Once upon a time I would have given a lecture about thermodynamics. I would have asked the students to take notes. I would have tried my best to be enthusiastic and engaging. I probably would have done demos that involved fire – who would fall asleep during that kind of lecture? We would have worked a few problems in class. I would have sent them home with some sample problems to practice their new knowledge about thermodynamics. The students would have returned the next day with most of their worksheets completed. Many problems would be wrong, many would be copied. Some would be “eaten by the dog” rather than admit they didn’t understand. Few students would actually UNDERSTAND much about the concept.
Enter flipped instruction. This time there is a video that archives the relevant knowledge for students to watch at home. When students come to class, rather than watch me perform a demonstration, they have an opportunity to perform a lab activity designed to help them understand the concept. The students get a chance to do sample calculations at school, where they can collaborate (not copy) and get help from me when they get stuck. The students are much more engaged and learn the information much better. Their KNOWLEDGE increases. I still find that far too many students don’t UNDERSTAND the concept.
In my latest iteration I am merging flipped instruction with inquiry. We start with a lab experience that teaches some knowledge and skill. The students are engaged and learn a few facts. There is supporting video and online resources to support their learning. This time around I present a real problem:
In 1994 McDonald’s was sued for nearly 3 million dollars over a coffee burn (I give a little background and provide some reading). In the lab students see my grandmother’s old clear glass Pyrex coffee percolator doing its thing on a hot plate. I pour a cup of hot water and measure the temperature. Students learn it is hot enough to cause third degree burns in less than a second. Now I ask a question – how many ice cubes do I need to add to the cup to lower the temperature to a reasonable 55 degrees C ? (burns take approximately 15 seconds at this temperature)
When the students reach for the ice I stop them – whoa there cowboy… Go grab a pencil. I want you to use your knowledge to calculate an answer. Once you tell me – then we’ll add the specified number of ice cubes and see how well you understand physics. There are a couple of lab activities you can do that will help you learn what you need to know – if you want to do them, or you can read and work from theory. The choice is yours. We’ll see if you’re the kind of scientist McDonalds might hire to keep them out of trouble…
They still have videos for support. They have print and online resources available. They can collaborate with each other. They have me as a guide. Will this lesson help students UNDERSTAND thermodynamics? Do your lessons evolve over time as well?
I believe we learn the most when we are actively doing something or creating something. I like this move toward more active inquiry – mostly because I’m curious about the answer. I hope the students are also. I know not everyone cares about the answer. I still have not found the perfect way to teach. I AM curious to discover what the next iteration of this lesson will look like.