Podcast Episode 28: Flipping, Fun, and Physics with Frank Robinson

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In this episode we talk to Frank Robinson from Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Frank has a PhD in Applied Math and he works with a wide range of scientists at Yale co-teaching some of our most innovative classes. He shares what he learned flipping Fundamentals of Physics with Helen Caines, and also tells us about creating a public website (coming soon!) based on his Movie Physics class.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Introducing Frank. Movie physics, pseudoscience, flipping, a pre-calculus program.

1:51 Co-teaching to transform classes with cutting-edge pedagogy. Flipping “Fundamentals of Physics” using some of the most-watched physics lectures on the net.

3:32 The Open Course movement. Students were already watching the videos to get ready for class. “The main thing that students need to know as freshmen in physics is how to solve problems.” Solving problems in groups using a whiteboard.

5:11 Chopping the videos into chapters. Embedding questions into every chapter of every video using the Coursera platform.

6:40 Watching a lecture video is not like watching a TV show. Motivating students to focus on the videos by giving the students hard questions. Bonding and peer pressure in group work. It’s hard to look at quiz performance when you’re busy working with a particle accelerator.

9:12 Students watch 75-minute videos before class. It’s like doing reading for class. Some students watch many more hours of video lectures–because they need and want to. 210 hours of Frank explaining physics was “the best class [one student] had taken.” Flipping means talking explicitly to the students about meta-cognition.

10:20 Everything’s online now: that’s how they’re going to learn when they leave college. Physics humor: the dreaded inclined plane.

13:26 Doug: “The success of a flipped class depends far more on what happens in the classroom than the quality of the video.” Yales’ technology-enhanced active learning (TEAL) classroom’s killer feature: tables and whiteboards. Students need to learn how scientists communicate and collaborate.

15:59 What happens in a typical class meeting? An active-learning classroom with problem-solving is a loud classroom. The most common mistake instructors make when they flip: re-explaining concepts taught in the videos. “You have to…trust in the students.” The difference between using a whiteboard and using pen-and-paper.

19:17 Students still have problem sets, but they’re shorter. In the classroom, you can prevent students from Googling the answer. When students were given tough problems in class, they rose to the challenge. Learning from your students.

23:18 Evaluating the results. Do the students like it? Happiness and learning are not perfectly correlated. The Super Slow workout technique. Flipping is not more work: students just can’t shirk the work.

27:32 One reason myou might not want to explode liquid nitrogen in the classroom. Teaching outside your speciality: “I was excited about it because I only learned it yesterday.” Tectonic plates move at the rate at which fingernails growth. Teaching guesstimation and a sense of scale.

31:56 How does someone start teaching something called “movie physics”? Newton’s third law, Will Smith, and Googling the compression force of asphalt. The force of artificial gravity in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

36:16 Big ideas not procedures. Students might not remember the equations we teach them.

41:17 Sometimes teaching means changing the student’s “common sense.” Building resources for a web site over several months. Combining different ways of learning: videos, simulations, lectures, etc. A new kind of born-digital 21st-century textbook. Even in teaching you must use different ways to engage the students. Great Courses and The Blue Planet.

46:14 Teaching mistakes in the classroom: flipping but still lecturing–for your own comfort. When we’re experienced, we can predict how long we’ll lecture on a topic. It’s hard to predict how long some active learning exercises will take.

49:11 Thanks and sign-off.

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