This week, students started working on an activity to figure out what interaction causes energy to dissipate as a bouncy ball bounces (I wrote this up for The Science Teacher a few years ago). After observing a bouncy ball, students agreed that some combination of the impact with the table and the air resistance on the bouncy ball are responsible for the energy dissipating, so now their task is to figure out which it is. I spend a lot of time priming students for what evidence might be useful and we started late in the week, so we mostly focused on making one set of energy bar charts for if only the impact dissipates energy and one set for if only the air resistance dissipates energy using five key points along the bouncy ball’s motion (right as it’s released, right as it reaches the table, right as it leaves the table, at the top of the first bounce, and right as it reaches the table a second time). I forgot to get a picture, but one group did a cool thing where they labeled which interaction was happening between each of their bar charts to help keep track of when the dissipated energy should show up. We then had some good discussion about what these energy bar charts tell us we will actually observe in the lab.
Physics: Math Sensemaking
This week felt a little goofy. The other physics teacher and I are doing the same activities on as close the same day as we can so that we can plan together (a key survival tactic when both of us are also doing what are supposed to be full-time jobs outside the classroom!). He is out this week, so we used several Pivot Interactives activities to wrap up forces and introduce momentum (full disclosure: I work for Pivot writing activities). As I worked with students, two big things that aren’t directly tied to the science content ended up at the front of my mind. First, students told me their biggest frustration with the Pivot activities is they had to measure carefully to get the autograded questions correct. I think this fits with where students believe that physics knowledge comes from. When students see experiments, observations, and measurements as where physics knowledge comes from, I find that students tend to measure more carefully because they see a purpose to having good-quality measurements. Combined with some other things I’ve observed about my students, I think many of them see me as the primary source of physics knowledge in the room, so why should it matter whether they measure carefully?
Second, I saw a lot of evidence that students are not attaching physical meaning to their measurements. This was most apparent to me in an activity where students used Newton’s 2nd Law to determine the mass of an unknown object. Students were able to measure the net force on a system that included two gliders and the mystery object as well as make measurements to determine the acceleration of the system. Once they calculated the total mass of the system, a lot of students really struggled with how to use the given mass of the gliders to figure out the mass of the mystery object. This made me think of the work some of my grad school classmates and professors have been doing around blended sensemaking in science (here’s a taste), which is a term for simultaneously doing sensemaking in science and in math. Recognizing they needed to subtract the mass of the two gliders from the total mass required students to recognize what the mass they had calculated represented, how the given mass of the gliders relates to the mass they had calculated, and what the operation of subtraction represents in this context. Doing all of that can be some pretty tricky blended sensemaking! Realizing how much my students are struggling with this is helping me make sense of some of the other struggles I’m seeing in my class right now. I’m not sure what my fix is yet, but I definitely want to keep thinking about how to support students in attaching meaning to numbers and doing blended sensemaking.
This was another week that was a little messy. I had a sub Wednesday through Friday so I could present some of my doctoral research at the ASTE conference. On top of that, we had an ice storm early Wednesday morning that resulted in a late start, so two of my classes didn’t meet
AP Physics 1: Energy
This week was all about applying our model of energy transfer. We had some great discussions before I left where students were navigating how different systems affect the problem. We also did some TIPERs problems where some common preconceptions came out. The last few years, I’ve been working on being more intentional about making sure we discuss what’s correct about those preconceptions and whether there are other questions those ideas are the correct answer to. My students this year have been really receptive to those conversations, which makes for fun discussions and seems to help kids feel comfortable sharing ideas. Once I left, students worked on an energy lab practical in Pivot Interactives and some energy problems from the College Board’s AP Physics 1 workbook. My students were a little nervous about doing those problems without a teacher who knows the content in the room, but I’m betting they will make some good progress with peer conversations.
