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

MasterYoda-UnlearnI have a steady stream of teachers asking if I would be willing to share my SBG files and spreadsheets.  My answer is always a qualified ‘yes.’

I have over 300 Physics quizzes, 200 AP Calculus quizzes, and various spreadsheets and other files.  If I dumped all of those files on you without a detailed explanation, you would probably be overwhelmed and get nowhere.  So what I ask is that anyone requesting my hard work do a few simple things:

  1. Go back and read over all of my SBG posts from the beginning.  I spent hours on research and reading before being convinced SBG would work for me.  I documented the how and why pretty thoroughly here.
  2. Ask me questions, as many as you want.  I promise to answer promptly and thoroughly.  Only with some discussion will SBG really start to make sense.  You can’t buy in part way.  As Yoda might say, “SBG – do or do not.”  Sort-of doing SBG doesn’t work.
  3. Don’t make changes to the system without discussing it with me.  After research and discussions with other teachers, I was able to avoid a lot of mistakes.  I have tried many tweaks and made a number of  incremental improvements each year.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  4. As you implement this and come up with your own tweaks, add to the dialog here.  I want to learn from your successes and failures.
  5. Once I provide you with my files, do not publish any of the questions.  They came from textbooks, I do not own the rights to most of the questions, so I can’t give you permission to publish them.

That’s really it.  I’ve done all the work for two courses, now it looks like I’m picking up Algebra 2 Honors next year.  Time to start work on a third course.

helping handI did this engineering challenge last year, but it didn’t go the way I wanted it to.  I provided the kids with a stick, about 25″ long as the basis of a reach device.  My mistake was allowing them to split the stick in half.  As a result, they all made a big scissor and then made some small modification to make it grip.

This year, I have added a whole new level to the challenge.  The stick can not be cut, only drilled for brass fasteners.  They are given a budget and each item has a cost.  I made sure they can only purchase a single stick with their budget.  Purchasing two of them will put them immediately over budget and cost them lots of points.

The challenge came from pbs.org/designsquad, they have a few things there worth looking at if you are into engineering challenges.  I downloaded the information a while ago.  Here is the link for the activity:  http://pbskids.org/designsquad/parentseducators/resources/helping_hand.html

Here is how I modified the activity for use in my classroom:  Helping Hand Challenge.  If you use this, let me know what you add or change.  I will be using this tomorrow.  The scoring rubric is at the bottom.

Update:  I’m still angry over how some of the kids approached this.  A couple of the really lazy ones did nothing but complain for two days.  At the last second, they purchased a foot of tape, wrapped it around the stick and then tried picking up the objects with the sticky tape.  Naturally, I changed the rules so that can’t happen next year.  Tape got very expensive.  I also changed the grading to downplay the points earned for moving the object and increasing points for the design.  Essentially, I changed the grading to reflect effort and creativity.  With the change in focus, I will need to watch for students copying ideas.

To be fair, I had a couple excellent designs.  Some were quite well thought out.  I had one group use rubber bands at the tip to increase friction of the grabber. Helping Hand 2013-03-22 09.38.51

year in review 2012It’s been a pretty mundane year.  No drama, no great leaps, no alien invasion or Mayan apocalypse, pretty much the same stuff, new year.

Hey, this would be a good time to assess the pro’s and con’s of standards-based grading (SBG) in my physics and calculus classes.

The Good

My spreadsheets are working great.  It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t.  A well designed spreadsheet is the key to keeping SBG running smoothly.

It’s nice to have a bank of questions and quizzes at the ready.  My first year of SBG was non-stop quiz creation.  Now I need to make maybe one or two new physics questions a week.  I probably have 300 individual physics questions divided among the C, B, and A-level quizzes.  The hard work is done, weekly quizzes cause me no stress at all.

The kids all love standards-based grading.  One of my students told me she couldn’t imagine taking calculus using a traditional grading system.  The kids are all on board.

The Meh

Probably the biggest problem with SBG is determining who is in danger of failing at the interim report.  Half way through the quarter, the class average is in the 50’s or 60’s.  One of my students emailed me over Christmas break asking me to call her mom.  She is an A student, but her 60 average at the interim was going to get her grounded for the break.  This is after I sent home letters at the start of the year and at the interim explaining why the averages are low.  The kids who plan on failing just don’t come in to take quizzes or get help.

I’ve noticed that the lack of testing pressure has caused the kids to put off studying for the weekly quizzes.  Now they look over the problems right before class.  It’s hard to determine if this would be any different with traditional grading; this year’s class is academically quite lazy.  They have been warned, there is no curve.  They can all get A’s and they can all get F’s.  Amazingly, it will be a normal distribution curve.

