Ranking Task Exercises in Physics

developed by: Thomas O'Kuma, David P. Maloney, Curtis Hieggelke

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Astronomy
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Homework  Studio

What? Exercises in which students rank variations of a physical situation on the basis of a specified physical quantity and explain their reasoning. Designed to elicit students' natural ideas about the behavior of physical systems rather than a memorized response, providing insight into their thinking.

Why? Because the tasks are short and independent of one another, they are easy to try out without making significant alterations to your course. They are constructed to be the right "step size" so that students feel comfortable responding to them using their natural ideas rather than memorized physics.

Why not? While the structure and content of ranking tasks are based on physics education research and many are taken directly from the research literature, there is no research on the impact of the final collection on student learning. The books are published commercially so there is a cost for students.

Activity outline

Each exercise consists of four elements:

  1. a place to record the ranking of each variation;

  2. a description of the physical situation, including any constraints and the basis for ranking different arrangements;

  3. a set of figures showing the different arrangements of the situation to be compared;

  4. a place to explain the reason for each ranking choice.

Curriculum outline

Kinematics Ranking Tasks
Force Ranking Tasks
Projectile and Other Two-Dimensional Motion Ranking Tasks
Work-Energy Ranking Tasks
Impulse-Momentum Ranking Tasks
Rotation Ranking Tasks
SHM and Properties of Matter Ranking Tasks
Heat and Thermodynamics Ranking Tasks
Electrostatics Ranking Tasks
DC Circuit Ranking Tasks
Magnetism and Electromagnetism Ranking Tasks
Wave and Optics Ranking Tasks

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding

Instructor effort required

  • Low

Resources required

  • Cost for students

Developer's website: Ranking Tasks

Ranking Task Exercises in Physics come in a book published by Pearson. You can order them from Pearson or from Amazon.

This is the lowest level of research validation, corresponding to at least one of the validation categories below.

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication