Day 147: Brainstorming, Laser Security System, & Reaction Types Lab

AP Physics 1: Brainstorming

I introduced students to their final project, which is to pick something they are interested in and explain or describe some aspect of it using physics we’ve learned this year, then go collect some data as a way to test or expand their explanation. Today, students mostly played with potential ideas and used some of the physics we’ve learned to start exploring.

Physics: Laser Security System

I borrowed the design challenge from an EngrTEAMS optics unit and had students use plan mirrors to design a room for a museum with a laser security system. Students got into the task and we used the Mission Impossible theme as background music.

laser security system.jpg

Chemistry Essentials: Reaction Types Lab

Students did a lab where they got to see each of the five reaction types first hand. I’d like to edit the worksheet I have for the lab to have students make more explicit connections between their observations and the balanced equation.

rxn types lab.jpg

Day 165: Marshmallow Challenge & Topo Maps

AP Physics: Marshmallow Challenge

Today was the last day of school for seniors, so we wrapped up presentations. One student who studied piano physics was excited to share his insight that a grand piano is effectively a frequency vs. wavelength graph. Afterward, we did the marshmallow challenge.

The winners!

The seniors brought produce this week as a spin on apples for teachers. When some students were discussing what would be the weirdest option, I suggested a coconut. The next day, here’s what a student brought:

Earth Science: Topo Maps

Students worked on identifying topographic map symbols and interpreting a sample map.

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 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 131: Pendulums & Springs & Dam Removal

AP Physics: Pendulums & Springs

Students wrapped up their labs on what affects the period of  springs and pendulums, then whiteboarded the results. I could tell I was rushing the lab more than I have in the past and I ended up taking over a lot of the post-lab discussion and got a bit hand-wavy. As I rush through the last few topics, I haven’t been doing as much with uncertainty, and this is a lab where it would have really helped. I also skipped having students predict the period of a 5 m long pendulum, which made it much tougher to settle on which relationship works best for the length of a pendulum. Going into waves, I need to think about how I will balance the need to keep moving with giving students time to truly engage with the content.


Earth Science: Dam Removal

Students continued work on their dam removal project. Today, they looked at a gradual release, which we modeled by removing one lay of foam at a time. I was very pleased at some of the detailed observations students made and how engaged they were in trying to think about why their observations happened. I’d love to re-work this unit to give students a better grasp of sediment transport in rivers before looking at dams specifically to give them more tools for thinking about the project.


Day 130: Plickers & Dam Removal

AP Physics: Plickers & Quiz

We continued our routine of Plickers to practice some multiple choice questions, followed by a quiz on this week’s new material. I’m continuing to have students pick an answer individually, then discuss and vote again. There were a couple where students struggled to identify useful representations and, once I gave a nudge, they quickly got to the correct answer. I’m thinking about working in a step where students identify applicable models before they pick an answer to help with that.


Earth Science: Dam Removal

Students used stream tables and a foam model of part of the Salmon River to get some background knowledge for their engineering project. They conducted some observational experiments on sediment transport and deposition, first in a natural, unblocked river, next in a river with a dam, and finally when the dam is removed with a “blow-and-go” approach, where the entire dam structure is removed at once.


Day 127: Oscillating Particle Model & Problem Scoping

AP Physics: Oscillating Particle Model

Students whiteboarded their video analysis results for the trio of objects in simple harmonic motion. I haven’t done a lot of circular motion in the past, so when we discussed the spinning disk, I was intrigued by how many students were convinced the angle in the video was responsible for the changing velocity. On a whim, I had students sketch the disk from directly above, then had them sketch velocity vectors, including components, at a few points around the disk, which nicely convinced students that they would see similar graphs for the horizontal motion no matter what the viewing angle.

shm trio

Earth Science: Problem Scoping

This unit includes an engineering project to plan removing a dam from a river. I gave students a memo from their imaginary client and had them do some problem scoping. One of the questions I ask is what background knowledge they will need, which can nicely set up a unit, but students did not identify anything about rivers or erosion as useful knowledge on this project. The memo mentions sediment transport as a major challenge in removing the dam, but I don’t think students saw that as something that would require background knowledge to understand. Even when I handed out the unit’s learning targets, students did not name the target about describing river behavior as one that will be useful. I need to think about how I will address that during the unit.

Day 114: Final & Project Presentations

Today and tomorrow we are on a special schedule for final exams.

AP Physics: Final Exam

Students are taking a practice AP exam for their final. Since we have 90 min class periods during finals, they did a modified free response section yesterday on our last day with a regular schedule. Tomorrow, during their final exam period, they will take the multiple choice. I already know they are going to struggle on a few specific questions because we have not done much thinking in terms of the center of mass of a system, so, when we review, I’m planning to re-do a couple of topics focusing on those kinds of problems.

Physical Science: Project Presentations

I cut down the written final to fit in a single class period, then had students present their designs to the class during the extended period. Afterwards, students did some reflecting on the project, focusing on how they functioned in a group. A lot of the reflection would be more meaningful if students weren’t going to be completely reshuffled the next regular day of classes, but they were pretty engaged nonetheless. Students said they much preferred this over doing the written final today since it was lower stress and gave them a break from sitting in silence all day.

Day 112: Model Summaries & Peer Review

AP Physics: Model Summaries

Students made model summaries for the rotation version of key models so far. Students seemed to find it useful to remind themselves what tools are available to think about these models. Afterwards, students worked on some goal-less problems to reinforce the importance of starting a problem with what models apply. Students were really pleased when they realized some of the problems worked equally well with energy or with a combination of constant acceleration and forces.

rot force.jpg

Physical Science: Peer Review

I had groups pair off to share their presentations and give some feedback. My strong groups made good use of the time and I heard a lot of nice feedback, but my other groups could have used more structure. Next time, I think I will provide students with hard copies of the rubrics to fill out to give them a little more accountability and focus their feedback.

Day 111: Model Summaries & Presentation Work

AP Physics: Model Summaries

Today and Monday are dedicated to review for final exams. One of the problems on yesterday’s assessment is from last year’s AP Physics exam, so I gave students a copy of the scoring guide for that problem and some time to see how they measured up against the College Board criteria. Students responded positively and said it helped them understand what the graders are looking for.

Afterward, I assigned each group one of the four major models we’ve covered so far (constant acceleration, forces, momentum transfer, and energy transfer), then had them whiteboard a summary of that model. Once groups finished, we did a gallery walk so students could have a chance to review other models. Students said this helped remind them of tools they’d forgotten about. I think on Monday, I’ll come up with some problems for them to practice picking appropriate tools.