Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Archive for October 20th, 2009

163_science_newtonI’m the first one to admit I don’t know everything.  (Actually, I’m the second, my wife is the first.)  I don’t know how to proceed at this moment, I’m throwing it out there for discussion.

We are using the carbonless lab notebooks, I like them.  I want the students to use a lab notebook, but I don’t want the experience of learning to be about rewriting a procedure.  I’m struggling with the whole idea that every lab starts out with a hypothesis.  My personal experience of learning often begins with “I wonder what happens if …” You could say that is a form of a hypothesis, but it is really just a quest for understanding the workings of everything.

The other day we did a lab where we used a ticker tape recorder to make a mark every 1/60th of a second on a paper strip.  The goal is to record the changing distance of a falling object and the constant distance of a constant velocity toy car.  I wanted them to see a visual record of acceleration, to understand the distance changes at each tick, and to graph the distances over time.  They struggled to write a meaningful hypothesis.  How could they write one, they don’t know what they are going to see.  I wanted to help them, but I felt that if I said too much, I would be revealing the discovery they should be making.

If labs are about discovery, and I think they should be, then how can they have a hypothesis?  How is it discovery if there is only one right answer?  If I make the lab all about them finding the right answer, then their focus is on what will get them a good grade, and not about learning physics.  I’ve looked at lots of lab report formats online.  They make sense if the experimenter is doing research on a topic where he or she is actively working.  Each bit of learning leads to a new question and a new experiment.  Here, the hypothesis feels contrived.

Would it be wrong to have a hypothesis that is just a general question?  Am I going about this the wrong way?  I think I’d be happier if they wrote, “We are hoping to see visual evidence that differentiates a constant velocity and accelerating velocity.”  If I head this way, am I failing to preparing them for college?

One thing I am changing; in the future they can reference the handout.  It’s a waste of their time and mine when they have to rewrite my instructions.  Yes, it forces them to read the instructions, but that’s not deep and meaningful learning.  The clock is ticking.

What are you doing?


What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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