Day 170: End of Year Reflections

We let our seniors go a week early, so I have no students today, making it a good time to reflect on the school year.

AP Physics

The more I look back on this year, the more excited I am about my plan to start next year with momentum. The big reason I’m making the switch is there are a lot of problems on the AP exam (and in physics in general!) that can be solved very elegantly with momentum and energy, but my students tend to default to kinematics and dynamics since those are the lenses they developed first. I’m hoping to make momentum their default approach, instead.

I’m also hoping starting with momentum will help with some of the divide between students during kinematics. Our calculus teacher emphasizes motion graphs, especially velocity vs. time, which is fantastic! The trick is about half of my students took her class last year, so they breezed through kinematics and kept asking when physics would get hard. The other half of my students often got frustrated that they needed time to master what their peers already knew. Starting with momentum will give the calculus kids something new to chew on from the start, while giving the rest of the students time to build a strong physics foundation that will put them on more even footing when we get to kinematics.

The other big thing I’m thinking about is reassessments and grading. I had a lot more students frustrated with standards-based grading this year than last, and I had very few students complete reassessments. Next year, I need to make sure I spend more time talking about the grading system with my students, especially how it translates into a letter grade. I also need to do a much better job of building in in-class reassessment opportunities. I give quizzes about once a week, so it shouldn’t be a huge leap to cover 2-3 weeks of standards on each quiz.

9th Grade Science (Earth Science & Physical Science)

While AP Physics felt much higher stakes, this was a more challenging prep. The last time I taught earth science as in 2008-2009, during my first year of teaching when I worked at a different school, so I was rusty on a lot of the content and relied heavily on the existing curriculum. The person I followed is very good at planning for what kinds of experiences will work well on a given day; for example, doing something simple during the first week so students can experience immediate success in the course or saving a particularly exciting lab for the day before a long weekend to help harness students’ energy. I had trouble, however, finding the storyline in this sequencing and a lot of the feedback I got from students was that the class felt very disjointed. The next time I teach earth science, I need to shore up my content knowledge so that I clearly see the connections between various learning targets and topics, in addition to rethinking the sequence within each unit.

My other big takeaway is I underestimated the need for classroom culture-setting at the start of a new trimester. The last few years, I’ve only had 9th graders 1st trimester. Since they expect high school to be a change, I didn’t have to work very hard to get them on board with what I was doing. This year, I taught 9th grade all year and each trimester, about 2/3 of my students were new to me. 2nd tri, I didn’t make explicit why I take the approaches I do, and I struggled to get students to see the value in some of what I asked of them. 3rd tri, I was more intentional about how I introduced the early discovery labs, talking not only about what I wanted to see from students, but why I wanted to see it, and the transition was much smoother as a result. It was a good reminder that I need to keep in mind the classrooms my students are coming from and be prepared to help them adjust to mine.

Day 169: Final Exam

Earth Science: Final Exam

Today is my last day with students! I finally managed to include a collaborative, lab-ish portion on a 9th grade final exam. We’ve been spending a lot of time on topographic maps, so part of the exam is interpreting a map with their lab group. The rest is a pretty traditional written exam.

Day 168: Review

Earth Science: Review

Today is the last day of regular classes for the year. Students worked on a review for the final exam. I used a pretty traditional review assignment, but I want to keep working on better ways to review.  The students who need the most support to prepare for the final struggled to use the review assignment effectively, with many of them relying on getting answers directly from a classmate or the textbook. I need to keep working on review strategies that will scaffold students toward more effective studying.

Day 167: More Topo Maps

Earth Science: More Topo Maps

Students finished their assignment for reading a St. Paul topographic map. I touched on the idea of contour lines as lines that show equal gravitational potential energy, but a lot of students had trouble wrapping their heads around that idea. I didn’t do much connecting ideas back to energy this tri, so I think they just were out of the habit of thinking about energy. I’d love to re-work the 9th grade science curriculum to use energy as a foundation for the whole course, but with some changes in my department’s staffing, I probably won’t be teaching 9th grade for a while. Maybe I can talk some of the 9th grade teachers into running with the idea, especially if Minnesota adopts the NGSS.


Day 166: Topographic Maps

Earth Science: Topographic Maps

Students spend some time interpreting topographic maps. One of the maps we used today shows a region of St. Paul near the school, and I was surprised at how excited students were to connect the map to places they know. If I do this again, I want to think about how I can revise the activity to take advantage of that interest.

