Bridging Critical Points: discontinuities in high school ... ?· Bridging Critical Points: discontinuities…

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<ul><li><p>Bridging Critical Points:discontinuities in high school and university physics education</p><p>Noah FinkelsteinDepartment of Physics, UCB 390, University of Colorado, Boulder 80309</p><p></p><p>The paper examines data collected from teaching an introductory college physics classoffered at a public high school. Assessment of student achievement demonstrates thatstudents are able to perform at a college level. Nonetheless this achievement is notrecognized by the institutions supporting this experimental course. Analysis of detaileddaily notes begins to answer why and how students are marginalized in this educationalsystem. Particularly, three themes of structural, normative and epistemologicaldiscontinuity detail why these students or institutions fail.</p><p>Introduction:While most students in the United States</p><p>graduate from high school, they generally do notgraduate from college. According to a recentstudy by the Stanford University Bridge Project,approximately 90% of White students graduatefrom high school, 70% enter college, and less than30% of this population graduates with a Bachelor'sdegree.[1] The attrition is yet worse for African-American and Latino students. There is aneducational gap between high school preparationand college success. The authors of the BridgeProject make several policy recommendations toaddress this gap. They advocate, "[1] senior-yearcourses linked to postsecondary generaleducation courses [and, 2] expanding successfuldual or concurrent enrollment programs betweenhigh schools and colleges so that they include allstudents." Simultaneously, the California MasterPlan for Education cites the importance of a bridgebetween high school and university [2]. Inparticular, the two-year college system plays acritical role by providing "opportunities for highschool seniors to enroll concurrently to furtherstrengthen their readiness for college or universityenrollment and to accelerate their progress towardearning collegiate certificates or degrees."</p><p>In the Fall semester of 2002, I undertook a studyto examine the practicalities of offering auniversity level physics course inside a highschool. (A more detailed description of the class,motives and structure can be found in [3].) Theexperimental high school course was designed tomimic the University of California's introductory</p><p>algebra-based physics sequence whilesimultaneously offering high school students onesemester of community college credit. The classwas a three-way partnership between theuniversity (where I was housed), the high school(where the class was taught) and a localcommunity college (which would provide creditand other future courses for the students).</p><p>The following paper examines student successand how student achievement is bound to abroader framework coordination among differentinstitutional partners, and reconciliation of theirdiffering cultural norms. Ultimately, significantstudent achievement is substantively diminishedby the surrounding institutional cultures. Thisdesign experiment [4] examines discontinuities inthe structures, norms, and epistemology ofpartners begins to answer why and how studentsare marginalized in this educational system andwhy these students, institutions, or both fail.</p><p>The Study:The class was held at a public charter school</p><p>located in a large California city. The high schoolitself was diverse (representative of the citydemographics), progressive, project-based,relatively new, and small (approximately 400students). Students were admitted by lottery aftera pre-screening application that selected formotivated, rather than high performing students.The class met three days per week and wascomprised of three lectures and one recitationsection. We followed a traditional text, and used ahybrid of lecture notes and activities from UCPhysics 1 and University of Maryland Physics</p></li><li><p>121. The recitation sections were largely based onTutorials in Physics [5]. The class began with 38students and ended with 31. Student backgroundvaried from those who had taken no physics andhad mastered limited amounts of trigonometry tostudents who had taken an advanced placementphysics course and were concurrently enrolled in acollege level calculus class.</p><p>Two forms of data were collected: quantitativeassessments of student mastery of the domain andqualitative field-notes. At the beginning and endof term, students were issued the Force ConceptInventory (FCI) [6]. During the twelfth week ofterm, students were issued the same mid termexamination as was issued the prior year at theUniversity of Maryland. In addition to usingidentical exams, the University of Marylandscoring rubric was used to grade the exams.Lastly, approximately 60% of the class opted totake an external final exam developed andadministered by the community college system.Within 24 hours of teaching each class, I wrote adetailed account of the day's activities. Whilethese data may be considered subjective, theyserve to interpret the meaning of the "moreobjective" and quantitative measures. Analysis ofthese notes helps interpret why and how thiscourse evolves as it does by identifying criticalstructures, norms, practices, and beliefs of theindividuals and participating institutions.