Teacher Usage of the Minds on Physics Internet Modules

What's the Big Idea?

Hundreds of high schools use Minds On Physics as part of their curriculum. For physics teachers at these schools, MOPs are a means of solidifying the learning that occurs within the classroom. Minds On Physics is typically used by such teachers as both classwork and homework. The large database of questions centered around a couple of well-written objectives, combined with immediate feedback to student answers, question-specific help, and a robust progress-keeping engine makes Minds On Physics an excellent assessment and learning tool. Teachers assign a collection of missions that are due at the end of the unit. Students complete the missions as homework (and on occasion as classwork) and show teachers their progress when the assigned missions are due. 

This system provides teachers with a painless way of making assignments and deriving grades based on student mastery of concepts as demonstrated by completion of the missions. But more importantly, the mission themselves are mentally engaging activities that can only be completed if a student understands the concept. Guessing and simply doing my best typically does not lead to success. Minds On Physics rewards students for understanding physics. This mastery-learning approach to physics concepts does not mean that it is hard-nosed or insensitive. Instead, MOP encourages student learning and understanding by providing hints, help and links to other online resources at The Physics Classroom website. Every question is accompanied by one or more Help screens that discuss the specifics of the question. A Help screen states a key principle or concept, provides a physics formula, elaborates on a principle, discusses common student misconceptions, and identifies small nuances within the question that typically trouble students. The Help screens are extensive and question-specific, designed to provide remediation and correction of incorrect or incomplete student conceptions.
The blending of carefully designed questions, a mastery-learning emphasis, and an extensive Help function makes Minds On Physics a useful learning supplement for any physics classroom. Whether used in class as a concept-checkup or an end-of-unit practice or used outside of class as a type of homework management system, Minds On Physics is a useful tool in the physics teacher's toolbox. Consider giving your classes the MOP experience.

How Does It Work?

Using Minds On Physics with your classes is an easy process. There are 135 different missions to choose from. These are grouped into modules or topic areas - such as Kinematic Concepts or Electric Circuits or Reflection and Mirrors. Your first task will be to identify a collection of missions that are at the appropriate level for your students and cover the content that you have taught. If you have purchased a Minds On Physics Teacher Account, then you can easily preview every question in any module.
You will receive a teacher code when you sign up for a Minds On Physics Teacher Account. The teacher code provides a teacher access to the password-protected Teacher Preview mode of MOP. As of this writing (July 2016), the Teacher Preview mode is a browser-based, Shockwave program; we hope to have an app-version by the end of the 2016-17 school year. The Teacher Preview mode allows you to quickly and easily preview all the questions within any given mission. You will be able to see the questions, how the questions are assembled into question groups, and the number of questions within each group that must be correctly answered. By previewing the questions, you will be able to determine if a mission is at the appropriate level for your classes. Once you have identified a collection of missions, you will provide your students with the list of assigned work. MOP makes this easy by providing a collection of pages in the Record-Keeping section of the site. The pages can be printed as PDFs and distributed to your students with the specific missions and their due dates listed.
In addition to previewing missions, your Minds On Physics Teacher Account gives you the ability to customize missions. Questions within each mission are grouped together. Students must answer at least one question from each group. The Teacher Preview option identifies the group number of each question. Customizing a mission involves removing up to two groups of questions within the mission. Simply identify the group numbers, enter the group numbers and click the Customize button. Minds On Physics then creates a Start Code. The Start Code is entered by students when starting a mission. By entering the proper Start Code, students progress through the mission without being delivered questions from the groups that you have removed. Start code creation and decryption works beautifully for students using the app version of Minds On Physics. There are a few issues for students on some browsers with the Shockwave version related to the decryption of the codes.
If you do not have a Minds On Physics Teacher Account, you can still determine what missions would make for appropriate assignments for your students. It's just a little more cumbersome. You can either purchase the apps and give the program a test drive or use our free Shockwave-dependent, browser version of the program. We strongly recommend that teachers try the program using one of the two versions - the app version or the browser-based version - before using it with their students. While The Physics Classroom is 100% sold on the effectiveness of the program, we recognize that it is not for every classroom and the only way to find out if it fits yours is to try it on. By doing so, you will realize the challenge it presents to students, the importance of reading carefully and concentrating, and whether its difficulty level is well-suited to your classes. You will also be able to determine which missions are best for assigning to your students.


