This week in physics was all about making sense of position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs. Since I’m planning to have my students use the graphical solutions approach I learned form Kelly O’Shea and Casey Rutherford this summer, motion graphs will need to be second nature to my students. To make sure my students have motion graphs down, I’ve dedicated a lot more time to them than the previous physics teacher did. Based on the progress I saw this week, the time was well spent for most of my students.

The one group that grumbled a bit were my students who took AP Calculus BC last year. I already knew the teacher, Karen Hyers, works very hard to place math content in meaningful contexts and did some work with motion graphs in her calc classes, but I hadn’t really appreciated how thoroughly she covered motion graphs. My students who took calc with her last year easily recalled how to do just about everything I put in front of them this week. Around 1/3 to 1/2 of my students fall into this group, so next year I want to work on some strategies for differentiation to keep the calculus students challenged. The upside is several students commented they didn’t realize how connected physics and calculus really are.

There was also some pretty cool peer instruction that happened thanks to the calculus students. Most groups had at least one calc student, which means someone knew what the answer should be and I didn’t have to worry to much about whether groups would get there. However, because that person was another student, the rest of the group wasn’t afraid to question them and argue a bit before agreeing on the correct answer in ways that don’t often happen when a student is talking to a teacher. These discussions helped many of my students to actually understand the graphs, much preferable to simply memorizing what the graphs for certain cases should look like.

But the best part of the week? A student told me what’s hard about physics so far isn’t the content, its the way I’m making them think about it.

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