Overall it was about what I expected with interesting comments here and there that I will definitely explore more fully and think about deeply.
First, and very important to me, every student feels comfortable speaking in class or approaching me with questions or comments. One student wrote “yes/sometimes” but every other student gave a strong “yes” to that, which is a great starting place. There is a wider range of opinions regarding the format being helpful to their learning and engaging their interest. For being helpful, three students disagreed strongly, four agreed strongly, and a majority were firmly in the middle in terms of “sure it’s fine”. The engagement was very uniformly divided across agree/whatever/disagree. A few commented that practice problems are not engaging, which is fair. I find them engaging, but not all students are me and I need to keep that in the forefront of my mind.
I gave them an opportunity to describe their ideal teaching format, and the biggest pattern was requests for more lectures and assessments with fewer in-class practice problems. One suggested that to improve the class there should be “more teaching instead of doing”. I find that very interesting considering the research showing that doing the thing you are trying to learn with someone there to help and answer questions tends to be more effective than lectures, especially for such small classes and high ability students as we have here. I need to do more research into the balance of cognitive load and the value of struggling. I know there must be some amount of both those things required of the students, but there is probably a better balance I can find.
A number of students said the thing they liked best about the class was it being low stress with a low homework load. That exists because we spend class time doing practice where I can answer questions instantly instead of home time followed by answering questions the next day. A number of students asked for a textbook, which they already have, so I guess they mean directed textbook readings, which I can absolutely do. I thought it would be easy enough for them to use the textbook as a resource to help them without me having to assign it specifically, but I thought wrong. I still sometimes forget that even AP students are just learning those sorts of academic skills. I need to offer more support for skill development.
The one thing liked best with the most votes was labs, which also got the most votes for thing that needs improvement. This makes me want to dig into that more deeply to figure out which labs they liked the best and why, although there were a few comments that gave more info. Working with a group was divided with three strong disagreement, mostly agreement, and a handful in the middle and also got votes for being one of the best parts of the class. The two questions about their ideal learning format and the things that need improvement lined up for the most part, but there were a few differences that made having them as two separate questions valuable.
One surprising comment was a student suggesting I use “other more experienced teacher’s teaching format”. I find that particularly interesting, since the traditional teaching format he seems to be suggesting was my go-to when I was inexperienced. Trying new things and taking risks with course format based on conversations with more experienced teachers and published research is very much not a typical new teacher behavior, but I guess students don’t have that perspective of the profession. I’ve been doing this ten years. I am the first to admit I have plenty left to learn. That’s why I meet online every Thursday with a group of physics teachers from across the country to talk about and get more physics teaching ideas, spend a large fraction of my weekends and summer at various professional development events, have an extensive library of teaching references both physics-related and general, and always keep a browser window open with interesting PER research articles to read. Everything I am doing IS based on teaching formats from other, more experienced teachers, and I will now consider communicating that effectively to one of my responsibilities.
- More frequent assessments (homework and summative)
- More detailed syllabus with predictable structure and (optional?) assignments
- Adjust the ratio of teacher-centered vs student-centered class time
- Adjust the ratio of content coverage to practice problems
- Research the effects of students’ levels of cognitive load and struggles.
I want to look through responses one more time after I’ve had a night’s sleep and another day to process. Tomorrow I will present the findings and my proposed changes for further consideration/feedback and take this weekend to get a solid and specific plan in place for the rest of the term by Monday.