We are on trimesters, so this week was the end of tri 1. We usually have a special schedule for final exams the last two days of the trimester, but, due to bussing issues, we followed our normal schedule. We also had a change in our grading policy to do away with cumulative final exams.
I still opted to give a modified practice AP exam covering what we’ve done in class so far. I usually spend 45 min on each half of the exam, so that made it easy to split the exam over two days with our standard 55 min periods. To meet the modified grading policy, I gave my students some points in the formative category of our gradebook for completing the practice exam. This is more in line with how I use the first practice exam, anyway. At this point, I mostly care about students seeing what a test is like and trying their endurance on something longer than our usual quizzes. I also use it to get a sense of what my students are doing well so far and what I need to make sure we keep working on. Even though their grades would not be impacted by how they did, my students took the practice exam seriously and I’m very pleased with how they did.
The practice exam is a good opportunity to review what we’ve done so far, and my favorite approach is model summaries. I gave each group a model that we’ve used so far this year, and asked them to put a scenario on their whiteboard where they could apply their model. Then, I had students add as many diagrams and representations of their scenario as they could. I explained this exercise to students as each model is a toolbox, and we were going to use these whiteboards to remind ourselves what tools come in each box. There were at least two groups whiteboarding each model, which worked out nicely since it’s pretty common that different groups will make use of different tools from the model, so we get a more complete summary with two groups.
Now on to trimester 2! Due to ongoing staffing issues, I’ll be adding two sections of regular physics to my current teaching load of one section of AP. I think a major theme of the next few weeks for me will be figuring out how to balance additional teaching with my responsibilities as a content specialist.
We spent most of the week on the pendulum lab exploring the variables that affect the period of a pendulum. This will be our last model-building lab for the year, so it was good to see students figuring out plans for data collection and getting high-quality data with minimal intervention from me. Connecting the data to a mathematical model was still tricky for students, but they worked through the challenging parts to figure out what was going on. They really hated the unit on the slope of their period vs. square root of length graph (I don’t blame them!), but I was able to use that as motivation to try and get a nicer unit by rearranging things so that we had the length divided by a number in m/s2. From there, students were quick to suggest that the slope has something to do with gravity. From there, I showed that the value happened to work out if we put a 2π out front. This approach could use some refining, and I’d especially like to put more of the thinking on students, but students did seem clearer on the significance of the slopes of their lines than in the past.
AP Physics 1: Review
With the AP exam on Thursday, the first three days of this week we focused on review. My students this year really liked Plickers for multiple choice and had some great discussions, when whole class discussions have generally be tough this year. I wonder if I should have pulled out Plickers earlier in the year as a way to get them talking and to build up to some other types of class discussions.
I had a brainstorm for a review activity, that unfortunately came the day of the AP exam, so too late to try. I do a lot of having students start by just looking at the diagram and scenario description, then deciding what models seem useful and sketching some diagrams. It crossed my mind this could lend itself to a card sort, so I put one together with the released free response to date. I haven’t tried it with students, but I think I would start by having students match each prompt to at least one of our models, then give each group a problem to sketch some diagrams and brainstorm what they could figure out.
It’s been tough for students to make connections between labs, diagrams, and mathematical representations this year, so I was nervous about the shift this week from sketching diagrams for projectile motion to doing problems. I had a brainstorm on my way to work for scaffolding that transition that worked out really well. First, we did a lab practical where each group got a strip of clear acrylic and a random time. They were tasked with calculating how far apart they should place pieces of tape so they could get a photogate to read their time. That meant students only had to think about the vertical motion, which seemed to help with connecting measurements, diagrams, and mathematical representations.
The next day, I wanted them to think about motion in both directions, but keep the distinction between those two directions very concrete. We tried a lab practical I’ve seen where each group got a random distance for a constant speed buggy to travel, then had to calculate where to drop a marble from so it would land in the buggy. The two separate objects seemed to help students wrap their heads around what we mean by the vertical motion and what we mean by the horizontal motion and why the time must be the same for both.
At this point, we talked a little about how thinking about the motion of the buggy and the motion of the falling marble simultaneously was similar to thinking about the motion of a projectile. Students seemed to make that connection really nicely. One benefit I hadn’t thought about in advance is they also seemed more confident starting the problems, having already had multiple, tangible successes with this kind of thinking. This seems like it could be an argument for putting lab practicals or similar experiences early in a unit, rather than only toward the end where we tend to use them.
AP Physics 1: AP Review
We wrapped up angular momentum and started reviewing for the AP exam. We spent some time on model summaries, where students revisited the diagrams and equations central to each major model we’ve used this year. The next day, I handed out the 2021 free response and we took some time to just read the problems and talk about things the students noticed. Next, I gave students the scoring guide and we made some observations. Finally, I handed out the student samples that are publicly available to make more observations. This lead to some good discussion about what the readers are looking for as well as some good conversation about strategy, like how to make use of diagrams or the importance of taking the time to break apart the text.
We are almost at the end of the trimester! Both classes wrapped up a topic, then started reviewing for the final.
Physics: Constant Acceleration & Balanced Forces
Students worked on a packet of problems. One nice thing is many students were working more independently than usual, so it was easier for me to give more intensive support to students who’ve been struggling. It was really great to see how many students had moments where something we’ve been working on finally clicked.
AP Physics 1: Model Summaries
We started the final review with model summaries, where each group takes a model from so far this year and prepares a whiteboard with the major representations including graphs, diagrams, and equations. My students didn’t have as strong a positive response this year as in the past, and I think that is probably related to some conversations I had this week where students weren’t aware that this class is organized by models. This tells me I need to get more intentional about using that language if I want students to think in terms of what models we have.
