November 9, 2021
In this second blog post by physics teacher Marta Stoeckel, Marta explains how she introduces Pivot Interactives to her students and supports them in learning a new technology tool.
Like a lot of people who use guided-inquiry approaches like Modeling Instruction, I spend a lot of time on constant velocity. For me, this unit is as much about establishing a class culture, helping students start to feel confident in physics, and teaching students how to be successful in my class as it is about any of the physics content. Going slowly through content, in the beginning, allows me to lay a firm foundation that we can build on later in the year as students become more comfortable and independent in my classroom.
This past week was our fourth week of school, and we finally wrapped up constant velocity. My students came into the week already pretty solid on solving problems for objects with a constant velocity, so this week was mostly about getting them feeling confident with the content and introducing them to tools we would be using later in the year. First, I introduced students to video analysis using the constant velocity portion of Finding 1D Motion Examples. Students had a homework assignment to record a short video of something moving with a constant velocity, then we used class time to analyze the videos to produce position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs.
Next, to focus more directly on calculations, students worked through the Pivot Interactives activity, Intro to Motion Graphs: Ping-Pong Ball Bazooka. In the first sections, all students were working with the same video, which allowed students to compare notes with their peers and see if they had the same answers. In the final section, each student was randomly assigned to one of five different trials and had to do calculations based on their trial using randomly generated distances and times. Students could still discuss their approaches, but each individual had to do their own calculations since no one else was working with the same value. This gave the activity significant individual accountability, while still allowing students space to discuss and collaborate.
These activities were my students’ first exposure to Pivot Interactives and it was very intentional that I placed these activities at a point in the unit when students should have a good grasp of the content. In the past, I frequently introduced students to new technology tools when we were doing a lab designed to introduce new content. However, in some interviews I did as part of my ongoing PhD research, I heard over and over from students that activities with a heavy technology component undermined their confidence and felt disconnected from the real world. I still think digital activities have a place in the science classroom (or I wouldn’t be writing for Pivot Interactives!), but those interviews got me thinking about how I’m approaching technology in my classroom. By introducing Pivot Interactives through activities where students should already be solid on the physics content, students were able to put their focus on learning their way around the platform, rather than thinking as hard about the science. I also put the video analysis first and insisted that students record their own videos to make sure the first activity they did was solidly connected to the real world. With the ping-pong bazooka, we were then able to talk about how the way the Pivot Interactives studio team recorded the videos was similar to what students had done the previous day to help students see how the bazooka as a real-world phenomenon, even if they couldn’t see it in-person.
I am also very purposeful about the amount of instruction I give when introducing my students to new technology. I’ve tried walking the whole class step-by-step through what they need to do, but there are always students who struggle to pay attention, who click the wrong button and need individualized support, or who otherwise miss something important and I end up repeating the step-by-step walkthrough for a big portion of the class. I’ve also found with that approach that many students feel very dependent on the walkthrough and have trouble shifting to using the technology more independently on the next activity. Instead, I introduce students to new technology by providing them with resources like specific articles* from the Pivot Interactives help page or activities with detailed instructions on how to use the tools within a program or website and let students know they need to try using those resources before I will help them. I still get a lot of questions from students hoping for a walkthrough, but I answer those by directing students to check the user guide or instructions. It takes a lot of patience on my part, and I spend most of the hour on my feet bouncing from group to group. But the payoff is the next time we use that same technology because students are comfortable with the help resources and are able to use the technology much more independently, even if they can’t remember all the details of the tool. This frees me up to help students with the physics, rather than the tools. The next time we use Pivot Interactives, I’ll see if my efforts in insisting students try the help page before asking me what to do pay off!
* Here are the specific articles I share with my students as resources for getting started with Pivot Interactives:
Using the Data Table and Graphing Tool