OnRamps Physics: Yay or Nay?
This article is written by Lonestar Writer, Natalie Lehmann.
With our educational environment constantly changing, it should come as no surprise that educators have created another challenge. As students, we’ve faced new grading policies, new standardized tests, and now we have OnRamps Physics, a twist on dual credit classes in that the high school class is taken alongside the college class. As great as it may sound though, it has its downfalls and with OnRamps being only three years old all around Texas, the setbacks are numerous.
Everyone knows about dual credit courses: a college credit class is taken in high school, but those classes are old news. Today, the University of Texas at Austin has created OnRamps — college and high school classes taken together. There are two teachers, but only one lesson plan, revolving around a self-taught curriculum. In theory, it’s a chance for students to “experience college before college,” and the best part is that at the end of the year, if the student decides they are not satisfied with their final grade, they can decline the credit and it’s as if the course never existed. Although our OnRamps class is innocuously titled “Physics,” it is definitely not a beginner’s class, the level of difficulty is high and is exacerbated by the fast pace, lack of teacher-student interaction and insistence on “teach yourself” curriculum.
The idea of OnRamps at the high school was thought of as a replacement for AP Physics but later developed into a substitute class for Pre-AP or Grade Level Physics, “especially for kids who were interested in going to UT or another Texas public school.” Since the main idea of the course was not clear to students signing up for the class, those who did register for the class were unsure of what to expect regarding the difficulty of the course. The course is the same as the first-semester college physics at UT Austin, as real as a college course can get, requiring students to have previous knowledge of physics and higher math. Although the coursework is more difficult compared to the average science class, the students receive more than two weeks to complete homework assignments and there are less than ten tests throughout the whole year. Even with prolonged time, the classwork is not made for an advanced high school student let alone a typical one.
In an average classroom, the teacher stands in front of the class, teaches, and dictates to the students what they should do next. From labs to homework, students in a traditional Physics class follow this timeworn pattern. This is what students are accustomed to and many learn best from it, but OnRamps takes a different approach: The teacher is still given the lesson plan and still hands out assignments but instead of the students being taught directly from the teacher they are taught by each other. The ideal situation is to have “students collaborating together, being given challenging problems and having as much time through peer instruction to solve them.” They are expected, as all college students are, to pre-read their chapters for the assignments received in class and to take notes before class. For most high school students, this is unheard of. To have to do work for class before class even starts? Crazy!
However, students may feel, this is how OnRamps works. They believe their students will do the work outside of class to then be able to communicate and learn from each other when class is in session — instead of having a whole class period filled with lectures, they are basically teaching themselves with only the guidance of a teacher. For many students, this is perfect, as they want that challenge and they appreciate that they can do it at their own pace, but for others, it is a terrible idea. Going from the classic high school classes to OnRamps has been difficult for this reason — students aren’t used to so much pre-class preparation and self-guided instruction. Along with the tremendous amount of student involvement in the course, the lack of teacher involvement is just as astounding for the teachers and students alike, proving how difficult the “process of learning how much of [the material] is hands-off and how much of it is hands-on.” Very few classes have the levels of student collaboration that OnRamps offers. Students are in control of how they learn but because they have never been taught this way and teachers aren’t supposed to go back to the classic way of teaching their students — even if the students would benefit. The teacher position in the class allows for them to not “simply give an equation, saying ‘here’s what the word problem is’, plug it in and done,” but to provide students with the option to get to that “powerful ‘ah-ha’ moment” through a “deeper dig of the material.” This could be a good thing, a sort of “sink-or-swim” situation to enhance the learning and simulate what college is like. But, high school students still need teachers for the exact reason that teachers are teachers: to teach. Though textbook readings may have all the information, no book can bring excitement and energy to a course as the right instructor can.
As a new installment and maybe a transient one in the high school curriculum, there are many bumps that need to be smoothed and will be with the proper student feedback. The bottom line is that no matter what is expected from students, making the jump from high school to college in only one class and only between one summer is a very difficult change. Onramps isn’t working for students or teachers at the moment but, with the correct balance of student and teacher involvement mixed with the perfect amount of rigor and challenge for students to ace the curriculum, OnRamps Physics has the potential to be the next best thing at our high school.
- Dillard, Roger. “OnRamps Physics, Inside Look.”