Physics: Unbalanced Forces
Students started working problems using unbalanced forces. My students and I are getting more comfortable with each other, which is leading to the discussions getting better. That’s helped me make the connection that the reason some of my students have been struggling with the direction of some forces is they don’t have a great conceptual understanding of the interactions involved in some forces, especially the normal force. I made sure we spent some time reinforcing those ideas by doing some things like using the matter model for normal force and a pair of hairbrushes for friction. My go-to move is to place those on a board at different angles to help students get a visual and tactile hook to make sense of what direction the normal and friction forces should go, which seemed to help a lot of students. We also spent some time looking at how the normal force an elevator passenger experiences connects to the acceleration of the elevator. Once I left, they did an unbalanced forces lab practical in Pivot Interactives.
This week was a little goofy. Tuesday was our first day back from break, then a big winter storm meant we had to close schools on Wednesday. We used up our regular snowdays in December, so Wednesday was an emergency e-learning day, which means students completed asynchronous assignments.
AP Physics 1: Kinetic Energy
Our first task back from break was to find the relationship between velocity and kinetic energy. I waffle every year whether to do this with tracks and probeware, which as the advantage of being firmly rooted in the real world for students, or use Pivot Interactives, which has the advantage of measurements that are easier to make. With the weather forecast, I opted for Pivot. I had students complete the first section that takes them through making measurements and modeling the energy transfers with energy bar charts individually, then complete the remaining sections in groups. It’s been a little while since we linearized a graph or developed a mathematical model from data, but I was really pleased with how they did.
Physics: Newton’s 2nd Law
Our big goal this week as a paradigm lab for Newton’s 2nd Law. In some conversations last year, Kelly O’Shea suggested using carts on ramps as an alternative to the more standard modified Atwoods machine. Students used a force sensor to measure how much force it took to hold the cart in place. Next, we used some vector addition diagrams to reason out the force they’d measured is the same as the net force when the cart is released. Students used the motion encoder carts to determine the acceleration, then changed the angle of the ramp and repeated their measurements. I really like that this is conceptually much simpler than the modified Atwood, so students can focus on making sense of the data, and this approach makes a really clear conceptual link between balanced forces and unbalanced forces. For the e-learning day, we had students do some reasoning with vector addition diagrams of balanced forces to help review those skills to support the lab.
This was supposed to be a four-day week, but an impending winter storm means we will be starting our winter break a day early.
AP Physics 1: Energy Bar Charts
This week I introduced students to energy bar charts and we spent a lot of time working and whiteboarding problems. Since we had two rounds of whiteboarding in a 3-day week, I asked students if they wanted to change it up from mistakes whiteboarding, but they were adamant that mistakes whiteboarding helps them learn. I was more concerned about whether they would be up for engaging in that much mistakes whiteboarding than whether it would be useful, so happily went along. I am really glad that they are seeing the value in making, analyzing, and discussing mistakes for their learning. I also had some great conversations with students this week where they talked about the growth they feel like they are making in this class, which is fantastic. That is a great note to go into winter break on.
Physics: Newton’s 2nd Law
This week felt more awkward with this course. We had a quiz on Monday that had been pushed from last week due to a snow day. Then the plan was to start the lab we’ll be doing on Newton’s 2nd Law. We are planning to use the motion encoder tracks, but students haven’t had any hands-on experience with them yet and haven’t used any velocity vs. time graphs in a few weeks. To address those issues, I put together an activity where students reviewed position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs using the motion encoder tracks. That seemed to really help students feel comfortable with the equipment and set up what they’ll need to remember to find acceleration in the lab. That left us with today to start the lab. I dragged my feet on the introductory discussion rather than starting data collection, then picking it back up after two weeks off. We’ll see what I think of that decision when we come back from break!
We had Friday off this week. I think staff and students alike were very happy to have a long weekend.
