Teaching: The Ultimate State of Happiness (#AAPTsm16)

by Stephanie Chasteen on July 19, 2016

(Liveblogging from the AAPT)  I always find Eugenia Etkina to be inspirational, and today is no exception.  In the session, The Art and Science of Teaching, she got a chance to philosophize about her teaching.  She’s noticed that, no matter how experienced she is as a teacher, she always feels that she runs out of time during the lesson.  This “losing track of time” is synergistic with the idea of a “flow” state, a deeply satisfying experience.  When in a flow state, you are intensely focused on the present moment, have a sense of the ability to control the outcome, and feel masterful.  To achieve flow, you need clear goals (to give you clear structure), immediate feedback (so you can adjust your performance), and a balance between opportunity and capacity.

So, when you have the skill to achieve something, but feel challenged in achieving it, you are both confident and engaged in the activity.  (On the other end of the spectrum, if you have low skill and low challenge, you become apathetic.)

So, think about this in terms of teaching. What creates flow during teaching?  You’re excited about the content, but still challenged by the content — perhaps it’s something you have newly developed.  The students feel engaged, but also feel challenged.  And lastly, you can see their progress during the lesson.  So, we want to experience flow as a teacher, but we also want our students to experience flow as a student — to have the balance between challenge and ability.  (One question that I have is, how is this different from the Zone of Proximal Development by Vygotsky?)

The way that Eugenia creates this balance between skill and challenge is by creating authentic and interesting physical problems for students to figure out and analyze — why does this spring toy fall the way that it does?  Why does this laser pattern appear on the mirror?  By letting students observe interesting phenomenon, and then design their own experiments with easily interpretable results, which have no extrinsic rewards attached to them, they can really build their knowledge but also have more opportunity for flow.  This is the essence of the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) framework that Eugenia has developed and promoted:  http://www.islephysics.net, http:///sites.google.comsite/scientificabilities

And how does she end each class?  With a mystery, waiting to be uncovered in the next class.

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