Whiteboarding: Getting Students to “Read Your Mind”

Okay, so title is a lie.  I used to hate it when teachers ask those questions looking for a specific word, and then the crickets start cause of the silence of the classroom.  I hope I am quick to jump in and correct myself, usually once I realized I’ve asked that kind of question.  This activity had me feeling a little like that, but since I was flexible, I think it worked out okay in the end.

First, we defined “insulator” and “conductor”, so they had they words, but they were definitely lacking the ideas.  We then proceeded through three PhET Electricity & Magnetism Simulations.  At each simulation, I asked them to write down observations on large whiteboards.  I also told them that I had very specific observations that I was looking for, and when they got one of the observations, I would walk around and mark it with a star from a red marker.  Then, at the end of 5-10 minutes, the group with the most marked observations would win candy (no, I’m not above base motivation).  Students started to realize what I was and was not looking for (“The balloon is yellow”).  At the end of the 10 minutes everyone would read their marked comments and we’d wrap up the discussion with a few specific questions I wanted them to answer.

The activity was good.  Not great, just good.  I liked how it got them talking (this is that really, really quiet class), and they were engaged in the simulations, which was good.  Unfortunately it was less of a “present what you have seen” and more just “read what you found”.  Other students were engaged in their own simulations and had trouble listening to each other (even though at one point I had them close their laptop lids).  With a few modifications, I think this would be a good way to show students Physics ideas and concepts.

Here are the three simulations I used:

Balloons and Static Electricity

John Travoltage

Electric Hockey


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