Physics: Popper Hoppers
This week we wrapped up energy. After finishing the bouncy ball evidence-based reasoning from last week, we got out the popper hoppers to use energy to find the spring constant of the toy. We haven’t done as much having students decide what measurements to take as I’d like, so students struggled a little at first with what measurements to take. I showed them a strategy from one of my past AP students wo would write out the equation she was going to use to solve for the target variable, then put check marks next to each of the other variables once she had a step in her procedure that would get her a value for that variable. That was exactly what students needed to get a solid plan for the practical.
AP Physics 1: Unbalanced Torque
This week, we worked on unbalanced torque. We used another Pivot Interactives activity (Disclaimer: I work for Pivot Interactives as a content writer. This activity should be published soon!) since I haven’t had a chance to play with the hands-on equipment we purchased for rotation in fall 2019. I’m trying to be pretty conscious of making explicit connections to unbalanced linear forces, both to make sure students aren’t starting from scratch in their understanding and to embed review of earlier topics. Students are seeing those connections pretty clearly, which is great to see.
I also started a countdown to the AP Physics exam on my whiteboard, and noticed students are more focused when working problems. I think the countdown is adding some sense of urgency to what we are working on.
This week was a little odd since we didn’t have any classes on Tuesday to accommodate state testing. The juniors took the ACT, but the seniors had an asynchronous day. A lot of the seniors really appreciated having a day to follow their own schedule and relax a bit.
Physics: Bouncy Balls
We started an evidence-based reasoning activity to determine what interaction dissipates a bouncy ball’s energy (you can find more details in my article from The Science Teacher). This week we focused on preparing for doing the video analysis by sketching energy bar charts, force diagrams, and motion graphs for if air resistance is responsible for most of the dissipated energy and for if the impact with the table is responsible for most of the dissipated energy. We then used those diagrams to get to some testable predictions about things we can measure with video analysis that will distinguish between those two explanations. Students found this process challenging, but I was really pleased by how they connected other ideas from this course to energy.
AP Physics: Torque
To introduce torque, students set up some meter sticks as levers and looked for a relationship between the force exerted by a hanging mass on the meter stick and the force required to balance the meter stick. After we discussed that lab and took some notes on torque, I showed students a second class lever and asked them to determine if that type of lever showed the same relationship as the first class lever we started with. While I don’t discuss the classes of levers with students, I like that this activity helps emphasize it is the direction of the torque, rather than the direction of the force that is important. This activity was tougher for my students than I expected, I think because I rushed the post-lab discussion after the first class lever, so they weren’t as clear as they needed to be about the relationship we’d found the first day.
This week we worked on making the transition to setting up problems for conservation of energy. Before doing problems, we did a card sort where students matched scenarios to energy bar charts, conservation of energy equations using only energy forms, and conservation of energy equations where the formulas were substituted for the energy forms. This seemed to really help students connect the two different versions of the conservation of energy equations and were something I was able to refer back to when students were working on calculations on paper. Whenever students refer back to an activity as we tackle the next challenge, that is a sign to me that the activity was worthwhile.
AP Physics 1: Rotational Kinematics
This week we worked through rotational kinematics. We started with an activity on Pivot Interactives where students analyzed the motion of some dots on a spinning wheel (disclaimer: I write activities for Pivot Interactives. This one should be published soon!). Students very quickly made connections to linear kinematics, which was exactly what I was hoping for. From there, we did a card sort with motion graphs for rotational kinematics where students again saw the connections to linear kinematics really clearly. I’d printed and cut this card sort back in February 2020 with the intention of using it that spring, so it was exciting to finally pull it out of the cabinet! One of the advantages of students making those connections is these activities served as a really natural review, which I try to incorporate into these last topics as the countdown to the AP exam begins.
