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Minds On Physics is more than 1300 carefully-crafted questions designed to improve student conceptions of common physics topics. Minds On Physics is 135 challenging sublevels, each of which address one or two student learning outcomes. Minds On Physics is a collection of 15 modules which are designed to provide students with a learning opportunity, an exercise in thinking, and a chance to reflect and review.
Minds On Physics is hard to describe because Minds On Physics is like nothing else. At first glance, it appears to be an exercise in answering questions. But it is indeed much more than that. Students will certainly answer questions and they will definitely get an exercise. The exercise is an exercise in thinking, an exercise in pondering the meaning of a concept, an exercise in probing the relationship between ideas, and an exercise in making sense of the language which is used to express a physics principle. Students will get a mental workout as they think about how they conceive of a topic. Common misconceptions are often targeted. Superficial thinking is quickly challenged. And a deeper understanding of a concept is most often the end result of this exercise in Minds On Physics.
The Minds On Physics Internet Modules utilize a collection of carefully crafted questions to challenge students' misconceptions concerning physics concepts. Interactive Shockwave files have been combined with web-based instructional resources to assist students in becoming aware of and altering their conceptual understanding of the world of motion, waves and electricity. Fifteen learning modules composed of varying levels of difficulty have been created. Students progress through each level of the modules by correctly answering questions which are randomly selected from a bank of several questions. Immediate feedback, and direct links to web-based instructional resources (The Physics Classroom and the Multimedia Physics Studios) are provided. Students having difficulty with a given question can link directly to question-specific help for that question. The success of a student on any given module can be checked using a system of encrypted success codes.
The Shockwave Files - How They Work
The Shockwave files are created with a multimedia authoring product known as Macromedia Director (now called Adobe Director). Director includes a scripting language known as Lingo. Each Shockwave file contains a bank of up to 50 questions. Lingo scripts are used to select a question from the bank, evaluate student answers, check on student progress on a sublevel and provide feedback and directions to the student. In effect, Lingo is the quarterback which directs the plays while the various questions and graphics are the players which show up on the field at Lingo's command. Upon the successful completion of a sublevel, an encrypted success code is generated based on name and ID information. This success code can be used to validate that a student completed the assigned sublevel(s).
The original Minds On Physics Internet Modules were constructed during the summer months of 1999 by three physics teachers - Tom Henderson, Neil Schmidgall, and Brian Wegley - from Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, IL. The project was supported by an NSTA/Toyota Tapestry grant - a generous grant provided by Toyota Motor Sales and administered by the National Science Teachers Association. With the grant money, software was purchased to develop the modules and summer stipends were provided to support the work of the three teachers. An online FileMaker Pro database was used to automatically track student progress through each module. The following school year, nine modules on mechanics topics were ready for use by the Glenbrook South physics students.
Both teachers and students were instantly amazed by the ability of the modules to improve student understanding. Teachers marveled at the student interest over the modules and the high levels of cognitive engagement when working on the modules. Students found the modules both educational and fun. They often begged teachers to take them to the computer lab to work on "MOP". Some of those original students claimed to have become MOP-aholics.
The original modules suffered from a variety of design problems which were gradually fixed over the next couple of years. Additionally, seven other modules were developed to support students in the electricity, waves, and ray optics portion of the course. The Minds On Physics Internet Modules were originally created to be used with a web-connected database. The database collected information regarding student progress in any given module. This database arrangement allowed Glenbrook South physics teachers to make assignments and easily check on students' completion of the assignment for the purpose of assigning grades. In recent years, the database has no longer been used; instead, a system utilizing encrypted success codes is used for the purpose of holding students accountable for completion of assigned work. These success codes are based upon the student name and ID number and thus unique to every student. The use of such success codes allow both Glenbrook South teachers and teachers from other schools to assign work and to check on student completion of sublevels.
Use of the Minds On Physics Internet modules requires a single piece of web browser technology which are available free of charge. First, you will need to have version 7.0 (or higher) of the Shockwave plug-in. Shockwave is available free of charge from Download section of the Adobe web site. Directions for installation are provided there. Installation is highly automated and should take no more than a couple of minutes. Your role in the installation process will merely require that you select the version for your operating system and answer a few simple questions (name, e-mail address, etc.).
Minds On Physics should work in any browser which supports the Shockwave plug-in. Most browsers do. At this writing, the one notable exception is the Firefox browser.
One common technical problem associated with the use of the modules involves the "You are using an illegal version ..." message. Some code has been included in the log-in file which prevents people from downloading the file to their computer or to another server and doing Minds on Physics "offline" or as a program that is separate from the www.physicsclassroom.com website. If a user attempts to use MOP without the file being served from The Physics Classroom server (and a few other "allowed" servers), then the message "You are using an illegal version ..." appears and MOP freezes at the log-in page. Occasionally a school or a home network is set up in such a way that the browser first checks to see if the page has been visited sometime in the past X days. If it has, the file is served to the computer from the school server or from the local hard drive (where it has been cached). This is done to save the little time it takes to download the file from our server OR it is done for security reasons to limit the number of sites which students can visited and help to reduce traffic to unwanted sites OR ... (for several other good reasons). If the file is delivered from a local cache (as opposed to from The Physics Classroom server), then the MOP log-in file knows that it is not coming from our school server and thus shuts down. If you hit the re-load page button (OR log off and back on OR go to another computer which has not done MOP in the last X days), then the browser doesn't pull the log-in file in from the local cache but goes out to our site to pull it in and the log-in file works because it recognizes that it was delivered from our site.Technical people at a school can often fix your problem by changing a browser or school server setting. You'll have to give them this info so that they know what is going on.
Teachers who are interested in using the Minds On Physics Internet Modules with their classes can read more about it on a separate page.
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