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

Archive for September 2009

question-mark3aTheir homework assignment was called “One Question.”  Their job was to write one science question that they wanted to have answered, any area of science is fine.  If they were goofy or tried to be funny they wouldn’t get credit.

What I got back blew my mind.  There were such incredible questions that I’m going to assign this about once a month.  I’m going to talk about some of these during science news days on Fridays.  Some of them I will save for when we get to the topic.  Some I will post as a list questions they can research and present for extra credit.

Extra credit is a sore point for some of you.  My rule on extra credit is this: if you are missing more than two assignments that quarter, extra credit is not available to you.  Extra credit is not an out for the lazy, it’s a boost for those who work hard and need a couple more points.

[I left the papers at school, I’ll post some of the questions next week.  My own blog is blocked on school computers.]

Amelia science fairI hate them.

Parents hate them.  Most aren’t any more science literate than their kids.  The pressure on the parents to create a decent project is awful.  Coming up with a good science experiment project is really hard to do.  There are dozens of books on the topic and everybody is clawing at them, trying to find something they can handle.

Kids hate them. They see it as a grade, nothing more.  They don’t understand the need for the formality in the presentation.  All they know is they don’t win.  Now they hate science.

Teachers hate them.  Be honest, they are brutal to grade, the work is not worth the effort.  Please, no more volcanoes.

OK, now that I got that off my chest, let’s talk about this.

I love doing experiments.  I love inspiring kids to think.  I make my students experiment constantly.  I want them to play in science, find the joy and excitement.  I want them to ask questions and be curious.  I make them launch rockets and throw balls.  If they make a paper airplane in my class, they better make five or ten and tell me what design works best and why.  Is science really distilling everything they know about a topic and making it fit on a bent poster board?

I will be doing a science fair in my classroom in about a week.  Only I don’t call it that.  I call it my “Mythbusters Project.”  To be honest, I don’t care if it’s a stupid idea they are testing.  I want them to be goofy and have fun.  I help them to make sure they are doing good science.  I challenge their findings.  I make them work together and research.  I know, it’s not the county science fair.  So what?

You can’t sell someone something they don’t want or need.  Really, it’s true.  OK, maybe once, but you lost them as a customer forever if you do that.  Kids want to be creative, they want to think, they want to learn.  They are unbelievably curious.  If you don’t think so, leave a pile of mechanical puzzles on the table and don’t draw attention to it.  Every one of them will be in the kids’ hands in two minutes.  Try it.

Here’s the question you need to ask yourself:  What can I do to make this kid love science?

science fair image

Neil_deGrasse_Tyson_-_NAC_Nov_2005I was listening to my iPod this morning and I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson as a guest at a public symposium in Portland, Oregon.  It was published as part of the podcast “NOVA scienceNOW.”  I’m considering playing it for my class, it’s only 30 minutes long.

This sounds a lot like what goes on in my classroom on Fridays, only way more orderly and with microphones.  In my Conceptual Physics classes, my students have an assignment  on Wednesdays to print out a bit of science news, any area of science is fine.  They need to read the article and highlight key points.  I collect these and on Friday we have science news day, where we talk about anything science.  I use the articles as a starting point, and we quickly jump from topic to topic.  Nothing is off limits, they come up with a million questions.  Sometimes they go off and research something further from our discussions.

In addition to using this just to get them thinking about science, I use this to get across certain agenda items.  A couple of the news items were cut and pasted into word to make it easier to print.  I asked the kids to make sure they note the site it came from, I need the source so I can go back and read more.  We talked about good and bad sources.  Another student had an article on the 2012 predictions.  The first paragraph talked about some scientists needing facts, but the authors were going on “instincts.”  I did the pen and shoe drop, asking them about their predictions.  I emphasized that scientists guts can be a starting point, but facts are the only things we trust.

This week, an additional assignment is going to be to write a question about science that they have wanted to know the answer to.  I’ll may pick from those to get the conversation started or  I may put up a “great question” list and let them research a question and present the answer for extra credit.

I was going to imbed the podcast or attach the file for download, but WordPress wants me to upgrade from a free blog to do that.  Go to the iTunes store and search for NOVA ScienceNOW.  I tried the NOVA website, but they don’t make it any easier to link to the file.

Dr. Tyson has a couple of great responses.  One is about using his own children as an experiment in getting kids to be science literate.  It’s worth listening to for just that one.  There’s more, go listen.

After you listen to it, tell me if you would play it in the classroom.  I’m a little wary of audio only, kids tend to listen with their heads on the desks and it can be hard to get them back up.

Update – The kids enjoyed it.  At first, they were reluctant (no pictures), but I stopped it half way through and offered to switch to science news.  They asked in all three classes to continue the audio.  I know they like science news, so that was encouraging.  I think they honestly enjoyed the change of pace and learned a little something from someone else.

physicsI’ve always found it challenging to get students to draw the problems.  I don’t understand their reluctance, I can’t imagine trying to keep the facts in my head, yet so many of them do just that.  The result is that they miss details and make mistakes.

Today I saw a simple problem that I thought I would use as an introduction to drawing problems.  The simple word problem says:

[Updated as used in class] There is a triangularly shaped park with trees along the edge.  There is a tree at each vertex.  Each side has five trees.  How many trees are there all together?

Very simple problem if you just draw it.  The answer is not 15.


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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