Days 82-85: Fall 2013 in Review

I’m about to raise a glass, my 180 blog is a semester old! Oh, and I saw P!nk on Saturday night, so this:

Yesterday was our last day of class in physics. Even though the kids still have exams through Thursday and a Christmas service on Friday, I’m closing this blog up for the semester. Before I do, let’s look at the numbers:

How many posts did I fake?

Um, not telling. I will say there are several posts I made after the fact (based on actual events?) for which I put together a staged photo. Let’s look at this from the positive side — I count 28 posts that include students in the picture, so about 35%.

Lesson learned? I don’t do enough hands-on if only about 35% of my days included something cool enough to photograph — and that includes the day we lit steel wool with a 9V battery.

How many people read it?

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Meh, I don’t get a lot from hit counters — these bars don’t fairly reflect the last 5 months. October had more school days than November and December is only half over. But there you have it, my best day had 120 views and best month right at 500 views.

How’d they get referred here?

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Far and away, folks read my 180 blog based on my automatic Tweets when I post. Is this true for other 180 blogs? Search engines accounted for almost zero interesting traffic — some were url’s plugged in to Google and most others were searches on my name.

What’s the hardest part?

Making posts on time. Runner up: finding something interesting in every single school day.

Ideally, the workflow goes something like this: 1) snap a photo of something interesting from class and 2) write up a quick paragraph, pair it with the best picture, and post. The WordPress app on my phone should have made that easy. Turns out step 1 was most often my downfall. Some days it never occurred to me to snap a photo. Habits take time to build though and my advice to aspiring 180 bloggers is that you never skip a day.

On days where classes were finishing an assignment I blogged about the day before, I usually offered up an organization tip or extracurricular activity.


  1. Do you have a favorite post I made this semester? Which?
  2. What’s your favorite thing about reading 180 blogs? Least favorite?
  3. Do you keep a 180 blog? Link or it didn’t happen. Do you think you might in the future if not now?

It’s been a blast and I’ll definitely continue into the spring semester. Now, I should probably grade that stack of exams from yesterday.

Day 81: Exam

Monday, 16 December 2013

All science students in the Upper School took their exam today. My four sections were assigned to five different classrooms in two buildings across campus. I’ve never worked in a school that does exams this way — traditionally, I’ve given exams period-by-period.

I spent the exam period moving from room to room answering questions.

Across the hall from one classroom, I spotted this sign on a history teacher’s door:

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During exams, I collect phones. This group decided on the phone stack:

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And this group inspired my first imgur post:

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Day 80: Exam Study Session

Friday, 13 December 2013

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Last day of classes before the exam. During regularly scheduled classes, all four sections finished Circuit Sudoku. After school ended, we had an hour long office hours session. I teach about 60 students and anticipated every one of them showing up in a panic, so I prepped my kids all week that office hours would be mobbed. It worked! I had plenty of kids handle their questions earlier in the week. I’d guess that 25-30 students showed up during the hour.

Kids largely worked independently in whatever form was most comfortable for them. (Side note: lab stools are often much preferred to wooden chairs at desks.)

Speaking of office hours, I was tired of being pulled in so many different directions during office hours, so I made the following sign up form earlier this semester. The spreadsheet this form sends data to gets projected so kids can see where they are in the queue. Finally, I call kids up in order. So much better!

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Day 79: Circuit Sudoku

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A spontaneous group works on the sudoku circuits.

A spontaneous group works on the sudoku circuits.

The kids you see above are working an assignment to simplify circuits. You know, the basic “here’s a mess of resistors in series & parallel, solve for the equivalent resistance.” Here’s the toughest one on the assignment:

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Listening in on the conversation, I heard the kids working out a vocabulary to describe their thought process. One exchange:

Stu 1: The V for 1, 2, and 3 are all the same.

Stu 2: Why?

Stu 1: Because 1, 2, and 3 are parallel.

While not always technically accurate, the students were communicating unambiguously. Another exchange: 

Stu 3: The A for 4 is the same as 5-6 and the same as total A.

Stu 4: Meaning the A for 4 is 12A and the A for 5 is 4A.

Stu 5: Why?

Stu 3: Because 5 & 6 are in parallel and the current needs to add to 12.

In this mode, most kids called current by its unit abbreviation, A. I opted to not interrupt the flow and good communication to correct them. Would you do the same if you heard kids applying vocabulary mildly incorrectly? 

Got this assignment from a coworker and I love it. Students practice solving circuits of parallel and series resistors in a sudoku-like format. Here, go ahead and get the Word version of Circuit Sudoku.

Day 78: Robotics Driver Tryouts

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

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Holy cow, this came off so super-awesome! What you see above are photos from day 1 of 2 days of driver tryouts. The team is looking for several drivers who can take coaching, handle stress, and drive the robot efficiently.

