Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Digital Remastering: The Summer Work of 2023

The Lessons of Phyz at TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) began in 2018 with the publication of question sets for The Mechanical Universe (High School Adaptation) episodes. At the time, those episodes were not available for purchase, nor did they stream. [Now, all episodes of The Mechanical Universe stream freely.]

Other series and a variety of single-episode documentaries were added in 2019. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it became clear that the Google Docs format was the new PDF, so I began the work of transforming all my extant PDF resources into Google Docs. When remote teaching morphed into hybrid learning in 2021, I found I needed to post resources as "print-friendly Google Docs", files that could be assigned and collected in Google Classroom (or other LMSs) and could also be printed for use in the classroom for in-person instruction.

Hundreds of resources have since been added. The Lessons of Phyz offers 640 products as I write this post. But as the months and years have rolled by, I have discovered a few things about my resources.

I've solidified some formatting and style aesthetics that weren't always consistent in the early works. And I've notice a phenomenon that I can only refer to as "digital drift": a microscopic change in Google's fonts or kerning which—on rare occasions—altered the formatting in some documents, especially when printing them.

So I've spent this summer "digitally remastering" the old documents so that they would behave better in general, and when particularly printed. It's important to me that these documents perform as I intended them to when I created them.

As I was finishing that work, news arrived that Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics Alive! video series had become available to stream or download for free. So I remastered all my CPA question sets to include clickable links to the corresponding video. Embedded video links were already incorporated in The Mechanical Universe, Kinetic Karnival, and other series and stand-alone episodes in which a video streamed freely. 

Any typos found in remastering were fixed. I suppose it was like weeding a garden.

In any case, the store's products have been polished and the shelves are handsomely stocked as we head into the 2023-24 school year. 

Oh, and TPT has a new logo, too. It combines the apple and document sharing elements of the legacy logo and the color scheme of the short-lived, newer logo. I like it. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Lessons of Phyz Advantages


An abbreviated summary of "Lessons of Phyz Advantages" is provided in each video question set's product description. This post dives a bit deeper.

Why question sets at all?
I was never comfortable showing a video in class without an accompanying question set. Casting students as passive observers didn't seem like a path for learning. And it's asking a lot of students: to actively engage with an inherently passive exercise.

Depth of the questions
My first significant experience as a teacher using video lessons was via The Mechanical Universe: High School Adaptation. I was able to get my school to buy me the set, and it came with a binder of resources. Among the resources was a set of questions for students to answer while watching the video.

But the prompts called for extended, written answers. Not quick, "bang-bang" responses. More reflective, analytical responses. It didn't seem like students could answer these while the video played. Rather, the video would have to be paused while students drafted and composed responses.

I didn't want to spend that much time in the video.

Further experience with such things led me to the conclusion that the producers of video content hoped their content would occupy more of your calendar than you intended.

That did not suit my needs.

So I developed shorter, tighter question sets, with questions that could be answered while the video played without pause.

The video is not my primary curriculum resource; it's a supplement. In my class, the video will play through once, and that's it. Students complete the question set while the video plays. If you're hoping for a deeper analysis and reflective responses, my video question sets are not the way to go.

Page design: print-friendly Google Docs
This topic is so important, I wrote a separate post about it: One document to rule them all. The TL;DR version is this: My question sets are Google Docs files that can be assigned to students in Google Classroom, for example, if remote teaching/distance learning is in effect. They can also be printed and used in an in-person setting. Maximum flexibility is the objective.

Because the print versions might be used in a darkened room, I chose to use a heavy sans=serif text font for increased legibility.

Question variety
Most video question sets that have been put into the world are "word-drop" questions—one-word fill in the blank. I use them, but not exclusively. 

Word-drops don't really work for exotic words that are unfamiliar to students, or whose spelling is challenging. For those, I prefer a multiple-choice format. Students might not be able to spell an exotic word, but they can pick it out of a line-up when they hear it. And having done so, they can see how that exotic word is spelled.

Multiple choice question construction takes additional time and energy: now you need distractors to sit appealingly with the key. 

Ages ago, I served on the physics development committee for California's short-lived Golden State Exam. Because I complained to the California Department of Education about the statewide physics exams it was developing, the State Board of Education appointed me to its Assessment Review Panel. We vetted questions developed by Educational Testing Service for use on California's Content Standards Tests. All this work made me acutely aware of the importance of quality distractors.

I also like pick-from-a-list questions. And when the material calls for it, matching is good. On rare occasions, a tour/false works well.

The point is to mix it up where possible. I don't have research to show that that makes for a more engaging, less tedious question set, but I believe it. So that's what I do. 

And no student, even those who are well-read and intellectually sharp, should have much success completing the question set without watching the movie/episode.

That seems like a lot of questions!
Many question sets have nearly one question per minute of film. At first blush (and when comparing to competing products), that might see like a lot of questions. Maybe too many questions. It is not. The questions are low-level, intended to maintain student attention and focus on the content. They are not deep reflections or rich analysis. So the frequency is right for the task at hand. Teachers who initially found the load to be intimidating were surprised by how well it worked with students.

Raised ceilings: space for writing
Sometimes a word-drop question has enough verbiage that the dropped word occurs in the second line of text. In those cases, I add some vertical space so that students have room to write (when the document is in print form); no need to scrunch the handwriting. Not all author-creators think of this.

No unnecessary art
Most of my question sets are pure text. The visuals and graphics are the domain of the video. If anything, the question sets represent a translation of the visual and auditory to text. I don't see any value in clip-art or screen grabs. On some (rare) occasions, there is value in interpretation of a graphic element or graph.

Non-breaking space
This one is weed-deep. When a question calls for selecting items from a list, often the list of items can be fit to a single line of text. Sometimes items in the list consist of more than one word. When using the Google Docs file, it's convenient to be able to double-click an item on the list to select it. But if the item has more than one word, double-clicking only selects one word. I use a non-breaking space between the words so that both words are selected on the double-click. Like I said, this one is deep in the weeds.

Play to the buzzer
When you ask students to maintain attention throughout the video by using a question set, many will lose focus after the answer to the final question is revealed. So it's best to have that occur as close to the end of the video. If it's the last word of the video's narration, all the better.