(1:55 plus 1:20)
I’ve been spending some time thinking about skills that I want my students to acquire. This was partially inspired by the hour of professional development I spent last week attending the Global Physics Department meeting. The topic was LaTeX, which I have never used but which I have seen demonstrated. Once a CS professor friend of mine showed me equation-typesetting using LaTeX, but when I went home and tried to figure it out for myself I got frustrated and stopped trying. So spending an hour at the GPD leaning more was very helpful.
I decided not to require students to use LaTeX. But I decided I would definitely require all my students to learn to typeset equations, both my first-year students and my AP students. I will gladly give them a choice as to whether they want to stick with MS Word or if they want to try LaTeX, or Open Office, or GoogleDocs, or whatever. But I never ever want to read a lab report that tells me that “the equation of the graph is velocity squared equals 19.27 meters per second squared times height plus 0.054 meters squared per second squared.” At least, never again. It makes me throw my grading pen, gnash my teeth, pull my hair, and curse out loud. And while that might momentarily feel good, I mostly don’t enjoy doing that, especially when I am only three lab reports into my grading stack.
While I did berate my students for the sin of writing equations as a set of words to read, and I did demonstrate how to do proper equations in Word using the projector, this was not enough. So I need to teach it differently, and I think I also need to grade it specifically, as in Standards-Based Grading (SBG).
Thinking about an assignment to hand in a series of equations type-set into a document got me thinking about other skills I definitely want kids to learn. For example, graphing. Students should be able to create appropriate graphs by hand and using software, with appropriately labeled axes, appropriately NUMBERED axes (I’m picky about this), enough data points, a best-fit line when appropriate, and a complete, correct equation for the best-fit line if there is one. So, for example, turning in a graph made in Excel with a trendline and an equation like “y=9.88x+0.3” is not good enough. The equation needs to include both appropriate units and appropriate variables. would be correct. Or at least mostly correct. I did that in LaTeXiT and I haven’t figured out yet how to make the units non-italic. Only the variables should be italic.
What else? My AP students should know how to add error bars to their graphs and determine the uncertainties in the slopes and y-intercepts and state the values uncertainties with the correct number of digits. Few of my ten AP students this past year ever managed to do that properly, despite the lab we did at the beginning of the year. That’s something I need to change. My AP students should also be able to write programs in Vpython. I have no idea how to break “write a program in Vpython” into a set of discrete skills I can chart, but I’m going to work on that.
Oh yeah. Also, all my students should be able to figure out how to put Greek letters into their documents! It astonishes me when a high school senior hands in a lab in which he has spelled out “pi” or “omega” rather than using “insert character” or symbol font. It’s not as if they need to memorize this stuff, because they have Google! Google can tell them how to do it!
Have I ranted enough? Probably enough for today, anyway. The additional one hour and 20 minutes of work time comes from the GPD meeting and the time I spent thinking about skills and scribbling them down on a scrap of paper from a coupon book, being in my friend’s car at the time and having neglected to bring paper and pen with me.