Success Codes and Validating Student Progress

When a student completes a MOP mission, a "Gold Medal" and a success code is rewarded. The success code is an encrypted 8-letter code that is unique to the student, the teacher and the assignment. No two students will ever have the same success code. With the app-based version of Minds On Physics, the success codes are recorded on the students' devices. A student can even consolidate onto one device the codes earned across different devices. The student simply enters the success code earned on a different device, and the app checks the validity of the code and accepts it if it is valid. As such, the device the student uses becomes a database of the students' individual progress.
Prior to the app-version of Minds On Physics, a teacher needed to have a Teacher Account in order to check the validity of the student's success codes. After all, it wouldn't be difficult for a student to make up their own success code and turn them in to a teacher, claiming they were valid codes. So for a teacher, the only way to insure that the success codes that students were handing in was to use the Teacher Account to validate the success codes. With the app version, that is no longer a necessity. So the question becomes, should a teacher purchase a Teacher Account? The answer is ...
Whether a teacher should purchase a Teacher Account or not depends on the situation the teacher finds themselves in. If the teacher is in a 1:1 classroom and every student is using an iPad or a Chromebook or a ... to do Minds On Physics, then it would be just as easy for a teacher to validate student progress by peeking at the device. It might take 5 minutes of classtime but it would be easy to plan class around the process of checking student progress. Simply have students bring their device forward and have them show their Success Code screens. We would caution teachers to have students begin on the topic screen. After all, anyone could easily photoshop a success code screen and bring it forward to show you. You want the student to be in the app and see them tap on the Kinematic Concepts button to open up the first of two screens that show their success codes. Check their name, view both screens and record a note of their progress. It's pretty easy and pretty safe. In such an environment, a teacher does not need a Teacher Account to check on student success. In this situation, the only reason for a Teacher Account would be to customize missions and create Start Codes for the various missions.
On the other hand, we can imagine a teacher who is in a BYOD environment or simply a no-device environment. Perhaps the teacher reserves occasional lab time for completion of MOPs and what isn't finished inside of class must be completed outside of class. In such a situation, students are working on several devices and none of them are every brought to class. The only means for students to report on their progress would be to hand in a collection of success codes for the assigned missions that they complete. These success codes are written down by the student on the convenient record-keeping forms found at the Record-Keeping page. When the due date arrives, students hand in their record-keeping forms with all the codes that they have earned. These codes are the means of obtaining credit. In this situation, we would advise that teachers purchase a Teacher Account in order to check the validity of the success codes that students hand in. By acquiring a Minds On Physics Teacher Account, you will be able to assign Minds On Physics as homework and quickly and easily check to insure that your students have completed the assigned work.
Of course, simply handing in a code or a whole module’s worth of codes doesn't mean a student has done the assignments. After all, any student can make up an 8-character code; and making up an entire module's worth of codes doesn't take a whole lot more creativity. To insure that a submitted success code is valid, a teacher needs to check it. The Minds On Physics Internet Modules makes checking success codes an easy task. By acquiring aTeacher Account, a teacher gains access to a password-protected website where success codes can be quickly checked for their validity. A quick comparison of the submitted code to the actual code allows a teacher to quickly check a unit's worth of homework. Using the cookies function of web browsers, MOP stores ID numbers and retrieves them when code-checking begins. Simply click on an ID and view the codes. In approximately 15 minutes, an entire unit's worth of homework for an entire class can be checked. Just make sure that you have access to a computer and a browser that can access the Shockwave-based teacher side of Minds On Physics.
In the end, Minds On Physics provides teachers with a homework and assessment system that holds students accountable for the completion of learning-centered, interactive homework that is tied to specific objectives and surrounded by a wealth of helpful resources. And all this is possible without wearing the teacher out with the grading of daily papers. Your time is valuable! Why not commit to using the program today.


