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What Does Good Teaching Look Like?

I am midway through Teach Like a Champion, which I picked up after reading the New York Times Magazine article “Building a Better Teacher.” I find both the book and article thought-provoking, though I am somewhat bothered that their assertions seem to be accepted uncritically by many of the reviewers I’ve encountered. Two things about these works are especially striking to me:

First, their vision of what an effective lesson looks like seems radically different than the one held forth by the big-wigs of Physics Education Research (PER). Teach Like a Champion comes with a dvd-rom of video clips demonstrating the teaching techniques it advocates. Click here for a few clips borrowed from the dvd for the Times online article. Similar clips are available on YouTube here.

Compare those clips to videos to the series of clips here. These are from SUNY Buffalo State and are intended to train viewers in using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) to evaluate science instruction. I also managed to find an old Quicktime video of Malcolm Wells, one of the original developers of modeling method for physics instruction. (Warning: this video is ridiculously slow to load.)

One can argue that I’m comparing apples to oranges. The first set of videos focuses on techniques that are effective in middle schools that are comprised largely of under-served urban populations; the second is for evaluating high school and college instruction. The first set of techniques is held forth as effective because they allegedly lead to gains on conventional standardized tests. The second set of techniques is considered effective because of gains on tests like the Force Concept Inventory. Yet I’m still troubled by the differences, perhaps because its plausible for a reasonable high school physics teacher to emulate one and be evaluated by the standards of the other.

The second thing I find striking is the very idea of using video clips to convey what a lesson should look like. When a teacher at an Uncommon School explains her classroom culture, it’s hard to fathom the degree of discipline she maintains until you see it. Similarly, when an instructor who is accustomed to lecturing attempts to teach in a more constructivist fashion, it will feel unbearably messy and it will be difficult for the instructor to gauge whether it is “good” messy or “terrible” messy.

Learner.org and the InTime Project run out of University of Northern Iowa both have collections of videotaped lessons to assist teacher professional development. The former is excellent, especially the clips in Minds of Our Own. I confess I’m not well-acquainted with the latter. I tend to teach as I was taught and am reluctant to try something if I don’t have a clear idea in my head of how it should look, so the idea behind these resources resonates with me.

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Hello world!

I’ve decided to start a blog about teaching physics.

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