Physics Standards

Here are my M&I class’s first standards. We begin the course with a unit on special relativity with readings from a textbook written by Arnold Arons. Each standard has one or more proficiency indicators and a mastery rubric.

I want to emphasize that great thought went into formulating these standards, which included student input. There is a significant emphasis on reasoning and written articulation of that reasoning. I want to try very hard to dispel the illusion that physics is all about equations. I want students to understand that equations are merely abbreviated notation for fully articulate thoughts, principles, and concepts. There is also a bit of an emphasis on history. I want even introductory students to understand where our discipline came from, and as Bruce Sherwood has remarked on many occasions, I want to emphasize that the twentieth century actually happened despite the vast number of introductory textbooks that blatantly ignore it altogether or relegate it to the last few chapters. One student has already dropped the course, complaining to the department chair (but not to me) that we haven’t done any “real physics” yet and this is hurting his chances for doing well on the MCAT. Unfortunately, the chair, who is a chemist and not a physicist, accepted this as a valid complaint and harshly criticized me for it. I will deal with that issue later.

Students do not expect this particular approach. They expect to be hit with equations from day one and they perceive this alternative approach to be more difficult than it really is. They don’t expect to actually read for understanding. They expect to memorize equations. Their collective prior conditioning is one of the most difficult barriers to overcome.

Okay, here I go. I hope I’m doing this right.

Standard: I can apply the elements of thought to special relativity. (NOTE: This refers to the primary tool in the critical thinking framework developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. Here is an interactive explanation of this tool. I like it because it is internally consistent and applicable across disciplines. It also embodies many of the pedagogical ideas behind Matter & Interactions.)
Proficiency Indicator(s): Map special relativity into one or more of the eight elements of thought, with each element having a paragraph devoted to it.
Mastery Rubric: Explanations are physically and mathematically correct, including proper grammar, spelling, and terminology.

Standard: I can describe, using both words and algebra, different methods of synchronizing two clocks in the same reference frame.
Proficiency Indicator(s): Draw a diagram illustrating a given synchronization method. Numerically solve a synchronization problem. Predict and describe the effects of a “wind” on synchronization.
Mastery Rubric: Work is organized and easy to follow. Algebraic quantities are explicitly defined. Numerical quantities include units. Explanations are physically and mathematically correct, including proper grammar, spelling, and terminology.

Standard: I can discuss the importance of the Michelson-Morley experiment.
Proficiency Indicator(s): Articulate the purpose of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Articulate the experiment’s outcome. Articulate the outcome’s implications. (NOTE: These indicators spiral back to the elements of thought, an Aronsonian strategy.)
Mastery Rubric: Work is organized and easy to follow. Algebraic quantities are explicitly defined. Numerical quantities include units. Explanations are physically and mathematically correct, including proper grammar, spelling, and terminology.

Standard: I can distinguish among invariants, constants, and conserved quantities.
Proficiency Indicator(s): Given a list of physical quantities, classify each one as invariant, constant, or conserved. (NOTE: This does purposely does not specify Galilean invariance or Einsteinian invariance. I want students to be able to argue that detail if, for example, they state that acceleration is invariant.)
Mastery Rubric: Work is organized and easy to follow. Algebraic quantities are explicitly defined. Numerical quantities include units. Explanations are physically and mathematically correct, including proper grammar, spelling, and terminology.

Standard: I can use the Galilean transformation, articulated in both words and algebra, to describe motion in different reference frames.
Proficiency Indicator(s): Given a particle’s motion in one reference frame, predict its motion in another reference frame.
Mastery Rubric: Work is organized and easy to follow. Algebraic quantities are explicitly defined. Numerical quantities include units. Explanations are physically and mathematically correct, including proper grammar, spelling, and terminology.

Okay, rip ’em up and tell me what I’m doing wrong.



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