Honoring the great work of PEER Physics teachers
Teaching has always been a profession where change is the constant and this last year set a record! As a teacher I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when her house was picked up by the tornado and dropped in the Land of Oz. That spinning house, not knowing where it will land, plus the witches and monkeys was too much! The last 9 months of pandemic, confrontations challenging our social contract, and the plethora of decisions about our classrooms operating with any sense of normalcy has much the same feel as a spinning house in an Ozian tornado.
However, in this messy year I discovered that I can create a community of learners that can work together, share and challenge our ideas, and feel safe to learn and grow. I was intentional about using our virtual time to build relationships with and between my students. Each class period I spent the first 5 minutes to say hello to everyone, asking questions about their work spaces, sharing my office space, and checking in on the campus and Boulder news. I also asked them to self evaluate, reflect on, and use norms of collaboration frequently. This provided a continual focus on improving their collaborative skills.
In addition, every class time the whole group worked in a common workspace called Mural. Mural is a virtual whiteboard in which everyone is putting their initial ideas, investigation questions, and consensus ideas in front of everyone. At first this was a bit scary, not knowing if they ‘had the right answer’ but we started slow, and I set expectations for using this tool and spent ample time on the individual value of making our collective thinking public.
By the end of the term, what I thought was going to be a spinning house turned out to be a fruitful and effective semester. There are still flying monkeys to deal with but I have more confidence than I did before to help students make sense of the physical world and each other.
Jon Mann is the Director of Responsive Partnership with PEER Physics and teaches using the PEER Physics curriculum at CU Boulder.