Why do we need to know physics?

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I wished I had Nicole Walker as a teacher in high school. She truly shows you how science works.

Walker, who has been teaching at Plainfield Central High school since 1997, has received the prestigious 2011 Harald Jensen Award. The award is named for Lake Forest College faculty member Harald Jensen, who was an influential member and founder of the Illinois State Physics Project. Jansen used physics to inspire and intrigue students, and the award honors teachers who do likewise with their students.

She has also received the Claes Nobel educator of distinction award for encouragement of and dedication to the academic success of students in 2009.

Is your kid not doing well in science? Well, here are some tips from the master.

1. What is the challenge of teaching physics?

"The greatest challenge of teaching physics or any class lies in convincing teenagers that a little work goes a long way. If they were to re-read the notes they took in class the night that they were taken, they would understand so much more. It would actually become much easier," she said. "They would save time in the end. The language of physics consists of vocabulary words and formulas. Spending three to five extra minutes a night times five days in a week would cost you 25 additional minutes. Learning the same material the night before the test would require an hour and a quarters worth of effort. Your retention of the material would be short term and not as deep. A little daily studying helps you to understand far more. Each day, I add another piece to the puzzle. You won't see the big picture if you're ignoring the daily tidbits. Those who have enjoyed a physics class with me exit with a stronger work ethic. My goal is to better prepare students for college and to encourage them to ask questions throughout their lives."

2. Why do we need to know physics?

"Physics encourages critical thinking. This is the art of analyzing and evaluating how you think with the view of improving this process. Critical thinking is essential to the mastery of content. I use Socratic questioning to teach. Students are not familiar with this technique at first and are not terribly fond of it. They would prefer to just be given an answer," she said. "Socratic questioning is a systematic and in-depth line of questioning that uncovers the structure of your own thoughts and allows one to make connections and see the big picture. It teaches one how to think and to figure things out for themselves. It's beneficial for building ACT test taking strategies. In essence, we play 'volleyball' with questions that are asked in class. It may take us five or six 'hits' to get the 'ball; over the net, but we learn something in the process about solving the problem. We also learn to trust our own judgment and ability to problem solve. That is a life-long skill."

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Catherine Ann Velasco


Catherine Ann Velasco has covered education and children and family issues for The Herald-News since 1997. She keeps an eye on schools in Will and Grundy counties. Her best stories always come from readers’ tips or public comment during a board meeting. So if there’s some good news or bad news at your school – she’d like to know. Join the conversation about the twists and turns and surprises that pop up on her beat. And, find some extra news that she just can’t wait to tell you.

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This page contains a single entry by Cathy Velasco published on April 25, 2011 1:39 PM.

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