Posts Tagged ‘Physics’

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

“Mrs McCoy would be so proud of us…”

A girl in my honors class and one of the guys in an introductory level section are an item. I am usually getting on their backs about texting each other in class, but today the girl had an awesome story for me:

“We were in the car the other day and I knew that if I didn’t have to use the brake I could conserve some gas. So I kept yelling, ‘Watch for cars, we’re gonna speed up!”

The boyfriend then turned to her and said:

“Mrs. McCoy would be so proud of us for using physics in real life.”

Haha, so good to know they actually pay attention in class!

Physics Man Commercials

Scheduling for next year started this week and since I’m hoping to have a Physics-only schedule next year, I went on the offense. My Honors class and I put these commercials together:

MONDAY’S COMMERCIAL:

TUESDAY’S COMMERCIAL:

WEDNESDAY’S COMMERCIAL:

THURSDAY’S COMMERCIAL:

FRIDAY’S COMMERCIAL:

Enjoy :)

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.

Guest Speaker: Accident Reconstruction

Today I had my first guest speaker (the cheaper alternative to a field trip!). Officer Michael Lemley of the Las Vegas Police Department came to speak to my physics students about accident reconstruction today. It was great for someone else to be in charge of the class and it was so fun to hear my students asking questions and thinking through this particular application of physics!

Officer Lemley was wonderful. He kept the kids laughing and made clear connections between the content and the real-world. One of my favorite parts of the day was Lemley’s insistence that he wishes he had paid more attention to his classes in high school because he had to relearn it all 20 years later. He told my students he never thought he would use his high school knowledge, but it always comes back.

He closed by talking about the cause of most fatal accidents he works on: distracted drivers. He illustrated several instances of people dying because they were texting or on the phone. He asked students why the United States is not willing to show gruesome commercials about drunk and distracted driving; the kids got into quite a debate over offending people v. being honest about consequences.

Since he was in the building for the whole day, he addressed my 9th grade general science classes for the last 20 minutes – I think it was the first time they had heard about applications of science in the “real world”. In my 5th period, I have a specific young gentleman who has the potential to be a lovely person, but has chosen bad friends and a worse attitude instead. When Officer Lemley began addressing the class, he asked the young man what career he would like to pursue. When my student answered the Army, Lemley told him that his attitude would not allow him to be successful. As the boy began to answer, “What attitude??!”, Lemley made him aware of the fact that he had been observing the class during our lecture time. The kid came up to me after class and whispered very softly, “Miss, I’ll never give you a hard time in class again!”. I then discovered that the kids thought Lemley was my personal friend and I had asked him to come in on account of their behavior – ha!

I am so glad I had Officer Lemley come to class – I am really looking forward to inviting more guest speakers soon!

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!

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 :)