Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Fine Art of Surfacing

I am coming up for air after a rather frantic start to the new year (hence the title of this post, and it's also one of the first albums that I ever bought...)

Every year I manage to forget just how hectic the start of the year is. I am sure that others do as well. This year it has been particularly manic as we have "over-recruited" into Physics (...but better not complain, eh?) My first year class is now over 300. The sheer number of requests, issues, problems, questions that 300 people away at University for the very first time seem to be able to generate surprises me every year....

But the show is rolling now; we have RF clickers that are working (sort of), workshops that are getting going and the first diagnostic test assessment coming in online. The best excuse I have heard so far this year was one student asking me to reset his online test submission, as the time expired "because I had to go to my tango class

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's that time of year again.....

..... when exam results come out for entrance to Universities.

The BBC news site has an interesting video on the pluses and minuses of the A-level system.... I agree with bits of both the views here....


Further down the same article it states

Last year, 25.3% of A-level entries in the UK were awarded an A grade, with 96.9% of entries graded from A to E (pass).

For the A-level in maths, things were even more extreme; 67% of students sitting it got either an A or a B, with 44% getting an A. Nearly half the people sitting the exam got the highest grade.....

In contrast with the 97% pass rate in maths A level, it is 99% at Standard grade in Scotland, 71% at Higher Grade.

I shall be watching for the detailed breakdowns in Physics and Maths again this year....

Why don't we peer review our teaching?

I have to give a lecture in a couple of months as a result of getting a chair, which I have chosen to title "What Do I Know About Physics Education?". This morning, when falling awake, I found myself thinking about what sort of shape this lecture should have (...I have no idea how many people wake up thinking about such things but I would like to think I am not alone in this.... I vaguely recall something this morning about a thesis committee taking me out for Dim Sum as well this lunchtime. This, unlike the lecture, is a 100% dream....)

So, I was thinking : if the standard by which our research is examined and assessed is the peer review of articles, grants etc, why doesn't the same hold for the other side of the coin: our teaching?

I think that honest answer is that many places say they do this, but to what extent it is taken up I suspect is extremely variable, and likewise the spirit in which it is perceived. A quick and cursory Google brought up plenty of pages for institutions that ran similar systems to ours: a light touch Peer Observation Scheme. These examples included a couple I found in the US that used the process for formative purposes (ie for improvement of the individual concerned) and summative (ie appraisal and promotion considerations!)


But it is of course impossible to see from the pages that details schemes closer to home just how they are implemented on the ground.

A page detailing a lunctime development session held at the University of Cambridge (..I wonder how many turned out for this ... and was it 'the usual suspects'....?). One of the speakers highlighted the importance of a 'supportive culture for teaching'. I think that for this to happen, the value and importance of teaching to the institution has to be (made more?) visible for all to see in all aspects of what is done.....

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Lane of General Bewlderment

I don't know exactly where I found this, but it makes me smile every time I look at it. It hits the mark.

Institutional change and why it is so slow

I have been following the blogging activities about the AAPT meeting held this week in Edmonton (from afar still, but not quite as afar as usual....) I found loads of interesting stuff on this blog, particularly the last post on 'Twisting the Ivory Tower'.

I was reading through it thinking "yes......yes......yes" about the rationale for change and the drivers and barriers....similar issues once again (Plus Ca Change!)

(Also interesting to see that the MIT students when first introduced to TEAL in their E&M class petitioned against its introduction....!)

Critical mass

I went to give a talk today at SFU (that's about it for the Physics and
Education part of this one...!) After coming back across town I grabbed
my bike and headed downtown to the Art Gallery for something I had
previously been told about: Critical Mass - where many hundereds, or
even thousands, of cyclists take to the streets to remind the drivers fo
Vancouver that cycling is a Big Thing in the city. The route is not
pre-determined, but chosen by the people at the head of the queue and
traffic at intersections is 'corked' by cyclists who stop the traffic.

It is a wonderful atmosphere; like a carnival - there were people with
speakers on the back of their bikes, bubble machines, people in fancy
dress. I saw tandems, unicycles, recumbents, dogs and children being
towed along. We rolled around the city in the Friday evening sunshine
for two and a half-hours - and the peleton was still rolling on as I
left to come back of Burrard St bridge to get home by dark! The best bit
was stopping the traffic on both directions on top of the Lions Gate
Bridge. People raised their bikes above their heads to cries of "We're
not blocking traffic: we ARE traffic".

Most delayed motorists took it in good heart, some tooting support,
which was greeted with furious bell-ringing and cheers. There was the
odd arse giving people abuse (It raises some people hackles for reasons
other than being held up for a few minutes. There's a political
dimension to this whole idea, which started in San Fransisco and is now
held regularly around the globe).

It's the law here to wear a helmet while cycling, yet about half of the
riders yesterday did not. Some saw it as a chance to ride hat-less,
without fear of being fined. But if anything, the risk of falling off in
a tightly-packed group of cyclists seems to me to be higher than when
cycling in regular traffic here. I saw at least 3 spills, one person
quite badly injured coming down a slope in Stanley Park, with what
looked like a nasty bang to the head.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Snowshoes in July

"... All work and no play" as the saying goes, so we spent this weekend doing the Tourist Thing. On Sunday we cycled downtown and took the SeaBus over to North Vancouver and then up to Grouse Mountain. The main trail up - the Grouse Grind - was heaving, even at 10am, so we opted for the 'road less taken' (as some American poet once wrote), the BC Mountaineering Club trail.

Once at the top, it is like a tourist theme park at 11oom; all very nice, but far too busy for my liking. So we headed on up the trails, aiming for Goat Mountain. Surprised to find that once we got off the beaten path, we encountered snow. And lots of it, too. A sign suggested that the trail beyond Dam Mountain was 'closed due to adverse winter weather conditions' - and in July! It'll start snowing again in a couple of months time!

The strange thing was it was well over 20 degrees, even that high up, with the snow that was lying melting from underneath. Very cool. We could have done with snowshoes.....