Course Reflections: Physical Science (PHSC 101)

The Course:

This is a 3 hour lecture-based course for non-science majors. I used the super awesome Next GEN PET. I feel like I have talked about this curriculum a bunch (since it has content similar to PHYS 142—physics for education majors). Here are some key points.

  • Content based on the Next Generation Science Standards. For me, this isn’t such a big deal—but it can be for those adopting the curriculum.
  • This is an interactive lecture-based course. This semester, I started with 50 students.
  • Students are supposed to have a workbook that they write in. We have a textbook rental system though. In order to prevent the students from buying a book (which would be about the same price anyway), I had the bookstore make the workbook into a non-writable rental book.
  • The course covers: Energy, Forces, Waves, Light.
  • Students are presented with videos of experiments and then asked a series of multiple-choice “clicker” questions.

The Good:

Let’s be honest. Most courses for non-science majors don’t really help them understand the nature of science. Based on my own informal measurements in the past, students’ understanding of science decreases after the course. That’s bad. It’s probably because they just see science as a bunch of facts that need to be memorized.

This course focuses on the model building aspect of science. Students collect data (from the videos) and use that to justify a model—rather than just being told an idea.

The course also encourages critical thinking and uses student discussion during class. I feel like there were a good number of students that really got something out of the semester.

Oh, one more “good”. I am part of an FOLC (Faculty Online Learning Community) – https://nextgenpet.activatelearning.com/about/faculty-online-learning. My discussions with them were great.

Homework was better than I thought. I used the online activities that come with the curriculum and then I created “turn in” sheets for the students. These were simple questions based on the online stuff. Many students didn’t do it and some copied—but it helps them realize they need to do the HW.

The Bad:

Although the content is essentially the same as the studio-class version of the material, I don’t have much experience with the lecture version. Here are some other random notes about things that didn’t work out so great.

  • Clickers. I started off using the TurningPoint clickers (we already had these). For some reason, the receiver didn’t work on my macbook anymore (software update). Then later in the semester, they updated the PCs in the room and BOOM—clickers didn’t work there either. I eventually switched to plickers (https://www.plickers.com/library).
  • Student discussions. I need to get better at this part of the job (quote from Spider-Man: Homecoming). I just feel like there are small things in the class that can really throw off a class discussion. It’s tough. I need to start off with this more at the beginning and fight through the rough parts so that students get more accustomed to discussions.
  • Student participation. There are too many students that think they are watching a movie. They just sit there and play on their phone. I see them.
  • The workbook. I already mentioned that they didn’t really have a workbook. Towards the end of the semester, I started creating 1-2 page “notes” that had spots for them to write down the important stuff. A couple of students said they liked this.
  • Multiple-choice tests. I hate these.

The Future:

Here are the changes for the next time I will teach this course (next semester).

  • Change the content. I would like to cut out some of the activities and do more of the engineering-design activities.
  • Smaller room. Yes, I will be teaching the lecture-based course in the studio room. I would like to replace at least some of the videos with actual experiments.
  • One of my FOLC colleagues gives writing assignments. She tells the students to find some application of the content in real life. They have to submit a certain number of these and she just grades a few. I want to do this.
  • Plickers are better.