Next week are trimester 2 final exams, so after wrapping up our last topic of the term, both my courses started reviewing for the final exam.
AP Physics 1: Model Summaries & AP Classroom
I’m generally skeptical of typical final review activities, but I really like starting with model summaries. I gave each group one of the major models from so far this year and asked them to prepare a whiteboard with the key diagrams, equations, and other representations for their model. A lot of groups found it helpful to start by coming up with a scenario where the model would be useful. Students really responded to the idea that a model is a toolkit, and the model summary is a reminder of the tools in that toolkit.
After the model summaries, I had students go on AP Classroom, where I’d unlocked multiple choice problems from each of the topics we’ve done so far and asked students to pick a topic to complete. Students liked choosing what they wanted to review, but really wanted a chance to whiteboard and discuss the problems. We ran out of time for any whiteboarding, but I’m glad that my students see the value in discussion.
Physics: Final Review Packet
Monday through Thursday we worked on wrapping up energy, then I handed out a fairly standard final review packet. While working through the packet is helping students to feel more confident goin g in to the final, it reminds me that we have a lot of room for improvement in spiraling content and helping students draw connections between models in this course. That said, students had a much easier time with some of the old problems than in past years, which suggests we’re moving in the right direction.
Next week are trimester 1 final exams. In both my courses this week, we wrapped up our last topic and started reviewing for the final.
AP Physics 1: Goal-less Problems
I really like Kelly O’Shea’s goal-less problems, so I decided to try that as a final review. I went through the released free-response problems and took the diagram and prompt from several that could fit with topics we’ve done so far this year. We focused on identifying applicable models, sketching additional diagrams, and reading strategies. Students especially liked a strategy to cross out information in the prompt that is accounted for in the diagram, especially once we started annotating diagrams to get rid of even more text.
Physics: Units vs. Variables
Students worked on, then whiteboarded a fairly standard final review packet with written problems. One of the biggest things I worked with students on is the difference between a variable and a unit, which has been a recurring challenge this year. For example, in the force of gravity equation, a lot of students are reading “g” as grams, rather than as 10 N/kg. I’ve been working on talking frequently about variables as representing a quantity and quantities as a number with a unit that describe something we can measure or calculate. Going into tri 2, I need to keep thinking about how to help students make sense of when a letter represents a quantity and when it represents a unit that is part of a quantity.
Students worked on polishing their final projects. One student needed to measure some angles in a video clip on Netflix, and had the brilliantly simple idea to just hold a protractor against her screen.
Physics: Review Whiteboarding
Students whiteboarded problems off the final review. A few students asked to chose their own groups since this would be our final round of whiteboarding, but I’m glad I stuck with shuffling them since there was some great conversation during the first few minutes when students were comparing answers on their problems.
Chemistry Essentials: Half Life Problems
We had a board meeting with the results of yesterday’s lab, then students worked on some half life problems. I don’t think I do a great job of linking the lab to the calculations, and I could see it in the ways students were struggling with the calculations.
Students worked on finalizing data collection for their final projects. One group engineered a clever rig to measure how much a fishing rod bent when there was a load.
It was also PJ day for seniors
Physics: Final Review
Students started working on their final review. We didn’t do anything too exciting, just a selection of problems from each topic, but there was a lot of great discussion as students sought out peers who could help with topics they were rusty on.
Chemistry Essentials: Half Life Lab
Students used paper “pennies” for the classic half-life lab. I have student submit their group’s results in a Google form I’ve been using for a few years; it currently has data from 54 groups, which will be nice for tomorrow’s discussion.
Today was our last day of regular classes before final exams.
AP Physics 1: Free Response
For my tri 2 final, I like to give most of a practice AP exam. Since our final periods are 90 minutes long, I had my students do the free response portion today. I took out the problems on circuits and rotation since my students haven’t seen those topics yet. Students seemed to feel pretty good afterward; I think they are internalizing that its okay not to nail the problems.
Physics: Mistakes Whiteboarding
We used some problems from the final review for mistakes whiteboarding. Students in this course have really bought in to the value of mistakes whiteboarding and I end up saying very little during these discussions. Its a lot of fun to listen to students during these discussions.
Chemistry Essentials: Mistakes Whiteboarding
We used some problems from the final review for mistakes whiteboarding. A lot of students were having some trouble focusing, which is not unusual for this course at the end of a tri; I think a lot of them are anticipating spring break and the start of the next trimester. My co-teacher and I made some changes to how we talked about particle diagrams this tri to emphasize them as a thinking tool, and it was a lot of fun to see some of that work pay off during the discussion today.
Students whiteboarded some released free response problems. We also spent some time talking about the scoring guides to drive home that you can do well on the AP exam while missing some, or even a lot, of points. A lot of my students are feeling very good going into the final, which is exactly what I want. There’s also a sense of camaraderie, where the classes seem to see themselves as going into something difficult together, which is also great to see.
Students whiteboarded selected problems from the review for a gallery walk. We didn’t do a great job of spiraling content this trimester, so a lot of the review has been about revisiting old topics so that students are feeling confident and comfortable in their skills again.
Chemistry Essentials: Practice Problems
After doing some problems emphasizing particle diagrams, we worked on a separate review today that gives more standard problems. Breaking the review into parts seemed to help students feel less overwhelmed by the task and starting with the particle diagrams set them up nicely to think conceptually about the problems on today’s section.