The biggest task this week was a lab to determine the equation for kinetic energy. On some recent labs, students have struggled to get good data. I think part of the issue is many don’t buy into the idea that knowledge should come from the labs they do, so they don’t invest the effort or attention into getting good data, which makes it hard to see how it leads to physics concepts or equations and becomes a self-reinforcing cycle I wanted to interrupt with this lab. We talked a little about what I observed and my hypothesis, then I re-did the gravitational potential energy lab as a demo and made a point of discussing the things I was doing to get good measurements and check the quality of my data as I went. When we were getting ready to whiteboard, I also checked in with groups to make sure they had quantities on the correct axis and were seeing that they needed to linearize. The result was data that really nicely showed the quadratic relationship between kinetic energy and velocity and most graphs even had slopes very close to half the mass of the carts students used! A lot of students were really proud of their results, which was great to see and I’m hoping will encourage them to continue those good data collection practices.
AP Physics 1: Centripetal Force
I like to ignore the College Board’s recommendation to do centripetal force as unit 3 because it is such a nice opportunity for built-in review of a lot of ideas about forces. We started by spinning some rubber stoppers on strings to talk qualitatively about how we could change the force in the string before moving over to Pivot Interactives to collect quantitative data (disclaimer: I am a content writer for Pivot Interactives). Next, we used an activity I originally got from Lucas Walker using exoplanet data to find the law of universal gravitation. Students are making the connections I want them to, but I can tell they are starting to feel some fatigue. I typically rely a lot on Pivot Interactives for this topic since we don’t have much equipment, but students got pretty into the brief hands-on activities we did this week, so I think I should make sure to keep working those in to help my students stay engaged these next few weeks.
This week, we came back from spring break and started trimester 3.
Physics: Energy Bar Charts
This week we focused on drawing energy bar charts. Students have struggled to connect representations, so I tried starting by having students draw the more familiar energy pie charts. Then, we got out the Mathlink cubes to use as a manipulative representing the types of energy (an idea I think I first saw in Scott Hertting’s article in The Physics Teacher). Once students had rearranged the cubes to represent at least two different snapshots, I had them sketch how they arranged the cubes on a bar chart. One thing I was really excited about is as the week progressed, I had some students ask if they could keep using the cubes, which tells me they were a useful tool. I also saw a lot of students sketching energy pie charts to help figure out what the bar charts should look like, which tells me they are connecting the two representations when seeing relationships between representations has been really challenging this year.
AP Physics: Oscillating Springs
Students did a lab to find the equation for the period of a spring, then we dove into some problems. Students did really well with the problems focused on representations and showed a lot of growth from earlier this year on the problems from the College Board’s AP Physics 1 workbook. The workbook problems included a lot of predictions about how various factors would affect the period of a spring, so we used a spring to connect a motion encoder cart to a force sensor on a track so we could change the angle the spring was at, as well as factors students had already tested like mass and amplitude. I also made sure to use this as an opportunity to review some basics on motion graphs since exam day is starting to loom.
With President’s Day on Monday and a PD day on Friday, we had a 3-day week.
Physics:Energy Pie Charts
This week we did mistakes whiteboarding with energy pie charts. There was some great discussion, both as students prepared and as they presented the whiteboards, that came from students working through what differences represented someone making a mistake vs. what differences represented different, but equally valid choices.
We also briefly revisited momentum transfer this week. On the last quiz, I saw a lot of evidence that students were struggling to connect the equations and math for conservation of momentum to their momentum bar charts, which fits with a larger pattern I’ve seen this year of students struggling to connect different representations. As we get into conservation of energy at the start of next tri, I need to give a lot of thought into how I’m going to support students in making connections between mathematical and graphical representations. I do a lot of card sorts to try and help with these connections, but I think I might need to plan some discussion that specifically focuses on how the mathematical representations relate to the diagrams.
AP Physics: Pendulum Practical
This week, we wrapped up pendulums. My students could use more practice and feedback on designing experiments and writing procedures, so I decided a pendulum practical would be a good opportunity to practice this. I tasked students with finding the length of a string without using a meterstick or ruler. Before they could get their string, they had to write out their procedure on a whiteboard and get it approved by me. I think this would have been tough to manage in a large class, but I currently only have 11 students in AP, so was able to pretty easily take time to give groups meaningful feedback and check their revisions before cutting them a piece of string to use.