Archive for the ‘9-12 Science Education’ Category

Highlights: Homer Hickam

Several months ago I showed my 9th grade students October Sky. As a quick end-of-class assignment, I had them write Homer Hickam letters expressing their personal reaction to his story.

I expected a few fluffy sentences finished with, “thanks for making your movie” type statement.

I received well-crafted, insightful letters expressing their gratitude for knowing Mr Hickam’s story. They could relate to Hickam’s rocky relationship with his father and feeling trapped by a blue-collar community that tends to discourage higher education.

A few weeks ago I finally mailed them and today I received a reply! The letter was from Mr Hickam’s wife, but it included his photograph signed just for us! I cannot wait to get to school tomorrow and share it with my students – now I need to find a special frame to treasure it always :)

Homer Hickam himself!

Highlights: Atomic Testing Museum

I have been so busy with end of school chaos that I haven’t blogged in ages. Therefore, to commemorate the end of  my first year, I’ll be writing about some highlights throughout the year.

My first field trip was a success!!!! I took my physics students to the Atomic Testing Museum and (aside from last minute chaperone cancellations, paperwork nightmares, and students missing the bus to the museum) it was amazing. I loved watching my kids learn and experience things outside of the classroom; there was much laughter :)

My kiddos - gonna miss this crazy bunch over the summer!

Electricity & Magnetism, Hoover Dam, and 37 days left!

We just finished the Electricity Unit. I ended up being much simpler than I would usually choose to teach it, but my students had some really intelligent and in depth conversations about the content, so I can chalk it up to success!! Now we’re in the Magnetism Unit and since it is proficiency testing, AP testing, and a-million-and-one other approved school absences, I chose to make it rubric-based. They have a bunch of assignments and labs to complete before their test next week.

I showed my 9th graders the PBS American Experience documentary on the Hoover Dam this week and they were amazingly interested! It may have something to do with our school being 40 miles from the dam, but they had great questions and really interesting reactions to the working conditions, racism, etc. involved in the building of the dam. Can’t wait to show my physics students! Too bad there’s no chance of a field trip this year :(

Only 37 days left of the contract year! Woot! So much to get done, but it is time for the seniors to move on, underclassmen to move up, and teachers have a break from all of the above :)

Success! a.k.a. the day my 9th graders behaved more like high schoolers than middle schoolers!

Wow. I can’t even believe what happened on Friday. After the catastrophe that started the week, I thought Wednesday through Friday would be even worse.

The week actually got better after Tuesday and ended up finishing with one of the best moments I have had with my 9th graders since the beginning of the year.

In both sections of my 9th grade general science class, we finished up a Discovery Channel show about a massive trebuchet, redistributed graded work, and continued reading The Last Book In The Universe. That’s pretty average for a Friday and the kids are always bouncing off the walls for the weekend!

Not this Friday.

This Friday they sat quietly through the entire movie.

This Friday they quickly got their work taped into their notebooks.

This Friday one student volunteered to read out loud.

This Friday they all sat and listened quietly.

This Friday almost all students followed along in their books.

It doesn’t sound for much, but for a group of about 55 9th graders who still aren’t sure why it’s even important to pass their classes, it was nothing short of a miracle!

I know that as we get nearer to the end of the school year, behavior issues will get worse, so I hope this moment will be burned into my memory forever.

End of Quarter Madness & Non-Traditional Physics Tips

The end of the quarter really isn’t the time to write brilliant posts. Therefore, NSTA posts will have to wait for a couple of weeks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a new series of posts. I find that the way I run a physics curriculum for non-traditional physics students* goes against the grain of the way things are “supposed” to be. I have found this “against the grain” approach very successful with my students.

At a session with Raymond Serway (the writer of the Holt Physics textbook), I was encouraged about my approach when Serway very seriously spoke about the mistake that most teachers make: trying to cover the material in a more collegiate way and ending up spending September through January on kinematics alone.

I figured that there must be other teachers in the same boat, so I’ll start writing about the teaching techniques, lessons, etc. that have been successful.

Please let me know if there are any particular areas that should be addressed.

