Day 0: New Year

My district wrapped up our welcome back week for staff yesterday and school begins on Tuesday, so I’m taking some time today to think through what I’m going to focus on this year.

Physics: Class Culture

I think a lot of the things I struggled with in this course last year can be attributed to falling short on building a good culture in my classes, so am trying to be much more intentional in that department this year. In particular, I really had trouble shifting students away from the belief that being confused at a given moment means they are bad at physics. I’m going to try posting signs for phases of the modeling cycle that have some information on how I expect students to feel and what supports they are likely to need. Especially during the first weeks of school, I’m planning to reference the sign as part of my introduction to what we will be working on that day.

model phases.jpg

The other thing I want to work on is embedding more reflection into my class. Last spring, the other physics teacher and I worked on a cover sheet for our unit packets that will have space for students to track their progress on each learning target. I also put together a short reflection on collaboration that will be the last page of each packet. On at least the first few packets, I need to take time to respond to students’ comments on both the progress tracker and collaboration reflection to drive home that these tasks are worth their time.

I also need to remember it isn’t enough to have this very explicit, intentional focus on class culture at the start of the school year. Typically, a large fraction of the physics students will switch between the other physics teacher and me when we start a new trimester. Even though we stay very in-sync, our classes can feel very different to our students and they don’t automatically transfer skills and mindsets between our classrooms. I need to treat the start of each trimester like the start of the school year.

Chemistry Essentials: Collaboration

I’m thinking about collaboration in this course from a few different angles. First, I’ll be co-teaching the class for the first time this year. My co-teacher is a special education teacher; while he has a limited background in science, I expect his expertise in adapting and differentiating curriculum to be very valuable since many of the students in the course have unique academic needs. This is my first experience co-teaching, so I’m thinking a lot about how to make sure I’m using his expertise while sharing my knowledge of science teaching.

I’m also thinking a lot about collaboration on the student side. I think most of my chemistry students have very limited experience with effective groupwork, so I need to make sure I’m spending time teaching them how to collaborate effectively. During the first week, I’m planning to spend at least a few minutes each day having some discussion on collaboration, but I need to think about what it will look like to carry that through the entire term.

AP Physics 1: Lab Write-Ups

While I’m planning to bring some of the work I’m doing on class culture and collaboration into AP Physics, as well, they aren’t as big a need in this course right now. My biggest frustration last year was actually around lab reports; students didn’t see them as valuable and it showed in their writing. My students were very engaged in doing the labs and had fantastic board meetings, so I think the individual processing in the lab report just didn’t help much. I’m going to try replacing more traditional write-ups with some prompts inspired by the work Kelly O’Shea has done with journals in her class (she linked some blog posts on the subject in the comments). I’m wondering if some prompts like asking students to describe how their thinking has changed or to connect what they learned in the lab to something else they are thinking about would be a more valuable lab write-up. I’m not sure yet how to balance that with giving students practice with the kind of writing that shows up on the AP exam, like writing procedures or making claims based on a graph, but it takes a few weeks before we get to the first lab where I’d ask for a write-up, so I have some time to think and even get input from my students.

5 thoughts on “Day 0: New Year

  1. What is your purpose for having students write lab reports? Do you want them to practice academic writing, reflect on the lab, synthesize suggest modifications, or something else?


    • Good question. I’ve got a couple purposes:
      1. I want students to get practice writing clear procedures and articulating in writing conclusions from data.
      2. I want to check for individual understanding.
      3. Least important, I want them to have an artifact if a school wants a lab notebook for credit.

      So far, my lab write-ups have been very much about practicing academic writing. I want to get more synthesis and reflection since I think that would make lab write-ups more of a learning tool.


      • Is there any reason why you need students to write a full lab writeup in order to accomplish goal 1? You might get a faster feedback cycle if you separate the procedures and the conclusions.
        For goal 2: understanding of what?
        I tell my AP students that colleges may ask to see their lab notebooks, so I strongly suggest that they keep solid records of what they do in labs, but I don’t grade them. I have no idea what colleges are looking for, anyway.


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