SS Day 1: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Monday, 16 June 2014

Buggy Lab

Buggy Lab

Summer school runs for six weeks and my school offers a mix of enrichment (electives) and working ahead classes. The physics class is composed mostly of incoming freshmen* who want to free up a space in their schedules next year, often making room for a fine arts course. These kids aren’t usually big fans of science or math BUT they are dedicated to doing well.

Today was my first day but the beginning of week 3 for the kids — my colleague taught the first two weeks. The kids have already learned Waves/Sound/Light as well as Electric Circuits from her. Today we began Kinematics.

My favorite part of the day was at the end of the Buggy Lab when I asked the kids to set up a collision between two buggies and predict when and where the buggies were going to collide. We had fast and slow buggies as well as an assortment of starting positions. I did not show them how to solve this problem. All they’d done so far was some video analysis of a single buggy.

Every one of the lab groups (ok, there are only 3) eyeballed their way to a prediction of the general vicinity of the collision. Unlike in the past though, none of them figured out how to reason beyond eyeballing it. So, I showed the groups a hint: look for the intersection of the graphs of position vs time for each buggy.

In summer school, one day is equivalent to one week of regular school. I felt pressured to give the kids a hint. Maybe I should have trusted the inquiry a bit longer. Even though I regret giving them the big hint, this was my favorite part of the day because we all had a great time competing to have the closest prediction. One group was pretty much dead-on with theirs!

EDIT: I forgot to explain this post’s title — a five hour day in one class is LONG! But in the grand scheme, we don’t get the kids’ minds as much as a regular year by the time you account for breaks and little homework time. So, if I squander 10 minutes during the regular year, that’s no big deal. 10 minutes in summer school however is HUGE! I’ve been focusing on tightly planning our time so as to not miss a minute. The key seems to be assignments that can be collapsed by removing problems if you’re running behind.

* I teach freshman physics as part of our Physics First curriculum.

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