Day 143: Closing the Gaps

Today was an institute day. If you think students are challenging the day before they start spring break, you should see a school full of burned-out teachers.

This first-half of the day focused on sharing some of the work of our Science Curriculum Team with the rest of the district science teachers. We on the team are still struggling to keep our Next Generation Science Standards’s disciplinary core ideas straight from our performance expectations. Other teachers have a lot of anxiety and questions about what the fall of 2015 will be like when the new curriculum starts. Unfortunately, we on the team have few answers at this point. Regardless, it was good to hear everyone’s questions. We also watched one of the NGSS Bozeman videos:

The rest of the day was spent as a faculty discussing recommendations from our “Closing the Gaps” committee. Understanding the context in which many of our students are struggling compared to their peers is an incredibly important topic, and I’m pleased the entire faculty participated in the discussion. It is a tough discussion for the limited time we had and the day before break starts. I personally learned a lot and have a better understanding of the challenges these students face and the challenges we face in our efforts to “close the gap.”

Day 142: Charged Particle Model Whiteboarding

Today was the last day before spring break. It was a good day to summarize our development of the charged particle model (CPM). Whiteboards were really good; I’m impressed with the level of understanding that they have developed in this unit. One student was his own group as his two partners were absent. He did a fantastic job whiteboarding this 2D problem involving balanced forces:


  ##cpm ##whiteboarding  

Day 141: Van der Graaf Generator

Today in Honors Physics, I introduced Coulomb’s Law. Given tomorrow’s forecast for the last day before spring break, I decided to also break out the Van der Graaf generator. I would have preferred to wait until the introduction of electric fields to play with the Van der Graaf generator, but I feared it would be much less impressive as the weather warms and the rain falls. Hopefully, students will remember some of the demonstrations and connect it to electric fields after we return from break. We had okay, but not stellar, results:



Day 140: The Infamous Electrophorus!

Honors Physics students tackled the electrophorus lab practicum today. Historically, this lab practicum has been a challenge for students for a couple of reasons. Some are not careful with their technique or observations. Others, struggle to believe what they observe and substitute their assumptions for their observations. Specifically, students really struggle to believe their observation that the metal plate when placed on the charged based of the electrophorus does not become charged via conduction.

To keep everyone honest, we have two different kinds of setups that we place side-by-side. Remarkably, the pink insulating foam and pie plate with styrofoam cup handle electrophorus that I made works better than the “official” electrophorus apparatus purchased years ago!


  ##cpm ##practicumlab  

Day 138: Parent-Teacher Conferences

Last night and this morning were parent-teacher conferences. I really enjoy having at least some time to talk with parents, even if slots are only 5 minutes long. I’ve decided that conferences are more effective if they are parent-teacher-student conferences. I need to encourage students to attend conferences next year.

I hold my conferences in the Physics Prep Room. It is the storage area between rooms 144 and 142. Many parents looking for my colleague in room 143 understandably stop, and I direct them around the corner and into the stairwell. I have no understanding of why several classrooms are numbered the way they are!



Day 137: Institute Day

At today’s institute day, we had the opportunity to select three different sessions from among fifteen that were offered in three different time slots. The variety was wonderful, and, due to the number of teachers presenting, most teachers only presented once and were free to attend other sessions during the other two time slots. The presentations that I attended were fantastic, and I heard nothing but positive comments from other teachers.

I shared a basic introduction to Evernote with a focus on how it can be used to collect enrichment materials that are then easily shared with students. The presentation was similar to the Sharing Resources with Students via Evernote post.


  ##evernote ##tech  

Day 136: LOL Diagrams in Nuclear Physics

Today we started the Nuclear Physics unit in AP Physics B. While introducing the concept of binding energy, it struck me that an energy LOL diagram, where the mass of the atom before and after is treated as an energy storage mode, would clearly demonstrate the concept. I have never used LOL diagrams in the context of nuclear physics, but, for the first time, students this year are familiar with them. Here’s an example LOL diagram illustrating the energy required to remove a neutron from Carbon-13.


Later in the lesson, I sketched an LOL diagram to demonstrate the decay of Radium and that no energy is added to the system:


I think this will make nuclear physics more accessible, less mysterious, and reinforce the conservation of energy concept.

  ##nuclear ##representations  

Day 135: BICEP2 Announcement

Yesterday, the BICEP2 collaboration announced their results which indicate detection of gravitational waves and direct evidence of cosmic inflation. While the plan for AP Physics B was to start the unit on nuclear physics today, we postponed that to talk about these results and the broader context needed to appreciate their significance. In AP Physics B, we do enjoy a cosmology unit after the AP exam, but I decided to introduce the ideas of Hubble expansion, cosmic microwave background radiation, the big bang and inflation today to provide context.


Students appeared to enjoy the change of pace and asked some really good questions. Some of which I was able to answer; some of which physicist are still trying to answer. I hope that every student left with an appreciation that physics is a dynamic field, there is a lot of questions left to answer, and we live in the golden age of cosmology.

Day 134: Pith Ball Investigation

Honors Physics continued investigating the charged particle model (CPM) with pith balls, vinyl, wool, acetate, and cotton. They are doing well creating the long chains of reasoning necessary to explain their observations. We’ll see how they do when introduced to the electroscope and charging by induction tomorrow.

Although it sounds strange, I encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of an electron and ask themselves, “What would I do?” This helps them focus on the movement of electrons (as opposed to positive charge carriers) and consider what is attracting them, repelling them, and what options they have for movement (based on insulating or conducting material or a path to ground).


The weather is cooperating. While I’m ready for Spring, I hope electrostatics continues to work this week!