Each year I am part of the curriculum team. We work together during summer and mid-year. Our team is tasked with setting the pace for the course as well as defining the depth based on our state standards, TEKS. Our TEKS define the topics and concepts to teach. We cover all of them to some extent. The struggle starts with how long to give students to master a topic. In Texas every high school student is expected to complete a physics course to graduate as one of the four required science courses. The next struggle is deciding how much math should be required to solve the problem and complexity of the problems. So many variables make this a difficult balancing act.
Over time, the transition from a traditional lecture-based class to a fully flipped classroom has helped increase the depth of learning. Basic concepts, equations and examples are delivered through a video lesson done prior to class. This leaves our entire class time to apply and explore the ideas presented. Instead of having 30 minutes to run through data collection, we have 90 minutes to complete a lab and discuss the results. Other days, instead of sending students home with 5 – 10 practice problems, they have time to try activities that are designed to engage as well as provide the important practice needed to understand how math and physics come together with the guidance of their teacher and peers.
As activities are improved and students rise to the challenge of more thoughtful activities we are encouraging students to dig deeper into physics without overwhelming them with impossible tasks. I would like to see a model where students are given the information and can choose how they create depth. There will still be practice problem, but the amount could be tailored to the student need, not the length of the worksheet. Students will still have multiple choice tests, but they could also show learning in other ways.
Every year, things are tweaked and adjustments are made to make the course better for the students. With the right changes and the encouragement to innovate, we can move towards enough depth without the feeling of being rushed to cover content.