Fall 2008. Essay by student in 12th grade physics course of Matt Greenwolfe, Cary Academy, Cary, NC. Dr. Greewolfe uses Modeling Instruction.


Short Essay Question #1. Edith Hamilton, a noted classicist and educator, is quoted as saying, "It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought - that is to be educated." Please describe an experience or a series of experiences that have been most meaningful to the growth and development of your intellectual curiosity.



It was the first day of physics class and I wasn't sure what to expect. Students from the grade above me had said Dr. Greenwolfe's physics class wasn't like any other class they had ever taken. When I walked into the classroom, the setup was different. I didn't see the normal tables with chairs or even the lab stations with tools you would normally see in a science classroom. Instead there were tables spread out into a circle and inside there was another circle of chairs. Leaning against the wall were stacks of whiteboards and webcams. Everyone else seemed confused when they walked into the classroom. Needless to say this wasn't what we expected to see in a science class.


Instead of dividing into groups and performing experiments to prove what we had learned in a lecture, Dr. Greenwolfe had us work together to find the answer for ourselves. We would be faced with a problem and begin class with a group discussion. Then we would divide into smaller groups to perform experiments and try to reach a conclusion. After asking many questions and discussing possible answers we would reach a conclusion together as a class. This way of learning was really beneficial for me because I completely understood the concept. Instead of memorizing formulas and equations I understood where they came from and how to derive them from the graphs we created.


In the small groups we would use whiteboards to write down ideas, draw graphs and solve for unknown variables. Using the webcams I would take pictures of the whiteboards and post them to the class website for everyone to use as a resource. This method worked really well because we didn't have to worry about taking notes during class. The class work became our notes which I would review before every test. Dr. Greenwolfe also understood that students have different ways of learning: some learn visually, some through discussion, and others through equations. When we had discussions or created whiteboards we were required to present the information in at least three different ways so everyone would be able to understand the material.


One of the most beneficial things I learned in my physics class was how to draw, interpret, and derive equations from graphs. Before, in my algebra class I never understood slope. No matter how many times a teacher or classmate explained it I still didn't understand what it meant. In my physics class it finally became clear to me. Since my breakthrough my math classes have become easier and I have found that I can understand what data means.


Physics class has helped me to look at problems in different ways so I can solve them. If I don’t understand the data when it is presented in one way I am able to ask questions and change it, using a method I can understand. This year in statistics my knowledge from physics class has been very beneficial because we use a lot of graphs and are constantly talking about slope. Thanks to my physics class I am now able to succeed in my classes and look at problems in different ways.