Day 57: Tri 1 Reflections

Today is our second day of finals, so its a good time for me to look back on the trimester.

AP Physics

My biggest change this year was starting with momentum. I like that momentum is my students’ default lens and they are very naturally looking for how new topics connect to it. My students also see calculus as less of a prerequisite than previous classes since no one had a leg up on the first unit. However, the impulse lab I did was very rough; I think there was just too much going on for the first quantitative lab. Next year, I’m thinking about putting constant velocity before momentum so I can introduce key skills in a simpler context.

I also started giving students at least two in-class assessments over each learning target. I like that this pushed back against the test and forget that a lot of students are used to and it helped normalize reassessment as part of the learning process. As a result, students seem less stressed about my assessments and I’ve seen more students taking advantage of out of class reassessment.


We started the year with a two week unit on designing experiments and interpreting graphs. I’m not thrilled with how the unit went; I rushed through the labs we did, partly to keep up with the other physics teacher and partly to avoid spending too long on the unit. I think students would have benefited more from the unit if I’d fleshed out the pre-lab and post-lab discussions, even if that meant we didn’t do every lab originally planned on. I shortchanged the predictions students were supposed to make with each lab, and I think that helped give my students the expectation that their graphs are a box to check rather than a tool to use. The mass vs. volume lab was also a tricky place to start since students had to calculate the volume and it was tough for them to pick out relevant control variables. Next year, if I do this unit, I will probably start with bouncy balls, instead.

Its also been a much bigger challenge to get students comfortable with the modeling approach than in past years. Going into tri 2, many students are switching hours and about half of my students will be coming to me from the other physics teacher, so it is a good time to build a better foundation. I’ve been reading Designing Groupwork by Cohen and Lotan, I’m going to try starting the new trimester with one of their cooperative training exercises. I may also do the mystery tubes or a similar activity to reinforce the value of meaning-making over answer getting.

Chemistry Essentials

This was my first time teaching the first half of Chemistry Essentials. I started switching the curriculum over to a version of Modeling Instruction, and am happy with where that is going. The particle diagrams in particular have been incredibly valuable in helping students wrap their heads around what is actually going on. The modeling curriculum has fewer chemistry-looking labs than my department typically does, so one of my challenges going forward is to work on integrating more of those. I also had or expand some topics to match state standards, and those are definitely much clumsier. Finally, I’d like to get a better storyline in the class; right now, each unit feels pretty distinct from the others. I want to spend some time this summer working on understanding how the big ideas are related and revising my materials accordingly.

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