Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

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 :)

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

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.

Fluids Unit

I started the fluids unit this week (I’m going shallow and wide with the curriculum so the kids can get exposed to as much as possible). For some reason, my kids love talking about and asking questions about buoyancy, Bernoulli, pressure, etc.

What is suprising me the most is that the kids who usually don’t pay attention or do their work are the ones most enthralled. And when I say enthralled, I mean interrupting class every 40 seconds to ask questions when they are usually talking with friends or resting their head on the desk. It’s baffling.

I have no clue what the reason is for the changes, but since it has been so successful, I figured I’d come up with something to share. Check back soon for a summary of the scaffolding I’ve provided them with over the last few days.. I hope it will help somebody!

My First Prezi

There have been many things going on lately, most of which I’m halfway through blogging about – I promise they’re coming soon!

Anyways, I’m so excited to announce I just finished my first Prezi. Check it out here:

It was so incredibly easy – even faster than Power Point! And much more engaging…I’m interested to see how my 9th graders react!