Earlier this week, I was walking around campus during one of the longer blocks and I could feel the energy emanating from one of the 9th Grade physics classrooms. Students were assembled in groups of three working together at lab tables as two physics teachers interacted with them. Judy Adler explained that this was a lab that fellow physics teacher Mike Grasso was doing later that day so he joined her for the start of class. The lab was on motion graphs and, I have to say, it really did take off!

Judy described the lab as follows:

Today's lab allowed the students to investigate graphs in a real-world situation using their own bodies to create the motion needed. An ultrasonic motion detector was used to record the students' motion as a function of time and then a computer program created position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs from the data acquired by the motion detector.

In the first half of the lab, students went from the description of a motion to predicting what the graph would look like, to doing the motion, and to finally ascertaining the accuracy of their prediction. In the second half, they were given a graph from which they had to discern which motion would generate that graph. As a conclusion to the lab, the students performed their motion to see how close they came to the actual motion. In fact, each group received a final "score" for their accuracy. The final "prize" was bragging rights, which turns out, was more than enough!

As an educator, I loved watching this class in action. Students competed for Judy's attention with non-stop questions, and she simply responded with her own questions or encouraged them to think back to earlier lessons. That is, she never answered their questions, she just pointed the way and the students eagerly followed. Several times I asked groups if they had figured it out yet or were they still confused. Most answered the latter. As I watched, I was pleased to see that, through discussion with one another and references back to the lab materials, every group was able to get past the confusion to new knowledge, which they did with full adolescent gusto.

This was for me, another example of active and cooperative learning. Students made the discoveries on their own through persistence, curiosity, conversation and some sage guidance from their teacher. Or, in a slight paraphrase of an ancient Chinese proverb: Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

Walking away, I began to imagine the impact our newly founded Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership will have on the student experience, as active learning that springs from genuine curiosity is one of the concepts around which the Center is designed. And don't worry, you will hear much more about the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership as the year unfolds.

Have a great weekend.

Dr. Mike

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