Archive for January, 2011

NSTA 2011 – See you there!

So I finally booked my flight and hotel for the NSTA National Conference in San Francisco. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday and present Saturday morning (March 12). More details to come…

See you there!

When your students make (really!) bad choices…

Today one of my students was arrested for seriously injuring another student by dropping a rock of a balcony at school just after my class.

I am waffling between angry and grief that one of my most promising students would continue to make such horrible decisions. I have had students in jail before (including this particular student last fall), but this one situation seems extremely poignant since he will most likely spend the next few years in jail – he is currently a freshmen and will have thrown away his opportunity for a high school education.

There were two redeeming moments for me amongst the police reports, meetings with the Dean’s, and general emotional angst:

  1. The policemen asked if there was anything I wanted to tell my student and I had the opportunity to remind him that he is bright and has potential, that I am so sad by his choices, and that if he ever needs help getting back on track with school, I will always be ready to help.
  2. A student who was accused of being a part of the incident was trying to convince the Dean’s he didn’t do it – his last desperate plea with tear filled eyes was to call me in because he was confident that I would be honest and trustworthy…my credibility with my students helped the investigation to finish quickly.

So, tomorrow I head back to school and start the day with 2nd period – half of the class was interrogated today, so I am sure we’ll have to have a conversation about the situation. I’m still not quite sure what to say and there will probably be tears (again), but hopefully the incident will be a wake up call to all our students who make really dumb choices.

Being a teacher – especially one in an impoverished school like mine – is like being a foster parent; they may not be my biological children, but I will defend them fiercely and always love them. I will also mourn when they make bad choices and have to suffer the consequences.

It’s going to take me a long time to process and cope with the day’s events. I hope it will be a moment for my students to reflect on their personal goals and the choices that will help and hinder those goals becoming a reality.

Donors Choose Project #2

Last semester I received one caddy of basic calculators, thanks to several donations on

I’ve got another project open for two more caddies and with the support of The Lincy Foundation, all donations are going to be matched – your $$ goes twice as far!

I understand that many of my readers are also teachers and don’t have the resources necessary for their own classroom, but those of you who have a bit extra lying around, please consider funding a teacher’s project on Donors Choose!! Here’s the link to my open project if you are interested in learning more.

Waves Unit Intro

When I was teaching at a college prep high school last year, my advisor showed me how he always introduces waves via the pendulum. For the life of me I can not remember if that is how I was introduced to waves, but I think it’s fabulous! It was a great lesson today, so I thought I would share:

I have this tiny little pendulum (pictured above) one of my students made me last year, so I set it up and had my students brainstorm every type of physics they observed. We went through the whole list (velocity, centripetal motion, friction, gravity, momentum, energy, etc) and discussed each one for a short bit. Next, I described the importance of pendulums and we brainstormed a list of pendulums in “real life”. Some classes were more creative than others, but the point was clear that pendulums are everywhere.

At this point, I asked students what determines the period (time for one cycle) of the pendulum. The usual mass, gravity, amplitude, and string length came into play, so we attacked one at a time:

  • MASS – the pendulum is essentially in free fall and we know that mass in negligible in free fall, so no need to deal with it here either.
  • GRAVITY – will affect every pendulum equally, so it can not affect individual pendulums diferently.
  • AMPLITUDE – to test this we timed 10 oscillations at a low amplitude and 10 at a high amplitude. The times were almost exact, so the students understood that it does not affect the period.

Therefore, the length is the only variable to affect the period of the pendulum.

Vocab came to play here as we defined amplitude (height of pendulum), period (time it takes for one cycle to occur, measured in seconds), and frequency (number of cycles that occur in a given time period, measured in Hz). I wrote the definition of period and frequency on the board as equations as well as the inverse relationship between them. The students then did a few sample problems from the textbook (Hewitt Conceptual Physics – awesome resource!).

To finish up the period, we graphed the position-time graph of the pendulum and the light bulb went off and the kids realized the connection between the pendulum and waves. They drew a transverse wave and labeled the anatomy in order to conclude the lesson.

We’ll pick up with types of waves and the wave equation tomorrow.

1st Day of Second Semster

Wow. I can officially say I have made it half way through my first year. It has not been nearly as traumatic as I had anticipated, but it has had plenty of ups and downs.

HUGE DOWN – my students on the whole decided not to take their semester exams seriously and had embarrassingly low scores. The part that made me angry was that they tried to blame their laziness on me (that the test was too hard). When I held them accountable today, they took responsibility. No knowing if they will do any better this semester, but – as I reminded them – I refuse to lower my expectations to their level of performance. They can keep trying, but I’m one tough cookie!

GIGANTIC UP – after feeling like I was run over by a truck at the exam results, I was reading some comments by my freshmen students. One of the essay options on their exam was to discuss how this Principles of Science course is different than the science classes they took in middle school. The following two responses melted my heart and reminded me exactly why I am a teacher:

Principles of Science is different because we go over all the stuff our other teachers missed. It’s like digging up secrets every day.

This class is different because we learn stuff and the teacher has high expectations.

The comments came from the most unlikely students. The irony was that the class that has the most behavior issues and drives me the most crazy had the best exam results and talked me down from my frustrated teacher ledge.

Now it’s a new semester and some things are changing, but mostly I am encouraging my students to reach higher goals, push themselves harder, ask for help more often, and have more confidence in their abilities. Two new implementations into the 9th grade classes:

1. Pencil Sign Out List – I tried this during the exam and it worked really well. I even personalized the pencils to deter pencil thieves:

2. McCoupons – each of my 9th graders will get 4 McCoupons per quarter to use towards bathroom passes or missing assignments. They will be responsible for keeping track of them:

I am excited about this semester – there is none of the awkwardness of creating rapport with new students and we can get right down to business. With that said – I’m off to review my Big Bang and Pendulum/Intro to Waves lessons!