We are on day 2 of final exams, so I am taking the opportunity to reflect on this trimester while my students test.
I use standards-based grading in this course, but both trimesters so far I’ve had very few retakes. When I talk to students, I hear a lot of focus on the percentage their score translates to and many students are very demoralized by that. I think next year I need to spend more time on how the quiz scores fit with the gradebook. I may also switch to giving students a rating with words (mastery, partial mastery, not yet) or colors, rather than a number, to get more focus on what the rating means. I also want to take some time next week for an anonymous poll on what kept students from reassessing.
During the registration period for AP exams, I got word that a lot of students were hesitant to sign up because they didn’t think they’ll be ready for it in May. I’ve got a lot of evidence that students are in decent shape, but I need to make sure I am sharing that information with students. A lot of AP teachers in my building make it much more explicit that I did so far this year when students are working problems from past exams (like the AP chem teacher who does Free-Response Fridays), so I think many came to my class with that expectation. It should be a pretty easy shift to get better about naming it when we do problems off past exams.
My biggest issue this trimester was ignoring culture-setting. I’ve gotten much better at this in my senior classes, but I’ve been spoiled by the last few years when I only had 9th graders at the beginning of the year, which means I get to set their expectations for high school science. Since many of my students started the year with a different teacher, they needed more support to adjust to my expectations. Starting third trimester, I need to keep that in mind and make sure I am taking steps from day 1 to help students understand what I want and how to be successful in my classroom.
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.
Final exams don’t officially start until tomorrow, but both my classes got an early start today.
AP Physics: Free Response
I’m using a practice exam from the College Board as my final this tri. Students worked on the free response section, minus one problem on waves and one on circuits since we haven’t done those topics yet. I was relieved by how many students said the free response wasn’t that bad. While they worked, I was mulling over a multiple choice problem about the change in speed of a projectile and played around with the problem in Desmos.
Physical Science: Written Final
I decided to use the final exam period for students to present their engineering projects, so today they took a written final. Just like first trimester, I’d like to shift to something more deeply rooted in the scientific practices.I really like the two-stage lab exams I’ve done in physics, but that is different enough from the multiple choice other 9th grade teachers do that I would need to talk some other teachers into it. I need to come up with some ideas for easy grading and for managing a lab exam with up to 42 9th graders in the room. I might pitch a lab-based final to the other 9th grade teachers and see if they’d be up for some summer curriculum writing to work on those issues and design some good labs.
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.
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.
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.
AP Physics: Assessment
Students took their energy assessment. For the first time, I had multiple students tell me the test was fun, which was especially good to hear since I included a free-response problem from the 2016 AP exam. My PLC has been focused on experimental design this year, and I’m enjoying seeing that payoff in my students not only doing well with that skill, but feeling confident enough that they can enjoy applying it.
Physical Science: Presentations
Students worked on presentations to make the case for their cargo carrier design. I gave students a template a colleague made last year to help students make sure they are connecting the science to their design, but, after watching them work, it feels like too much scaffolding. I made much better use of a graphic organizer for evidence-based reasoning than in the past and did more to embed that skill throughout the course, and I think framing the presentation as evidence-based reasoning on a bigger scale may have been enough. I need to think about what that might look like next year.
AP Physics: Collision Types
Students worked some problems using elastic vs. inelastic collisions. They are feeling very confident about energy, which is great to see, and several students are thinking about how they could use energy to work problems we’d done earlier in the year, which is fantastic.
As a side note, registration for our AP exams ends tomorrow, and I’ve offered doughnuts to the first class to get 100% registered. Its been surprisingly effective and I’ve currently got the highest registration rate. I need to remember to give the same challenge next year.
Physical Science: Testing Round 2
Students tested their second design. There was a nice variety of tests, including one group that had a tray of ice at the bottom of their ramp to simulate weather conditions. Most groups tried at least one collision besides the head-on we’d done before. One group asked if they could use bubble wrap to simulate a bumpy road. While the trucks are heavy enough that I don’t think the bubble wrap did much, I like the idea and am thinking about what might have worked better.
Since we only have four ramps, I assigned groups with similar tests to the same stations and directed them to figure out how they would share the equipment. It was more chaotic than the first round of testing, but that’s to be expected. I might scaffold them a little more on making that plan next year.
A bumpy road
AP Physics: Collision Types
We whiteboarded the results of Friday’s Direct Measurement Videos to get to the definitions of elastic and inelastic collisions. A lot of groups tried to answer purely conceptually, in spite of some quantitative questions on the activity. I think these groups were treating each question as separate, rather than thinking about how one answer could help them with the next piece of the activity. I want to make better use of lab notebooks (most likely starting next year) as a reflective tool, which I think might help students see more connections between problems.
Physical Science: Building Again
Students worked on their second round of building. I upped the cost of paper cups, which were the most popular material on the first go around, which lead to a little more variety in egg holders. I also did another round of visiting each group and asking them to explain their design choices using Newton’s Laws, and I can tell students are getting more confident with this skill.
AP Physics: Collisions
Students use a pair of Direct Measurement Videos, one of a collision between two billiard balls and one of a heavy disk tossed onto a cart, to explore changes in momentum and kinetic energy in the collisions. I haven’t done as much with uncertainty as I’d like, so I was very pleased with how clearly students were talking about it to decide if their values were “close enough.” I had students sketch momentum SOS and energy LOL diagrams, but students weren’t paying as much attention as I’d hoped to whether there were any dissipative forces present, so next year I want to do a better job of getting students into that habit. I was thrilled, however, when a student used some proportional reasoning to convince herself that you cannot conserve momentum and keep a constant kinetic energy when the objects are moving together after the collision. I was also pleased by how many students were interested in trying to explain the billiard ball that just spins in place right after the collision.
Physical Science: Test Design
Students began working on designing a second iteration of their cargo carriers. To encourage new designs, I increased the cost of paper cups (the most popular component on the first round) and shuffled groups. We also talked about the limits of testing just the front-end collisions, and tasked students with coming up with their own tests for this round. The discussion was a little trickier this year than in the past; we dramatically upgraded the trucks the cargo carrier attaches to this year and the old trucks would pretty reliably tip over or roll off the side of the ramp at least once per class, which gave a nice tangible example of the test’s limits. That didn’t happen at all this time, so next year I might take off the rails we put on the side of the ramps to try to encourage some failed tests.
AP Physics: Energy
Students whiteboarded CER statements for various energy questions, including their answers to where the bouncy ball loses energy and why the tiny bouncy ball from a seismic accelerator flies off. I really liked that different groups tended to take different approaches, which made for some good sharing of ideas once whiteboards were ready and made students very confident in their responses.
Physical Science: Crashes
Students attached their cargo carriers to trucks, then sent them down to ramps for head-on collisions. My students usually get pretty animated on this day, which usually includes a lot of bragging about how well they expect their design to do. For some reason, a lot of students in this class were expecting their eggs to break right away, including some students who were filled with confidence yesterday, and the class as a whole was very anxious and nervous. None of the points come from how well the design performs, so it was interesting to see how much tension some students were feeling, anyway.