WolframAlpha in Physics

For about a year and a half now I have been using WolframAlpha (WA) in class. Students may use it for any assignment or assessment. This changes the problems that you assign. Drastically.

Many easy problems can be simply cut and past into WA and solved. So what becomes important is assigning problems that get at the real skills we would like students to have from problems. Problems that they have to break apart and digest and put together the simple things that WA can solver for them. This is not unlike what I do when I solve problems in my own work.

What I did not know until now was how little of that kind of problem solving I used to teach. I assign many fewer problems that are much harder and require a ton more thinking. Since this is not what I am used to many of my old methods of teaching problem solving are not working as well. Here is the punch line: WA is making me think that I need to have my students talk more about the problems they are solving. This technology is making me see a need for my students to be more social. I should have read Frank's post more closely.

There are so many complaints out there that technology makes us less social, but I think in the end it frees us to be more social. But it is hard work getting there.

Mathematical Standards

As a part od every inquiry unit there have been mathematical standards. This keeps the rigor in the course. I am convinced that you can teach using inquiry and also have rigor. I am struggling with how to do this better.

I had a student after that inquiry on heat, temperature and phase change send in this scribe post. Essentially she is asking why I teach it backwards, inquiry first then math. I actually brought this up in all my classes as both a new kind of scribe post (less words more thought) and just to ask the question, why do you think I would do this? Amber reflected on the original reflection. So did another student.

Physics teaching, may be more than any other subject, is fraught with balance problems. It seems so hard to leave behind the "rigor" in exchange for the true rigor that is learning. This journey to energy in Nicaragua is making it even harder because both are required. There  is no way of not having your math in order if you are going to make something. A number of students proven that just in making solutions to stay at one extreme temperature for a long time. On the other hand if all that is learned is memorized algorithms quickly forgot, what have I helped the student reveal about themselves to the world?

Any insight would be appreciated.