Day 17: Context Rich Problem Solving

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I teach a class that is concurrent enrollment, meaning it is taught at our HS but students receive a college transcript from the University of Minnesota upon successful completion of the class. The class is similar to AP Physics C, Mechanics only, though it is algebra based. Part of the U of M class is a weekly ‘discussion’ section where students work in collaborative groups to solve problems that are harder than problems typical for introductory physics students. Each exam, in turn, has a group portion that is worth 25% of that exam’s grade, with the other 75% being the individual portion of the exam. I absolutely love the group problem solving aspect of the course, as do many of the students (particularly the ones who love a challenge).

Today we had our first ‘official’ discussion day, where we worked on the first of these problems. Before using Modeling Instruction I rarely saw students draw graphs to solve problems. Now that is more common, as shown in the picture above as well as the one below.

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I also accidentally performed an experiment with today’s classes. In previous years, by this time I had explicitly gone over problem solving, particularly the U of MN’s strict insistence that all problems be solved algebraically before inputing numerical values (which I actually like in general anyway). Since I had not yet ‘gone over’ that method, and because I was running short of time due to finishing up whiteboards, I did not insist that my first class solve algebraically. It took them about 8 minutes to get the numerical answer to the first problem. I then backed up, with about 5 minutes left of class, and challenged them to find the algebraic solution. We will wrap this up tomorrow. I had more time in the 2nd class, so I asked them from the start to come up with an algebraic solution, and at least half the groups had it within 25 minutes. Pretty awesome considering I have cut my lecture time down to practically none.

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