</p><p>Results / Discussion:Over the course of the term, it became clear to</p><p>me that this group of high school students couldlearn college level material. The high schoolcourse average on the Maryland mid-term was68%; the Maryland students averaged 62%. Onthe pre- and post- conceptual survey (FCI),students posted gains of 44%. During the sameterm, students in one of the most progressive-introductory physics courses at the University ofCalifornia posted the highest measured gains at theinstitution: 23%. (Both the high school and theuniversity course pre-test averages were 48%.)These assessments were corroborated by a myriadof examples from daily field-notes. A notremarkably unusual example of student masteryappears in day 43 of these notes:</p><p>As I was grading the homework... [For] astandard, but complicated problem using</p><p>Bernoulli's equation, Larry spent a page andhalf working from the basic equations that I hadprovided in class. In the end, he gets the rightanswer, v=sqrt (2 g h) and recognizes this is thesame for free fall. He writes, "OKAY! I nowrealize this is the same as v=sqrt(2gh). Thebook says as with Torricelli [a theorem I hadnot mentioned in class] That if P3=P1 thenv=sqrt(2gh) and this is really what I justderived."</p><p>Despite coordinating the course outline andsyllabus with each of the partnering institutionsfrom the outset, late in the term of the course, itwas determined that if students wanted to receivecollege credit for their efforts, they would berequired to take a challenge exam at thecommunity college. The exam was created for thestudents by the faculty of the community college.If students opted to take the challenge exam, theywould receive a college transcript with the gradethey received on the exam (including D or F). Atthe end of the course, 19 of the high schoolstudents opted to take the exam. Of the 19students, 17 were the top-performers (A or B) inthe high school class. On the community collegeexam, students scored as follows: 1 A, 3 B's, 7 C's,1 D and 7 F's. In short, this evaluation is wellbelow the level of mastery demonstratedelsewhere. Notably this external exam differedfrom those exams issued as part of the course.</p><p>While considered a success within the confinesof the classroom walls, this micro-culture sitswithin broader, existing worlds to which it isstructurally bound. From that vantage point it maybe seen as a failure of the students (to succeed inthe established cultures), or of the institutions (tosupport the educational and social development ofstudents). Three emergent themes from the dailynotes begin to detail why so many students failedthe community college exam, and why it is such achallenge to create sustainable and scalable formsof inter-institutional collaboration.Structural discontinuity:</p><p>These systems are not designed to coordinate onjoint activity. Arguably, the high school isintended to hand students off to the universitysystem; though, the statistics presented in theintroduction would suggest even this might not bethe case. Nonetheless, a variety of organizationaland structural issues presented fundamental</p></li><li><p>obstacles to the success of a sustainedcollaborative venture. Most notably, initially, Iwas not allowed to teach in standard public school.While I teach current and future high school teachers, Iam not certified to teach high school students. Acharter school allowed me to teach withoutcertification.</p><p>Further structural discontinuities arose over theuse of available resources. As I observed duringthe first day of teaching:</p><p>For as little as UC pays attention to / caresabout introductory level physics., [THE HIGHSCHOOL] PROVIDES FEWER RESOURCESTHAN U.C. WHEN IT COMES TOEDUCATING STUDENTS in physics So I'm incharge of 40 seniors. I'm supposed to cover16 weeks of physics which will be the equivalentof [algebra-based] Physics at UC. They will notbe running a lab. I had to talk theadministration into offering recitation sections.[Although] they had told me they'd offer one fivedays per week, in fact, they are only offering 3[later, reduced to 1]. They have no equipmentfor demonstrations. I have no TA's, no graders,no proctors, no demonstration staff and no gradstudents. Just me, 40 students, a lousy textbook,and a [digital] projector</p><p>Similar structural discontinuity may be observedin the time allotted for supporting and payingteachers. As I noted, at the high school:</p><p>I get paid for face-time with the kids. Now I'man hourly [employee] where they wanted to payme for 6 hours (3 hours lecture, 3 recitation).</p><p>In the high school culture, 5-6 hours per day isspent teaching. A full time teaching load is 25-35contact hours per week. In the university system,a full time instructor is expected to spend 12-18contact hours per week, often less.