Day 10: Assessment Day!

Both my classes took their first assessments today.

AP Physics

On a problem where students were asked to determine the change in position from a velocity vs. time graph, I had a lot of students describe the motion of the object, instead. We spent more time in class describing motion than calculating, which probably primed students to jump straight to describing. A recurring theme at my AP Summer Institute is that students should read back over the question to make sure they are answering what is being asked, so this will be a good opportunity to discuss that strategy.

Earth Science

After the quiz, we spent some time talking about what makes an effective lab group. I need to keep reminding myself that collaboration is a skill and time spent on those conversations does pay off.

Day 5: Lab Group Contracts & Branches of Earth Science

AP Physics: Lab Group Contracts & Mistakes Game

We started by talking about some of the skills that highly effective lab groups tend to demonstrate. From there, I asked each lab group to write a short contract for themselves they could use to help develop those skills and hold each other accountable. Most of the contracts are fairly broad or vague, I think because I was vague about what I wanted, but groups had some good conversations about their strengths and weaknesses. My favorite item is the group that agreed to “criticize everything.”

After that, students got their first taste of the Mistakes Game. I started by using a recent cooking disaster to discuss the value of examining mistakes, rather than ideal solutions, then introduced the mistakes game. Students readily embraced this approach; I spoke less and heard better questions than much later in the year last year.

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Earth Science: Branches of Earth Science

Students attempted to answer the question “what is earth science?” I asked each group to make a visual representation of their answer, including something to indicate the four main branches of the field. Students worried about their artistic abilities at first, but ended up getting into it. I had them use whiteboards, and it was great to see groups really talk to each other instead of each disappearing into their own papers.

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Day 51: Color Intro & Collaborative Problem Solving

Physical Science: Color Intro

For the first half of the period today, my students presented their research projects on different energy sources. Once that was finished, we started on color. I started by having students watch a short video that I blatantly copied from Frank Noschese that shows red ink and red light through both red and blue filters. I like the video because I can show all my students at once and I like having my own version so students can look at the clock and paper I used in the video to verify I wasn’t using some kind of trickery. I asked students to record their observations from the video, then try to come up with a hypothesis to explain their observations. This lead nicely into a lab where students look at things through filter paddles. Once students finish the lab, we’ll revisit the video to see how their explanation has changed.

Physics: Collaborative Problem Solving

I took a problem from Casey Rutherford’s projectile motion packet about a block given a push up a ramp with friction, then allowed to fly off the end of the ramp to become a projectile. One of the things I love about this problem is it requires to students to use just about everything from the trimester. 2nd hour, students did whiteboard speed dating, but I put a couple of goal-less problems first so students didn’t have much time to work on it, but were intrigued enough by the problem that they asked to continue next week. 4th hour, I decided to start with that problem. I had students work in groups using the roles from the University of Minnesota’s Cooperative Group Problem Solving protocol. It took most of the hour, but students were consistently successful and even my top students were challenged. It was great to see the obvious pride when students finally got the correct answer.

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Day 23: Design Testing & Free Fall Practical

Physical Science: Design Testing

Today, all of my students were early and anxious for class to start. They knew that we’d be loading up their designs with eggs, then sending them down ramps to see how they did. At the end of the hour, we had a brief, but good, discussion about what it could mean to have the “best” design and the limits of the single test we used. This discussion will provide some good groundwork for our second round of designing and building.

Physics: Free Fall Practical

Students had two tasks today. For both tasks, I assigned students roles from the University of Minnesota’s cooperative group problem-solving process. First, they did a practical on free fall. Each group was given a time, and had to place tape on a strip of acrylic so that a photogate would measure the time they drew when they dropped their acrylic.

One group's solution to the practical

One group’s solution to the practical

Once groups had tested their result, they worked on XKCD’s Substitute Problem. While most groups decided to chug through the algebra, there was one that used Desmos to find the intersection of the position vs. time graphs.

One group's solution to the sub problem

One group’s solution to the sub problem

Day 2: Groupwork Norms & Buggy Lab

Physical Science: Groupwork Norms

As a follow up to yesterday’s Marshmallow Challenge, we had some discussion about the importance of mistakes and revision in building a tower, then compared that to learning science. Groups also reflected on what they did that helped them work together effectively. Those reflections lead to class-wide norms for group work. One suggestion was “Don’t copy someone else’s epic fails”; it got edited to “Learn from others’ mistakes”, but a piece of me wishes we’d kept the original wording.

Physics: Buggy Lab

Students collected data with the constant speed buggies based on the procedures groups planned yesterday. Just about every group ran into at least one issue that forced them to rethink the details of their approach. That lead to some great conversations within groups about balancing ideal data collection against what’s possible in the lab, including what makes data “good enough.”