Podcast #73

Mac Stetzer from the University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy is an active physics education researcher with lots of experience teaching teachers how to teach physics better. In this episode he shares his lessons learned working with undergraduate learning assistants, graduate student teaching assistants, and teachers at the K-12 level.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:35 Welcome Mac Stetzer. The benefits of comparing teaching K-12 and college. Flashing back to Episode 11: Teaching Undergraduates and Preschoolers with Carla Horwitz. In K-12, professional development is required, while in higher ed it’s optional. Being a resource for more colleagues without pushing things on them. Mac’s position and UMaine’s faculty incentive grants. Crediting teachers and undergraduate ‘learning assistants’ for what they know about teaching and learning.

9:38 How Mac discovered the study of the teaching of physics. The importance of teachers and students being comfortable with not knowing the answer. Teachers can also model misconceptions. The importance of listening to learners. The U Washington Physics by Inquiry approach. Alan Schoenfeld’s research on metacognition in math education: when the instructor never makes mistakes, students get a false sense of how problem-solving works

18:24 Supporting students in the experience of struggle and making incorrect predictions as part of learning. Eliciting student errors without making the students feel incapable. How Doug handles this on the first day of the term. Doug’s high school math teacher proves 1=2.

22:32 What is physics in K-12? Balancing, ramps, and tracks. Using the Physics by Inquiry approach. How to show and experience the concept vs. merely knowing the equations. Students who teach learn more–because they need to go beyond ‘this is the equation.’ Sometimes teachers only know the takeaway concepts, not underlying proof. Using analogies to teach and reason. Good teaching is good listening.

33:40 Models: closing the gap between the current state and the goal state. But you need to know where the learner is. Leveraging what the students already think. Good teachers have good models of cognition and meta-cognition. Interpreting students’ responses can actually be tricky.

40:13 Aligning the faculty development experience with the methods being taught. Seeing everyone as bringing something unique. Tailoring instruction in small groups. And allowing people to bring their own experiences to problem-solving.

46:24 Reverting to didactic methods–because you’re less comfortable with the material. So teaching also involves tolerating one’s own discomfort–hence getting closer to the student’s experience. That often gets lost.

51:30 A short answer to a large question. Things you must include in a faculty development program. Get good learning materials. Create a climate where failing is okay. Go in depth: don’t just skim through it.

55:40 Mac’s teaching mistake. Discovering by accident that students didn’t know a key concept in electronics. Doug’s mistake with a multiple choice clicker question.