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

Posts Tagged ‘science fair

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


mythbustersThe popular show Mythbusters is a terrific example of the application of the scientific method. Early in the school year I introduce the scientific method. I then hand my class a worksheet that they fill in as they watch one of the episodes I have on DVD.  They have to identify the hypothesis, controls, variables, experimental steps, and conclusion. mythbusters-and-the-scientific-method

Next, the student choose to work as an individual or in a small group (2 or 3) and they work on coming up with a myth they are going to bust. Now, you and I know this is just a mini-science fair project, but they don’t see it that way. My students were just telling me that this was their favorite project of the year. Good thing I didn’t call it a science fair project. Anyway, I let them do whatever they want so long as they are doing good science and they are not doing something dangerous. When there were a few that were dangerous, I discussed the project with their parents to make sure they were aware of what their kids were doing.

I teach in Philadelphia at a Charter School and the students come from all over the city. It is very challenging for many of them to work together outside of school, so I have to allocate class time for them to do their project. I think I give them 4 days over a period of 2 weeks to experiment, work on their poster, etc. I’ve attached the guidelines and worksheet I use for them to document their project. I make sure they have thought through the controls and variables before they begin any experiments. mythbusters-project-guidelines and mythbusters-worksheet

The grading rubric needs a rework, but I included it as a starting point. mythbuster-rubric

I have the students do the project on regular poster board. I do this early in the year and then hang the posters on my wall as they are completed. They like looking at each other’s ideas and projects, and they like picking them apart, explaining how they would do the experiment differently.

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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