Physics Teacher Shares Great New Ways to Teach
Dr. Lawrence Volk, a physics and math teacher at John T. Hoggard High School in Wilmington, N.C., always has a trick or two up his sleeve. And he shares them freely with educators on his “Teacher Bag of Tricks” website (www.teachersbagoftricks.com). Larry, as he prefers to be called, also shares his experience as a teacher of 30 years by hosting local and regional PASCO workshops. His last regional workshop drew more than 250 teachers from Maryland to Florida.
Larry’s a believer in today’s digital tools for science learning, and said teachers must keep up in ways that help kids relate to information. “You don’t hear people asking for their rotary phones back,” he said. “It’s the same with kids. They expect digital tools, not overhead projection invented during World War II. They need to learn and adapt to new and different technologies quickly and solve problems in various ways and settings.”
That’s one reason why he is so fond of the all-in-one SPARK Science Learning System and the embedded lessons that support discovery learning. The system includes more than 60 pre-installed SPARKlabs™--standards-based guided inquiry labs in an electronic notebook format. Its mobility allows students to conduct investigations inside or outside the classroom and then display the data in multiple ways.
“Science is based on curiosity; it’s not a list of exact answers,” he said. “Kids are natural scientists, but we breed it out of them. They also live in a world where information moves very fast. I’ve taken a lesson from advertising and try to serve up more variety in smaller bites and repeat it again, again and again. I often engage students in experiments before the lesson because it grabs their attention and encourages discovery. I build a lesson on top of their discoveries. It gives them a hook on which to hang their new knowledge.”
We worked hard riding roller coasters in the pursuit of improving science education.
Dr. Lawrence Volk
In addition to teaching physics, Larry is National Board Certified in Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Mathematics. He uses the SPARK Science Learning System to teach both science and math because there is a natural link and common language. In science he may use a motion sensor, drop a ball, collect the data and prepare a velocity graph. In PreCalculus, students can see the relationship between slope on position-time graphs and velocity, and between velocity-time graphs and acceleration. This gives students a visual link to understanding derivatives and integrals.
The “Teacher Bag of Tricks” is a compilation of all the successful classroom techniques Larry has accumulated over the years. The site gives teachers a variety of ideas, methods and technologies that can help them be more effective in teaching students to take on the responsibility for becoming better learners.
Kathleen Hanes, his former student, conference assistant and now middle school math teacher and peer said, “Dr. Volk’s website has real life experiences from a veteran teacher that make me realize why I am teaching and why I love my job, even when I’m frustrated and feel like quitting. He shares activities that worked with his students. His articles give me great ideas on how to get students involved.”
Larry continues to evolve his ideas and integrate technology. Recently, he took some students on a science road trip to Six Flags-Georgia. “We worked hard riding roller coasters in the pursuit of improving science education,” he said jokingly. On a serious note, they explored how to use probeware to gather accurate data on the rides. They brought a PASCO Xplorer GLX and several sensors safely tucked into an Xplorer GLX Field Pack, collected data in real time and discussed the data when the ride was over. In one experiment, the data was a combination of three axis acceleration and sound. This combination allowed them to see the relationship between acceleration and screaming.
Ms. Hanes calls her mentor and former teacher’s approach to learning amazing. “He sets his expectations high and students strive to meet them,” she said. “The students come in excited to make discoveries and share ideas with others. It’s like walking into a classroom and getting to play.”
This year, Larry has a new physics lab: new computers, six lab stations, Internet wiring, a podium with a built-in computer and projector to show video and data, and a slew of products that include the SPARK Science Learning System, Xplorer GLX, probes and curriculum. Still, he sticks to his guns that teachers should put whatever they have to good use. So he took his old computers and turned them into lab stations using PASCO’s DataStudio® data collection and analysis software, proving his point that there is never just one way to teach.
“There are many good ideas and technologies available,” he said. “Teachers need to collect them, begin to fill their own ‘Teacher Bag of Tricks,’ and share them with others. That’s how we help each other.”