Day 33: Mirror Lab Day 1

Monday, 29 September 2014

Struggle of the day: sighting the reflected ray of light from an image in a flat mirror. Here are the ways I’ve seen it done wrong:

Points the tip of ruler at the image rather than the entire edge of the ruler.


Points the other tip of ruler at the image of the pin.

So I went to a colleague to brainstorm other ways to teach kids to get a sightline. Maybe have them look through a straw?
I tried it. Tough to see through. The colleague then suggested practicing with sighting the clock. Step 1: get a ruler and a clock.

Step 2: grab both ends of ruler with your index fingers. Point both fingers at center of clock.

Not like:
imageOr any of a million variations that are ALL WRONG. Three more sets of guinea pigs students tomorrow to test with.

What was the warmup today in 7th and 5th periods?

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 4.55.24 PM

I wrote this based on homework questions the kids were grappling with. Upon working this problem, I learned their biggest issue is figuring out how to convert into and out of units such as gigahertz and micrometers.

This day last year: Day 33: Final Instruments Due

Day 32: EM Spectrum

Friday, September 26 2014


Physics kids watching a short clip about the mantis shrimp. Today, I started our unit of study on Light & Optics with a lively introduction to the EM spectrum, visible light, and a fun tangent into colorblindness and color perception. Because our physical science course in 8th grade focuses on mechanics, these kids have never learned about visible light. I always have so much fun on this day!

Best question? “I can’t even imagine a color I’ve never seen before. What do these colors look like to the mantis shrimp?”

We wrapped up with a few calculations between wavelength and frequency for EM waves before kids dove into their classwork. My proudest moment on the classwork is below:

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 8.43.22 PM

Day 30: Math & Science Club

Wednesday, 24 September 2014



The Drew Charter Math & Science Club for students in grades 3-5 is off to a great start. I drive the Westminster kids over to Drew Charter School (about half an hour away) twice a month to lead math & science activities with very excited elementary kids. Above are chromatography projects created by the students this week.

Math & Science club is completely student-driven, from writing a grant for funding to planning activities each week. I get to join in as a participant when I drive them every other Wednesday.

Even better is that the leaders keep a blog of their work: The Gravitational Pull of Math & Science.

In class today (only 7th and 4th periods met), I taught a little about the electromagnetic spectrum, getting off on quite an entertaining tangent that started with colorblindness and ending up at the mantis shrimp.

This day last year: Binder Checks


Day 29: Waves & Sound Tests

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Three of my four classes took the Waves & Sound Unit Test today. Above is a great example of my Moodle testing with partial credit on paper. This kid seems to have mixed up frequency and period, though he did show correct, if unlabeled, calculations on his paper. I was proud of him for using units on his numbers in the calculations.

My process works great if your tests are online, though the paper version as first described by Frank Noschese also works great (at least on quizzes). For your reading, I’ve written before about how my students’ real-time test corrections is a wonderful learning experience (Day 72 last year).

My testing process goes like this: take test, call me over when you’re ready to hit submit, trade your pencil for a colored (non bleed through!) pen, then do your corrections. Why should they do corrections? I motivate them by pointing out they’ll likely get better credit if they point out what they did right (or where they went wrong) then if I have to infer from their work on paper. I also tell my kids how I thrived in Auburn’s physics classes mostly due to partial credit, so this is a thing. If nothing else works, knowing that kids usually add 10-20% to their raw test scores through this process motivates them. I’ve developed a pretty standard scale for granting credit so the process is speedy and fair.

Also today was the first binder check of the school year. While kids tested, I reviewed the work in their binders. The Post It template I found online and modified for my needs is here.


This day last year: Physics PLC Day


Day 28: Instructional Coaching

Monday, 22 September 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.27.30 AM

I was observed a little more than a week ago — my class was filmed and the Dean of Faculty sat in to take notes on the lesson. For a lecture, it was pretty darned awesome. My problem was the “for a lecture” part of that sentence. Today, we sat to do some coaching on the lesson. Amazing experience. Below is the summary of our coaching session from my Dean of Faculty.

Meg–Thanks for meeting with me and Anita [a math teacher with previous coaching experience] on Monday to reflect on your videotaped class. You were pleased with the level of engagement with your students–they were asking clarifying questions, taking notes, etc. You also noted that you had “created need” for the formulas you were putting on the board by having students already engaged in building musical instruments based on the properties of waves. You, Anita, and I agreed that opening with the video “hooks” (of Zamfir, master of the pan flute, no less!) was very effective.