What’s Next

I’ve been thinking about what changes I would like to make.  I’m considering a small change to the calculus grading system.  Right now it takes two correct problems to master a concept.  The first perfect quiz gives them 40/50 points.  The second moves that to 50/50.  I’m thinking of scoring the second 45/50 and the third 50/50.  My concern is that they are earning the label of “mastery” before they really get there.  On the other hand, the kids probably understand the material so much better than they would through traditional grading.  Any thoughts?

One little thing I would like to do is color code the physics quizzes.  I’d like to copy all the C-level quizzes onto a pale yellow or pink paper.  Maybe a light blue for the B-level, and leave the A-level quizzes white.  The colors would give the student and me a quick visual check of everyone’s progress.

Considering SBG?

If you are, I am willing to share everything I’ve created; my spreadsheets, quizzes, experiences and ideas.  Just ask.

I had been using the archaic ticker tape device to do a lab comparing acceleration to constant velocity.  Yawn.  It was not my favorite.  It wasn’t anybody’s favorite.  Let me be clear – it was boring.

I recently picked up a Sony Bloggie camera on eBay for about $50.  It’s the same thing as a Flip camera. Make a video, flip out the USB plug, transfer file.  It’s just that easy.  I set up a backdrop of black paper from floor to ceiling.  Kids got on a desk and dropped things.  Everybody had to drop a golf ball first.  A golf ball will fall pretty close to an ideal parabola, very little air resistance over such a small distance.  After that, they could drop anything that wouldn’t break.  I have soft squeeze balls and practice whiffle golf balls, superballs and paper balls, and best of all, a coffee filter.  The coffee filter is a must, it reaches terminal velocity almost instantly.

We are using Logger Pro software from Vernier.  I suppose you could use Tracker, but I have Logger Pro and know how to use it.  In Logger Pro, we insert the movie file and then use the tools to place a dot on the object as it drops.  The software advances the frame, and in a few minutes we have a synched up video, graph and data table.  The software allows the students to quickly see how the slope of the distance vs. time graph changes.  They can replay the image and watch their data points in action.

Click for larger image

I have them use a quadratic curve fit to calculate the actual acceleration.  Then the kids create a second curve and override the fit value with g/2.  That puts the expected acceleration curve next to the actual.  The effects of air resistance are instantly visible.

We just did this lab for the first time yesterday and today.  Give the kids time, it’s going to take them a couple class periods to make this all happen.  Initial feedback has been good.  I think it’s making sense to them.  They can see the effects of acceleration.  They can clearly see terminal velocity.

Here is the lab they used.  I expect there will be some changes.

Free Fall Lab

A few weeks back, my principle asked me to talk to the faculty about my experience with Standards-Based Grading.  Our professional development begins this week and I will be presenting on Tuesday (8/28/12).  This is my first public talk on the topic, I hope to present a more refined version of this talk at a conference later this year.  The slides aren’t glamorous and it’s a lot wordier than I like, but it feel the PowerPoint needs to stand on its own without me talking over it.  I’ll embellish with anecdotes and energy.

There are some comments in the note section on some of the slides, so you probably want to download the slide show rather than just view it directly on Dropbox.  I’ve also included an annotated set of spreadsheets that I will be using during the presentation.  Hover over the commented cells to see my thoughts on the patterns that show individual student development.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/s9f2r2jjko65ehs/5ooodjg10L

I would really appreciate any feedback, negative in particular.  If you find slides are unclear, confusing, any typos, or if I’m you think I’m missing something, I need to hear from you.

My father just sent me this TED Talk.  He doesn’t read my blog and didn’t know about the other TED Talks I posted.  This one is a little different, Ramesh Raskar from MIT has developed a camera that can slow motion down to the point of being able to see a pulse of light travel.  You just have to see it to believe it.

And in case you aren’t seeing the embedded video:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ramesh_raskar_a_camera_that_takes_one_trillion_frames_per_second.html

I do.  They frustrate me a bit because there are just so many and I don’t know most of the speakers.  You can spend an evening jumping from one talk to the next.  I prefer recommendations, here are two I recommend.

The first talk is by Dan Meyer of the dy/dan blog.  His blog was the source I used to get started on Standards-Based Grading.  Plain and simple, this talk is an eye opener.

The second TED Talk is by Simon Sinek.  His talk was recommended by Frank Noschese at the AAPT meeting.  Excellent recommendation Frank.

If you have some favorite TED Talks, please share the link or the name of the speaker.

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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.

Polls in the sidebar

Just a quick poll to help me understand who is stopping by my blog.

Yeah sure, lots from America, but look who else is here…

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