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

Archive for June 2011

As I sit here grading my final exams, I realize I am putting in way more effort than my students.  I am making a promise to myself and I intend to keep it.

My final exam next year will…

  • begin with a multiple choice section on basic concepts & terminology
  • have lots of basic problems with multiple choice answers
  • have a very small written portion – I’m keeping the Road Runner cartoon, it’s my favorite part
  • be graded in under two hours

One of the questions this year asked the students to discuss three principles used in their Rube Goldberg project and explain the application of the principle.  I was looking for concepts like inertia, momentum, kinetic energy, and force.  I just graded a paper where the principles listed were ball, dog, and ball.

If it’s multiple choice, I won’t have to learn that after a full year of physics, one of my students thinks “dog” is a physics concept.  I just wish it was a joke and not the truth.

There has been a lot of talk on the NSTA Physics list server lately regarding a way to teach a measurement lab.  I had one of my morning shower brainstorms.  My thoughts went to the story of the MIT students measuring a bridge using a unit of measurement called the “Smoot,” named for Oliver Smoot.

I think many of us teaching a measurement lab have the same problem.  The students don’t understand measuring or estimating.  Given an object, they will always have the same answer, regardless of whether it is right or wrong.  So I am hereby creating a lab using fictitious units.  We will use a willing volunteer from each lab group and declare his or her height to be one “Smith” or “Jones” or whatever his or her name happens to be.  We will then do some exercises to estimate fractional distances.  I think I will give them string and make them use a meter stick to get a measurement of the “Smith.”  They will need to figure out how to divide the string into tenths and hundredths and then estimate to the thousandths.  I won’t tell them how to do it, they are going to need to figure it out on their own.

My hope is that they will come up with their own method and get a better understanding of estimation.  The beauty of an inquiry lab is how little detail they get from me.  Personally, I’m excited about this one.  I think we are looking at a first or second day of school lab here.

Here is my first pass at the lab handout.  Lab 00 – Measurement Lab

You can read about Oliver Smoot and hear an NPR interview here.

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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June 2011
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