About Concept Builders

What is a Concept Builder?

A Concept Builder is an interactive learning activity that targets student understanding of a discrete concept.  Each Concept Builder presents learners with carefully crafted questions that target various aspects of the concept. There are typically multiple levels of difficulty or multiple activities. And there is an effort to track learner progress at each level or in each activityl. Questions are presented in a random order from a bank of several questions. In most cases, when a student misses a question, they will have to answer the same or similar question twice before considered to have exhibited proficiency with that question. Question-specific help is provided for the struggling learner; such help consists of short explanations of how to approach the situation and a statement of the fundamental concept that the question addresses. The essence of a Concept Builder is the blending of carefully-crafted questions pertaining to a discrete learning goal with immediate feedback, question-specific help that seeks to remediate naive and ill-adopted student conceptions, and an emphasis on mastering a concept at multiple levels of sophistication. That's what we think of when we think of a Concept Builder. But we encourage you to try a few yourselves and tell us what you think.

Where Did the Idea Come From?

The idea for Concept Builders came to us as we worked on the Physics Interactives section of the website. The Interactives section was intended to include a large collection of interactive HTML5 simulations that would replace the Shockwave-based simulations at the Shockwave Studios section of our website. The more and more that we worked on this section, the more ideas that we had for interactive Concept Builder activities. We tested many of these early Concept Builders with students and classrooms. We loved using them in the classroom with 1:1 devices like the iPad and the Chromebook. They provided quick, interactive, cognitively-rich exercises that provided quick formative assessments of where students were at with respect to a concept. The classroom environment that they established was similar to what we observe when we use Minds On Physics with classrooms. And that's an awesome thing to see.

Since we had nowhere else to put these early Concept Builders, we just grouped them with the simulations at the Physics Interactives section. They fit nicely there since both were interactive, manipulable, and marked up in HTML5 to be compatible with iOS devices, Android devices, and Chromebooks.  And clearly we were not alone in our sense of the value of a Concept Builder as some of the most popular Interactives were Concept Builders such as Name That Motion, Graph That Motion, and Free-Body Diagrams.

Then one day things changed. We sat down and brainstormed ideas for about 80 new Concept Builders.  And that's when we decided that these Concept Builders need a home of their own at The Physics Classroom website. And that's how the Concept Builders section was born.

What is the Future of this Concept Builder's Section?

Now that's a great question! When it comes to "the future", we tend to divide that world into the near future (the next year or two), the distant future (two to five years from now), and the unforseeable future. In other words, the concept of the future in web development is quite different than the typical future that many of us conceive of. So with a little hesitancy, we would like to make some projections regarding the future of this Concept Builder's section.

Our original plans were to implement our 80 ideas for Concept Builders over the course of two school years, beginning in August of 2017. But we got so excited about these tools that we did most of the development during the first year (2017-18). As of this writing (January, 2019), we have 92 Concept Builders. We expect to add about more during the remainder of the 2018-19 school year.  We suspect that we will end up with well over 100 Concept Builders before the project slows down. That's a lot of physics, a lot of interactive questioning, and a lot of formative assessment ... and for us that's a lot of time and effort.

As for that portion of the future that lies between two to five years from the birth of this section in August of 2017, we expect to be doing a lot of improvement and a small number of additions to the collection. But mostly, we hope that this epoch of time is characterized by a whole lot of teachers and classrooms using the interactive Concept Builders as rich learning opportunities.

And finally for that portion of the future beyond 2022: we don't even pretend to think about that part of the future. We just know there will be plenty of new ideas to get us excited and to keep us busy providing the best possible suite of interactive learning tools that serve students, teachers, and classrooms. That's our goal and that's our future!


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