If I read – I forget, if I write – I remember, if I do – I learn, if I explain – I understand

Author: Enrica Maragliano

A distance teaching experience in Physics with an experimental and peer learning approach

Because of Coronavirus, we suddenly had to stop our school routine and we had to stay at home rethinking our teaching and learning process.

In our region, the lessons were suddenly stopped on February 24th. In the beginning, it seemed the suspension will only last one week, but then, after few extensions, we understood that we will not be returning to class for this school year.

From 2nd March I started meeting my students in virtual classroom, providing video lessons. After less than a week I had understood which tools to use (Classroom, Meet, whiteboard, Geogebra and Phet) and we started a new routine.

In fact, for me and my students, it was natural enough to organize distance lessons because with many of them we had experienced with extended and virtual classes thanks to the eTwinning projects we took part in. We were also used to flipped-classroom teaching approach.

I teach Mathematics and Physics in a humanistic high school where I have a few weekly lessons of my subjects and they are often underestimated by the colleagues of other subjects.

To involve students in Physics during this period I used different approaches and I think that two of them are quite relevant to be shared as they could be reused by other teachers: conducting a virtual experiment and peer-to-peer teaching regarding some specific topics.

1. The experiment with a virtual laboratory

The first Physics task I am proud to share here is a virtual experiment, made using Phet. The virtual experiment was held 9 – 27 March 2020.

My students had already carried out experiments with the virtual laboratory because our school at the moment has no Physics lab. In any case, I believe that carrying out experiments in virtual labs is very significant and allows students to obtain excellent results mainly because it avoids them clashing with technical issues, often difficult for people who have little time to experience and are not used to move in the laboratory. This approach, on the other hand, allows students to consolidate and teacher to verify their skills and prevent them from copying somebody else’s papers as each one had to carry out his/her own experiment by collecting his/her own data following a rigorous scientific method.

Task description

Students had to understand the main features of the waves (amplitude, period, frequency, wavelength, spread speed) and had to deduce the relationships between them. In particular they had to experimentally verify that the spread speed depends on the period, frequency and wavelength but it is independent from the amplitude.

Task aims

Students had to verify that what they read on their Physics book is true using an online tool: this allowed the teacher to assess them testing their knowledge and real competences. Moreover in this way I could assess also their improved skills about ICT, writing a report and reasoning.

Task outcomes

  • Knowledge: students had to learn more about the relationships between the waves’ features 
  • Comprehension: students had to fully understand the relationships between the waves’ features
  • Application: students had to make a hypothesis and find out results using a scientific approach
  • Analysis: students had to understand how to collect data and try to come to a logical conclusion based on their hypothesis
  • Synthesis: students had to summarize the results obtained by filling out an experiment form report
  • Evaluation: students’ assessment is authentic, based on their real knowledge and competences
  • Affective learning outcomes: If I read – I forget, if I write – I remember, if I do – I learn

To carry out this activity I followed these steps, summarized in this pie chart which I made using the Learning Designer to plan each task:

Teaching-Learning activities

STEP 1: ORIENTATION PHASE

Introduction to the problem – Description of the assessment rubric

Type of activity:
Read, Watch, Listen
Duration: 30 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

During an online lesson, I explained what is a wave, its main features, how the waves can be classified. I showed to my students this presentation (the first 9 pages).

Then I gave them the form they had to fill and introduced my students with the assessment rubric.

STEP 2: CONCEPTUALIZATION PHASE 

Explore challenges within the topic – Focus on problem definition

Type of activity:
Read Watch Listen
Duration:10 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

Students read the presentation of the problem and tried to figure out what the real requirements were.

Type of activity: DiscussionDuration: 15 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

During an online lesson, the students and I explored the way the proposed application works and how students can use it to collect the data they need. This is the link to the Phet app my students used.

STEP 3: INVESTIGATION PHASE 

Research on the problem – Analyze the problem – Identify and explore the way he/she can solve the problem

Type of activity: InvestigationDuration: 20 minutesAttending: 1 studentTeacher is not availableOnline

Each student looked for more information about waves and their spread.

Type of activity:
Practice
Duration: 30 minutesAttending: 1 studentTeacher is not availableOnline

Each student planned his/her own experiment and collected the data reporting them on a spreadsheet.

STEP 4: CONCLUSION PHASE 

Conclusions – Fill the form

Type of activity: ProductionDuration: 30 minutesAttending: 1 studentTeacher is not availableOnline

Each student filled the form, describing the process and the results. When they completed this task, they uploaded their job on Classroom.

