Day 58: Scoring Guide, Broken Circles, & Steel Wool

AP Physics: Scoring Guide

The tri 1 final exam included some free response problems off past AP tests, so today I gave students the scoring guides and some student samples to make sense of the scoring before letting them see their own tests. One of the problems was problem 3 off the 2016 free response and, inspired by a participant in Greg Jacob’s AP Summer Institute, I used rubber bands to make a bumpy ramp so we could actually try out the experiment in the problem. The class had some good discussion about key takeaways, like the importance of explaining EVERYTHING. Students also noticed that the student samples with high scores had a lot of marking the text.

Physics: Broken Circles

I struggled to get the class culture I wanted in my physics class last trimester and, with students shuffling between hours and about half coming from the other physics teacher, the new tri is a great opportunity to try again. Students worked on a broken circles activity from Designing Groupwork  by Lotan & Cohen, then we had some discussion about what it took to succeed and how that fits with what effective groups in physics look like.

broken circles.jpg

Chemistry Essentials: Steel Wool

This course is two trimesters long, and we only offer the second half during tri 3, so I’m restarting the first half of the course with a new group of students. Students measured the mass of steel wool before and after pulling it apart. To help students focus on good lab practice, I had them do the experiment once with minimal instructions. Then, we had a brief discussion to get at some sources of error before students completed the lab again with a handout and a paper plate to help catch stray bits of steel wool. Just like tri 1, I made a class histogram with Post-Its, but the results were much nicer this time.

chem histo


Day 35: Motion Representations, Lab Practical, & Mystery Tubes

AP Physics: Motion Representations

Students started practicing translating between different representations of constant velocity. Students have already done some similar problems with momentum vs. time graphs, so things went very smoothly.

Today’s quiz also included the first free response problem from an AP exam that students have worked. Afterwards, as they discussed their answers, there were a lot of kids high-fiving each other while another student told me she enjoyed the quiz. Its great to see students getting the hang of physics and feeling good about it.

Physics: Lab Practical

Students continued work on yesterday’s lab practical. I only had a few groups finish and was running into a lot of the same roadblocks I’ve been seeing for most of the unit. Both my students and I feel like we are beating our heads against the wall with this unit; since we’ll get another crack at acceleration with unbalanced forces, I think its best to cut our losses for now. On Monday, before we dive into balanced forces, I’ll take some time to have some conversation with students about what’s working and what isn’t so we can try to get on a better path.

Chemistry Essentials: Mystery Tubes

Today was a quiz day. About half of my students take their quizzes in the special ed room and usually stay up there the full period, while those who stay in the classroom rarely need more than half the period, so I’m trying to plan interesting activities that aren’t required for the content. Today, I pulled out the mystery tubes and it was fantastic. Every student was engaged, making fantastic observations and sharing ideas about what’s going on inside. One student in particular who is normally pretty checked out asked if she could sit the activity out because it seemed too hard, but got into it once she got her hands on a tube. The best part was when the para supporting the class stopped by at the end and asked about the tubes, this student confidently insisted he check out her model to see exactly how the tubes work. It was a great way to end the week.IMG_1734


Day 4: Concept Inventories Galore!

Today, all of my classes took some kind of concept inventory. Physics and AP Physics took the FCI while Chemistry Essentials took the CCI. The other Physics teacher and I talked about giving the FCI on day 1, but I’m glad we waited since it gave me a chance to start establishing a classroom culture before I gave students something I knew they’d get low scores on. Waiting also meant I could use the first few days to set the tone for what my classes should look like.

concept inventories.jpg

On a side note, I hid a line in my syllabus this year asking students to find or draw me a kitten picture once they’ve read it. As the pictures come in, I’m posting them in my room without comment. So far, I’m up to 5 kittens, which is a better response rate than last year!


Day 116: Circuit Sim & Mystery Tube

AP Physics: Circuit Sim

Students used the PhET Circiut Construction Kit to start exploring circuits. Students had some great conversations around a few questions about the blue dots I took from the PUM curriculum. I was surprised to hear some students say the blue dots must get used up since batteries die over time, but students were able to test that idea by removing their battery. This lead a few students to connect back to momentum, thinking of the battery as a source of impulse, which I thought was an interesting connection.


