Day 106: Assessment Bonanza

Tomorrow was originally scheduled to be a staff development day, so all three of my classes took assessments wrapping up their last topic.

AP Physics 1: Waves Assessment

This quiz included an experimental design problem off a past AP exam. My students still find those kinds of problems really intimidating, but I’m really pleased with the work on the quizzes I’ve looked at so far. In general, both this year and in the past, I’ve had a lot of trouble helping my students feel as confident as I think they should when it comes to the AP Physics 1 exam, and I think their reaction to experimental design problems is one symptom. I have noticed that one of my sections is much more confident, and I don’t think its coincidence that they are also a MUCH smaller section. As we get into the home stretch to May 7, I need to give some thought to how I can help all of my students recognize the progress I’ve seen in them.

Physics: Pendulum Assessment

Students took their quiz on pendulums, then started working on a final review.

Chemistry Essentials: Formula Writing Assessment

Students quizzed over formula writing. Most were feeling very good about their work at the end of the quiz, which is a great place to be at the end of the term.

Day 25: Friction, Groupwork Reflection, & Pressure

AP Physics 1: Friction

Students whiteboarded the friction lab from yesterday.  There was some good discussion and I can tell students are getting more comfortable talking about graphs. Its been a couple of years since I last did this lab, and the results are as messy as I remember, but students already seem to have a clearer idea of what the coefficient of friction is telling them, so I think it was worth the time.

friction lab.jpg

Physics: Groupwork Reflection

Today was a quiz day and the routine has become to spend the first part of the hour on an assessment doing some groupwork reflection. I spent some time on discussions about what skills students had used working on certain tasks to reinforce the value of multiple abilities. I have one class that seems to be buying in to valuing multiple abilities more than the other, but I think progress is happening on that front.

Chemistry Essentials: Pressure

To wrap up gas laws, I did a few demos. Before each one, I had students whiteboard a CER with their prediction. My favorite is a demo where I put a pipe between a large and a small balloon with each balloon clamped shut. Students have to predict what will happen when I remove the clamps. The version I first saw calls for putting a very small amount of air in the little balloon, so it isn’t stretching much, which forces air into the big balloon when you remove the clamps. I prefer inflating the small one enough that the rubber has stretched and, when the clamps are removed, the air just stays put in both.

pressure demo

Day 10: p-t Graphs, Groupwork Reflection, & Density

AP Physics: p-t Graphs

Students sketched momentum vs. time graphs for bowling balls hit with various combinations of taps, then we got out billiard balls and motion detectors to transition to true momentum vs. time graphs. It was a little tricky for students to predict what the graph would look like when the billiard ball reversed direction, but we got there by the end of the hour.

Physics: Groupwork Reflection

Today we had a few whiteboards to finish from Friday and a quiz to take. One of my goals this year is to improve the quality of the collaboration in my classroom, so we also took a few minutes to talk about some of the different abilities students needed to complete the problems and mistakes whiteboarding, then I asked students to complete a short reflection based on a list of things effective groups do I got from Scot Hovan at a modeling workshop. I haven’t had a chance to read the reflections yet, but it looked like students were giving it some good thought and I overheard several students showing their reflection to a peer they’d used as a positive example.

Chemistry Essentials: Density

We got out the metal dowels from last week’s volume lab to find their density. I asked groups to design their own experiment, and wished I’d taken the time for a little more discussion on what makes a good experiment. The worksheet I used started with questions about what variables they needed and how to measure those variables, but a lot of students had trouble with articulating how they would get a variety of values for the data table.


Day 1: Buggies, Broken Circles, & Mystery Tubes

AP Physics 1: Buggies

I took a page from Frank Noschese and embraced the idea that “Any lab worth doing is worth doing twice.” I gave groups the very vague directive to collect data on the buggy’s motion, then represent it on a whiteboard and turned them loose. My students seemed very comfortable with the ambiguity and dove right in, which was fantastic. I had a good mix of data tables and graphs on whiteboards, along with a lot of variations on graphs, which led to some good conversation on what would make it easier for us to compare results. Tomorrow, we’ll re-do the lab with a focus on being able to compare results. I talked more than I’d like today, but that’s pretty typical of when I do a new discussion.


