Foundations: Five Values of Physics

Core values of my physics classes
Physics is a rather quantitative subject (surprising, right?) and the majority of my course skills (SBG post) reference the application of a law or concept in pursuit of a numerical or symbolic answer.  I've incorporated a sprinkling of skills assessing explanations of phenomena, but these qualitative practices often come secondary to the math-intensive ones.

Beyond non-numerical applications of physics, I also began to worry about whether I was emphasizing soft (be-a-good-human) skills enough.  Personally, I would love for my classes to encourage all of my kids to be better people as well as better analysts of the world.  And if I have to choose between the two (people or analysts), I would pick better people without hesitation.  To that end, I created the five values of physics (question, explain, connect, represent, and respect) to integrate these compassionate and self-aware practices with sound solving strategies and habits.

What do these values mean? (written as the student)

Question: Am I asking thoughtful, productive questions to my tablemates?
Explain: Am I answering other people's questions?  Am I going out of my way to explain my thought-process to someone else?  Am I trying to be helpful?
Connect: Am I making connections between different concepts, units, or skills?  Am I connecting with my tablemates?  Do I know what connections my tablemates are struggling to make?
Represent: Can I represent the same scenario using different models, diagrams, or skills?
Respect: Am I respecting my classmates' work, effort, and understanding?  Am I respecting my classmates' feelings?

How have these values become part of my classroom?  

The values are visible, really visible.  I have two huge banners of these core values on my walls so that during whiteboarding (which is what we do most days, see post here), each student can easily see them.  I also include these values on my packets.  I mentioned in my whiteboarding post that each student works through a packet every unit (in lieu of a textbook).  Every single page of every single packet has these values at the top.  In case you are wondering, yes this was a time-consuming process (but worth it!).  I included an example of what this looks like below on the cover page of our momentum packet.  Rest assured, the same heading of values appears on each and every page inside!
Cover page of momentum transfer model packet
Once I had the visibility taken care of, I had to figure out how to engage the students as I'm not formally assessing them on these values.  I am constantly thinking about how to raise the priority of these practices in their minds.  Please know that this work is absolutely in progress (and will continue to be for some time I'm sure), but here's the general idea of what I'm trying.  First, as I walk around the whiteboarding tables, whenever I see an awesome demonstration of one of the values, I either circle or put a smilie face next to that value on the top of the student's packet.  I don't always say anything as I don't want to interrupt all the good stuff going on, but the student notices and smiles.  I don't do this tremendously often as I don't want to foster competition or insincerity.  So I save this acknowledgment and appreciation for truly model emulation of the values.  I also have the students complete occasional reflections about which values they feel they practice regularly, those they need to work on, and what changes they will make in the future.

The student response overall has been positive.  There have been times when they will draw a smilie face on each other's packets, which I have loved.  They are also beginning to use the vocabulary more regularly.  On their reflections, they are thoughtful and honest.  Respect is the value that comes up the most, and there have been occasions of teasing, "You aren't respecting me!  You are breaking the rules!" Of course, if actual disrespect is going on, I nip it in the bud right away.  But these outbursts often happen in happy moments when transitioning from one problem to another and they tell me that the students KNOW these values are a THING.  That is what I want more than anything.  I want these values to be a THING for them.

Going forward I want to:

  1. recognize students more often for good modeling
  2. increase my reference to our values in my feedback during whiteboarding (now my feedback is predominantly content-skill based)
  3. find a way to emphasize these skills more during AP® lab activities as effective communication can be very challenging for students at this higher academic level.
  4. remember that even though the students might project outwardly that they think these values are silly, they aren't silly.  Instead, they emphasize growth in areas that make us positive contributors to society.  What could be less silly than that?


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