I was proud of this lesson because of its timing. I was ashamed of this lesson because it was way too much sit-and-get. On the positive side, my students needed to know how to calculate resonator lengths to build their musical instruments. This lesson showed them how to do it. Every kid in the room wanted to learn this stuff.

Though you felt that the lesson was “really good direct instruction”, you saw this strategy as inherently limited; therefore, you rated the lesson at a a 7/10. You noted that many students emailed you after class with questions on the material that indicated that the direct instruction didn’t embed the learning the way you wanted to. As the three of us discussed ideas of how you might move the class closer to a “10”, we focused on the idea of limiting direct instruction at the opening of class–5 or 10 minutes vs. the roughly 20 minutes of instruction that I saw–and then putting the kids in situations where they had to apply newly-acquired knowledge to their specific instrument.

This was the point in the coaching session I think I most enjoyed. Anita, Thad, and I brainstormed ways the kids could get the most bang-for-their-buck practice. We talked about how I could first ask them to answer some short questions (such as “how long should an open-pipe resonator be to play a 440 Hz note?”) then move on to calculate an entire octave for the particular type of instrument they’re building. Since I had a great experience with the kids writing their research paper in class, the concept of giving them time to do the calculations in class seems wise. Plus, as the kids learned, the instrument calculations helped them learn to do problems on our quiz and test, so this wouldn’t be “lost” time.

We also talked of how I might group the kids by instrument type for the final calculations. That way they could check each others’ work.

You noted that there would be trial-and-error, but that you could float as facilitator to help guide students through the process. At least one indicator of learning would be if students weren’t emailing you afterwards with so many questions. You committed to trying this method of shortened direct instruction followed by exploration to see what the learning outcomes will be.

Meg, strong teachers reflect on their practice, and that’s just what you’ve done here–and what you’ve done your entire career. I want to particularly encourage your thoughtful balance of direct instruction alongside student discovery so that there is enough content for students to be efficient in the given time-constraints, but enough exploration and application for the learning to “stick.”

Please you invite me back for a time when you try this new balance in the future so I can watch it in action.

At the close of our conversation, I told you what I’ll reiterate here–having observed you during your first year at Westminster, I can clearly see a growth in your confidence as an instructor. You interact with your students with an infectious curiosity supported by expertise in content. Your continued involvement in so many aspects of the school–from affinity groups to robotics to advisement–makes you so valuable to this community. Thanks for all you do.

After reading the Dean of Faculty’s writeup of our meeting, I’m not sure the value I felt shines through. Both Thad and Anita pushed me to think of how this lesson could be better. I think I appreciated the concreteness and immediate applicability for my own class were why I liked it so much.

Some folks on Twitter asked if we used some particular framework for the coaching. I don’t know about that but have asked the folks at my school in the know if we did. I’ll let you know soon as I find out.

This day last year: Day 28: Quizzes

Day 27: Last Performances

Friday, 19 September 2014


When getting physics kids to build musical instruments, know that open and closed air columns are the easiest to build followed distantly by strings. This year, I encouraged most kids to build panpipes unless they really wanted the challenge of a string instrument.

During our “real talk” reflection at the end of class, this group told me the project helped them understand how to calculate the types of problems we solved in class even though at first they thought the project would be a waste of their time. We still had a mix of kids at all levels of effort on the project, just as you’d expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by the kids who persevered to success.

Today was the last class of presentations. Other classes held test review as we have a unit test on waves & sound coming up early next week.

This day last year: Grade Catchup Day

Day 26: Am I Crazy?

Thursday, 18 September 2014


My wife texted me that her co-worker was driving crazy by crinkling a plastic water bottle for hours on end. I sent this pic back to say I’d happily trade places with her because I had three classes tuning musical instruments and practicing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

My kids built their instruments using calculations they learned in class then prepped to play a simple song. Performances were simple and short — play an octave then play your song. We had to guess it. Every class has that kid, right? Mine was the kid who guessed “Hot Cross Buns” when his classmate was just playing the scale.

Video Showcase

This day last year: Sound & Music Classwork

Day 25: Advance Notice

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


I’m testing early next week in all classes so I sent the above email to my students. Because they’re unaccustomed to the relative freedom of high school, I spent the warmup time today fielding additional questions they have. Most common question? “Can we write anything on our formula sheets?” Most annoying question? “When’s our test?”

This message brought up an interesting question: how do I interact with students who are relatively new to the whole email-as-a-profesional-tool game? My answer: carefully. Teacher emails should value conciseness, clarity, and completeness. One of my biggest annoyances about being in a 1:1 laptop school is the way we rely far too much on quickly-sent-but-poorly-conceived email messages. I want to change that tendency among my colleagues so the kids better know what’s going on around them.