Physics: Broken Circles

To start building class culture and learning how to collaborate, I started today with Frank Noschese’s subversive lab groups. Once they were in groups, students did the broken circles activity from Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous ClassroomEach student got an envelope with pieces of a circle inside. As a group, they had to assemble four complete circles without talking. Afterward, we had some discussion about what skills groups needed to complete the task.

broken circles

Chemistry Essentials: Mystery Tubes

Today was also about class culture in chemistry. This class also started with subversive lab grouping, but  I stepped in more than I did in physics. There were more students in this class who seemed nervous about approaching their peers and it was tougher for them to identify other possible solutions when a group got too big. Afterward, we got out the mystery tubes. I could tell I didn’t make the goal as clear as I sometimes do; while there were a lot of groups who were very engaged and had great conversations, others had trouble getting started.

mystery tube

Day 104: Plickers, Explosions, & Quiz

AP Physics: Plickers

After a quiz, we used Plickers for some multiple choice practice. We happened to do several that involved the slope or area of different graph types, and it was clear from the conversations that a lot of students were having trouble keeping them all straight, so we spent some time looking at how to work backwards from the formula sheet to get what a slope or area represents.


Physics: Explosions

Students took a quiz on impulse, then worked on analyzing their data for the cart explosion lab. Linearization has been a struggle in this course this year, but it seems to be clicking for a lot of students, which is good since plotting ratios means there’s a lot to think through.

One class brought up their anxieties about a drill we’re planning in conjunction with the local police department, which lead into a discussion about their fears about school shootings in general. With the drill already making students nervous, I’m going to need to carefully monitor the mood in my classes and make a concerted effort to make students feel as safe as possible.


Chemistry Essentials: Quiz

Today’s formula writing quiz took the full hour, which was much longer than I expected. I had a lot of students come up to me during the quiz to ask questions that indicated they were struggling to differentiate the different types of diagrams as well as the meaning of subscripts and superscripts on atomic symbols. I need to think about what kinds of scaffolds I can provide to help students develop those skills; one option may be to have students help name the diagram types, rather than using a standard name.

Day 95: Electric Potential Difference, Conservation of Energy, & Quiz

AP Physics: Electric Potential Difference

Students did a variation on the lab to map an electric field in a tray of water. Since I just wanted to define electric potential difference, they measured the voltage along a line with the multimeter’s ground probe in a few different positions (my article about this lab was in the January issue of The Physics Teacher). There was a lot of good discussion within lab groups about what negative voltages mean.


Physics: Conservation of Energy

Before their quiz, students whiteboarded a couple of conservation of energy problems (which I spaced out on taking a picture of). For a lot of students, this reinforced the importance of the meaning-making steps and gave them a boost of confidence before starting the quiz. The downside is there are students who approach the pre-quiz problems as a chance to cram, rather than a warm-up. I’m trying to decide if I’m okay with that trade-off.

Chemistry Essentials: Quiz

Students took their quiz on atomic models and classifying matter. I’ve been working a lot on the class culture and finding ways to connect with students I’ve been clashing with, and it paid off today when, for the first time, I didn’t have to police students staying quiet after they finished their quiz.

Day 83: Inertial vs. Gravitational Mass, Board Meeting, & Freezing Lauric Acid

Several nearby districts had snow days today, so most of my classes were a little more off-task than usual today.

AP Physics: Inertial vs. Gravitational Mass

Students finished collecting data and making graphs for the period of a spring lab. We didn’t have enough time for a board meeting, but every group had decided mass is what matters so we took a few minutes to decide whether it is gravitational or inertial mass by comparing the period of a cart on a spring at different angles. This is the first year I’ve used the Pasco equal length springs, and several groups were able to get some pretty nice data for period and spring constant.

spring ramp.jpg

Physics: Board Meeting

Students whiteboarded their results from last week’s lab. I gave different groups different springs, and the slopes reflected that variation nicely which lead smoothly into fitting k into the formula. I had conversations with some groups about whether their results were “right” that reinforced just how uncomfortable some of my students still are with being even partially wrong. Talking to them, I think they don’t see this fear of being wrong as an obstacle to learning physics.

epe board 2.jpg

Chemistry Essentials: Freezing Lauric Acid

We worked on a lab to find the freezing point of lauric acid by melting it in a hot water bath, then making a temperature vs. time graph as it cools in a cool water bath. This is the last class of the day and we ended up getting released 13 minutes early due to a snowstorm, so only one group was able to get data. Especially since a third of the class was gone by 6th hour, I’m thinking about just repeating the lab tomorrow.