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Since seniors finished on Friday, I have the rest of the day free and spent it cleaning my classroom. Last week, the seniors hid class of 2017 notecards around the school, and running across those made cleaning my room a little more fun. I also found an eraser someone had glued to a drop in the ceiling. I’m not sure when or why that happened.

Day 165: Marshmallow Challenge & Topo Maps

AP Physics: Marshmallow Challenge

Today was the last day of school for seniors, so we wrapped up presentations. One student who studied piano physics was excited to share his insight that a grand piano is effectively a frequency vs. wavelength graph. Afterward, we did the marshmallow challenge.

The winners!

The seniors brought produce this week as a spin on apples for teachers. When some students were discussing what would be the weirdest option, I suggested a coconut. The next day, here’s what a student brought:

Earth Science: Topo Maps

Students worked on identifying topographic map symbols and interpreting a sample map.

Day 164: Presentations & Mystery Block

AP Physics: Presentations

Students continued presenting their work. In one class, the number of presentations I scheduled per day is spot in. In the other, presentations are flying by and won’t need the full period tomorrow. I need to give some thought to what that class will do after finishing presentations.

Earth Science: Mystery Block

To revisit relative ages, students had to determine the steps in making a mystery block. There were a couple of particular elements that provoked some great conversation. In particular, one side had white paint and some grooves. The color made it very tough to tell if there was any paint in the grooves, so students had to use other features on that side to decide whether the paint or the grooves came first. Next time, I’d like to use this at the start of the unit as a model-building lab; I’m pretty sure this is a concrete enough context that students can reason out most of the principles for relative dating.


Day 163: Presentations & Paleozoic Minnesota

AP Physics: Presentations

Students started presenting their projects today. A full class period of student presentations can be deadly, but I wanted students to have an opportunity to share their work with their peers and couldn’t come up with a good alternative. Students ended up very engaged; over the last few weeks, they’ve heard bits and pieces about each other’s projects and seemed to enjoy seeing how everything came together. In one class in particular, students had some great questions after each presentation that showed they were really thinking about what they heard.

Earth Science: Cenozoic Minnesota

We started class by whiteboarding what students came up with for Minnesota’s Paleozoic era. There was some really nice discussion linking to earlier topics about why there are very few Precambrian fossils in Minnesota. Afterward, we continued the pattern with Minnesota’s Cenozoic rocks and landforms.


Day 162: CTSR & Ancient Minnesota

AP Physics: CTSR

Students took the CTSR today so that I can have some data to help decide whether to use that or the FCI next year, though I’m leaning towards the FCI since the responses on individual questions is much more meaningful. In the past I gave the CTSR because I was in a PLC with a chemistry teacher, so we wanted an assessment we could both use, and it lead to great conversations about how to build reasoning skills across grade levels. I think if all of the science classes gave the CTSR each spring, especially if we developed some common language using materials like Sayer & Addy’s Curriculum Analysis Taxonomy and the NGSS Science Practices, there is the potential for some really interesting department-wide vertical alignment.

Earth Science: Ancient Minnesota

Students examined a poster of Minnesota’s geologic history to reinforce the relative lengths of time and see how the geology has changed over time. Afterwards, I gave students some information about Minnesota’s Paleozoic geology so they could complete an activity similar to Friday’s look at Precambrian Minnesota.


Day 161: Skip Day & Precambrian Minnesota

AP Physics: Skip Day

The Friday before Memorial Day is traditionally senior skip day at Tartan, so my classes were very small. The students who were here worked on their projects. One student was surprised that the fits on his raw data and linearized data had the same coefficient and intercept, which is a good reminder that I need to keep having students verbalize what their slope means, not just what physical quantity it represents, especially when dealing with linearized graphs. Since all but two of my students were either in calculus this year or took it last year, they were able to say a lot of the right words, but I still need to make sure they have a clear understanding of what is behind the words.

Earth Science: Ancient Minnesota

I gave students some information about precambrian rocks in Minnesota, then had them use what they’ve learned this trimester to make some inferences about that era. I had students point to a specific piece of evidence to support each statement they made, but I think this activity would have been better served by having them do a CER for each inference, instead.