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

Archive for March 2011

This is my second time trying to write this post.  The first went so far off topic that it is banished to the unpublished file until it behaves itself.

As I mentioned before, I’m on the fence with extra credit.  I’m now totally convinced that anything purchased for extra credit is just plain wrong.  I don’t think there is a gray area here.  No pay-for-points.  I’ll play the benefit to society game because the results outweigh the costs.  I will provide extra credit when it works to my advantage.  If the students correctly answer their WebAssign problems 48 hours before the due date of 8am Monday morning, there is a 10% bonus.  For a very few extra points, I get far fewer Sunday night emails.  Instead, they want the extra credit, so they bring in the problem during school and ask for guidance.  The result is they are looking at the work early in the week rather than waiting until the last minute.  Am I tricking them into better study habits?  I’ll take that.

I do like the idea that extra credit is for work above and beyond the norm.  This brings me back to where I am right now, with a lot of kids in bad shape as the end of the quarter nears.  My fear is that the normal grade distribution will be badly shifted by an extra credit assignment.  I am a big fan of a normal curve, with an average at a C+.  I give challenging tests and curve up to make the class average about 77%.  The A’s earn their A’s, as do the F’s.

So what is an appropriate extra credit assignment?  Here are a few ideas I’m thinking about:

  • A 2000 word research paper on a Nobel prize winner in physics and the impact of the discovery on our every day life.
  • A video that teaches a physics concept, done so that I can use it in class.  It should be scripted, edited, and several minutes long.
  • For less points – Creation or redesign of a lab for use in future classes.

None of these can be group projects; they must all be individual efforts.  Points awarded for this level of effort should be valued at about 5% of the total quarterly points.

I’m right at the point where I need to assign these if I’m going to allow extra credit.  The quarter ends in about 12 days.  I could use some feedback.

I’ve been struggling with a moral dilemma.  At least I think it’s a more dilemma.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, where are my story-telling manners?

I’m not a fan of extra credit.  Here is how I lay out my thoughts on the matter to my students:

  • If you don’t turn in your work when it is due, extra credit is not for you.  (This will be the one and only rhyme in this post, I promise.)
  • I curve the grades.  I make the tests and quizzes challenging, then I curve the average up to a C+.
  • You want to do well in my class, do your homework, come in for tutoring, pay attention in class, take notes, study for the tests and quizzes.  Do your homework!
  • My course is designed so that honestly attempting homework banks enough points to overcome poor test scores.  Did I mention, “Do your homework?”

There are some students that do all their work, they really try, but their math foundation is shaky and/or they don’t test well.  If you work hard but fail tests, I tend to secretly award point at the end of the quarter for coming in for tutoring.  Most teachers won’t fail a student that really, sincerely tries, but doesn’t succeed.

Now, about that extra credit.  Generally I don’t like it, but sometimes it’s my idea, sometimes it’s a request from another teacher or administration, like…

Toys for Tots:  Bring in a toy, help another child and you help yourself.  This one, the ends clearly justifies the means.

Support school spirit:  Attend a basketball game and support our team.  It was only 5 points, the value of a homework, so sure.  After all, I am the boys soccer coach.  Go CHARGERS!

Warning – slippery slope, proceed with caution!

Students that volunteered to help other students with their science fair projects (as research subjects) and were picked were given points.  Many applied, but few were chosen.  So if you were picked, you got 20 extra credit points.  That made a big difference for a few lucky people.  Extra credit is now a lottery.  Buy your tickets at the door.

So how about these:

  • Points for bringing in a (usable) box of tissues for the classroom?
  • Buying a fish for the fish tank?
  • Buying batteries for the robots?
  • Buying white board markers for the classroom?

So now it’s all about the Benjamins.  (For you international readers, those are $100 bills.)

Where does it end?  I mean, I’d really like a boat.

This all started because the school purchases Expo markers for the white boards.  I stopped using them, they don’t erase well.  I’ve been purchasing Quartet fine tip markers from Staples when they go on sale for $1 for five.  Yeah, the sale just ended, sorry.  I like these, they don’t leave a residue when you erase the board, so I never have to spray the white boards anymore.  I thought about letting anyone who wanted extra credit go out and purchase two packages for $2 (the store limit), but my conscience got in the way.

See where this takes us?  I mean, sure I really wanted them to buy me more markers, but the fate of the free world is in my hands here.

But seriously, if only for a moment, do we assign extra credit projects or purchases for students that don’t do their work when it is assigned?  How about students caught cheating?  Did I mention that roughly 30% of our students qualify for free lunch.

An engineering degree, a Master’s degree, twenty years of corporate sales and eight years of teaching just hasn’t prepared me for this decision.

I really do want a boat, though.

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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March 2011
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