Day 150: Project & Fault Blocks

AP Physics: Project

Most of my students were gone for the AP Calculus test today. The students who were here continued work on their projects. While I’ve got a lot of students who are legitimately excited about this project, I also have some who see it as post-AP test filler, so I need to keep revisiting what I’m looking for and why it is worthwhile to complete a project like this. One of my students has never been all that confident on rotation, so he decided to dig deeply into the behavior of the flippers in a pinball machine so that he could improve his understanding of rotation, which is awesome.

Earth Science: Fault Blocks

This unit includes a learning target about types of faults. Students built paper fault blocks to explore different fault types. I liked giving them a manipulative, but it was tricky for them to make sense of how the pieces related before they were assembled. Next time, I might number the layers on each side of each piece before I run copies to make that a little clearer.

I also have to brag about a comment from a student when I was handing back the most recent quiz. She said, as she wrote her answers, she “felt like a scientist”, which is especially exciting with what I’ve read about the importance of science identity in retaining women and students of color in STEM. I need to keep giving students opportunities to feel like a scientist!

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Day 149: Project & Earthquake Engineering

AP Physics: Project

I took a few minutes today to clarify what I’m looking for in the project, and that seemed to help some students shape their next steps. A lot of students would like to use video analysis, so I booked a few days in the computer lab next week. We have some iPads with Vernier Video Physics loaded, so I may see if I can have a few of those in the classroom in the meantime.

Earth Science: Earthquake Engineering

Students tested their towers to see how they held up in an earthquake. Most groups had a pretty wide base, with a narrow tower on top since I made the main criteria height. I’d love to find a good way to measure the acceleration at the top of the tower; I think in a longer project, this could provide students with more opportunities to connect their design to their science knowledge, especially if they were encouraged to try some exotic solutions, like tuned mass damping.


Day 148: Projects & Earthquake Engineering

AP Physics: Projects

Students continued to work on their final projects. There was a range of how well students were using the time; I suspect part of the problem is they aren’t clear on what I’m looking for in the final product, so I need to spend some time clarifying that Monday and reviewing my expectations. I’m pretty excited about the projects students are working on so far; one student is digging into a certain move in his favorite video game using video analysis and got stuck figuring out how to deal with the camera panning during the move. He ended up tracking a background point, then using a calculated column to find the character’s position relative to that point, which produced a beautiful parabola.

Earth Science: Earthquake Engineering

Students designed towers intended to stay upright during an earthquake. We ran out of time to test the towers, so that will wait until Monday.  Students are just using straws, but I’d like to think about how to encourage students to think about stability at the highest levels. This is also a tough activity for students to really connect to their science knowledge; they are better equipped to justify ideas for shake tests than to justify ideas for a tower design. Even so, students pulled in some interesting ideas from geometry. A few students who were in my class last tri also took some ideas from the Marshmallow Challenge we’d done.


Day 143: Plickers & Plates

AP Physics: Plickers

Most of my students will be taking the AP Chemistry exam on Monday, so this was our last day all together before the AP Physics exam. We did one last round of Plickers, using some problems many students got wrong on the practice exam they did outside of class.

Earth Science: Tectonic Plates

My students don’t know it yet, but we started on tectonic plates today. They plotted the location of some earthquakes, color-coding them by depth, then they started looking for patterns. On Monday, we’ll talk about that it’s all means.

Day 142: Models & Earthquake Scales

AP Physics: What Models Apply?

As we’ve been working free-response problems this week, the toughest part for most students was identifying what tools would be useful (almost like that’s actually a very challenging skill). I picked some free-response problems from practice tests and had students identify some models and representations they thought would be useful. Then, we discussed the justifications for the items students picked. 5 days to go!


Earth Science: Earthquake Rating Scales

Students read a bit about the three most common rating scales for earthquakes. Afterward, they used witness descriptions to map the Mercalli scale ratings for an imaginary earthquake. I added a question asking students to write a CER for the location of the epicenter, and was pleased with the discussion it sparked and the ways it helped students take the more abstract rating back to something very concrete.


Day 141: Center of Mass & Epicenters

AP Physics: Center of Mass

I started class a center of mass demo that I think I first saw from Dan Burns. I balanced a dynamics track on a block and placed a couple of carts in the center, then asked students to predict what should happen when the carts launched. Afterward, students prepared whiteboards with their solutions for the free-response problems we’ve been working on this week.


Earth Science: Epicenter

Students used some simulated seismographs and a travel time curve to locate the epicenter of an earthquake. A lot of students struggled with reading the travel time curve, so I need to do a better job of scaffolding it next time. The seismographs had time marked with the number of minutes after an arbitrary zero, which made it difficult for students to separate the arrival time of the waves from the actual travel time; next time, it would be better to use seismographs with actual timestamps. I also would like to have students spend some time interpreting the travel time curve before trying to combine it with seismograph data.


Day 140: Types of Mass & Seismometers

AP Physics: Types of Mass
I wanted to revisit gravitational and inertial mass, so I got out the inertial balance and asked which type of mass a spring’s vibration should depend on. Finally, we used the motion detector to find the period with and without a string supporting the added mass and got beautiful results.

Afterward, students worked on some free-response problems in their groups. Tomorrow, they will get limited time with the scoring guides, then present their assigned problem.

Earth Science: Seismometers
Students built a very basic seismometer, then experimented with recording different types of earthquake waves. The results varied a lot, but it did lead to some good discussion on the limitations of the earliest seismometers.

Day 139: Free Response & Earthquakes

AP Physics: Free Response

Students whiteboarded a couple of free-response problems off the 2015 exam, then used the released scoring guides to see how they did. All of it happened in small groups, so some groups dug more carefully into their errors than others. Tomorrow, I was planning to do some more free response, and I think I will build in some presentations to the whole class to add a layer of accountability.

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Earth Science: Earthquakes

We started establishing some ideas about earthquakes. I pulled out the slinky and snakey spring to model the different types of waves. It was all pretty teacher-directed, so I’d love to come up with a way for students to build more of those ideas on their own.