Day 72: Projectiles, Forces Practical, & Qualitative Gas Laws

AP Physics: Projectiles

We worked through some problems I got from Michael Lerner where students apply other models from this year so far to an object dropped straight down and I was pleased with the connections students were making. I also asked students to predict what should happen to the time if the object were heavier and if it were launched horizontally, and got some great discussion. We wrapped up by trying each and checking the results with slow-motion video.


Physics: Forces Practical

Students wrapped up the forces practical from yesterday. I scaffolded the practical more than usual by breaking it into small steps, asking students for each representation and several calculations along the way. Several students commented that was very helpful when they took another look at the problems from earlier this week.

Chemistry Essentials: Qualitative Gas Laws

I got out the syringes for students to make some qualitative observations about the ideal gas laws. The ice water baths didn’t produce much change for the groups I was able to talk to today. With this class, I’m spending more time redirecting students or dealing with groups damaging lab equipment than I am talking to students about chemistry, so I need to think about how to shift that. There is a para who is going to work on helping to keep students on task. I also need to remember the instructional coaches have offered to help manage things on lab days.


Classroom Display

Earlier this week, I put up a “Scientists can be…” display inspired by Liz Mastalio. Its been a lot of fun listening to students react to it; some are looking for which ones they don’t know while others are clearly drawn to specific identities. My AP students have been telling me who they’d like to see up there, so I want to open the door for them to submit a poster with a label. That could help me get some identities I missed that matter to my students.


Day 70: Projectiles, Forces Reintroduction, & Density

AP Physics: Projectiles

Students did an activity on Pivot Interactives to watch the motion of a projectile from three different vantage points and produce position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs. From what I saw, most groups got pretty good results. This was the first time students saw the midpoint method for finding slope of a curve, and I think I should have spent a little more time introducing that. We can have some discussion about it tomorrow.


Physics: Forces Reintroduction

Especially because a lot of students really struggled with the forces assessment right before break, we started this week getting back into the swing with some problems similar to what we worked on right before break. Before break, I was also seeing more and more students getting off-task during time with their groups, so I spent some time sharing my observations and having some discussion about how that fits with what it takes to be successful in a class like this.

Chemistry Essentials: Does shape affect density?

I had students determine whether the shape of a block affects its density using a set of aluminum blocks with different shapes, but the same volume. Last tri, I’d asked students to predict the shape of the mass vs. volume graph, but it was tricky to collect class data and the graph was kind of boring since I didn’t have much variety of volumes. This approach got the same misconceptions out on the table, but gave more meaningful results.


Day 69: Quizzes Galore

Today is the last day before winter break.

AP Physics & Physics: Quiz & Mystery Tubes

AP quizzed over conservation of energy while regular quizzed on Newton’s Laws in 2D. Afterward, I got out the Mystery Tubes rather than starting a new topic. Students were a little fried since they had tests in just about every class, so I think they appreciated the chance to do something low-stakes after their quiz. My students were definitely loopier than usual, and that lead to some creative models of what’s inside the tubes. Next year, it might be worth putting a lab practical on this day instead of a typical quiz.

todd the bug.jpg

This bug’s name is Todd. He lives inside the tube and moves the ropes.

Chemistry Essentials: Mistakes Game & Quiz

There was only time for one group to present their board yesterday, so we continued the mistakes game today before students took a short quiz on density. The mistakes game was fairly chaotic, but there were also some really good questions. I need to put in some more time working on norms for discussion, but I’m hopeful they will be able to have some good whiteboard discussions.