M.Ed. STEM ED Session 3: PHYSICS! September 3rd, 2013

EDCI 604: Learning and Teaching in the Physical Sciences

The third week in the M.Ed. Teacher Leadership in STEM program was devoted to our first session of Learning and Teaching in the Physical Sciences with Dr. Andy Elby.

Andy began by discussing the major ideas and learning objectives of the course. He also briefly shared how this Physics course will fit into the M.Ed. program as a whole, and discussed how grading would be done.

The Key Dropkey

We then jumped right into the first inquiry. In the “The Key Drop” inquiry, Andy places a random object on the floor, in this case, an eraser, to serve as a ‘target.’ He then produces a set of keys and tells the group that he would like to walk forward at a constant rate and drop the keys such that they will land on the target. The question he then poses to the group is: should he drop the keys before he reaches the target, when he is directly above the target, or after he has passed by the target.

Watch Andy present the first inquiry problem to the group: 

Andy further instructed the groups to come up with at least two good arguments for different answers.

The Arguments

NewtonMany of the groups focused on arguments to support releasing the keys before one reaches the target. The teachers claimed that even after the keys are released, they would continue moving forward at least a little. Andy pointed out that he understands why the keys are moving forward while he’s carrying them, but asked what would be making the keys go forward once he let go.

Several teachers responded, “nothing!” A few though offered responses in terms of part of Newton’s First Law of motion. One teacher said,  “An object in motion stays in motion…..unless acted on by an outside force, and the outside force is gravity.”

Andy responded by explaining that a general property of this class was to not simply restate rules (such as Newton’s laws) but to really seek out the explanations behind the rules. He pressed the teachers to really think about why, in this argument, would the keys keep moving forward once they were released. What was causing that ‘object in motion’ to ‘stay in motion?’ In response, one student said “…because there’s nothing that’s stopping it.”

Watch Andy’s response, “re-perspectiving a question:” 

The groups continued their discussions until arguments for each of the three possibilities had been created.

arguments before and overargument after

The Experiments

Andy then charged the teachers with designing and carrying out experiments to help support or refute the arguments that they had created. Carmen's Group hall

After a short while of experimenting with dropping various objects from varying heights, the group came back together to refine the parameters of the experiment. One group had noticed that even if the keys missed the target, they still seemed to continue to travel forward once released. The group also observed that the slope of the path that the keys took from the point of release to the floor became steeper the higher the drop point.

Watch: Andy Discussing refining the experiment: 

The teachers resumed their experiments. This time, some of the groups took video of the key drop. The videos were subsequently displayed on the screen for the group to watch frame-by-frame.


The videos helped the group quickly reach consensus that the keys did, indeed, seem to continue to travel forward after release. This, however, was not all there was to the explanation and Andy next tasked the group with coming up with explanations for HOW the keys traveled. There seemed to be three possibilities: 1) the keys would travel in a straight diagonal from the drop point to the floor, 2) the keys would travel forward in an arch, and 3) the keys would initially travel in an arch before dropping straight to the floor.

HOW do the keys move forward

The teachers were once again given the opportunity to discuss this new query in their small groups. Many of the arguments seemed to center on at what point gravity ‘won out’ over the forward motion and why.

The question of how the keys traveled on their journey to the floor would become part of this week’s homework assignment.

amy explains idea on board

The teachers have first been asked to design an experiment that would generate evidence to support one of the three arguments.

I’m looking forward to hearing how the ideas and arguments develop!


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