The last picture above shows a little of the tryout course conceived by the captains, including a mock pyramid structure from the 2013 game, Ultimate Ascent. They simulated the stress of driving at competition by playing loud music and coaching the kid continuously.

I’m proud of the captains for organizing this event. They’ve done all the legwork and are getting excellent results from the limited time we have with kids.

Day 77: Best Cameras

Tuesday, 10 December, 2013

Winning cameras and their photos.

Winning cameras and their photos.

Yesterday and today, we held our photo gallery where students chose their favorite cameras and photos. The winners of the popular vote are above. Below is a photo of all the cameras in a single shot. Quaker Oats cans were well-represented this year.

All the cameras.

All the cameras.

Day 76: Series vs Parallel Bulbs

Monday, 9 December, 2013

One class works on their light bulb lab.

One class works on their light bulb lab.

The light bulb lab helps students understand series and parallel connections with almost no advance teaching required. I let them muddle through how to wire a physical circuit based on a schematic.

Our other task today was to vote on our favorite pinhole cameras and photos. Here’s what that looked like (with my helmet in there for…scale?).

A portion of the pinhole camera gallery

A portion of the pinhole camera gallery.

Day 75: Exam Review Day

Friday, 6 December 2013

I set aside today to review for the semester exam. Though the exam is 6 school days away and my colleagues will be reviewing at some point next week, I opted for today to model to the kids that early preparation was vital.

Above is a class video of my review that I’ve made available to the students. Below is the email I sent to parents (my students are freshmen, so parental involvement is useful).


As we look forward to exam week starting next Monday, I can imagine your freshman is all awash in stress. To manage stress, I’ve been in regular contact with your child both in class and via email.

How can you help support your child the next two weeks?

  1. Sleep is vital. Sacrificing sleep to study will backfire. According to a 2012 study in Child Development, reducing the amount you sleep to study is associated with doing worse on an exam. Source: KQED
  2. Early preparation is key. Your child has at their disposal (online) every homework assignment, quiz, and test from this semester. We’ve discussed at length how re-working old homework problems is the best exam preparation, in no small part because my exams pull from the same question bank as homework problems. From now till Monday, if your child spent 45 minutes a day on physics, she would be completely prepared.
  3. Grades are available online. Ask your child to show them to you. The exam is 25% of the semester grade, the average you see online is the other 75% of the score.
  4. The class created a Google Doc to hold study questions and answers. The resource is available to all as an additional study aid.
  5. Students are encouraged to create a 3″x5″ notecard to hold formulas and notes to use on the exam. Talk with your child about how they find the information they want to include.
  6. Our exam is Monday, December 16. Extended time students begin at 9:45 on the top floor of Askew and the remaining students begin at 10:30 on the second floor of Campbell. Students will take their English exams Monday afternoon, foreign language exam on Tuesday, math on Wednesday, and Bible on Thursday. Friday is the Messiah concert and attendance is required.

The email sent to your child today:

Hello! As we head into our final week of classes for the fall semester, I have information for you:

  • Check our Exam Q&A Google Doc for exam times, locations, and study questions/notes. The videos from Friday’s review are linked from this document.
  • Look at your grade in Moodle to be sure everything is as you expect. Do this by Thursday at 3:30pm.
  • Office hours this week are the usual: Mon-Thur 3-3:30pm and Fri 8-8:30 plus a bonus 2:30-3:30. Remember to sign up if you want to guarantee you can speak with me.
  • All old homework assignments are now set to 4 attempts. I won’t delete your old attempts or add new ones. If you want to study off homework that’s already done, go ahead and check yourself against the correct answers already shown.
  • Unit 3 Lab 1 is due this Thursday. It’ll be graded for the semester.
  • Unit 3 Classwork 1 is also due on Thursday.

Remember this: sacrificing sleep to study will backfire on you. According to a 2012 study in Child Development, reducing your hours of sleep to study is associated with doing worse on an exam. Source: KQED

Day 74: Light Bulb Lab

Thursday, 5 December 2013

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I love this lab! Kids learn to wire up series and parallel connections with no prior lecture. I ask them to predict the brightness of the light bulbs as they modify their circuit 7 different times. The bulb bases are painted pieces of leftover lumber with screw-in bulb holders hot-glued to them. We’ve pre-wired leads to make it easier to manage. I use variable-voltage DC power supplies (just outside the frame).

Light Bulbs Lab


Day 73: Burning Steel Wool

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I wanted kids to understand resistance as a function of resistivity, length of the medium, and the medium’s cross sectional area, so we burned steel wool with a 9 volt battery. The experience gave us something to hark back to as we worked through the PhET sim on resistance.

Our notes for the day (though I’m not thrilled with other parts of the document, the resistance part worked well).