# Days 92-96: Springs & Impulse

On Friday last week, I found out our new physics teacher would be starting this week. I went into this year expecting to be doing my role as science content specialist full-time and it has been tricky to juggle that work with my teaching. I’m excited to be able to focus more on my role, but it is hard to be getting ready to leave students I’ve been with for a while. The new teacher shadowed me this week so he could start getting to know the students and the curriculum. We will then be co-teaching until the trimester ends on March 10. Trimester 3, he will take over Physics completely. I’ll still be in AP Physics 1 on occasion up through the AP exam since this is our new teacher’s first time doing AP and it’s a lot to get the hang of in a short amount of time!

AP Physics: Springs

Students conducted an experiment to find factors that affect the period of a spring. The data was kind of rough, mostly because they were having trouble getting the springs to oscillate nicely. We still had enough good data in the class that we were able to figure out all the things we needed to. On both this and the pendulum lab, I was really pleased with how students used the intercept of their graph to figure out they needed to linearize. After the lab, we worked on some problems with representations for simple harmonic motion. It was a lot of fun to see students putting together forces, energy, and motion graphs to make sense of simple harmonic motion and they made a lot of great connections.

Physics: Impulse

This year, we tried a new sequence for momentum where we started with conservation of momentum since looking at a system that includes both objects in a collision is a really strong motivator to learn momentum. This week, we did Newton’s 3rd Law and used that combined with Newton’s 2nd Law to derive impulse and start thinking about individual objects. This was a tough transition for a lot of students to make and I’m wondering about ways we could make it smoother in the future. One thought is we don’t emphasize system choice in Physics, but that is pretty key to thinking about impulse. I’m not sure what to do with this thought yet, but definetly want to keep it in mind.

# Days 87-91: Pendulums & Conservation of Momentum

AP Physics: Pendulums

This week we started simple harmonic motion. We started by using a video on Pivot Interactives that has a pendulum, a glider on a spring, and a spinning disk that all go through simple harmonic motion with identical periods and amplitudes. Students plotted position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs. When we shared the results, the students in calculus made some great connections to derivatives. We then moved into a lab to find the factors that affect the period of a pendulum. This is one of the labs where I felt like the hard work learning how to do an experiment really paid off as students worked pretty independently and got great results.

Physics: Conservation of Momentum

This week students worked on practicing conservation of momentum problems. One of their tasks was to figure out an unknown mass using results from a collision. One thing that has been tricky every time we do this practical is students sketch bar charts for what they want the collision will be, such as having both carts come to rest after a collision, but have trouble adjusting if their bar charts don’t match the actual collision. I think this comes down to many aren’t thinking of momentum bar charts as something that describe a physical event. I wonder if it would be helpful to do an activity where students do various collisions between pairs of carts, but focus only on representing those collisions with bar charts.

# Days 82-86: Projectile Calculations & Momentum Conservation

AP Physics: Projectile Calculations

This week we worked on wrapping up projectile motion by focusing on calculations. Students were a little rusty on using velocity vs. time graphs to set up equations since we haven’t practiced it in a while, but I was very pleased with how quickly they got back into the groove with those skills. We ended the week with the classic projectile practical where students predict how far from the table a marble will land and it was great to not only see students nail it, but feel good about nailing it. Once students succeeded, I gave them a lighter marble and asked them to predict where it would land relative to their original, heavy marble, which lead to some great conversation.

Physics: Momentum Conservation

This week we started transitioning to quantitative momentum conservation, including a lab where students did a series of collisions and comparing the total momentum before and after the collision. It’s always tricky for students to make sense of the graphs produced by the photogates, so this year when we had some extra time the day before, I tried doing a few collisions and projecting the results. Then, I had students get into groups and whiteboard their interpretation of which velocity was which. That exercise paid off and the lab went the smoothest it ever has for me as students were much more confident at reading the graphs with the skill to back it up! We ended the week with Kelly O’Shea’s momentum card sort, and there was a really great moment where a student was explaining to me how he worked backwards to make a velocity vs. time graph from an equation by solving for the unknown velocity. Given how much I see students struggling with math reasoning, it was a lot of fun to see a student feeling confident enough to make sense of the equation in that way, which I don’t think would have happened if we’d gone straight to problems.

# Days 77-81: Projectile Graphs & Cart Explosions

AP Physics 1: Projectile Graphs

This week was all about velocity vs. time graphs for projectiles. We started with some video analysis of videos students had recorded to see what the graphs looked like. Students did a really nice job during the board meeting of connecting the graphs to other key ideas, like the forces acting on the projectiles. I showed students the three views of a projectile video from Pivot Interactives that shows a side view where the full 2D motion is visible, a top view where only the horizontal motion is visible, and a front view where only the vertical motion is visible. Even though we didn’t do an activity with the videos, students referred back to it when making sense of why we had two different velocity vs. time graphs. It was also fun to see more students making connections to derivatives now that they are further along in calculus than when we did motion in September.

