A Tool for Reform

By Kathleen Vail

Kristina Hogstrom takes a delicate bite of her purple marshmallow Peep and then puts it down next to her Apple PowerBook. She waves her hands in front of the screen, demonstrating how she made a graph of the data from an experiment of mass versus acceleration.

“Physics is great,” she says as she points to the Excel sheet on the screen, “because we also get to use computers.”

In Jon Shemwell’s class at Chicago’s Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, the laptops are as essential as the TI-83 graphing calculators and the Cambridge physics activity kits. Shemwell, who teaches Introduction to Physics, uses the online program Web Assign to present lessons, outline experiments, and assign homework to his 11th- and 12th-grade students.

The beauty of Web Assign, Shemwell says, is that it “is self-paced. That works best.”

Students can work ahead of the class if they want; others can take more time. They get immediate feedback on homework problems, with more help available on concepts they didn’t understand. 

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