Posts Tagged ‘physics teaching’

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!

Mid Week Thoughts 9/21

Well, technically today is the first day of my school week, but I’ve been thinking about school so much it feels like the middle of the week.

Tomorrow is the first day I’ll be in the room on my own since my contract has been finalized and Ben (the best long term sub EVER) is now leaving me. I’ve really enjoyed team teaching with Ben and have learned so much just from working with him! I’m a bit nervous about handling the freshmen classes alone since the rowdy boys have responded so well to having a male teacher. I’m definitely going to miss having somebody to laugh with over silly student comments and behaviors.

I’m also preoccupied with nerves over administering my first test tomorrow. I have intentionally given them a test much easier than things we have discussed in class because the kids are struggling with so many deep-seeded confidence issues that they need to prove to themselves they can do it. They have been giving up on assignments if they don’t understand or get frustrated, so I am encouraging them to at least try everything once and then come to me for help instead of just giving up. These kids have never been held to a high standard, so they have never learned how to work hard and with perseverance. I’ve already made it clear that those attitudes are not acceptable in my classroom.

Since most of our kids are at or below the poverty line, I have felt a huge burden to help them find financially viable college options. This has led me to assume the responsibility of military academy liason – I am organizing and running several events to help kids apply to the military academies. The deadlines are coming up quickly (all congressional recommendations must be submitted by October 31), so there is a lot of pressure to get this off the ground immediately. Last year was the inaugural year for the school and they did not have a 12th grade class, so this is the first year any college and career related events are necessary.

My Adopt-A-Classroom page has been an extreme blessing. Room 1007 has received way more money than I had ever expected. I am so honored that you would invest in us and I have many plans for purchasing supplies and equipment to assist the growth of my students (a class set of calculators is high on the list!).

Going into the fourth week of my first year, I’ve been doing some cognitive assessment – how am I doing? Am I managing the stress well? Where can I improve? Am I doing a good job reaching out to all my students? I am pleasantly surprised that stress has not really been a part of the last 3 weeks (other than not getting paid). I have been able to consistently plan almost a week ahead and my planning for students understanding has been right on. I need to continue to set high expectations for my kids and hold them responsible for their academic decisions. There are a handful of students I need to initiate relationships with because I still don’t know anything about them. But on the whole, I do not feel the overwhelming anxiety I was told to expect during my first year and did experience during student teaching. When I’m with my kids I’m in my happy, comfortable place.

Thanks for following and reading my mid-week thoughts – it is so helpful to have a group of educators to chat with over the daily joys and trials of teaching.

Next week is spirit week, so I think on Nerd Day I might dress up as Ms Frizzle – any suggestions as to where to find a crazy dress?!

First Year Teacher Series Week 3

Wow, the third week of school already; the week flew by so quickly I can barely remember what happened!

In Physics, the kids are finishing up linear motion and getting ready for their first test. They have been working very hard to catch up with the math they are behind on (most are just taking Algebra 2) and are starting to think like Physicists! We are having so much fun. My biggest goal for them is to learn to work harder – they all tend to be extremely lazy and refuse to believe that they will learn and grow if they practice. I am pretty confident the source of this attitude is from growing up with teachers with low expectations.

The other struggle we’ve had is understanding the concept of “units”. We spent almost an entire class period working out the difference between quantity (the thing being measured), unit (the type of measurement), and the relevant equations. I think they’re starting to get it.

My freshman course is pretty funny. They are not as much of a handful as I had anticipated, just young and immature. We have been discussing renewable and non-renewable energy sources and essential materials for survival. It’s a spiralling curriculum, so all of the content we’ll cover is related to sustainability. It will also prepare them for the state science proficiency exam they will take in 11th grade. I like that the class can be more of a seminar and less lecture. My goal for these students is to teach them to be more responsible – they see homework as an optional extracurricular activity. We’ll get there!

I saw this video on a blog I read the other day and it made me laugh because it is exactly how I feel keeping a class of thirty-something 9th graders on task:

In other news, my background check finally cleared, so I can get put on payroll this week!! A million thanks to my principal for getting that pushed through :)

Units and measurement

My kids have far surpassed my expectations. Many of them haven’t taken trig yet, but they have been working so hard to catch up in physics. They come to class prepared and are learning to ask more questions and use each other as a resource.

However, they can’t seem to understand the concept of units. If anyone has had this issue please let me know!!

Magnetism Unit

I’m working on developing a high school Physics magnetism unit. The lessons I’ve written so far are posted on the Lesson Plans page. So far, it consists of an introductory lesson, two lessons on magnetic fields, a computer-based lab connecting electricity and magnetism, as well as an end of unit project.

Since I am relocating to Las Vegas, NV, I am working to connect each of my lessons to the community. This unit easily demonstrates the science associated with the hydroelectric generators at the Hoover Dam. I can’t wait to bring students there for field trips!!

Teaching Philosophy

Ah…the teaching philosophy. One of those hoops all teachers have to jump through. And I’m not sure anyone really enjoys writing it.

At the end, though, we’re all thankful for the pedagogical exercise that forces us to look at ourselves as a person and as a pedagogue and describe how the two intertwine and determine our goals and expectations for our classroom. Ultimately, we draw conclusions as to how we aim to effect our students.

