Mr. Miyagi, undoubtedly one of the greatest Karate teachers of movie history. What does he have to do with me (a physics teacher)!?
One of my former physics students messaged me a few months after graduation with his thoughts about the class. This is after my second year of teaching and my first year of formally using modeling instruction. During the year there was some student resistance to the discourse in our classroom and this student explains why he thought it was there. He made an interesting analogy between learning in my class and the movie “The Karate Kid”.
See conversation below:
Student “The Physics Kid”: I occurred to me yesterday something that I think might help you solidify some of your teaching methods and bring it home to the students. I realized that it wasn’t WHAT you were teaching that was giving students problems or even HOW. It was a two part problem that throughout the entire year I don’t think anyone thought to address.
First and most important, the students that did poorly and complained about it are twisted. Not in a demented sense but academically they have been conditioned to want the grade and only CARE about the grade. The key to academia is caring about what you are learning and not about the grade. So we saw adjustments in your methods and attitudes and our attitudes but we never thought about caring (which is really hard to accomplish senior year because all seniors CARE about is leaving haha)
Me “Aspiring Miyagi”: This is true and is a by-product of our education system. As a student it is easy to have tunnel-vision on that final letter assigned to you at the end of a course…the nature of our schools can actually promote this behavior! Research on motivation has shown that “carrot and stick” rewards (which letter grades are sometimes treated as) can actually inhibit learning and creativity. If you’re interested, check out Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” about motivation.
I am glad to hear that you are concerned with the learning. This perspective will take you much farther than any list of letter grades on a piece of paper will. It seems ironic that the less you focus on the grade and the more you focus on the actual learning, the more likely it is that you will receive a higher ‘grade’.
As a side note, I have been reflecting on grading practices since last year and plan to implement a different system this year, which I hope will do a better job of motivating learning. In brief, I am no longer assigning POINTS, no longer grading homework, and giving students many more opportunities to show off what they know, in and outside of class. They will get to apply for “out-of-class” assessments if they did not perform as well as they would have liked to earlier.
Physics Kid: I think the second problem was unity. What you taught was relevant and interesting in the underlying form of the thing. Physics is more than JUST physics. You weren’t so much teaching us how to make x-t graphs as teaching us how to make observations and think about them in a scientific manner. But to us, all we thought was “man I’m so sick of graphs” because we didn’t see the classic form beneath the ‘romantic’ appearance of graph making (which is not altogether so appealing)
Aspiring Miyagi: You are right on this. One of the main goals of my class is to teach students “how to think scientifically”. Pointing this out to students early on may help them see the bigger picture. Students need to know why we are doing things the way we are.
Physics Kid: Now I thought of this as the PERFECT analogy of the class. Karate Kid. When Mr. Miyagi promises to teach the kid karate then puts him to work doing all those remedial chores (wax on, wax off), the kid didn’t know what the heck to think. He was just doing chores right? He finally gets pissed and confronts Miyagi and Miyagi goes crazy on him but the kid blocks every single punch with a motion that resembles the motions of those chores! THAT is what I think we were lacking. Perspective. Unity. You taught us all these things but you didn’t put enough emphasis on the end where you would tell us what we learned was good for, therefore we had little reason to care.Here’s the clip…
Aspiring Miyagi: I think this is a great analogy! Students need more “Miyagi moments” during the year. Some students may have these moments a few years down the road as they reflect back on their high school experience, but it can only help to have them in the midst of the learning experience itself. I hope that students realize why we learned about what we did and why we approached learning like we did. I need to help them with this realization early on.
Physics Kid: I really hope this helps give some new perspective to your class. I appreciate that you stuck with our class the entire year through thick and thin even if the other students didn’t. I think someday if you can master Zen and the Art of Teaching Physics, you will be a great teacher and everyone will be dying to take your class!
Aspiring Miyagi: As for your own learning, you did very well. Thank you for sticking with the process all year, helping your classmates, and focusing on the learning- it paid off.
This student had some very insightful ideas. After reading his thoughts, I wished that I would have heard from him and other students earlier in the year. It is obvious that students not only want to discuss WHAT they are learning, but HOW, and WHY they are learning it. A few questions I’m wrestling with…
Shouldn’t I engage in discussing with students the WHAT, HOW, and WHY of the learning that takes place?
How can I promote student feedback on the WHAT, HOW, and WHY of the learning DURING the learning process?
When are the “Miyagi moments” in my classroom? or When should I incorporate these?