Reflections on Student Video Assessments

After the summer session of physics (algebra-based), I have the following comments.

  • It seems like every other video has a problem with vector notation.  Students often set a vector equal to a scalar.  Frustrating.
  • Students seem to confuse two standards: The Momentum Principle and Collisions.  I have students submit videos for the momentum principle that are just a collision.  The key point is that the momentum principle deals with force, time and change in momentum.  I guess this is my fault. I offered suggested homework problems from a textbook and it covered momentum and collisions in the same chapter.  I guess they thought they were the same thing.
  • Students are not very skilled at picking problems to solve.  They like the lowest level of something like “mass is 2 and velocity is 3, what is the momentum?”. I tried to help them, but it didn’t seem to work.  I showed a bunch of questions in class and had them “rate” them then discuss what makes a good problem. (I think I wrote about that here on my blog).
  • I’m still not happy with the “student review”.  I want students to watch other student videos – but I don’t know how to implement that.
  • Students like to procrastinate.  I’m getting a bunch of redos on the last day of submissions.  That sucks to grade.
  • I hate vertical videos – but I hate videos that are recorded sideways even more.  I stopped accepting the sideways videos since they can fix it and send it back to me.
  • I try to give meaningful feedback in my responses – but sometimes I just give a grade (score out of 5 points).
  • I’m trying to give higher scores.  If they do well on the in-class assignment and submit multiple videos that aren’t wrong, I typically will at least give a 4/5.

Letter to High School Students: What to Major in

Dear High School students,

How are you? I am fine. I am very glad that I am no longer in high school. Maybe you enjoy high school, but for me, it was not so good. Don’t get me wrong, I went to an excellent high school (Waubonsie Valley HS). There was something in high school that didn’t feel right. Maybe it was being in classes for too long and the lack of time to work on my own projects. Maybe it was lack of freedom in choosing my own classes (there was some freedom to chose). Or perhaps I was just not mature enough to enjoy it. Needless to say, I am past that now.

I think now, how could I help high school students? In particular, how could I help them choose a major in college (if they choose to go to college). So, this will be the topic of this letter today. Please don’t hope that I will write more useful high-school letters such as “how to find a prom date”. That is definitely one area I failed at.

Choosing a major is difficult and even scary. In a way, you are choosing a career – but maybe not as much as you think. First, choosing a major is somewhat a random event. Suppose you choose underwater basket weaving as your major for some reason. It is likely that you have never woven a basket underwater. Maybe you will like it, but maybe you won’t. You won’t really get a good idea of how much you like or dislike underwater basic weaving until you actually go underwater and weave a basket. Unfortunately, the underwater basket weaving curriculum has you taking UBW 101 (Introduction to underwater basket weaving) your sophomore year. You first have to take the pre requisites, history of baskets and introduction to water. After you decide you don’t really like this major, it has already been 1-2 years. So, if it takes you 5 or 6 years to graduate, don’t worry TOO much. Your parents may be displeased, but tell them I said it was ok.

**Major in Physics**

I know. You saw that coming. Why should you major in physics? Here are some of my points:

**It is difficult**

Wait. BECAUSE it’s difficult? Shouldn’t you do something because it is easy – not difficult? Well, it depends on why you are doing it. If you are doing something to improve yourself, difficult is good. Imagine you were going to exercise. Should you walk around the block or run 3 miles? Well, if you find that walking around the block is very easy, it probably won’t do much for you. If you find underwater basket weaving to be easy, maybe it is not really helping you grow. So, physics IS difficult, but that is a good thing.

**What else are you going to do?**

I hate to be a negative person (I am not really) but look at where we are today. There are financial problems, energy problems, problems with that rick-roll stuff. What are we going to do? You could help. Maybe it will be you that contributes to the energy problem (well, we all contribute to the problem, maybe you could contribute to the solution). Physics gives you are start in the fundamentals of nature. We NEED people to understand the basics so that we can defeat the energy problem.

What are your other options? Underwater basket weaving? Maybe there are lots of people who can do underwater basket weaving. This means there are lots of people capable of UBW (underwater basket weaving). Job competition for UBW is high and maybe companies will just start sending their UBW tasks to India where it costs less. Plus, does anyone really NEED UBW? Maybe it is the first thing to go when the economy is taking a turn for the worse.

**Are you ready for physics?**

A common idea that comes up is that students think they can not major in physics because they did not take physics in high school. I don’t think this is a disadvantage in any way. In introductory physics, the common problem is that students must “*unlearn what they have learned*” such as the idea that *constant force causes constant motion* (just to be clear -that idea is wrong). What about math? Yes, you need to be proficient in math. Most students entering school (at least here) are not quite where they need to be in terms of math understanding. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t catch up. Ideally, students should be ready to take Calculus I when entering college. You have time, work on your algebra and trig skills so that you can do well on the Math part of the ACT and place into Calc I.


This is longer than I usually write without including an equation, so maybe this is a good place to stop. If you want to major in physics, there are lots of things to consider. Here are some resources:

A few tips for new faculty

So, we have some new faculty. New to the university, and new to teaching. What advise can I offer? Here are few things to consider:

  • Never show fear. Students can sense fear. They see it as a sign of weakness. They may attack. If you are afraid, act like you are not.
  • When in doubt, imitate. Don’t try to reinvent anything. Don’t try to find your own style, that will come with time. The goal is to become familiar with teaching and to become familiar with the content. Once you do that, you will have a better idea about how YOU want to run things. So, in the mean time, find an experienced faculty member and ask for help. He or she will probably share any materials they have with you. Maybe you could sit in on their class and just do almost the same thing as him or her. This may seem like a cheat, but the semester is starting now. You need to do something.
  • If you are unsure of level, aim high. Is this test too hard or too easy? If you are not sure, err on the side of difficult. It is much better to start the semester off too hard than too easy. You can always curve to bring the grades up at the end of the semester, but if you do it the other way, there will be blood.
  • Fairness is important. Don’t change test dates once you have set them. Don’t change the “rules” you create in the syllabus. If a change needs to be made (like for a hurricane or something) make sure the change has a positive effect on student grades. Grades may not seem like a big deal to you, but they are HUGELY important to students.

How long do you wait for a question to be answered?

I teach classes. I ask questions in class. I wait for answers. All faculty do this, so who cares. If you are in a class or teaching a class, how long do you wait for someone to answer your question? Well, I asked two questions of my class this week.
1. Estimate how long I wait when I ask you questions.
2. How long should you (ideally) wait in a class for someone to answer?
Here is the data I gathered: (and I will tell you how long I actually wait)

Continue reading “How long do you wait for a question to be answered?”