Even though every teacher’s teaching philosophy is different, I always enjoy reading my colleagues’ intimate thoughts about the roles and responsibilities of teachers.

In that spirit, I’m sharing mine with you.

“My teachers treated me as a diamond in the rough, someone who needed smoothing.”

– Mother Jones, early 20th Century coal mining union supporter

More than anything, I believe my role as a teacher is to give students infinite opportunities to discover what they love to do, which ways they are gifted, and where they dream their life is heading. Every student has the potential to develop the skills to achieve their desires. It is important to provide students with a safe and structured community for learning; I want to create a classroom environment that is conducive to community. My classroom should be a place where students who are struggling to understand whether or not they belong within the science community have the confidence to desire to learn science regardless of the cultural groups they belong to outside of school. Students who enter the community of my classroom will never feel the pressure to perform in science in order to belong.

As a teacher, I believe it is my duty to guide students towards an understanding of the content. I do not want my classroom to be a place where students expect me simply to dispense knowledge, but instead, a place where they come to explore the world and develop their abilities to think critically and communicate clearly. In this way, I will assume the role of student advocate. My responsibilities include helping students to develop a deeper understanding of science, encouraging students to form opinions and play an active role in their community, providing students with opportunities to be excited about science, and protecting the classroom from ideas and misconceptions that might prohibit participation in science. I believe the result of these actions will be an increased student interest in the scientific world. These goals are realistic, but will be challenging within the context of Physics, which has traditionally been an exclusive community. Physics should be the most approachable science for students since it is the most applicable to their everyday lives.

Creativity will be the theme that flows through each unit and discussion. I want to take advantage of every aspect of science that overlaps with other disciplines. For example, I would love to teach a Physics course focused specifically on the Physics of the Arts: kinematics and mechanics for actors and dancers, electricity and magnetism for technical theater aficionados, color and optics for visual artists, and sound for musicians. I dream of a classroom where science is merely the lens through which my class and I explore our surroundings.

I have a vision for a classroom where students are constantly exploring new ways of thinking and communicating. Tools I plan to use to accomplish this include: a class blogging project, a wall of pictures of science in our daily lives and around the world, regular science journaling, leading community-wide science fairs, and reading and discussing science fiction novels. Giving students the opportunity to learn through inquiry is essential in training them to be lifelong learners in the classroom and beyond. It is a teacher’s prerogative to encourage students to be aware and involved in a larger community. Whether globally or locally, students should take responsibility for affecting change. I want to teach my students to be aware of what is occurring in the world and how they can make a difference.

I would not be so proud as to say education is the most important institution of civilization, just one of the most important tools; a person can have decades of education, but it is not until he or she decides to implement what she has learned that she can be truly effective. As penned by Elbert Hubbard, “The object of teaching a child is to enable them to get along without their teacher.” I want to equip my students to pursue the world with confidence.

– Becky McCoy

Student Teaching Week 5 [2/22 – 2/25]

It’s a short week for me since I’ve got to take tomorrow off (it might be a snow day in NYC anyways!); it’s been a week full of wonderful experiences!

MONDAY: Did the first explicit lesson on waves, their anatomy, and the wave velocity equation. Kids were a bit confused in the first period, so I tried to be more explicit in explanations and transitions and the second go-around went much better. I’m still frustrated with how quiet that second period is.

I collected the Pendulum Unit Projects and started looking through them. These kids are so bright and their projects are so entertaining!!

TUESDAY: We split the class up and my cooperating teacher took half the class out into the hallway for 20 minutes while I kept the others inside. He spent time discussing wave speed, reflection, and refraction using a slinky and snakey (tightly wound, long spring). I used the ripple tank and discussed reflection, refraction, and diffraction. The lessons went fine, but the kids were so quiet it was like pulling teeth.

I spoke with my supervisor (who had observed me on Monday) and he thought I was doing very well. I need to have more time for summary at the end of the lesson and stop saying “Okay.” all the time. I realized this today on my own, so had to laugh when he brought it up:

“Okay, Suzie why don’t you answer the question.”

“Sam, you think the answer is this, okay…”

“Okay, what do we think about this?”

“Okay, so here’s the equation we derived.”

I’m getting sick of hearing myself! In 2nd place is, “Go ahead…” – I NEED A NEW VOCABULARY!

WEDNESDAY: We split the class again and Mike introduced superposition and interference as well as the anatomy and concept of standing waves. I reviewed refraction and diffraction with videos and computer-based simulations. I really enjoyed working with smaller groups of kids at a time – the quiet class was much more lively and interactive in smaller groups.

I realized today that my interview for jobs with the Clark County (Las Vegas) DOE is in 2 weeks! Ah! I’ve got to get cracking on that teaching portfolio!!

THURSDAY: Wow, so it’s really difficult to teach a 60 minute class about Standing Waves and the Doppler Effect when you’re using mostly YouTube videos. I felt really overwhelmed. Luckily, my cooperating teacher stepped in a certain points during the lesson and we co-taught a bit. I really enjoyed that and he had some really valuable demonstrations to add to what I had started!

I’ve been trying hard to revise each of my lessons at the end of the day and update them on Scribd, so feel free to snag what you want. Looks like you can even subscribe to my documents via a reader!