Encouraging critical thinking

Physics students work in groups to present their work to the entire class

Veronica Zieman
Students work physics problems out on white boards so they can be presented later while Mr. McCoy helps explain a problem to a student. He won’t offer a solution to the problem, but he can lead them in the right direction.

After students complete a homework assignment, physics teacher Ryan McCoy sometimes likes to have his students think more critically about the problems that they have solved. Rather than collecting the homework and grading it for completion, Mr. McCoy assigns students to different problems from the assignment and asks them to show their solution on a white board.

Students are usually put in groups of two, and they must work together to present their solution. The groups have to discuss the problem to make sure that they got the same answers and to make sure that everyone has a good understanding of their designated problem. Once everyone is satisfied with their presentation, the students present each problem to the whole class.  Mr. McCoy will occasionally interject with advice or helpful comments when necessary, and students have an opportunity to ask questions if they need further clarification.

This is a great way to make sure that students are thinking critically about their homework, rather than doing the bare minimum and relying on completion grades. It is also helpful for students who may not understand a particular problem, because they are walked through the solution step by step through the eyes of another student instead of a teacher, to whom the solution may be obvious.