Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Understanding by Design, Chapter 6

Chapter six focuses on "Enduring Understandings." There's a bit about the difference between understandings and factual knowledge. So, "The specific heat of water is 1cal/gK" is factual knowledge while "Coastal areas have milder climates than landlocked areas because of water's high specific heat" is an understanding. Just as with Essential Questions, the essential-ness of the understanding depends in large part on the lessons that make up the unit. If we're not teaching for conceptual change, the best-written understanding becomes a factoid to be forgotten after the exam.

Understandings also don't have to be phrased in a way that will be clear to students. In fact, if an understanding is too clear, it might not be worth focusing a unit on.

The prompt for writing EUs is "Students should understand that" rather than "how" or a fact (even an important one). So here are some initial thoughts on understandings for physics, some of which may not be suitable for a first course taken in 10th grade (15-16yrs old).
Students should understand that:
  • we can describe motion with words, pictures, graphs, and equations.
  • if we know the initial conditions and the acceleration as a function of time for a classical (macroscopic) system, we can predict its future.
  • forces are interactions between objects or between an object and a field.
  • many physical quantities have direction as well as magnitude.
  • the "natural state" of motion is constant velocity, not constant position.
  • velocity is the rate of change of position, while acceleration is the rate of change of velocity.
  • gravitational forces, static electrical forces, and light intensity all decrease with the square of the distance from the 'source'.
  • momentum gives us a way to describe collisions even when we don't know the forces or the forces change too quickly to be useful.
  • objects have energy based on their motion and position, which gives us another way to describe them.
  • light is both a particle and a wave: the observed behavior depends on the test done.
  • moving electrical charges cause both electrical and magnetic fields.
  • energy can be transferred between objects and transformed between types, but some is always lost as heat (disorderly, atomic-scale kinetic energy).
  • different substances respond at different rates to changes in thermal energy.
Honestly, we spend the majority of our time in Sophomore Physics on the first seven of these, even though the last six are arguably more interesting.
What are your thoughts?


    Frank said...

    here are my units broken into objectives. even though i learned about ubd this year, i never really emphasized the "big ideas"... something i'd like to work on next year...

    jsb16 said...

    Thanks, Frank.