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Monday, November 29, 2010

Why I'm my own worst enemy.

Last Tuesday before break I had about enough. My students were as whiny and helpless as possible. The board discussions were going nowhere. The kids were not engaged at all! By 5th hour I had enough. I was tired of fighting the battle. I got upset and told them that I was done with it. If they were going to just waste time I had better things to do. I left the circle and went and sat down at my desk. After I left, a couple kids took charge and the next thing I knew most of the kids were engaged and the students were racing through the whiteboards! I am the problem! Lesson learned!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Conferences part one.

The first night of conferences is complete. I was worried that I was going to have lots of outraged physics parents. I only had one. Some others had questions that I was able to explain away, but there was one that was on a witch-hunt. Her daughter had learned how to play the game of school. I've changed the rules. She has gone home crying because I won't tell her if she is right or not. *sigh* I am proud of myself though. I stood my ground. I explained that this technique works. I have studies to prove it. Her daughter just needs a little more time to adjust to the way things are. If she is that frustrated she needs to come talk to me. (Of course the girl has told me none of this!)

Oh well. You can't please all of the people... Most parents thought it was awesome and told me their kid can't stop talking about Physics class. I check that as a win!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why my students are awesome.

Today was a great day in my physics classes for two reasons.

1. I introduced Steve Dickie's bouncy ball challenge to my students. They were almost as amazed as I was which I think is an excellent start considering we are dealing with the age of apathy in high school students. Lots of great comments and ideas already from my students and I really only took about 10 minutes at the beginning of the hour for this. They are excited about doing the project.

2. I did the second day of the Ramp n'Roll activity with my students. Yesterday I gave them a bunch of ramps and starting conditions and had them predict and record the graphs. Today they did the much more challenging task of taking the graphs and trying to set up the ramps to mimic the data. There was a great deal of teeth gnashing and screams of frustration at first. Then after a few not-so-subtle hints that the velocity vs. time and the acceleration vs. time graphs were not just there for show, students began catching on to the activity. The look on their faces when their graphs matched those on the page were priceless. They were elated. They felt smart. They felt like they accomplished something. They stayed after the bell to finish that last one. They asked if they could do it for homework! They asked! And of course, I said, "Sure!"

What a fantastic day, and what fantastic students I have!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why I need a giant turntable. (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a previous post. ( O.k. I realize it is one post down, but hey they give me the ability... why not use it?)

Part 2 of my week of awesomeness.

I got to spend the day Saturday with my incredibly awesome modeling group from this summer. We got together, saw some wicked awesome discrepant event demos, ate sandwiches with really awesome names. (I was conflicted between the Apollo Creed Steak and Cheese Sandwich or the Eric Estrata Enchilada. I decided that the Apollo Creed would make my stomach feel less rocky. He he get it because Apollo ... and rocky... oh nevermind.) But I digress. I feel so blessed and lucky to have taken this workshop with this amazing group of educators. If we could bottle and share the enthusiasm and pedagogical energy of this group with all teachers, today's crisis in American education would not exist. It was great to see most of us back together. We shared incidents that happened in our classes. We asked advice about some of our issues. We did really cool labs and one that was really cold (outside you know.). That is my last pun in this post. I promise. One of the discrepant events was a bouncy ball that you toss under a table. It hits the floor, then the underside of the table and then you have a choice. Will it come back to you? Will it just bounce up and down under the table until energy dissipates? Will it bounce off the table and continue moving forward? It turns out it bounces back at you. But a tennis ball doesn't. It bounces up and down until it stops. A golf ball doesn't do either! It continues through on its path in the same direction! Very interesting. We discussed it for a while trying just about every ball we could find in the lab trying to prove/disprove our theories. At that point my pal Steve came up with an idea to turn this into an inquiry lab that could be written up for publication. Interested in helping? Check out his blog.

Item 3 of the week of totally awesome?
Being new to this whole modeling thing I have had difficulty with taking what I would deem an appropriate amount of grades for the quarter. I feel that most of the work the kids are doing is new stuff and I hate to mark them down for not knowing things that they have never learned before. Some grades were a bit lower than I feel that they should be. So I had the kids do a self-evaluation of their progress in my class. I then sat down with them one on one to discuss their progress. It was great. I have learned so much about them this year. I feel I know them so much better than I have known any class before. It is a really neat experience for me. And it makes me even happier that I decide to go hang with these strangers for 3 weeks last summer!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why I need a giant turntable.

My poor blog has been left alone too long. I apologize to my regular readers (all 2 of you!) but it has been the end of the first marking period and grades are due. My blog had to wait awhile. But I am back now and I have a lot to post about.

1. It was a great week for me professionally and it could not have come at a better time. My classroom has become a quagmire of unproductive modeling... but that is another point for later. I attended the DMAPT meeting on Wed at the Detroit Science Center. We had the facility to ourselves. I think the phrase 'kid in a candy store' needs to be replaced by 'physics teachers in a science center'. It was a blast. My favorite display down there is this giant turntable. It rotates and they provide various size disks to go on them. If you cradle them gently between your fingers and hold them upright against the turntable they will begin to spin and they will remain upright rolling along the turntable. We of course were experimenting trying to figure everything out about them. We noticed that if the disk leaned inwards it would move towards the center of the table. An outward lean would cause it to move outwards. If you turn it slightly to the motion the table is spinning it begins a wobbly oscillating path around the turntable that is fun to watch until the disk falls over. Great fun! But it got even better when one of the teachers pulled out a 1.5-2 inch diameter steel bearing. Now you might ask why he had that on him, and I would remind you that it was a bunch of physics teachers so really that should just be expected. Then you might add, "next you'll tell me that someone else had 216 bucky ball magnets in their pocket." And you'd be right again.
Anyhoo back to the ball. I had thought the disks were the pinnacle of coolness until I say the ball. At first we tried to repeat what we did with the disks with some success. It made a spine-tingling sound and traced small circles on the table. That was neat, but the best part came when we began rolling it across the turntable. When it went with the rotation it bowed outwards and came back and kept going. But the true magic happened when we rolled it 'against the grain.' The turntable was spinning counter-clockwise and as I rolled it onto the left part of the turntable the ball quickly moved in the direction of rotation and made a big arc around the right side of center. When it got to the other side and rolled back onto the stationary table it immediately returned to its original speed and direction of travel! It was so amazing to watch. Of course hypotheses abounded. We tried to capture it on video but the lighting was fairly dim. If it gets posted I will link it.

Okay. I'm tired now. The rest of this post will have to wait until tomorrow. Not quite as triumphant a return as I hoped I guess.