Saturday, April 9, 2016

A helpful question to include in any student homework assignment

It is good to encourage students to be reflective in a concrete way about how they are going in a course. It is even better if the teacher knows what they are thinking.

I recently stumbled across the following idea. Include the following questions on a homework problem set.

(a) What is the most interesting thing that you have learnt in the course so far? 

(b) What is the concept that you understand the least? 

(c) What specific action are you going to take to address (b)? 

(d) List some of the skills required in this course. Which one do you think that you most need to improve? How might you do that?

I recently did this for my undergraduate solid state physics course.

I found the answers to (a) interesting. Sometimes the things that we think are interesting or boring are not necessarily the same as students. Many of my students said they really liked learning about crystal structures.

(c) is good because it makes the student actually reflect on what they might do and putting it down in writing hopefully creates some pressure and accountability for them to do it.

I think (d) is particularly important for my course. One reason why students find it so difficult is that it not only draws together many areas of physics (quantum, stat. mech., electromagnetism), but also uses a range of mathematics skills (calculus, sketching graphs, series expansions,...), and general scientific skills (model building, comparing experiment and theory, approximations, critical thinking, estimating orders of magnitude,...., keeping track of physical units, ....

Do you have any experience with similar exercises to encourage students to be self-reflective and take responsibility for addressing weaknesses?

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