Day 161: Final Project Presentations, Lab Final, & Nuke Whiteboarding

This will probably be my last post of the year. Today was the last day for seniors, so my Physics and AP Physics 1 classes wrapped up today. My Chemistry Essentials class is mostly juniors, which means they will continue through the end of next week, but I’ll miss out since I’m going to the AP Physics reading.

This year, I’ve been doing a lot of work to try and build a strong whole-class culture and, compared to previous years, I had a lot more students talk about how they’ll missing being in their specific hour of physics, suggesting there was a strong sense of community. That was a really exciting element of my last day for the year.

AP Physics 1: Final Project Presentations

We finished up final project presentations. There was one group that designed and built a rig to reliably launch a hockey puck to measure the stopping distance along various surfaces in order to determine toe coefficient of friction. For the final, students were given a spring with a known spring constant and tasked with finding the mass of a mystery object.

phys lab final

Physics: Lab Final

Students did a lab practical for the second half of their final exam. There was lots of great conversation as students worked through the problem and it was a lot of fun for me to see students using so many of the skills we’ve been working on this year.

Chemistry Essentials: Nuke Whiteboarding

We did a quick refresher on nuclear decay using the whiteboards before taking the quiz on nuclear chemistry.

chem wb.jpg

Day 160: Final Project Presentations, Final Exam Part 1, & Mistakes Whiteboarding

AP Physics 1: Final Project Presentations

We started presenting final projects. I have each group prepare a presentation, but am pretty lenient on length. I have a couple of students on the trap shooting team that presented today on their examination of the recoil on a shotgun. I hadn’t realized the shotgun barrel is above the center of mass, so there is an upward recoil in addition to the backward recoil.

Physics: Final Exam Part 1

Seniors are done tomorrow, but we’re on a standard schedule both today and tomorrow. To accommodate that, we split the physics final exam into two parts. Today, students took a pretty standard written final.

Chemistry Essentials: Mistakes Whiteboarding

I showed students a table to organize their work on half life calculations, then we did some mistakes whiteboarding on yesterday’s problems. The table made the problems much easier for a lot of students, which was great.

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Day 159: Final Project Work, Review Whiteboarding, & Half Life Problems

AP Physics 1: Final Project Work

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.

half life graph.jpg

Day 158: Final Project Work, Final Review, & Half-Life Lab

AP Physics 1: Final Project Work

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.

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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.

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Day 157: Senior Skip Day & Mistakes Whiteboarding

AP Physics 1 & Physics: Senior Skip Day

Today was senior skip day, so only a few of my students were in class. Most of the AP students opted to work on their final project and some of the Physics students started reviewing for the final.

Chemistry Essentials: Mistakes Whiteboarding

We did some mistakes whiteboarding with problems for nuclear decay. I had a few students ask how we know alpha particles are always helium-4, which got me wondering if there’s a better way I could introduce the types of nuclear decay we study than just giving some notes on the types of decay we’ll be using.

nuke decay.jpg



Day 156: Final Project Work & Whiteboarding

AP Physics 1: Final Project Work

Students continued working on their final projects. One group is working on how the speed of a basketball affects the rebound of a backboard. They were working on some energy bar charts today and came up with some interesting notation; they labeled their kinetic energy blocks with “H” and “V” to keep track of how the components of the velocity were changing and how that fit with the energy.

Physics: Mirror Calculations Gallery Walk

Students did a gallery walk of yesterday’s problems. My sub from yesterday commented on how well they’d collaborated on the problems, so I was surprised that my students felt very lost on the problems. Once we started whiteboarding, it was clear they knew how to do the problems, but just weren’t confident yet.

I’ve also been randomly assigning groups almost every day, and I’ve come to enjoy the first few minutes of whiteboarding. Students immediately start comparing answers and approaches with the other people in their group and have lots of great conversation about similarities and differences in their work.

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Chemistry Essentials: Nuclear Notation Gallery Walk

Students whiteboarded yesterday’s problems translating between different representations of an isotope for a gallery walk. Afterward, we started working on some problems writing out nuclear reactions for alpha and beta decay. I wish the decay problems started with some where the nucleus is reasonable to draw to help make identifying the products of the decay more concrete.

chem nuke.jpg

Day 154: Final Projects, Mistakes Whiteboarding, & Nuclear Structure PhET

AP Physics 1: Final Projects

Students continued to work on their final projects. I have one group that’s interested in finding a way to measure the rate my Van de Graaff generator builds up charge. They spent some time today experimenting with ways to indirectly measure the charge.

Physics: Ray Diagram Mistake Whiteboarding

Students did some mistakes whiteboarding with ray diagrams for curved mirrors. Several students commented on mistakes they thought were especially helpful or interesting, which made me feel really good about the culture I try to build in my class. Students were also sad when they realized this will be their last round of mistakes whiteboarding in high school.

ray mistake.jpg

Chemistry Essentials: PhET Nuclear Structure

Students used PhET’s Build an Atom simulation to experiment with nuclear structure to kick of our nuclear chemistry unit. A lot of the information was a review from the first half of the course, but most needed a refresher.

phet atom.PNG

Day 159: Frisbee Golf & Radioactive Decay

AP Physics: Frisbee Golf

Today was the last true work day on the final project. One student is analyzing a specific throw frisbee golf had come up with attaching an LED to a point on the edge of his disk to make it easier to find the angular velocity after a throw since a sticker wasn’t quite visible enough in the video.

A lot of students are getting excited for presentations next week. Several students are really proud of what they’ve done so far and are looking forward to sharing it with their peers. One student was really disappointed when he realized he’s going to miss one day of presentations; I suspect he’ll insist the students he misses tell him about their projects some other time.

Earth Science: Radioactive Decay

When I collected notebooks yesterday, one of the items I looked at was a reflection that included a question about what students need from me to end the term the way they would like. Several students wrote they aren’t always sure what the big idea behind a lab is or how it connects to other labs, which isn’t surprising since I feel like I’ve been struggling with that in earth science. This is a good reminder of how important it is to have a coherent, purposeful curriculum.

Today, we shifted from looking at the relative ages of rocks to finding the absolute age with radioactive dating. Students did a lab flipping “coins” to model radioactive decay. I also collected a class average and spent a lot of the post-lab discussion looking at how results from individual groups compared to the class average. I also expanded the time we spent on connecting the lab to actual radioactive decay in response to the student comments.

coin flip


Day 168: Final Exam & Radiation Dose

Physics: Final Exam

Today is the last day of school for seniors, so we finished the final exam. For the lab practicals, students completed four stations, one for each of the major topics we covered this trimester. Students worked individually and had about 10 minutes at each station.



Chemistry: Radiation Dose

Students used some information from the Department of Energy to calculate their average dose of radiation in a year, then we took the assessment on nuclear reactions. A little less than a third of my class is seniors; to keep things simple, I decided to excuse those students from the final and make today’s quiz the last entry in their grades.

Day 167: Final Exam & Nuclear Reactions

Physics: Final Exam Part 1

We decided to give two parts to the final exam; a set of lab practicals and the Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning, which they took as a pre-test way back in September. Half the class worked on each portion today, and tomorrow they’ll switch. I had students submit their answers to the CTSR on a Google Form. Based on the very preliminary results, the class average has gone up about 1.5 points, which I’m pretty happy to see.


Chemistry: More Nuclear Reactions

Today, I introduced students to alpha and beta decay, then had them start write nuclear reaction equations based on partial statements.