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Teaching to non-college-bound class

  1. Sep 21, 2008 #1
    I am really struggling with what to do with this class. It is a general "science" class, meant to be the third science credit for students who are not very science-minded; as such, it does not count toward the admissions standards of the state universities around here--it is a high-school-graduation-credit-only course.

    I have a fantastically wide range of abilities in this class, from high-functioning special ed to HILM* slackers to one student who probably just was a victim of a scheduling conflict and couldn't get into one of the higher classes.

    I'm trying to teach a quarter of physics, one of chemistry, one of biology, and one of Earth science, but I'm having a really hard time differentiating to these students. I feel like I should be making things more 'relevant' to their background and probable futures, but when I try to do that it ends up not nearly as fun as I had hoped.

    I'm only a couple of years into teaching--and am finishing up a non-traditional education program that put me into the classroom immediately. As such I don't have a lot of experience to fall back on--so I'm looking for experienced voices!

    1. What kinds of activities should I be looking to attack with them? I'm thinking do Newton's laws all together and hit only the most important topics and practice. Then do...maybe thermodynamics? What would be the most important non-college-bound physics topics to teach them? I only have about a month in which to finish up physics.

    2. Any advice on how to differentiate to hit this extremely wide range of student ability levels?

    ETA: *HILM: High IQ, Low Motivation
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 21, 2008 #2


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    Okay, for physics, yes, I think Newton's laws will be most relevant to non-college-bound students. You can relate a lot of that to driving, which is really a big deal to all high school students. Maybe you can talk about things like how accident investigators can use skidmarks on the road to determine the initial speed of the vehicles involved in an accident?

    When you get to biology, of course the most important thing to every high school student is reproduction. :biggrin: (I'm a bit biased toward that too, considering I've spent the past 15 years of my life researching it.) People like biology to be clinically relevant in general, and if you have limited time to cover the subject, that's the most important stuff to educate them about...cover human anatomy and physiology to whatever extent you can. Talk about high blood pressure when explaining cardiovascular systems. Talk about stroke when explaining brain functions. Talk about diabetes when explaining the endocrine system. These are things that all students can relate with to some extent or another and will keep them interested.

    As for addressing multiple levels of student in a single classroom, have you considered breaking them up into different groups for smaller discussions? We did this back when I was in grade school, before we had classes split up for remedial, college prep, and honors students, and it still seems to me like a good way to handle a class with multiple educational levels in a single classroom. For example, you could divide the class into three levels of students. They don't even need to know they are at different levels if self-esteem issues are a concern, just tell them they are groups 1, 2 and 3. I don't know how long you have for each class, but let's assume it's 1 hr. In that case, for the first 15 minutes, you give a regular lecture on the material for the day that will get everyone started. Then, you give groups 2 and 3 a written assignment while you meet with group 1. Group 1 would be the slowest students who would need the additional attention before being able to move on to the written assignment. Give them their 15 minutes of extra teaching time to go over very simple concepts, then give them their written assignment (it can be different from the ones groups 2 and 3 get). Then, move on to group 2, and give them their 15 minutes of instruction at an appropriate level for them. And so on with group three. Make group three your highest level students, because they will best be able to handle doing a written assignment on a topic while waiting for their group meeting at the end of class.
  4. Oct 2, 2008 #3
    Did your school district provide you with a curriculum on what to teach? From reading your post, it appears that you have a lot of freedom in choosing the topics.
  5. Oct 13, 2008 #4


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    Just poking my nose in to see if there's any update. How is the course going? What topics have you decided to present so far?

    I was thinking that with a class like this, the "gee whiz" type demonstrations would probably be effective too. The ones that make loud noises or big messes or just look really nifty. There isn't too much of that to incorporate into biology, but chemistry and physics sure have their share of those.
  6. Oct 15, 2008 #5
    We're transitioning into Newton's laws and gravity, and I will then do a little basic thermo (with real-world applications) and maybe a few other things. Then on to chemistry...

    It is particularly tough, because my primary responsibility is my upper level physics class. This one tends to get shoved to the back burner.

    Plus, some of the demos I've done simply haven't sparked any interest. They do OK when there's a lab and plenty of physical stuff to do (perhaps many of them are "kinesthetic learners"?).

    I don't have much stuff that goes boom, and they aren't impressed with technology (I have LabQuests, but they prefer their iPods...). :/

    Buffordboy23, I do have a LOT of leeway on this class. I still need to hit some general science standards...methods of scientific inquiry and that sort of thing...but with regards to topics, I have almost complete freedom.
  7. Oct 20, 2008 #6


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    Do the whole class as podcasts? :uhh:
  8. Oct 28, 2008 #7
    Biology: Weightlifting and athletic performance affected by the body (related to cells, digestion, respiration, etc...)

    Physics: Not much you can do here. Lots of hands on stuff is boring because it is so trivial and contrived, and nobody likes formulas.

    Be enthusiastic yourself and it will hopefully rub off on the students lol
  9. Oct 28, 2008 #8


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    Actually, since there's lots of leeway in the lesson plan, why not have some real fun with it and teach both together. The actions of muscles on bones across joins is nothing but a simple lever or hinge in many cases, sometimes a pulley. Tell them you're going to teach them some physics of how hinges work, then hand out some light weights and have them do a biceps curl. Now you can teach them about the humerus, radius and ulna, the elbow joint, and some of the muscles that span that joint.