 

*My non-traditional classes are made of 11th and 12th grade students who are mostly enrolled in Algebra 2, some have Trigonometry, and only one or two have any Calculus. About half of these students will attend college after graduation and few will take physics at the college level.

NSTA 2011 Here and Gone Again

As promised, I will be writing up some of the sessions I attended this past weekend…since this was my first conference as a presenter, I spent less time in sessions as usual, but I did learn quite a few new tricks!

This weekend was also exciting since the conference was held in San Francisco – thousands of science teachers in a city with a tsunami warning; I can bet lots of lesson plans were changed (including my own) to focus on the current events in Japan.

So be on the lookout for:

  • Parent-teacher communication and involvement ideas
  • How to host a physics-themed haunted house
  • Ways to make the most of the Holt Introductory Physics textbook
  • Accessing understanding of ELL students
  • Skills to help ELL students understand science
  • Exhibit hall highlights

Junk Drawer Science

Junk Drawer Science is a new science curriculum company started by teachers with great resources for teachers.

Welcome to Junk Drawer Science: a result of years of frustration with the out-of-touch, and often-out-of date resources that have been available to us as teachers. We believe that it is time for a revolution in science education. The textbook should be relegated to its proper place. It should be a resource and no longer the focal point of our science classes!

Our mission is to provide engaging materials that stimulate learning in your students. We believe that science should not be expensive, and that the simplest lessons are often the most profound.

At the moment, they have three products available for purchase: a book full of great activities for middle and high school life science classes, a guide to using interactive notebooks in science class, and the game they created called “The Game of Evolution”.

I happen to teach with the Junk Drawer Science owners and can guarantee that their products are worth every penny. They have worked hard to develop curriculum and lesson tools that are effective in the classroom as well as easy to implement on a low (to non-existent) budget.

I guess that makes this a shameless plug: all in the name of providing the world with great teaching resources!

Unfortunately, they will not be at the NSTA conference in San Francisco, so for now, you will have to check them out online.

Proficiency Exams

Today is one of those mornings when I came in early even when there was nothing to do. My department chair walked in with three scantrons from students who took a practice proficiency exam yesterday: 16%, 16%, and 20%.

The major reason for this was that in one hour, they only answered about 26 out of 50 questions. Granted, in the actual test next week they have unlimited time for 60 questions, but that is still only 31% completed questions answered correctly.

All of these three students are in 11th grade; they have already taken the exam twice and have 5 chances left to pass it and graduate on time.

The thing that leaves me wondering what to do is the fact that these three students get much higher test grades in my class. What can I do to encourage them to perform better on a “scarier” test?

The tricky part is that Nevada does not release old tests, so I can’t give them specific recommendations.

How do you help students prep for tests when all you can give them is general study tips?

Triumphs in 9th Grade Science:

The beginning of my career as a general science teacher of 9th grade was rough. There were lots of tears and angry moments!

Now that 3rd quarter is almost over, I have been thinking about what has been successful. Here’s what I found:

  1. Being “mean” – I have had to go way beyond normal human levels of mean and anger. In order to get 9th graders to put their ear buds away and stop tagging on each others’ notebooks long enough to even take attendance took so much stern talking that I could feel my blood pressure go up. My husband even remarked that I was more mean around the house. Obviously, I can’t teach this type of class much longer without burning out, but at least I have them trained to behave more like students.
  2. Bathroom ticket – I think these little beauties were the major success of the year. I have had significantly less classroom management issues since initiating this policy. Each 9th grader gets four bathroom tickets for the quarter that can be exchanged for passes to the bathroom or excused missing assignments. Since they feel they have more control over when they can and cannot “go”, I have had much less of a headache! It has also cut way back on students asking to go every day since they used up their tickets in the first week!

I have one more trick up my sleeve for the rest of the school year; I have challenged each of my classes to finish the year with a class average of at leave 7% higher than it is right now. I am planning on clearing off the bulletin board and putting up the goal for each period. I’ll update it every week so they can keep each other accountable. I promised them a big surprise at the end of the year if they achieve their class’s goal. I have yet to figure out what that surprise is, but the kids seems to be really excited, so I hope it is a good motivator for them!

I’m curious to hear what tricks you have found successful with your tricky classes!

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.