Day 99: Out at a Workshop

Friday, 24 January 2014

A major piece of the adoption process is a Dear Birthmother letter. Here's an example of one such letter.

A major piece of the adoption process is a Dear Birthmother letter. Here’s an example of one such letter.

I was off today to attend a workshop at the adoption agency that my wife and I have just signed up with. My students completed a classwork assignment independently.

Day 98: Bumper Buggies Last Day

Thursday, 23 January 2014

hulk buggy

This is what happens when kids have just a little too much free time during a lab. I’m not complaining.

The last classes in my rotation finished their bumper buggy lab today. All of them predicted a collision location and time then tested to see how far off they were.

About 80% of my kids used something I characterized as guess and check for predicting the buggy crash: They figured the position of each buggy after 1 second, then 2 seconds, then 3 seconds. Once the kids realized the crash (for most groups) was somewhere between 2 and 3 seconds, they started figuring buggy positions for half second increments. Most groups did a little “eh, this looks about right” interpolation here. Some kept breaking the time intervals down into smaller increments to be precise. Though a few of these groups did say “there’s got to be an easier way”, none of them seemed really interested in testing it.

About 18% wanted to use a graphical solution — recognizing that the buggy crash happens when two linear functions intersect. They needed support transforming the linear functions they plotted using video analysis the day before into the new start location and direction I dictated today. For instance, kids whose buggies traveled in the negative direction didn’t come up with “duh! I need to multiply my original slope by -1” on their own.

Only one group suggested an algebraic solution to find where two functions intersected. But dang, was I proud of that group. They, like the group above with graphical solutions, needed some help formulating the equations of the two lines.

Why do these labs take me so long? The constant velocity buggies lab took 2 days with all of my classes. Due to our rotating schedule, I don’t see kids every day, so it looks like the lab stretched all week.

Here is the highlight reel of collisions:

Note to self: Next year, I’m modifying the Bumper Buggy game to use longer distances between buggies and create situations with radically different buggy speeds. It’s no fun to predict a crash within 2cm of the center of a 2m long course.

Day 97: Not Getting It

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Generally speaking, I love the system I’ve worked out for partial credit. Kids take a test on Moodle, hit submit, and get immediate results as well as the correct answer to every problem.

If their answer is wrong but they can correct it before turning in the test work, I offer partial credit. Kids must classify their error as math or physics, point out where they went wrong, and show correct work.

This kid doesn’t get it. Or maybe the kid is kidding him/herself. The”weird math mistake” is a farce. Later, the kid claimed “calculator problem” on the same type of mistake.

Most of my students understand the partial credit business and genuinely reflect here. I have a few (under 15%) who refuse to be honest with themselves. Solution: next test, if you’re wrong about the mistake classification, I’m not giving you partial credit.

Day 96: Bumper Buggies

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Bumper Buggies requires two constant velocity buggies, some pre-assigned starting locations, and a little bit of math.

On Day 1, students used video analysis to determine their buggy’s speed. Today, I assigned two lab groups to play Bumper Buggy against each other. Both teams got a starting point and were asked to predict a collision location (and time). I didn’t tell them how to do it.

The group in the following video used a graphical method (shout out to Desmos — it was the kids’ introduction to the world’s best graphing tool).

Another student used algebra to predict a window of times between which the collision would occur (as in, her prediction sounded something like “the collision will happen between 1.7 and 2 seconds and between 1.1 and 1.3 meters from the blue buggy”).

Day 95: Buggy Lab

Friday, 17 January 2014


The Wolverine buggy needs a little time to heal.

“How would you know if your buggy moves at a constant velocity? What would you need to measure? How could you make those measurements?”

I introduced video analysis as one convenient tool to use. In one 70 minute period, kids filmed a buggy run, imported videos into Logger Pro, and learned the basics of video analysis.

Resources: the lab as a Word document, my raw footage, and a video analysis  tutorial video.

Day 93: Bouncy Ball

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Students chose clock buddies, a grouping method popular with the teachers of younger kids. We’ll use this all semester.


They have a partner and a single bouncy ball. Here’s my description of the activity.

I love me some mechanics but my students hate the topic. I can’t say there’s a lot of love in the classroom today for kinematics, forces, energy, and momentum. Maybe it’s because they spent a full semester of physical science on mechanics.

We start off with the ball bounce lab so popular with the modelers — not only do I hope to build some enthusiasm but I also want them to see the quantified direction we’re going in. Not all my labs can be described so succinctly but I see “can write lab instructions on the whiteboard” as a design goal. I think that 10-page lab handouts are where I lose most of my kids (in attention AND understanding).


Day 92: That’s Working Together

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


So this happened: kid who struggled all last semester tutors a classmate — and does it well.


Boom — acknowledged!

As I mentioned yesterday, the kids were frantic about a test they didn’t feel prepared for. Just before class, these two were at the board working problems. The kid on the left struggled last semester, so I eavesdropped to be sure he was on task. Not only was he on it but he was ON IT. Dude walked his classmate through solving a tough circuit with a solid explanation she understood. Then he went on to ace the test.

So proud.

Day 91: Too-Frantic Test Prep

Monday, 13 January 2014

Getting homework help during a free period -- inconceivable!

Getting homework help during a free period — inconceivable!

Last week, I assigned homework problems for solving complex circuits with a mix of parallel and series resistors. The homework was due Sunday at midnight. The panicked emails started pouring in on Sunday afternoon, “help! I can’t solve these”, “you didn’t teach us this!”, etc. You would’ve thought we’d never solved anything like this.

The kids who truly worked at it today are completely comfortable with analyzing combinations of series and parallel connections. Good thing, too. Cause as they’ve known for over a week, there’s a test one of the next three days (depending on which section you’re in).

I experienced a whole heap of frustration over the kids not being able to solve these circuits. But then, something cool happened — kids started showing up before school, I helped them, then they turned to help more kids who came in. Some kids worked with me during a prep period of mine which was their free period.

I had too many stressed-out kids throughout the day. They were frantic they wouldn’t be ready for the test. Getting frustrated with them wasn’t going to help anyone, so we started slow and worked through problems together. The good news is I think more kids know what they’re doing now than don’t — and I couldn’t say that at this time yesterday. A couple of bright spots are detailed below.


from a student who wanted to come for office hours this afternoon but never showed:

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 8.39.10 PM

Because she got help from someone/something besides me!



request for assistance once a kid knew she’d gotten a homework question wrong:

Because she showed me her work before asking for help!

Because she showed me her work before asking for help!

Day 90: Labs & Practice

Friday, 10 January 2014

For one class, today was day 2 of the circuits lab. This student did a great job of concisely solving for total resistance of a hybrid circuit.

Meanwhile, we contended with a DNS issue on campus all day that prevented us from using the internet – meaning my rough plan of “work on the Moodle homework” was foiled. My punt was to make up circuits problems on the board. The result was meh, cause problems I make on the fly are never as good as those I take time to write.