The CPU Project

Classroom Tales

CPU teachers frequently share anecdotes about using the CPU materials in their classrooms, and about their CPU workshops. Here is a sampling of these Classroom Tales.

A teacher shares...

A teacher shares some of the comments his high school students made after using CPU materials:

"Traditional teaching is the best way to be told the answers. I have learned so much more this way because I was forced to find my own answers."

"It is great to learn on your own through labs and discussions. I have already noticed differences in my learning capacities."

"Trying to figure out what will happen may be frustrating but it gives me the opportunity to think and find out."

"It forces people to work together and be more observant. The students find themselves paying very close attention to detail."

"We were all able to share our ideas and deduce the correct ones. Working this way allowed me and my lab partners to express our opinions."

Learning how to learn

One veteran high school teacher originally had some concerns about depth vs. breadth. The CPU pedagogy has a strong emphasis on depth of understanding, and units cover less content than perhaps is traditional. After using the CPU materials, this teacher's views changed dramatically. "I kept telling myself, Sam, you are teaching process. The information is largely forgotten anyway. Teachers don't like to believe this, but it's true.... Students [using CPU] were very involved in their own learning." (See "A teacher shares...")

Thinking and talking
      Teachers reported an adjustment period when first implementing CPU, but greatly appreciated the strengths of a constructivist learning environment. One high school teacher's motivation for applying to be a part of the CPU project was a desire to be a better teacher. However, he reports that he was overwhelmingly influenced by his CPU classroom experiences. Prior to becoming part of the CPU project, "I didn't know the word pedagogy." After using CPU for a year, he summarized some of his views on learning with the following, "It's important to understand what is happening and why. Equations can always be found in a book. Years from now, no one will care if the answer is v = 37 m/s. Lots of thinking and lots of student discussions are important."

"I kind of like this"
      Not surprisingly, some students are initially frustrated with the constructivist pedagogy since it is usually different from their previous experiences, making comments such as, "We don't like this. Why don't you just tell us what you want us to know." One high school teacher reported that after some of the vocal students in the class made similar statements, one of the more reticent students rejoined, "I kind of like this. I have never had the opportunity to present an idea and test it." Another student added, "I like to test my ideas. No other class has done it this way." The teacher was pleased when gradually students became adjusted to the pedagogy and even enjoyed constructing their understanding. "What evidence do you have?" became a frequently heard question in classroom conversations.
      The CPU pedagogy was effective at the college level as well. A college science instructor used the CPU Light and Color unit with her students. The students expressed an appreciation of the group learning aspect of the CPU pedagogy, as evidenced in the following comments:
      "These activities gave us the opporutnity to share our teammates' viewpoints and observations on the tasks. Although our viewpoint may or may not have been the same through the process, these activities have helped me learn and become more assertive in a problem solving task."
      "In our group we were able to challenge and test different views on activities and their outcomes. I also consulted with other groups. At times,

A student reflects...

Some students appreciate the opportunity to reflect and piece together their knowledge. A high school student wrote to her teacher:

"Contrary to other students, my biggest discovery came when sitting in class listening to other students contemplate the working of electricity. It was then that my mind wandered to a previous unit, where we learned about the polarization of a conductor, involving conducting spheres which were able to polarize each other. With the connection between the two, I lmost exclaimed out loud. I had answered my own questions...."

Then she went on to explain how a capacitor works.

this lead to some good discussions. I thought it was a nice change from lecture only but I also found the group working slow at times. Overall, I think one learns more by working within the groups."

"I am convinced"
      Many of the CPU teachers are interested in how the CPU pedagogy and materials affect students' learning beyond the units. Since CPU materials are primarily conceptual, how students transition to quantitative skills is of special interest. One high school teacher in California, began using CPU in its initial development, and thus has several years of experience with the project. She states, "I am convinced that the CPU pedagogy and units greatly enhances student understanding of the mathematic equations and applications. What do my students think? Next year's enrollment in my first year physics course has increased by 20%!"

Adaptable materials
      One of CPU's strong points is that its computer-based nature makes modifications possible. Instructors can make changes to the computer activities or even write new ones. One university professor favorably reported using CPU activities in an interactive demonstration mode with a large university class. A high school teacher with only one demonstration computer in her high school classroom modified the activities so that she could run the simulators with an overhead projection system, and the students did the acitivities in pencil and paper form (and with actual apparatus). An instructor in Tennessee wrote new activities to extend the Underpinnings unit for his university students. Although CPU materials are not intended for use in elementary classrooms, an elementary teacher in Hawaii adapted the materials for use with her fourth grade students. She reported favorably on the implementation of the pedagogy and adapted activities.

Tell your story
      It's exciting for the project staff to hear these anecdotes and others. As the CPU Project becomes more widely adopted we look forward to
hearing more classroom snippets!

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