STEP 5: ASSESSMENT PHASE 

Teacher’s and peers’ assessment

Type of activity: DiscussionDuration: 30 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

After that I read, corrected and assessed each student’s paper, the class discussed their work and how each student could improve his/her job. Students provided each other with hints and tricks about how to carry on the job better.

Here you have some examples of papers delivered by my students (in Italian):

Student 1:

Student 2:

2. Peer-to-peer teaching and learning

I think that students have to be stimulated in many different ways, so, in my teaching, I try to differentiate activities to make learning more interesting and challenging. Another task I carried out with my students that I think could be interesting for other teachers is a peer-to-peer teaching and learning activity. We performed this activity on 6 – 27 April 2020.

Task description

Students had to describe one of the main wave phenomena: reflection, refraction, diffraction, interference. I let them form the teams (of 4 or 5 students), choose the topic and the way to explain to their mates that topic: they could make a video, they could prepare a presentation or they could give me a list of topics covered. In all the cases I asked them to write the bibliography or sitography. Each team member had to deliver their common product on Classroom and I assessed both the group job and the personal presentation, asking questions about some details that were not clear.

Task aims

Students had to read what they could find in their Physics book, during my introductory presentation or on the web and prepare a 15-minute presentation, possibly, using interactive explanation with Phet virtual experiments, Geogebra modelling, etc. In this way they learned much better what they deepened and, when they presented their topic to their mates, they shared their knowledge with all the class. In this way, all the class learned all the topics, with an attention level higher than usual, as the presenters were the students.

Task outcomes

  • Knowledge: students had to learn about one of the wave phenomena, but, after the presentation, all the students learned about all the relevant phenomena. 
  • Comprehension: students had to fully understand their topic to answer my questions and sometimes their mates’ questions.
  • Application: students had to choose between what they found on the web and they had to organize the teamwork to optimize the time.
  • Analysis: students had to discuss how to organize the presentation, the order of the topics: doing this they had a better and deeper understanding of the whole topic. Listening to their mates’ presentations they could compare what they learned with the concepts introduced by the other teams.
  • Synthesis: students learned how to sum up the information they collected and compare their information with what the other teams provided, they could have a wider and deeper idea of the wave phenomena.
  • Evaluation: students’ assessment is authentic, based on their real knowledge and competences (searching for and collecting information, working in a team, presenting and writing).
  • Affective learning outcomes: If I read – I forget, if I write – I remember, if I do – I learn, if I explain – I understand.

To carry out this activity I followed these steps, summarized in the pie chart below which I made using the Learning Designer to plan each task:

Teaching-Learning activities

STEP 1: ORIENTATION PHASE

Introduction to the problem – Description of the assessment rubric

Type of activity:
Read, Watch, Listen
Duration:
15 minutes
Attending:
25 students
Teacher is availableOnline

During an online lesson, I shortly explained what is a wave phenomenon and I showed the class this presentation (pages 9 to 18) with some short videos, so everybody could decide the topic they liked to go deeper into. Then I explained to them the constraints of the presentation and introduced the assessment rubric.

STEP 2: CONCEPTUALIZATION PHASE 

Explore challenges within the topic – Focus on problem definition

Type of activity:
Read, Watch, Listen
Duration: 10 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

Students read the presentation of the problem and tried to figure out what the real requirements were.

Type of activity: DiscussionDuration: 15 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

Students decided on the topics and the teams composition.

STEP 3: INVESTIGATION PHASE 

Research on the problem – Analyze the problem – Identify and explore the way he/she can solve the problem

Type of activity: PracticeDuration: 80 minutesAttending: 4 studentTeacher is not availableOnline

Teams of students looked for information about wave phenomenon chosen.

Type of activity: 
Collaboration
Duration:
80 minutes
Attending: 
4 students
Teacher is not availableOnline

Teams of students discussed and worked together to decide the structure of the presentation.

STEP 4: CONCLUSION PHASE

Production of presentations or videos

Type of activity: ProductionDuration: 60 minutesAttending: 4 studentsTeacher is not availableOnline

Teams wrote down the presentation or recorded the video or wrote down a list of the topics. All of them added the bibliography and the sitography. When they finished, they uploaded their job on Classroom.

Type of activity: DiscussionDuration: 120 minutesAttending: 25 studentsTeacher is availableOnline

Teams presented their product to the class and answered to my questions about their topic.

Here you can find some videos and presentations that are part of my students’ job:

Reflection:

Refraction:

Diffraction: 

Diffraction 2

Interference: 

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