Physics Class in Moonshot Academy: A Path for Learning to Take Place Naturally
Shen Liang, a physics teacher at Moonshot Academy.
He is not tall, medium built, and wearing a pair of frame glasses. In our eyes, he is rigorous in everything he does, and he is your typical engineer guy. Liang has an in-depth knowledge of physics and physical science, and his enthusiastic and entertaining teaching style definitely engages students’ learning.
Shen Liang teaches two courses in Moonshot Academy, one of which is called “Fly Us to the Moon.” In his class, students design rocket models with software and then build their water rocket models for test flights.
The other course is called “What’s the Use of Mechanics?”. Through this course, students learn and master the general concepts and basic principles of physics. Liang always encourages students to design relevant experiments in class so they can experience the application of physics in life.
01. A physics class hoped to last
When explaining the law of conservation of energy, Liang played a video about chain reaction to illustrate the forms of energy and how energies convert and conserve.
When they finished watching, the students said, “Let’s build the model.”
Hence, Liang and his students found some woods and recreated the experiment from the video. The experiment was to build a path using woods allow a little ball roll from the top of the stair into the classroom without stopping.
The students tried for twenty or thirty times, and the trials were not successful. However, they kept revising, calculating, and adjusting their experiments, even it had already been quite a while after the class ended. The class did not end until the students succeeded at last.
When teaching about water rockets, Liang first explained that rocket lifting is a model of uniformly accelerated rectilinear motion (u.a.r.m).
Then he asked a series of question, “you would need to write down the figure of the heights that your rocket can reach on your lab report, how should you obtain relevant data? How do you measure the flight height?”
The guidance of the teacher drove the students to ponder and conclude some physics concepts and methods. Under the teacher’s facilitation, students tried to build a motion model independently.
Some students raised a question, “What if there is friction?”
In response, Liang told the students, “If friction is to be considered, we need to rethink the force analysis, and we might need the knowledge of calculus to describe its motion accurately. Which I think you have not yet learned that.”
The answer from the students was, “That’s okay, we can learn it now.”
Therefore, Liang suggested students look up pertinent information while he had already prepared the materials in advance to provide relevant assistance timely. Sometimes, Liang would recommend some articles to the students so they can refer to experts’ thinking or ideas on the subject matter.
02 Let learning take place naturally
Students commented that previously their teachers in public schools would mainly start the class by putting forward a test problem, and then telling them the existence of a specific concept and its definition, and then they went on to how to use the formula, and the variant calculations. After that, they just started analyzing types of test questions directed at the taught concept, and provided the students with many drillings on common mistakes students made during exams.
Note: In many public schools, learning is teacher-centered, and students passively receive knowledge from the teachers through lectures and direct instruction, with an end goal of positive results from testing and assessment.
When we asked them about the situation in Moonshot Academy, they introduced that after the research question was posted, they would usually read many relevant materials online, and look for resources nearby. Then they would design the experiment independently from the teacher and run trials and then write test reports.
“In our class, the teacher won’t directly tell us the subject knowledge. Most of the time, he asks us to research the topic, to look up information, to analyze the data, and to discover and conclude the general laws of physics.”
Another student thought it is more interesting to explore on their own. She believed that more learning occurs in the process of exploration, “When you are trying to solve one question, you might unintentionally find many other materials about the physics principles or equations. In that case, you could learn more and expand your knowledge of the topic.”
Note: In MoonShot Academy, we emphasize student-centered learning which the teacher’s primary role is to coach and facilitate student learning and overall comprehension of material and to measure student learning through both formal and informal forms of assessment.
03 Regain the curiosity to the world
Liang said that we were once children, full of curiosity toward the phenomena and mysteries in nature, but our sense of curious faded away slowly as we grew older.
“After being with these high schoolers, you would notice that their ways of looking at the world were still with a curious heart. Therefore, I hope that through active learning at MoonShot, I can help them regain their spirit of inquiry and eagerness to explore the world. ”
Shen Liang is Physics PBL Teacher in Moonshot Academy.