Getting Started With Your Students

To get started with your students, you need a designated Teacher Code and each student needs a unique student ID number. If you purchase a Teacher Account, you will receive a 4-6 letter Teacher Code. Students enter this Teacher Code when they set up their account on their device. It is important that they enter it correctly as success codes are based on this information. In addition to a Teacher Code, a student needs a unique ID number. Most teachers have students use their school ID number if the schools assign such a number (it may need to be shortened to 6 digits). If such numbers are not available, a teacher could individually assign students numbers (4-6 digits, no leading zeroes). It is important that every student have a unique student ID number. If you are assigning ID numbers, keep it simple. Consider using: 16101, 16102, 16103, … 16126 for your year 2016, period 1 students; use 16201, 16202, 16203, … 16226 for your year 2016, period 2 students. In the school year starting in 2017, use similar numbers, except for the first two digits being a 17.
Once students know your Teacher Code and have a student ID number, they are almost ready to set up the account on the app. All that they need to know now is their assignment and some simple directions about how to begin. The best means of announcing their assignment and describing the start-up process is to provide them with a Record-Keeping form. You can find these in the Record-Keeping section. Download the Microsoft Word version, fill in the teacher code blank and the due date column. (It is recommended that you make the due date the same for all missions.) A short page of Directions is also available at the same Record-Keeping page. Print the Directions page and duplicate it along with your record-keeping form.

As you begin the use of the Minds On Physics Internet Modules, take some time to become acquainted with the program. Study the Topics page and (more importantly) the Objectives page. Find missions that are well-suited to your own curriculum. If you have a Teacher Account, use the Teacher Preview mode to preview the questions on a mission before you assign it to students. MOP can be stressful for some students; avoid adding to the stress by giving missions on material that you haven't discussed. Take advantage of the Mission Customization option that allows you to drop up to two questions from any given assignment. By dropping questions that might use terminology that is different than your own, you help to reduce the student stress and improve the student experience. And finally, consider the integration of Minds on Physics with the Curriculum Corner. The Think Sheets found at the Curriculum Corner are intended to coordinate with both the Minds On Physics program and the pages at The Physics Classroom Tutorial.


Other Ideas for using MOP

There are numerous other ideas for using the Minds On Physics Internet Modules. A few of our favorites are listed below.

  • Use MOP as your homework assignments. Assign one assignment each evening and collect the module's worth of codes at the end of the unit on the day of the test.
  • Reserve a computer lab the day before the test. Allow students the entire period to work on MOP.
  • Require that students do at least 7 of the 11 assignments within a given module. Allow students to pick the 7 which they wish to do.
  • Have a MOP Quiz. Take students to a computer lab at the beginning or end of class and allow them 15-20 minutes to complete a particular assignment. When students are successful, record their success on an attendance sheet.
  • Have an Evening at the MOPs night, inviting students to come in after school to do MOPs in the school library or computer center and to receive help from the teacher.
  • Provide a Best of MOPs sheet for preparation for the final exam.
  • Assign several MOP assignments but don't collect the codes. Then give a quiz which includes several MOP questions on it.
  • Use a MOP assignment as a makeup lab for those students that missed the lab. Find the assignment whose objective closely resembles that of the lab.

If you know of some other approaches that have proven useful with your classes, then consider sharing your idea so that it can be included here. Contact the MOP coordinator.


A Favor to Ask

Many thousands of students do MOP every year. Like any teacher, the MOP coordinator has a collection of classes and students. He is busy designing instruction, preparing lessons, setting up demonstrations and labs, helping students and grading papers. There is no way that he can attend to questions from students from other schools. As a favor, please advise your students to bring all questions to you as the local teacher. As the local teacher, become the expert in the operation of the program and the go-to person for all student inquiries. In the event that you are unable to answer a question or have a problem that won't fix itself, email the MOP coordinator. He would be glad to assist you in finding the information or solution that you need. Thanks.


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