Day 59: Reviewing Final & Marshmallow Challenge

Today was the start of a new trimester and, in the excitement, I forgot to take pictures today.

AP Physics: Reviewing Final

I wanted students to go over some problems from last week’s final exam. For one of the problems, I picked a really strong solution, as well as a few that were representative of the most common mistakes, and gave them a scoring guide to assign points. Students said this really helped them get a clear understanding of what exactly is expected, as well as to think about why the wrong answers were wrong. A lot of students realized they’d made mistakes because they did not read carefully, so I need to work on integrating some reading strategies for complex problems.

Physical Science: Marshmallow Challenge

Our 9th grade science sequence is two trimesters of earth science and one trimester of physics. This year, physics is in the middle, so today started our physical science trimester. In spite of this being a full-year course, only 3 of my 35 students had earth science with me last trimester.

Today, we did Tom Wujec’s Marshmallow Challenge, where teams build a tower out of spaghetti, string, and tape with a marshmallow on top. I really like that the TED talk and other resources make it easy to use this to talk about growth mindset, effective collaboration, and other ideas that I want to place as important right away. I also really like having students do something the very first day of class, since it drives home the message that they will need to be active in this class.

Day 57: Final Exams

Final exams are today and tomorrow!

AP Physics

I modified one of the College Board’s practice exams to cut out the material we haven’t addressed yet and fit into a 90 min period. I also added a released free-response question from an actual test. My students have been struggling with what a good “explain your reasoning” response looks like, so I think I’ll put together some anonymous responses to those questions, and ask students to score them using the official scoring guide next week.

After school yesterday, it was fun to talk to some students who came in for help. The students who came in were generally eager to share the ways they think about concepts and the connections they are making. One student in particular started out feeling overwhelmed by the course, but is feeling extremely confident going into the final.


Earth Science

I’m not particularly excited about my 9th grade final; its a pretty standard written, comprehensive final. In the future, I’d like to move to a 9th grade final that emphasizes the practices of science and engineering, maybe borrowing some ideas from Kelly O’Shea. I might start working on that for my 9th grade finals later this year. If I can get to something that embeds the science content meaningfully and is easy to grade quickly, I might even be able to get some of the other 9th grade teachers on board. In 10th grade, our students take a state science test where the only 9th grade material that appears is the science and engineering practices, which suggests that’s what we need to be most certain students are getting from our 9th grade sequence.

Day 172: Final Exam

Chemistry: Final Exam

My students took a pretty traditional comprehensive final today, with some problems and questions from each unit of the trimester. I don’t like this final as much as my physics one; I tried some new things in my physics finals this year, and feel like those finals were pretty in line with the rest of the course, while the chemistry final feels very separate from the collaborative, hands-on elements of the course. One of the barriers to changing that is many of the students in this chemistry course have an IEP that includes testing accommodations that I need to be creative to apply to a lab-based or collaborative final. A lot of IEPs call for students to take assessments in the special education resource room, but I’m betting the case managers of these students would be willing to help me find a solution. A little trickier is the students who take their tests orally; that could get tricky for an individual, lab-based final. If I teach this course again, I should sketch out the final I’d like to give well in advance, then talk to some members of the special education department to come up with a plan to comply with the IEPs while giving a more meaningful exam.

Day 169: Final Review

Chemistry: Final Review

Friday was the last day of school for seniors, so this week I only have my chemistry class and about one-third of those students are done. The remaining students started working on their final review, which is essentially reworking problems from this trimester’s assessments. I was a little concerned that students would check out since several pushed back pretty vocally when I gave them a task on senior skip day, but they worked pretty well today.

Day 168: Final Exam & Radiation Dose

Physics: Final Exam

Today is the last day of school for seniors, so we finished the final exam. For the lab practicals, students completed four stations, one for each of the major topics we covered this trimester. Students worked individually and had about 10 minutes at each station.



Chemistry: Radiation Dose

Students used some information from the Department of Energy to calculate their average dose of radiation in a year, then we took the assessment on nuclear reactions. A little less than a third of my class is seniors; to keep things simple, I decided to excuse those students from the final and make today’s quiz the last entry in their grades.

Day 167: Final Exam & Nuclear Reactions

Physics: Final Exam Part 1

We decided to give two parts to the final exam; a set of lab practicals and the Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning, which they took as a pre-test way back in September. Half the class worked on each portion today, and tomorrow they’ll switch. I had students submit their answers to the CTSR on a Google Form. Based on the very preliminary results, the class average has gone up about 1.5 points, which I’m pretty happy to see.


Chemistry: More Nuclear Reactions

Today, I introduced students to alpha and beta decay, then had them start write nuclear reaction equations based on partial statements.

Day 115: Final Exams

Physics: Collaborative Exam

Since physics is both very lab-based and very collaborative, we decided the final should be as well. We planned lab practicals based on the models from this trimester. Students are getting a test to complete individually that has descriptions of each lab practical, but no numbers. Students will have about an hour to set up equations and plan what they will need to do in the lab. For the last half hour, students will be placed into groups where they will actually complete each of the lab practicals.


Chemistry: Final Exam

I went with a fairly traditional written exam, though there was enough time that I could have done a two stage collaborative exam. I might try that next trimester, though I’ll need to think about how I will make sure students make effective use of the collaborative time. I also need to rethink how I approach the review assignment. I allowed students to use their review on the final, and several students answered some questions by just copying over their answer from the review, even when the test question was looking at a different reaction or element. Many of my students read below grade level, so I’m wondering if that was a factor in students who missed the ways the test was different from the review.

Day 57: Final Exams

Today and tomorrow are final exams for first trimester, so both my classes are testing in 90 minute blocks.

Physical Science

I made my final a two-stage collaborative exam. Students start with an individual portion that includes conceptual questions for all of the learning targets we’ve done this trimester. Once everyone was done, I put them in assigned groups of three for the collaborative portion, which includes fewer, but generally a little more conceptually challenging, questions. The collaborative portion counts for 25% of their final exam grade.

There are two big reasons I like the two stage collaborative exams. First, from a practical standpoint, they provide a way for students to get immediate feedback; many students figure out mistakes they made in the individual portion as they work on the group portion. Since I won’t be teaching any of these students next trimester, it will be tough for me to give them any feedback on their finals beyond a score. Second, the course is structured to be very collaborative, with students spending most of their time working in groups and discussing ideas with each other. It makes for an odd dichotomy when students are encouraged to rely on each other and discuss points of confusion when it comes to everything but the final, so the two-stage collaborative exam feels more in-line with the rest of the course.

I was also pleased by how many students recognized the reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I’d put on the cover, though I did get chided for coming up short of 42 questions.



After the other physics teacher and I talked about the final, we agreed to take an approach he’s used in the past and use the final as one last retake opportunity. The final includes questions for each learning target for the course, and students are expected to complete every question. Based on their performance, their score for a given target can go up one level, down one level, or stay the same. Our goal is to base grades on where students are at now, rather than where they were in September.

Most students reacted positively to this approach and are feeling very confident since the Modeling Instruction curriculum does a really nice job of spiraling and linking content, so students never get a chance to be “done” with a concept or skill. A few students have let me know that they see the final as making their earlier quizzes and retakes worthless. That tells me I need to work on improving the feedback I put on the quizzes and on teaching my students how to effectively use their quizzes as a learning tool.