Using Tasks Inspired by Physics Education Research

Below are my thoughts on the Tasks Inspired by Physics Education Research (TIPERS).
These are really excellent tools to promote discussion in your physics class, no matter what the level. I strongly recommend buying one or more of these books. By the way, a lot of hard work by physics teachers like yourselves went into these books, and the authors are not making large amounts of money from them. So, if you meet one of the authors, thank them.

In my opinion, if you are only going to buy one of these books, you should get the “Sensemaking Tasks” book (the one with the blue cover). It has the widest range of different types of tasks and content. The Electricity and Magnetism Tasks book seems to be intended for Calculus-based physics courses like AP Physics C, Electricity and Magnetism. Many of the tasks in this book are very challenging. The Ranking Tasks book and the Newtonian TIPERS are both very good and very useful for both Physics C and Physics 1-2 (Newtonian TIPERS less so for Physics 2, of course).

TIPERS present a scenario that may be a familiar lab or “real-life” experience, often with a diagram and several different but similar alternative scenarios. Students are asked to do various things, rank the scenarios, find contradictions in student “analysis” of the scenarios, or simply explain something using physics. Although numbers may be given for physical quantities, TIPERS are generally not answered through calculation, and rarely are enough numbers given that students could plug numbers into an equation to find answers. Some TIPERS may be answered with little to no mathematic reasoning, and are more conceptual than mathematical. Others are very much easier if you reason proportionally using the equation, even though you don’t have complete information on all of the variables given in the task.

I generally use TIPERs with a conceptual basis early in a unit. I pass the task out, ask student to complete it silently and individually. This usually takes 5-10 minutes. After everyone has completed the task, including explaining their reasoning (a particularly important step), students discuss with their group or neighbors for an additional 5-10 minutes. When the groups have had a chance to reach consensus, I ask one or more groups to present their answers to the class, and the whole class tries to reach a consensus. I have been walking around talking to the groups, so I can choose to pick a group with the correct answer, or to pick a group with flawed reasoning but an interesting explanation for their reasoning.

I usually follow the same procedure with the more mathematical TIPERS, except that I wait until after students understand the equations to use them. It is often possible to answer these conceptually, using proportional reasoning but not an equation, but this is often a bit tortuous. It may take a little experience before you get a feel for the best time to use a particular TIPER, but once you discover that moment, you will probably want to use it every year in the same way. I usually only give one or two TIPERs per class meeting, and I don’t use them every class meeting. At this rate, students seem to enjoy them, and the discussions have been very productive. I insist on students writing complete answers, and sometimes take up the papers for a “participation” grade. No writing, no grade. I think this type of practice is especially useful for AP Physics 1 and 2, with the increased writing demands of their exams.

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About marcreif

I live and teach high school physics in the town I was born in, Fayetteville, Arkansas. My professional interests include modeling instruction and Advanced Placement courses. I also work as a College Board Workshop Consultant, which means I lead Pre-AP and AP Science Teacher workshops. Lately I've also been leading a fair amount of student review sessions for the National Math and Science Initiative. I have a website for students (fysicsfool.info) and another for AP Summer Institute participants (apsifool.info). I tweet infrequently (@marcreif).
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