This year, I decided to try the electrostatics labs from Eugenia Etkina’s PUM curriculum. The effects were pretty visible and just about every student, including the ones concurrently enrolled in AP Chemistry where they just finished Coulomb’s Law, made some observation they found surprising.
In preparation for tomorrow’s lab, I had students balance the equations for the reactions they’ll be doing, as well as categorize each reaction into the five types that were introduced right before break.
Physical Science: Van de Graaff Generator
After sharing and discussing observations from yesterday’s lab, we played with the Van de Graaff generator. I like to end with sending a shock through a chain of students, then have two students hold onto an aluminum rod instead of holding hands. Students aren’t too surprised when they still get shocked with the rod in the chain. Next, I switch out the rod for a wooden meter stick and students aren’t too surprised when the shock stops at the meter stick, which provides a nice segue into conductors and insulators. This year, I also had students hold one of the rubber rods they’d used in their static electricity lab. Since it had been easy to give the rubber rod a static charge, students expected it to work at least as well as the metal rod. I’d tried this on a whim, and it ended up being a great reminder for me that students don’t easily differentiate between carrying a current and holding a static charge.
Physics: Newton’s 3rd Law
Students made free body diagrams for a variety of scenarios with two carts colliding, then predicted which cart would experience the greater force. After students had worked, we used a pair of force sensors to test their predictions. I’d also planned to show Frank Noschese’s great video of cart collisions, but ran out of time, so I’ll start with that on Monday. There were some great debates when students were working on their predictions, though students were more insistent than usual that I should step in and tell them who was right. This provided a good opportunity to talk with my classes about what we know is needed to really internalize a new concept, which helped alleviate some of the frustration with my non-answers.
Physical Science: Static Electricity
Students did a lab with pith balls and charged rods to begin exploring static electricity. The lab is much more directed than I’d like, but my students have gotten so used to more open-ended labs that they were quick to latch onto interesting observations and were eager to go beyond the directions to try to make sense of their observations. My students are awesome.
Physics: Mistakes Game
We played the Mistakes Game with some problems students worked on yesterday. Students have been embracing this approach to whiteboarding problems and are good about using their own actual mistakes when they make the whiteboards. My favorite moments, however, are when someone points out an unintentional mistake. The group presenting will usually admit it was unintentional and the rest of the class will happily discuss it without judgement. They’ve really embraced mistakes as an important and valuable part of the learning process. Its worth saying again that my students are awesome.