Physics: Cart Explosions

Students did the cart explosion lab from the Modeling Instruction materials. They easily picked up on the pattern in the data, but I never feel like the connection between their data and the idea of conservation of momentum is as clear as I ‘d like. I think one trick is momentum doesn’t have a very good conceptual definition and mathematical reasoning has been challenging so far. Once we started working on momentum bar charts, students were doing really well with them and doing a lot of connecting the bar charts to what they’d observed in the lab, which was great!

# Days 73-76: Where Does the Energy Go & Math Sensemaking

AP Physics: Where Does the Energy Go

This week, students started working on an activity to figure out what interaction causes energy to dissipate as a bouncy ball bounces (I wrote this up for The Science Teacher a few years ago). After observing a bouncy ball, students agreed that some combination of the impact with the table and the air resistance on the bouncy ball are responsible for the energy dissipating, so now their task is to figure out which it is. I spend a lot of time priming students for what evidence might be useful and we started late in the week, so we mostly focused on making one set of energy bar charts for if only the impact dissipates energy and one set for if only the air resistance dissipates energy using five key points along the bouncy ball’s motion (right as it’s released, right as it reaches the table, right as it leaves the table, at the top of the first bounce, and right as it reaches the table a second time). I forgot to get a picture, but one group did a cool thing where they labeled which interaction was happening between each of their bar charts to help keep track of when the dissipated energy should show up. We then had some good discussion about what these energy bar charts tell us we will actually observe in the lab.

Physics: Math Sensemaking

This week felt a little goofy. The other physics teacher and I are doing the same activities on as close the same day as we can so that we can plan together (a key survival tactic when both of us are also doing what are supposed to be full-time jobs outside the classroom!). He is out this week, so we used several Pivot Interactives activities to wrap up forces and introduce momentum (full disclosure: I work for Pivot writing activities). As I worked with students, two big things that aren’t directly tied to the science content ended up at the front of my mind. First, students told me their biggest frustration with the Pivot activities is they had to measure carefully to get the autograded questions correct. I think this fits with where students believe that physics knowledge comes from. When students see experiments, observations, and measurements as where physics knowledge comes from, I find that students tend to measure more carefully because they see a purpose to having good-quality measurements. Combined with some other things I’ve observed about my students, I think many of them see me as the primary source of physics knowledge in the room, so why should it matter whether they measure carefully?

Second, I saw a lot of evidence that students are not attaching physical meaning to their measurements. This was most apparent to me in an activity where students used Newton’s 2nd Law to determine the mass of an unknown object. Students were able to measure the net force on a system that included two gliders and the mystery object as well as make measurements to determine the acceleration of the system. Once they calculated the total mass of the system, a lot of students really struggled with how to use the given mass of the gliders to figure out the mass of the mystery object. This made me think of the work some of my grad school classmates and professors have been doing around blended sensemaking in science (here’s a taste), which is a term for simultaneously doing sensemaking in science and in math. Recognizing they needed to subtract the mass of the two gliders from the total mass required students to recognize what the mass they had calculated represented, how the given mass of the gliders relates to the mass they had calculated, and what the operation of subtraction represents in this context. Doing all of that can be some pretty tricky blended sensemaking! Realizing how much my students are struggling with this is helping me make sense of some of the other struggles I’m seeing in my class right now. I’m not sure what my fix is yet, but I definitely want to keep thinking about how to support students in attaching meaning to numbers and doing blended sensemaking.

# Days 57-60: Impulse & Force Practicals

We had a snow day on Thursday, so got a surprise short week. Plus some beautiful fresh snow to enjoy this weekend!

AP Physics 1: Impulse

This week, we wrapped up impulse. I tried a new sequence this year where I started with conservation of momentum, then shifted into impulse and using momentum for single objects. I feel like my approach could still use some refinement, but overall I felt like the storyline made a lot of sense. My students found it a little tricky this week when we did some problems where they had to switch between different systems when thinking about the same scenario, which tells me that’s something I need to make sure we keep working on. We are starting energy next, which is a good opportunity to keep working on the idea of systems.

Physics: Force Practicals

This week we did a lot of work doing problems with balanced forces. Students were in a lot of different places on their math skills, but were able to get the problems down. We finished the week with two different lab practicals. For one, students had to find the mass of a cart on an angled ramp. For the other, students had to find the mass of a bag hanging from two spring scales. I set up several stations for this lab practical on my whiteboard using hooked magnets, and I was excited to see some students sketch diagrams on the whiteboard right by their station. On both practicals, I was really pleased by how quick students were to check their answers on the scale I had out. Last year, it was really tough to get students to see the connection between the physical world and the math we were doing, and one way that showed up is a lot of students were not invested in checking their answers on lab practicals. I think sketching diagrams on the whiteboard next to the practical also helped cement the links between the representations we’ve been using and the physical scenario.

# Days 53-56: Impulse & Vector Addition Diagrams

After a staff development day on Monday, we started trimester 2 this week. This trimester, I’m adding two sections of Physics to my teaching load.

