Students playing the “classroom” game can give silly answers (#aaptsm10)

by Stephanie Chasteen on July 20, 2010

Another post on today’s sessions at the AAPT…

In one talk on “epistemological priming” (Paul Hutchison, Grinnell), he made a compelling case for the fact that students aren’t using their everyday reasoning in physics class.  He asked them the question, “If you throw a ball horizontally, and a ball straight down, which will hit the ground first?”

Amazingly, a full 40% of his sample said that the one thrown horizontally will hit the ground first!  Any third grader, he said, will give the correct answer to this question (that the one thrown straight down will hit the ground first). So, the ones who give this “silly” answer, he says, are framing this task as an “answermaking” task – where their job is just to get the right answer and use whatever tricks they need to get there.  Since this question has some resemblance to the common physics demo, where a ball is thrown horizontally or dropped vertically, they try to make an answer from that previous information.  Those who answer correctly are in a “sensemaking” mode – they are reasoning through the question, in a variety of ways.  They think their task in physics class is to make sense of what is happening.  They found that they were able to prime students to answer in a certain way depending on how they led into the question.  Different types of initial questions primed the students to think about the thrown-ball question in one of those two ways.  This is good news, it means that if we want students to  engage in certain kinds of activities on the homework, perhaps we should make the first couple questions on the homework strongly leading in that direction.

A follow up talk by Mary McDonald, also at Grinnell, was cancelled, unfortunately, but she investigated what kinds of activities during groupwork can create an answermaking versus a sensemaking frame.  This would be helpful in determining what sorts of things we could emphasize when we’re watching students working together in groups, so that they engage more in making sense of what they’re doing.  My friend Sandy Martinuk (University of British Columbia) has created some interesting work in this area too – he found that students don’t connect what they’re learning to real-life when they’re doing a problem solving activity, even if it’s real-world (like context-rich problems).  They still seem to be engaged in answermaking in that task.  When they’re creating or inventing something by working together, however, they seem go to more into a sensemaking frame of mind.

Luckily, Sandy reads my blog, and hopefully can correct what I believe is a somewhat muddled description of his results!

Phew… end of Day 1… It’s been a very long day.  Stay tuned, tomorrow I’ll be presenting two talks — on clickers, and on social media in physics classrooms.  I’ll do my best to summarize those here!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: