Using MOP with Your Classes

 

Background || Making Assignments || Collecting Codes || Checking Codes || Other Ideas

 

Background

The Minds On Physics (MOP) Internet Modules were originally developed by physics teachers at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois. But MOP is not simply a Glenbrook South thing. Hundreds of schools across the country and beyond the borders use MOP as part of their curriculum. For physics teachers at these schools, MOP has become a means of solidifying the learning which occurs in the classroom. It is typically used by such teachers as both classwork and homework. Students are assigned a collection of sublevels which are due at the end of the unit. Students complete the assigned sublevels as homework (and on occasion as classwork) and submit their encrypted success codes to their teacher. The teacher then validates the truthfulness of the codes by checking them using a Decryption page.

This system provides teachers a painless way of making assignments and deriving grades based on student completion of the assigned work. But more importantly, the assignments themselves are mentally engaging assignments which can only be completed once a student understands the concept. Guessing and simply "doing my best" does not lead to a success code. Students must understand concepts to master a sublevel of questions.

This mastery-learning approach to physics concepts does not mean that it is hard-nosed or insensitive. Each and every question is accompanied by a Help page which discusses the specifics of the question. The Help page states a key principle or concept, provides a physics formula, elaborates on the principle in an easy-to-understand language, discusses common student misconceptions, and identifies small nuances within the question which typically trouble students. The Help pages are extensive and question-specific, designed to provide remediation and correction of incorrect or incomplete student conceptions. And more importantly, readability studies of the textual information on the Help pages consistently place it at a 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade reading level. Unlike many high school physics textbooks, the Minds On Physics help pages are readable by most high school physics students.

The combination of carefully designed questions, a mastery-learning emphasis, and an extensive Help function makes the Minds On Physics Internet Modules a useful learning supplement for any physics classroom. Whether used in class as an end-of-unit practice or used outside of class as a homework management system, Minds On Physics is a useful tool in the physics teacher's toolbox. Consider giving your classes the MOP experience.

 

Making Assignments for Your Classes

There are 15 modules and 135 sublevels of Minds On Physics. It is likely that there is a large amount of overlap between a teacher's physics curriculum and the MOP collection of topics. A teacher interested in assigning sublevels to their classes should begin by previewing the listing of topics and the objectives. S/he can then select some seemingly appropriate sublevels and log on to preview the questions. Any sublevel which is confirmed to be appropriate to their curriculum, can be written down and assigned to the class. Record keeping forms are available at the MOP site. These server the useful purpose of getting students organized to do the assignments. The assigned sublevels and the due dates can be written on the forms and then passed out to the class. When students complete a sublevel they can write their personal success codes down on the record-keeping form. It is important to emphasize to students that they must enter their name and ID information accurately when logging on; success codes are based upon this entered information and will not result in credit for any student with a different name spelling or ID.

 

Collecting Codes

Many teachers assign the sublevels as homework assignments and then collect the success codes at the end of a unit. Other teachers reserve computer labs and do the MOP during classtime; they have a check-off system which they use whenever a student completes a sublevel. Students not completing the assigned sublevels by the period's end must do the remainder for homework; the success codes are then collected and used to verify that the remaining sublevels were completed at home. Finally, some teachers blend the two approaches, assigning a module's worth of work and allotting a few days of classtime for students to complete the work; all sublevels are due at the end of the unit. Students must hand in the record-keeping form at that time.

 

Checking Codes

For the teacher, the most cumbersome task of using MOP is checking the success codes. This school year (2008-2009), a slightly different method will be used to check success codes. A Decryption page has been created to check the validity of student success codes. Teachers (or a class of students in a teacher's presence) log on and enter their name and ID information. They then select a module and enter their acquired codes for the module. Clicking Decrypt Codes will result in a behind-the-scenes recreation of correct success codes based on the entered name and ID. The correct success codes are compared to the entered codes and feedback is instantly given regarding whether the code which the student (or teacher) entered matches the correct code. The mathematical algorithms used to create success codes use information from the name and ID in the creation of the codes; thus, incorrectly entered name-ID information (when doing the sublevel or decrypting the codes) will result in the rejection of the success codes.

An added feature is available at the Decryption page. The decryption file creates an encrypted condensed code once some sublevels are decrypted. The condensed code has as many characters in it as there are sublevels in the module. That is, a 12-sublevel module will have a 12-character condensed code. Each character of the encrypted condensed code will denote whether the student successfully completed the sublevel or not. Of the 26 characters in the alphabet, one letter is chosen to indicate a successfully-completed sublevel and another character is used to indicate an unsuccessfully completed sublevel. If you are taking on the burden of checking success codes, then you might consider using these condensed codes. By the assigned due data, students should provide their individual sublevel success codes and acquire a condensed code for submission. The condensed code is generated only at the Decryption page. Rather than check each individual sublevel code within a given module for every student, it would be much faster for you to check the condensed code.

If using condensed codes to check a collection of codes, there are a few things you should be forewarned about. First, if a student makes up a single character within the success code, the entire condensed code is deemed as invalid. Each character within a 12-character (or 8-character) condensed code must be perfect; whether an indicator of success or incompletion, it must be the correct indicator. Like apples, one bad character spoils the whole bunch. The second warning is that it is conceivable that a student could sit down at a computer for several hours and enter letters of the alphabet in a systematic way until they eventually got the right condensed code for a given module. While this is not likely, not prudent, not easy and not an efficient use of time, it is indeed possible. Given 26 characters and 12 sublevels (or 8 sublevels) for a given module, there is a finite (though large) number of possible ways to put the characters together to produce a condensed codes. Only one of these ways is correct or valid, and if given enough time and a systematic approach, a student could find the valid success code without doing all the sublevels. And worse, a student could complete 10 of the 12 sublevels and then use the Decrypt page to get a condensed code for 10 completed sublevels and two incomplete sublevels. At this point, the number of possible condensed codes changes from a finite and large sample to a finite and relatively small sample. Such a student could hack away for a few minutes to a half-hour in order to obtain the valid condensed code for 12 completed sublevels. When it comes to acquiring credit for an assignment, students will sometimes do the most inconceivable things as a substitute for actually doing the assignment. To protect against the possibility, you might want to always collect the success codes and do some occasional spot-checking to insure that the honest road is being taken. To be on the safe side, avoid using the condensed codes and have students decrypt individual sublevel success codes in your presence. The good news is that there is no way to transform a condensed code backward into individual success codes so you are always safe and secure with success codes. (You might wonder why I am publishing such high-security secrets here on these public pages. The fact is that your students will likely figure this out by the end of the first quarter with or without this paragraph.)

 

Other Ideas for using MOP

There are numerous other ideas for using MOP. A few that have been tried are listed below.

If you know of some other approaches that have proven useful with your classes, then consider sharing your idea so that it can be included here. Contact the MOP coordinator.

 

A Favor to Ask

Several thousands of students do MOP every year. Like any teacher, the MOP coordinator has a collection of classes and students. He is busy designing instruction, preparing lessons, setting up demonstrations and labs, helping students and grading papers. There is no way that he can attend to questions from students from other schools. As a favor, please advise your students to bring all questions to you as the local teacher. As the local teacher, become the expert in the operation of the program and the go-to person for all student inquiries. In the event that you are unable to answer a question or have a problem that won't fix itself, email the MOP coordinator. He would be glad to assist you in finding the information or solution that you need. Thanks.

 

 

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