Honors vs. Regular level

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Kenneth Peagler 1 year, 10 months ago.

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    I have been modeling for a few years now and I was wondering what other modelers do with the following: When setting up curriculum and classroom environment, what differences do you typically make between the honors and regular level physics classes (or science in general).


    John Thacker

    Kayla –
    I’m interested in this topic too.
    Since I will be modeling physics for the 1st time this year (at a new school) – I’m pretty much planning to treat the two levels the same except require more depth in the worksheets and probably tests. This isn’t ideal but everyone tells me the first year of modeling is tough so, I want to be realistic. I have been told that on-level students need a lot more structure provided (for example, even providing a 1/2 sheet (landscape) with basics [like a blank data table] to be taped into their Learning Log.) Do you do this level of support?
    PS. Maybe we should take this to the listserv?


    Dean Meggison

    Kayla and John,

    Back when I was actively teaching in high school, I struggled with theis issue.
    Since both groups were (theoretically) taking their first Physics classes, I tried to treat both groups the same at the start of the year…speeding up the content flow for the Honors group as they were ready. I held the honors discussions, white board sessions and lab books to a higher standard.

    I ran into a lot of pushback from the honors kids with regard to presenting and defending their white boards because they were terrified to make a public mistake… even after establishing a safe environment where ” what happens in class stays in class”.

    The Honors kids were very reluctant to leave their comfort zone where they knew all the tricks to get a good grade. (” if my grade goes down I won’t get into _______”) I am interested to find out if you see the same reaction.



    David Arner

    in my five years of teaching physics I’ve found modeling most successful at the honors level. I found my academic physics students did not have the graphing skills required to really get enough out of the modeling cycle. I have brought many of the elements in, trying to get students to work in groups and present and discuss questions. I think I will try again in two or three years once I’ve cemented my new AP B course and other electives. I currently use a mastery methodology based off of the Physics Classroom.com curriculum. Moodle course management software has been a great aid in this.


    Theresa Quain

    I took the workshop about 10 years ago and have been teaching 3-4 classes of “regular” students using the method since then. Over the same time period more students have been recommended for this level, who would in previous years not have taken a third year of science, so the level of student ability has decreased every year, it seems. I have never taught honors, but the rest of my schedule has been AP Physics C so I am familiar with that type of student.

    In my first year of using the method in my regular classes, I tried to emulate the modeling level that was demonstrated in the workshop, but have gradually reduced my expectations for student independence, provided more support, removed some content, and provided more explicit instruction on presentation and multi-step thought processes. I have broken down some problems into steps and eliminated some problems.

    Vectors at angles and having students linearize on their own required a very large time investment, and the results seemed to indicate that the students could be “trained” to do some of the problems but didn’t really understand anything, and some students could not solve an inclined plane problem to save their lives, no matter how cleverly I explained or demonstrated it and no matter how much time I spent with them before and after school, so I gave those up. I focus on understanding linear relationships and attacking basic misconceptions on forces.

    I found that most students at this level were not able, at first, to do the multi-step thinking required to solve the fantastic problems in the modeling worksheets. I try to address this explicitly by talking through the steps of an example (a “paradigm problem”) and then having students compare other problems to this one. I ask them to state differences, and then say how that difference will affect the way they have to solve the problem.

    This all takes a lot of time. A lot. My district is adopting the NGSS. I am very concerned that the requirement to “cover” much more content that I teach now will destroy my ability to use the modeling method with these students, because I believe it works better than anything else I have seen or heard of.


    Kristin Rea

    I find this to be a very interesting discussion. I am into my first week of modeling chemistry with low-level chemistry students, half of whom are special ed. I knew from the start that this would be tough, and my first whiteboard meeting for the coffee can demo has proven that these kids need a lot more structure.

    For the mass and change lab, I have made a worksheet where the students will have to find 3 similarities and 3 differences between the whiteboards before we even have a discussion. My students are often too afraid/nervous to speak up for fear of being wrong. I’m hoping that if they already have some answers down on paper, they will feel more confident to speak up when I call on them.

    I’m really hesitating on whether to do any graphing with them at all. I can get some of them to memorize that the slope of the line is density, but they won’t know what to do with it from there.

    I’d be very interested to hear what others have done with low-level students who have a severe lack of internal motivation.

    Kristin Rea



    I teach regular physics, and spend a good part of the first quarter teaching how to read graphs as we cover the constant velocity model. It’s an opportunity to teach proportional reasoning and number sense, re-align their thinking to one that is more conducive to success and physics, and with a lot of hands-on activities and labs. If you take the time to drive the point home now with density, it may have applications later on that will save you time. Density is such an easy topic to do labs with. When I taught 8th grade, we used puffed rice cereal vs regular rice and a couple of other labs. If I could do it again, I’d do labs until they got it. The proportional reasoning required of density is sophisticated, and general students will need to learn it in concrete ways, then represent it in graphs and tables before they can get to the abstract concept of density.


    Andrew Schultz

    Theresa, you put a sense of companionship in me with the description of your accommodations for the regular Physics class curriculum. I’m in my second year of Modeling, both in the level and Pre-AP classes at our school and am finding that my level class can be trained as you describe, but are better served seeing additional concepts rather than spending more time on details beyond their grasp. I am finding the more concrete and “in writing” things are for the regulars students, the more successful they are. While I don’t generally create it for them, I do attempt to help organize it for them. I’ll be attempting more processes to help the regulars classes. My Pre-AP are being quite successful at organizing themselves. The difference I hold are similar to Theresa’s responses. The pace difference is important as well. My Pre-AP are also able to hold their own board meetings by the end of the semester, while my regulars classes really detest them. I think the the lower level students I’m working with have a stronger hold on their traditional classroom conventions, making them even more resistant to independent thought and self discovery. I’ll keep pushing, prodding, and forcing as much as possible. Blessings to the rest of you on the beginning of the new calender year!


    Kenneth Peagler

    I also teach both populations of physics students (albeit mine are all referred to as the same class sadly) with a modeling approach and have found similar results as previously stated.

    I especially empathize with Theresa concerning the vectors and linearization topics. I about pulled my hair out when going through those two topics.

    One thing that I have found mildly successful with my regular class is using some pages from Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics workbook to help. Previously, I never really appreciated Hewitt’s work; however, now that I have worked with this, slightly less ready for Physics, population I have found them very helpful in scaffolding the abstract physics topics. This is still a very large time sink and has allowed my other classes to get nearly a whole unit ahead, but I have seen some benefit with my students.

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