day. I’d been wanting for a while to do something inspired by Moses Rifkin’s social justice in the physics classroom, modified to fit my age group and population. After running something about “Why aren’t there more black physicists?” by a history teacher who has a lot of success with our kids, I ended up with a different approach entirely. The objective for the lesson ultimately became, “You will be able to see studying STEM as a way to obtain money and power through hard work.” This was, as you might imagine, quite a popular topic of discussion!

I used a site called overgrad.com, where students can search by major and find jobs that disciplines open doors to. Search for physics, and you stumble upon, “Water Quality Analyst”, which pays on the order of $150k per year. (Students also discovered that “Secondary School Science Teachers” only make about $60k – but they LOVE their job!)

We then shared out, and looked for patterns. There were some exceptions, of course, but in general it was obvious that STEM related jobs make more money than non-STEM jobs. The contrast was particularly stark in this class.

Now I have a really good answer to the question, “Why are we studying this stuff?” Motivation enough? We’ll see…

##motivation ##stem ##careers ##physicsfirst

Whiteboarding Survey

In an effort to get students on board with whiteboarding for the long haul, I’ve engaged in community outreach. For homework I asked them to complete a survey about whiteboarding, which included the video of Matt Greenwolfe’s AP physics class featured in the local newscast.

Here are a couple questions I asked:

…as well as “What can we do to make the process of creating/presenting the whiteboards in class more interesting or engaging.” (These were two separate questions…)

I’m getting some interesting results in the form already. One student was wary of the mistake game, and said that he found himself wanting to add a mistake on the test he took today, which he found disturbing!

Incidentally, I’ve decided to use homework forms for basically all homework assignments. More about this later, but I’ve flipped the class so I deliver explicit notes in videos, as well as show solutions to some problems. Each of these is accompanied by a short form, which I grade automatically using Flubaroo. It’s working amazingly well so far!

##whiteboarding ##survey

Whiteboarding Ruminations

We just completed day two of whiteboarding today, and I feel like I am struggling a bit. It’s not so bad, but too much of the time it just felt boooooring to the students. (I feel like I’m still in a grace period where constant disruptions and side conversations are a side of boredom, not a sign of writing off the course completely. Hopefully we won’t get to that second place this year… It’s awful.)

I feel caught in a catch-22. In order for students to feel that whiteboarding is engaging and productive, they need to be generating and sharing ideas. In order for them to generate ideas, they need to feel engaged and motivated. Hmm…

We spent about 10 minutes getting from this:

To this:

To get there, I had to grab a rolling chair and a rope, and pull a student across the room. That barely got them on board… Oof!!

I have to keep in mind, though, that my students haven’t been asked to DO this before. This is a brand new mode of discourse, and it’s understandable that they’re just barely testing the waters (and some are afraid to try even that). If I want real whiteboarding I’ll need to build up to it in a more direct, focused way.

This will take some thinking… We’re just getting started here.

##whiteboarding ##setbacks

Build a Rubric

It’s well into the school year, and I’ve fallen off the map in #180blog posts, but this morning I’m reviving my 180. Things are going inspiringly well compared to last year, and I feel a need to reflect on some of what I’ve learned.

Today’s post is about rolling out our first “skill rubric”. This one is about identifying interactions in a system diagram or force diagram. I broke the rubric up into sentences and students raced to figure out what goes where by taping the sentences to the whiteboard frame on the wall (using a copy of the rubric with slightly different wording as a guide).

I’ve found that I can be EXTREMELY explicit in the rubrics about what I want to see (“I did NOT show an interaction that occurred in the past or the future.”) and many students still struggle, so my challenge becomes directing them in how to use the rubrics as a resource.

Last year, analyzing work using the rubrics was such a big deal that we had “Feedback Questions” on the quarterly major assessments. These multiple choice questions asked students to identify phrases that describe the student work shown, and then to find that phrase in the rubric to give feedback (M, P, or X). Plus they could be graded by scantron, which is a huge plus when teaching 130 students!!

I have about 100 this year, which is way more manageable. Class sizes of 20-25, rather than 25-30… Here’s to a bold new year!

##bfpm ##sbar ##rubrics