    If your school has an autoshop, or maybe just someone has an old car they don't mind gathering a bunch of students around, extend the lesson to using a lug wrench to change a tire. Have them try turning it keeping their hands close to the lug nut end, and again with their hands way out at the end of the lug wrench. Heck, even using the jack to lift the car teaches a lesson about levers. Ask them if they could lift the car so one tire comes off the ground with just their bare hands...they'll tell you no, then slide a jack underneath, and ask them if they can do it now. If it's a scissor jack instead, teach them about screws as well.

    And, if they take nothing else away from that class, they've learned how to change a tire. :rolleyes:
  10. Oct 29, 2008 #9
    I'm teaching an entire college physics class for non-science students without any math/formulas (physics 101 has no math pre- or co- requisites, and the text, Bloomfield's "How things Work," has some math problems, but not examples). Quite frankly, it's my favorite physics class to teach, because it's not a glorified math class (I probably went through MANY physics class as a physics major with little realization about what what physically going on). Bloomfield has a great website, with lots of demo ideas (under instructor information)... often you can turn the demos into small labs. My class is very hands-on (activity- and simulations- based), and the students enjoy it. I think the best thing I can do for non-science students is to give the students an appreciation of science, take away some of their fear and replace it with curiosity, and make them feel like science relates to the real world... and then give them some basic science literacy (the ability to "think scientifically" with some science concepts mastered).

    Example: This past weekend I went to the "dollar stores" around town and snatched up every fluids/air related toy I could find for a session... gliders, paratroopers, whoopie cushions (you can use them as "hydraulic lifts" for Pascal's law). I had them below across paper and spoons to gradually develop the concept of lift and the geometry of airplane wings and propellers (they made their own "whirligigs" too, with dowel rods, paper, and rubber bands). In my activity, the students often had to draw the molecules in different regions of air and explain the pressure differences that produced lift.

    When I taught HS, I liked building projects, but sometimes students don't yet have building skills (like Moonbear mentions, learning about torque with a wrench is pretty new for some students), so the quality of projects can vary (and some students also become lazy and don't want to build, even if you supply materials). Students would, however, usually rather characterize the motion of their self-built lab car (with Radio-shack motors), or solve a problem using data from a projectile launched from their own self-built catapult (a contest for a dollar-store prize is also sometimes fun with these).

    If your class has computer availability, I also suggest the simulations from the University of colorado physics education technology site (PhET). I use these a lot with my college class, since my students have enough laptops to accommodate the group structure I implement. You do have to design activities around the simulations so the students get the most out of them, but the site has ideas, or I'm presently setting up my own site where I'm cataloging my activities, mostly for my own reference (not updated for the present 101 class, but my 102 class activities are posted).
  11. Oct 30, 2008 #10
    Stopping in to read responses. The semester is HECTIC. Thanks to all of you for contributing--I will be incorporating some of what you suggest.

  12. Oct 31, 2008 #11
    For physics, if your students are mostly kinesthetic learners, design a lab around obtaining a value of something, but other then that don't set any procedural guidelines. This allows students to problem solve for themselves as well as have real-world applications.
  13. Jan 3, 2011 #12
    Aaahhh...I teach the same type of course in Colorado. For Physics, we covered Newton's Laws and simple machines. Along the way, students designed their own labs with toy cars and ramps and were required to determine speed and acceleration. We did some activities with racecars, as well-determing the forces that keep them on the racetrack, etc. We covered simple machines, and their culminating activity was to create and compete with their own mousetrap racecars. We also covered electricity and magnetism, as this is tested quite heavily on the ASVAB test. Students made their own circuits, batteries, and an electromagnet.

    However, now I am stumped. We are starting second semester, and I am at a loss as to what to do now. What are you covering in your Chem and Bio units?
  14. Jan 3, 2011 #13
    I still remember the demo from really early on in my high school freshman bio course (so almost 10 years ago) 'cause I thought it was so awesome in it's simplicity. We were learning about the contents of the cell and the basic ingredients of life, so my teacher had a salad bowl and threw in different ingredients that contained some key cell component, so an egg for proteins, sesame oil for amino acids and the like. Then he mixed it all up with a whisk. It was also to show that the ingredients themselves don't equal life, but the demo stuck.
  15. Jan 3, 2011 #14

    Andy Resnick

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    It's not clear (to me) if this course has state-mandated content or not. In any case, if you are looking for ideas, there are a lot of websites with appropriate material, for example:

    http://www.lessonplansinc.com/biology_lesson_plans.php [Broken]

    Personally, I would spend some time discussing why evolution is a scientific theory while intelligent design etc. is not- that's something *everyone* needs to understand.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  16. Jan 4, 2011 #15


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    have you seen this fun physics book, with real life physics puzzles?

    Thinking Physics: Understandable Practical Reality (English Edition) [Paperback]
    Lewis Carroll Epstein (Author)
  17. Jan 4, 2011 #16


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    For physics you could some stuff with thermodynamics with things that have different temperatures like say cups of coffee, boiled water etc.

    Take temperature readings at regular intervals and compare them to the room temperature. Get students to graph them and see if they can explain elements of how temperature changes based on things like current temperature, what it converges to and so on.
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