When I first began planning how to organize and run this physics course, I knew I wanted the course to be as asynchronous as possible, but I still wanted to contact with the students on a daily basis. What was the best way to do that?
In the online course world, “asynchronous” means that a course does not have a certain, fixed time for the students to meet together with the teacher. In other words, the students can schedule and work on the course in a way that fits their own schedule. My sons have taken several asynchronous courses in which they were given a week’s worth of work in advance, and then they had to plan out how their week progressed. This format works really well for courses such as high school English that require heavy reading and writing. This year, my older son is taking an online English class where the teacher runs Thursday to Wednesday weeks. My son reads heavily on Thursday and Friday, thinks and talks and debates the topic with us over the weekend, and then writes Monday through Wednesday. Obviously, the most significant advantage of this type of format is its flexibility for the students.
But with daily interaction…
In my mind, however, physics requires daily, step-by-step interaction with the material. I wanted to encourage the students to work on physics daily. I was afraid that with a completely asynchronous format some students might procrastinate to the last-minute or attempt to cram several days of work into one day. I wanted a flexible format, yes, but also one that encouraged the students to think and do physics each and every day. So I decided to use a daily message or “Morning Message” format for this class. I patterned this format after Carole Matheny’s AP Statistics course that she teaches through PA Homeschoolers (on an aside, I highly recommend that course). My goal is to have the students check the website each morning to read my message to them and find out their physics assignments for the day. I do release these messages for the whole week on the preceding Sunday afternoon in order to retain the asynchronous flexibility, but each individual message is geared towards a particular day. Most of my students check the website for these messages each day, but if they need to work a day or two ahead, they have that option, too.
What is in a Morning Message?
On days with text readings, I will discuss in the morning message some of the concepts in the textbook selection. I may expand on what the textbook said or restate the concept in a different way or give different examples than the text gave. For example:
On days with test reviews or quizzes or tests, I will give instructions or tips in the morning message:
But primarily, morning messages contain direct problem solving instruction. I have discovered that it is quite challenging to explain how to work a problem with just typed words and a math editor! At the beginning of the school year, I skipped too many algebra steps and assumed that the students could easily follow my thinking. I have since learned to slow down, show more steps in the process, and constantly encourage them to do each step on their own paper and with their own calculator. I know I probably sound redundant sometimes, but students can NOT learn how to solve a physics problem by just reading how I did it. They have to work the problems alongside me. So you will hear me saying that a lot! Here is an example of problem solving instruction from a morning message:
The Morning Message format that I’ve settled on for this online physics course seems to be working well. I like knowing that the students are interacting with the physics material every day, but I also am glad that they can work ahead a few days if necessary.