What can differing communication styles add to a physics class?

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Episode 503: Pie Florida International University

Part of learning physics is learning how to “perform physics” interactionally: how to discuss and refine physics ideas with others in productive ways. Historically, only certain interactional norms have been recognized as performing physics. For example, competitive, dispassionate argumentation, in which the “best” idea “wins,” is common in this field. Some students can readily engage in this interactional style: it aligns with other norms they are used to, so that it feels familiar and not like a “performance” or role play. For others, however, it might feel like they cannot perform physics while also using familiar interactional norms; or, if they do, it may be hard for the instructor or peers to recognize the physics in what they are saying.

July 27, 2018

Pedagogy Content
Promoting equity
Physics Content
Instructor Interaction
STEM-wide audiences

Lesson Contents (1 MB)Student Handout
Transcript, discussion questions, and problem

(1 MB)Specific Lesson Guide
Facilitator's guide for this lesson

(1 MB)General Facilitator's Guide
Background and best practices

(241 MB)Video
Captioned video


Sample Discussion Prompts

  1. How would you describe Alberto’s style of communicating in this episode? You might consider some of the descriptions above or add your own.

  2. In what ways is Alberto “performing physics”? (That is, in what ways does Alberto’s communication style enact or accomplish physics in the ways you know it?) In what ways is Alberto’s performance of physics different than the physics performances that have been presented as normative (by teachers, scientists, textbooks, documentaries, etc.)?

  3. What other norms might Alberto be performing in this episode (other than physics norms)?

  4. What does Alberto’s performance add to his own and his classmate’s doing physics together? (What does he bring to physics in performing other aspects of his identity?)

  5. What does this episode suggest that different speaking styles can bring to a physics class?

This lesson was developed with assistance from Leslie Atkins Elliott and Amy D. Robertson.

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