Wednesday, June 12, 2013

FCI: I didn't know what I didn't know

My first year of teaching was the 1999-2000 school year.  I felt so good about the year.  I connected with the students, I had a ton of fun and I really thought that I taught some good physics!

I great teacher that I knew sent me an email and asked me how my year went.  I don't like to toot my own horn but I told him that I thought it went great.  So he said to me, "Well, I have this little test that you can give to your students to kind of see how you did in your teaching."  I said, "Send it over!"

The next day I received a copy of the FCI.  Attached was a note that said, "Good luck and make sure you take it before you give it to your students."

Keep in mind that this was 2000 and the internet pretty much sucked at this point.  If I put FCI into Yahoo I'm sure that nothing of import would have come up.  I didn't really know what a big deal this thing really was.

I looked at it and saw that it was a physics test.  So I decided to jump right in.  I read number 1 and kind of knew the answer; I mean I knew the answer but wasn't overly confident in my concepts.  So I didn't answer it and moved on to number 2.  Same result.  Lucking it came with the answers!  So I checked, just to make sure that I was right (seriously).  I went on to the next couple just checking to make sure I was right again.

Let's face it, I had no clue if I was right or wrong.  I still have a hard time admitting that to myself, let alone you!

So I gave it to my students - in denial about the fact that if I didn't know what I was doing then they might not have the same experience.  I scored them and the students scored an average of 13.5 out of 30.  Is that bad?  Yep.  The teacher who gave me the FCI contacted me later in the week and asked how the kids did.  I lied!  Well not lied exactly I fibbed.  I said that they didn't do as well as I would have liked.  He told me that if I was interested in improving my teaching he was teaching a workshop for physics teachers that summer.  That is how I got into my first modeling instruction class.

I learned through the literature that the pretest scores on the FCI are barely over 8 and 13.5 is the score that an average traditional physics teacher's students score.  I was completely average.  My kids knew less than 50% of the correct answers!
I have now been giving the FCI for 10 years and it allows me to see how the changes that I make each year in instruction and assessment affect the students learning.  I don't know of another tool that has impacted my teaching so much.

I didn't realize that I didn't know anything about conceptual development or student misconceptions or the importance of qualitative knowledge.  Nor did I know how important these are.  Thank you FCI!

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