My regular readers (both of you) were probably completely puzzled by my spoof post on the rules regulating FSU’s e-series courses, which are the university’s signature liberal arts courses. They are intended to be instructional models. As only the most demented readers probably figured out, all e-series courses (including those in math and science) are required to base 35% of their grades on writing assignments. The assertion in the post that e-series courses in music and literature are required to have a 35% math component was just a bad joke.
But here is where the rubber hits the road with e-series courses, and it’s not funny at all. Florida desperately needs its elementary school teachers to be better at science. Or maybe this is a more practical approach: Florida desperately needs a huge number of elementary science specialists – at least one for each elementary school in the state. Future elementary school teachers who want to be good at science – or even highly qualified elementary science specialists – need to learn their science in inquiry-driven hands-on science classes. Traditional lecture courses will just not do.
The nationally-recognized gold standard in hands-on physics courses for future elementary school teachers is a course called Physics of Everyday Thinking. It was painstakingly developed and tested over a period of years by physics education researchers, and it is revolutionizing the preparation of elementary school teachers at institutions like the University of Minnesota, where I recently visited.
FSU has offered special science courses for future elementary teachers on several occasions in its history. Most recently, I taught such course using the highly-regarded and pioneering curriculum Physics by Inquiry in 2008. But the course died for lack of enrollment – not enough future elementary teachers were registering to make the course financially sustainable.
FSU now requires its students to take e-courses, but there are almost none in the sciences. Given the 35% writing requirement, that shouldn’t be a surprise. But offering Physics of Everyday Thinking as an e-course would guarantee that it would be well subscribed and financially sustainable.
Physics of Everyday Thinking would be a great e-course. It would fill a critical statewide need by giving future elementary teachers the best possible learning opportunity. As a nationally recognized gold standard, it would be the best possible example of an exemplary course, the stated purpose of the e-course program.
But it would require a waiver of the 35% writing rule. I offered to teach the course if the rule were waived, and I was turned down. The aficionados on the FSU campus might be wondering about this: Faculty who teach e-courses are given an additional salary supplement in the form of summer salary. I don’t need it (I have other ways to get summer salary). I would teach the course without the summer salary. Still no – Physics of Everyday Thinking cannot be offered as an e-course.
The rule requiring 35% of an e-course’s grade to be based on writing is a dumb rule devised by poorly informed Faculty Senators and administrators that is keeping some of us in the sciences from doing important work to improve the State of Florida. This e-course rule may even be more destructive than the liberal studies regulations that are causing problems for FSU’s model studio physics program.
At this point, it’s likely the best advice for me would be that given to Phil the Camel in this GEICO commercial (“Let it go, Phil”). But it’s galling that it’s my own colleagues – some of whom I know well – who have put us in this situation.