AP Physics 1: Impulse

This week we spent a lot of time working with impulse. Near the end of last trimester, it clicked for me that my students have been very quick to grasp conceptual thinking and can do great on problems like those from TIPERs, but need more practice than I’ve been giving them on calculations. To help with that, we did a lot of whiteboarding calculations this week and did a lot of work making sure everyone grasped the connections between momentum bar charts, force vs. time graphs, and the equations we’re working with. This was the kind of week where I really saw the value of frequently changing groups; since students were with different people almost every day, they were pushed to do a lot of explaining their thinking to each other rather than falling into the shorthand that can happen when you are working with the same people consistently.

Physics: Vector Addition Diagrams
This week, we did a lot of work translating between free body diagrams and vector addition diagrams. We did an activity I love from Casey Rutherford where students make arrows out of pipe cleaners over the FBD, then rearrange them to make the VAD. Students had done some practice with this at the end of last trimester, so things went pretty smoothly, but it was helpful for me to start getting a feel for what they have down and what they need more work on before we start adding in calculations.

One thing that felt a little tricky this week has been figuring out how to establish the classroom culture that I want. Usually, around half of our students stay in the same hour for physics when a new trimester starts, so I’ve gotten used to have to do some culture-building at the start of a trimester for the students who are new to the hour, especially if they had the other physics teacher, but I have a foundation to build on thanks to the students who’ve been in that hour since September. What’s been tricky this week is there is still a core of students who have been with each other in this space doing physics together since September, but they were with a different teacher who has some differences in the kind of culture he builds, so I’m asking students to unlearn some things that have been established as part of physics class for the majority. I’m trying to be really explicit about why I’m doing things the way I am and leaning much harder into culture-building strategies than I normally do at this point in the year, but I think we’ll get here.

# Days 46-47: Conservation of Momentum

We made it to Thanksgiving break!

This week we wrapped up conservation of momentum. I’ve been liking doing this before impulse since collisions give us a clear reason to make use of conservation of momentum, but I ended up introducing momentum by just giving students the formula and telling them to calculate it for a bunch of collisions, which worked, but I wasn’t thrilled with. I want to keep thinking about how I could better introduce momentum with this sequence (though in theory I won’t be teaching next year…).

On Monday, I had students work through an activity I’m working on for Pivot Interactives where they switch between thinking in terms of two exploding gliders as a single system and thinking of the gliders as separate systems. I was really pleased with how my students did switching between those two types of thinking after the limited intro to impulse we’ve had. I am wishing we’d spent a bit more time on calculations with momentum before our quiz this week. I usually give students two in-class assessments over every learning target, so I’ll have to make sure we get some more practice before our retake.

# Days 41-45: Conservation of Momentum & Newton’s 3rd Law

This week we developed conservation of momentum. Previously, I started with impulse and momentum of single objects, then built up to conservation in systems. I’ve never been thrilled with my storyline, so this year I am trying putting conservation of momentum first, then we will work toward impulse. Once we’d done a lab with some collisions and talked about momentum bar charts, we did Kelly O’Shea’s multiple representations of momentum card sort to incorporate mathematical representations. The card sort really helped my students feel confident with the bar charts and to make sense of the mathematical representations.

We ended the week with Newton’s 3rd Law. I feel like this law fits better with my momentum storyline than my forces one, so this was their first introduction to the 3rd Law. I had students predict how the forces would compare on two carts for a variety of collisions, then we actually tested the collisions out using some force sensors with hoop springs. This is a very rare time that I ask students to make a prediction that I think they are likely to have wrong, so was very intentional in talking to students about my goal of pulling out their existing ideas so we could contrast with the accepted physics. I also made sure we talked about what useful thinking lead them to the incorrect predictions and what physics their predictions showed they know. There was a fantastic moment partway through where a student articulated that both the forces we were measuring came from the same interaction, so it made sense for the size of the force to be the same. She also realized the cart she expected to experience a bigger force did have a bigger change in motion, which was a great opportunity to validate the thinking that lead to that prediction. It was a great note to end the week on.

# Days 142-146: Projectile Video Analysis & Angular Momentum

Physics: Projectile Video Analysis

Students used Vernier Video Analysis to get velocity vs. time and position vs. time graphs for a projectile. I saw some students including their throw or after the projectile landed in their video analysis, which makes sense since I’ve seen students struggling more than in the past with recognizing what is the most relevant part of an object’s motion. I think that probably could have been addressed with spending a little more time on some pre-lab discussion. It was a lot of fun to hear their small-group discussions making sense of the graphs once I had them draw a free-body diagram and they recognized why the graphs looked the way they did.

AP Physics 1: Angular Momentum
We wrapped up unbalanced torque and rushed through angular momentum. Students started an activity in Pivot Interactives, but were moving through it more slowly than I’d hoped, so I ended up doing a lecture on angular momentum. It’s not my preferred approach, but the clock is ticking for AP exam day! Students seemed to get the concept during the lecture. I did a lot of emphasizing the parallels to linear momentum, which seemed to help. We’ll be doing some problems and whiteboarding next week to wrap up angular momentum, which will be a good opportunity for me to check how clear their understanding is.