</p><p>A variety of other, more mundane and dailystructural issues challenged our abilities tocoordinate. The choice of textbook was set by thehigh school (in order to save students / schoolmoney) rather than by the university demands, orthe choice of the instructor. Discontinuities ofinstitutional schedules prevented other forms ofcoordination, such as bringing university studentsto participate in the high school environment.</p><p>Each partner institution had its own structure thatconstrained how the class could operate. At manytimes, the differing institutional structures were atodds. Most notably, in the end, the arrangement of</p><p>institutional structures required the high schoolstudents had to take an externally developed, high-stakes exam in order to receive college credit.Norms and practices:</p><p>These surrounding and sometimes conflictinginstitutional structures are instantiated in differingnorms and practices. For instance, universityinstructors generally act autonomously, and covera curriculum of their choosing (bound by history, atext, and loose curriculum guidelines). Ifuniversity instructors wish to make a classinteractive, progressive or even include anemphasis on developing student epistemology theyare free (and occasionally encouraged) to do so.Instead, the high school turned down my offer tohave an entirely interactive class, requesting that Ioffer straightforward lectures:</p><p>I'm being asked to teach a straightforwardlecture class. Somehow the high school has thisvision of University courses which is based onthe LEAST optimal college environment ratherthan the MOST optimal. Funny. I only agreedto lecture if I can have recitation sessions everyday. Now they have them 3x / week [laterreduced to 1]. I told [the vice principal] thatwhile this is known to be a sub-optimal learningenvironment (lecture), I suppose it couldprepare students for the rotten education theywould get at UC if they got in. [The VP]laughed and said, "yeah, I guess we've sold oursoul to the devil here."</p><p>While high school instructors may have someautonomy in the classroom, curriculum standards,external assessments and certification constrainthe scope of instruction and approach. In a highschool, it is often mandated that externalexaminers evaluate a class. In the universitysetting, it is remarkably rare..Ideology / epistemology:</p><p>These differing norms and practices reflectdiffering ideological and epistemologicalcommitments. Least obvious, but perhaps themost critical set of discontinuities within thissystem are the norms (or epistemologicalcommitments) of what it means to learn physics.If the high school, community college, anduniversity were aligned in terms of what it meantto learn physics, many of the structural andnormative differences would have disappeared. Itwould not have mattered that students had to take</p></li><li><p>an exam, or that the course occurred in largelypassive mode. In light of the community collegeexam, had we considered physics to be a purelyprocedural domain of inquiry where formulae aremanipulated to calculate answers in the back of atextbook, there may not have been a problem.However, this high school class was directed by adiffering ideology. As stated in the syllabus:</p><p>This class is not going to be like traditionalscience classes where you are expected tomemorize a bunch of facts. It will be better, andwith your genuine effort, more fun. We will focuson developing skills to think rationally (andcoherently) about the physical world. We willpay attention to results (answers), but moreimportantly how we get the results and whetheror not these results make sense (are they validand how do they sit with your intuitions, whichcan help or hinder the process). Developing theskills to think scientifically is the goal that weare aiming for.</p><p>Apparently students themselves became aware ofthe difference between this approach and that ofthe community college. On day 36, I note:</p><p>Marcia wanted to know if [our mid-term] examwas going to be like the [community college]mid-term that I had assigned [previously for]homework. Steve answered for me--- no it willbe more about problem solving and reasoning.</p><p>As evidenced by traditional practices in the highschool and community college system, the natureof the challenge-exam, mastery of physics wasmore closely aligned with mastering proceduresand short, analytical problems that emphasized themanipulation of formulae. As described, theexperimental course strived to include a broaderframework for such procedural and problemsolving strategies, which included synthesis,estimation, reflection, articulation, sense-making,and conceptual mastery. The students' ultimatefailure on the community college exam reflectedthis misalignment.</p><p>A final comment by one of the collaboratingfaculty members at the community collegeidentifies a final, and important area ofdiscontinuity-- that of agency. Who is responsiblefor the students failing the final exam? He notes:</p><p>If students don't...</p></li></ul>