Earth Science: Mystery Tubes

With the start of a new trimester, students got shuffled again. A little over 75% of my 9th graders haven’t had me yet this year, so I will need to make sure I am paying attention to classroom culture and helping students understand what I want from them.

To get students practicing observations and inferences, I had them play with the mystery tubes. In their notebooks, I asked students to explicitly connect each inference to at least one of their observations with an arrow. Several groups were surprised when I told them their sketch of the inside of the tube was a useful inference, so I know I’ll need to do some work with this group explicitly valuing non-verbal representations. Tomorrow, I’ll take some time to connect this activity to the scientific process and how I want to approach this course.

mystery tube.jpg

Day 60: v-t Graphs & Marshmallow Debrief

AP Physics: v-t Graphs

We are starting projectile motion, so today I did a refresher on velocity vs. time graphs. I gave students a few graphs and asked them to annotate the graphs and translate to some other representations. A few of my students got to talking about how their written descriptions of the motion today compare to what they did when we first started constant acceleration, even pointing to particular words and phrases they’ve changed, and the specific change in understanding driving that.

At the end of the hour, I’d planned to go over a few problems on the board to limit how much time this took. When I asked for requests, my students asked if they could whiteboard their solutions instead, so I happily had them do a gallery walk. Have I mentioned lately that my students are awesome?

Physical Science: Marshmallow Debrief

We discussed yesterday’s Marshmallow Challenge. Students recognized many of the growth mindset themes, like the value in learning from failed attempts or the fact that multiple approaches are valuable. We also discussed some things that effective groups do. I want to revisit this discussion later in the tri for students to reflect on how well their group is working.

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 117: Pendulums & Mystery Tubes

Physics: Pendulums

Students started collecting data to make a mathematical model for the period of a pendulum. This is the first lab that was framed more generally as make a model, rather than as to find a relationship between two variables, so we started with some discussion about what variables could matter. Today was one of those days where I felt a bit extraneous; students are getting pretty good at designing experiments and deciding how much data is “enough”, so I wasn’t fielding many questions.


Chemistry: Mystery Tubes

With the start of a new tri, I restarted the course today with a new group of students. This time, I decided to start with the mystery tubes. Students practiced making observations, then forming and testing hypotheses to figure out what is going on inside the tube. We wrapped up with a brief discussion comparing the tubes to learning chemistry and I introduced the idea of chemistry as a series of models that make good predictions, rather than a set of facts.


Day 75: Coulomb’s Law & Mystery Tube

Physics: Coulomb’s Law

Students worked a few problems using Coulomb’s Law. I was really pleased to see how smoothly students integrated what they’d learned about Newton’s Laws back in November with the new concept. Something about today lead several students to say they feel like they finally understand how to learn physics, which was great to hear.

Chemistry: Mystery Tubes

After this week’s lab, I wanted to spend some time on observations, inferences, and the nature of science. We talked a bit about the difference between observations and inferences, and what makes a good example of each, then asked them to make some observations and inferences about a few photographs. A photo of a crying baby lead to some great discussion when I started to list the crying under observations and several students disagreed and proposed some other explanations for the baby’s facial expression. I love it when students are confident enough in their ideas and comfortable enough in the classroom to challenge me. After the photos, I got out a pair of “Mystery Tubes” and asked students to try to come up with some inferences about what’s inside the tube, then use toilet paper tubes and string to test their inferences. There was some great discussion as students proposed ideas, then challenged what their peers were thinking, always talking about the evidence they have. Going forward, the challenge will be to make sure students are bringing those same skills and enthusiasm to more standard chemistry labs.


Day 1: Marshmallow Challenge & Buggy Intro

Physical Science: Marshmallow Challenge

Students did Tom Wujec’s Marshmallow Challenge. Tomorrow, we’ll debrief with a discussion about the importance of seeing what doesn’t work and what makes an effective group.

Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallow Challenge

Physics: Intro to Buggies

We discussed “what is physics?”, emphasizing the importance of physics as a process. Next, we got out the buggies to make a list of what we could observe and what we could measure. In the process, we defined a constant speed as traveling the same distance in each unit of time.