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

Archive for August 2011

I would like to have coffee available for the students while they work, but my administration frowns on kids having food and drink in the classroom.  But that is not where this story is going.

Last year, one of my students came into class second or third period and said how much he loves coming to my room.  I thought it was odd because he wasn’t a particularly enthusiastic physics student.  Then he said he loves the way my room smells.

Every morning I make a pot of coffee, often flavored with vanilla or hazelnut.  I never thought about the impact something like a nice smell has on making a student feel relaxed.  I’m still making coffee every morning, but this year I picked up a bunch of scented tea lights from IKEA.  These things smell so good, my son and I bought a pack of every flavor they offered.

I have heard stories of real estate agents putting a drop of vanilla on a warm oven at an open house to make the home subconsciously remind the potential buyers of home-made freshly baked cookies.  Maybe getting another one of their senses involved improves learning.


I do believe I spent more time searching for an appropriate image than I did actually writing this post.I’ve been following a fellow science & math teacher, Frank Noschese, and his writings on his blog “Action-Reaction.”  He has some great stuff that I am going to steal and use in my classroom.  One post in particular has really had me thinking, “My SGB Journey” (  He is talking about Standards Based Grading.  I knew nothing about this form of assessment, so I dug deeper.

I won’t lie, it took me several hours of reading to get the gist of it.  Frank refers to a post by Dan Meyers.  Follow that link and read through the comments.  Others readers had many of the same questions I had; reading the questions and Dan’s responses pulled it all together for me.

I haven’t got it all worked out just yet, but I plan on implementing this in my honors Calculus class.  My administration backs me on all of my adventures and didn’t bat an eye at it, “sure, go ahead.”  After all, this one isn’t going to cost them thousands of dollars (I’ll fill you in later). I’m going to steal everything I can from Frank while I work out the methodology and the glitches in a small and forgiving class, then move it to my physics class the following year.

Here is my understanding of the concept in a nutshell:  The course is broken down into approximately 40 key concepts.  Students are assessed on those concepts. Once they get two questions perfect on that concept, they no longer need to answer those questions on later quizzes because they have already mastered the concept.  They can keep retaking quizzes on the concept until they get two of them perfect.  In the mean time, class moves on.  (We hit the wall a few times in calculus last year where we didn’t move off a section for over a week because about half of the students didn’t master the concept.)  Students track their own successes and know what they need to practice and get tutoring on.  They can get a 100% in the class, but my guess is you still end up with a normal distribution curve because many of them will feel that a 60% or an 80% on some of the concepts is acceptable.  However, if they choose to work hard and improve their grade, they can keep relearning and quizzing on the material until they master it.

Frank and Dan both have their own grading system.  I would read their posts and decide what makes sense for you.  I’m just getting started on mine, but my guess is I’ll steal one of theirs and tinker later.

It’s going to be a bit more work the first time around and a lot more time tutoring and retesting after school, but my goal is for the students to master the material.  I want them to take the Calculus AP exam and knock it out of the park.  This seems like the right approach.  I’ve ordered the three books Frank has recommended, you can find them very reasonably priced on  I think I paid about $25 for all three including shipping.

I’d be really interested to know if any of you have used similar systems and how they have worked for you.  My gut tells me this is the right way to go.  I nervous at the increased workload (again).

teacher degreeI’d like to thank the academy, my family, my producer, my agent, Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci, Richard Feynman, and all the people out there that voted for me.

Okay, I’m done being silly.  I did really get this, although I only found out because I was on the site and saw I was one of the listed blogs.

So no, there was no cash award, no gold statue, not even an email telling me about it.  And as the new school year approaches, the hit count is heading towards half a million.  That just blows my mind.

Do click on the badge, there is a pile of great teacher blogs in the list.

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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August 2011
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