Teaching the smart kids (or at least the motivated kids)

For the first time since I've been teaching I have a high-end physics class this semester. Everything I've taught to this point has been computer application electives, introductory physics, or remedial math, all of which present a variety of challenges in addressing student needs and keeping kids on track.

For the first time since I've been teaching I have a high-end physics class this semester. Everything I've taught to this point has been computer application electives, introductory physics, or remedial math, all of which present a variety of challenges in addressing student needs and keeping kids on track. However, this physics class is a whole different ballgame.

These students really want to learn this stuff. They have every intention of completing a college major that would at least require a single physics or applied math course (most likely many more) and are completely engaged because they know that initial exposure to the subject at this level will help them in the future. Wow. What a change from, "When are we ever going to need geometry?"

What this means is that I don't need to struggle to keep the kids focused, but I do need to raise the bar of my teaching to keep them challenged. Enter technology. Whereas the technical tools I used last semester for labs in my introductory physics classes help students understand the basic concepts, the labs I'm preparing use technology to help students explore and extend more advanced concepts.

I was happy to simply demonstrate constant acceleration in freefall last semester. This time around we can actually analyze data, write meaningful reports, and otherwise prepare for the use of computers and technology in the real word beyond Microsoft Word and posting pictures to MySpace.

Now my challenge is to challenge the kids, rather than simply keep them from falling asleep. Obviously kids at all ability levels deserve the best we can give them. However, teaching the motivated is one way in which technology can really shine, offering new ways for kids to learn at their own pace and extend their skills and critical thinking abilities on their own.

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