Day 19: Getting Observed

Friday, 9 September 2016

I spent about twice the time I planned building instruments this week. Ugh, I hate running behind. But I knew it was the right choice in the last half of 6th period when I realized every group had a working instrument. A highlight was one kid realizing that halving the length of a string sent the note up an octave. We’re ready to start figuring out the physics of music next week. My plan is to experiment with the instruments.


6th period’s instruments are all working!

Here’s one of the best-tuned flutes in the class:

But I think the highlight of my day was when Jill Gough (@jgough) visited my classroom to #ObserveMe. Her blog post is here: “#ObserveMe – the other side“.

Jill is the most amazing Sketchnoter ever, so I feel privileged to have such beautiful (and impactful!) feedback. I asked her to observe me on two issues: 1) am I setting up multiple levels of challenging work? and 2) am I setting the kids up to work independently? They’re the medium-term goals I’ve been working on. She pointed out a couple of things I hadn’t noticed:

  • I’d placed myself to supervise power tool use — so while the kids were all over the room, I was stationary. They had no choice but to work independently as it wasn’t possible to hog my attention for long periods. Several kids working on a problem set were struggling with a challenging final question. They came up several times asking me to help them along. I definitely wasn’t helpful to at least one of them — intentionally. But how do I help a kid break past their wall?
  • I’d set myself up with tools to help kids work independently — Jill noted that I reminded kids several times about a video I’d posted on Schoology for them to review, that I gave them options for work in case they finished, and that an activity with tuning forks at the start of class gave them an app to use to tune their instruments.

It felt great to set the parameters for an observation. I think this should be a thing for way more teachers in way more places. Thank you Robert Kaplinsky (@robertkaplinsky) for starting the #ObserveMe movement! Thank you Jill Gough for coming over at the end of the day on a Friday to observe a fellow teacher!

For discussion:

  • Read Jill’s post: #ObserveMe – the other side
  • I feel like I need to make a choice when building in class: 1) everyone builds the same thing so we get a better result on average or 2) kids design and execute their own thing so we get more variety. This year, I opted for #1 and I’m happy with the result. What are your thoughts?
  • How can I better plan building projects so I don’t run over time, *all the time*? Sure, I could double my estimates but that’s a cop-out. (I haven’t talked about it much here but building before learning is an idea I’m playing with this year — we’ll use the instruments to study the physics of music next week.)
  • How can I spread #ObserveMe around my school?

Day 18: W. Paces Ferry Trade School

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Today in my classroom: Cheerleaders used power tools, kids tested their high-frequency hearing, and exactly zero blood was drawn. With the amount of power tool training I’ve done in the past week, you’d think our school’s name was W. Paces Ferry Trade School.


Me: “Have you ever used a drill?” Her: “Not yet.”

Today is the day I learned about the Sharpie shock trick. The results, to many a student’s dismay, were a little unshocking:

I got my flute sounding great:

Mine’s pretty good but I can’t wait to start showing off student instruments!

And I got to start the day with @romathio, talking about STEAM:

Thursday was a good day. Good night!

Day 17: Hey Diddley Ho Good Neighbor!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The kids are building either a PVC flute or a cigar box diddley bow. Most of my attention today was on the latter, including my own diddley bow. When we’re done, we’ll use the flutes and diddley bows to study the physics of music. I’m anticipating hitting resonance, standing waves, harmonics, and mathematics of musical scales.


Some details from my diddley bow

Materials (total cost: $6-$7 each):


  • drill with 1/16″ bit, 3/8″ spade bit, and 2″ hole saw bit
  • saw
  • dremel tool
  • safety glasses

If you have money for just one power tool in your room, a Dremel tool would be my choice. So versatile!

Day 16: Too Hard or Just Right?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Today, I got a homework question from a student that I didn’t know how to answer right away. (Yeah, so this is the first time I’ve used a textbook’s questions for some of my homework problems, so it’s a new issue to me.)


The wave’s speed was given in the problem as 265 m/s.

Me: “Um, how are we gonna solve this?”

Student: [thinks to self: isn’t that what I just asked you?] “I don’t know. Maybe use d=vt?”

Me: “I’m not sure how to use it to help. Let’s set it up and see what we can learn.”

Both of us try a few things, get nowhere, and come back together.

Me: “We’re stuck, aren’t we? Why don’t we get a feel for it by drawing out a few more pictures?”


I realize the last two images might not progress quite right. Ugh, my sloppiness hurts to look at in this recreation of the drawing we made in class.

I asked my computer-science teacher colleague how he’d have gone about explaining the solution. We happened to be carpooling today, so yeah, that was convenient. Almost immediately he went to a geometric explanation, “they’ll meet back at a point that’s mirrored across the midpoint from the start point. One wave pulse travels a short leg then a long leg while the other travels a long leg then a short leg.” Dude, I see it! That Eliot, such a good generalizer. I swear it’s a gift of good programmers.

Was I the only one who couldn’t see the solution right off the bat? I took to Twitter to see how y’all would solve it. Y’all weighed in (side note: the amount of work friends on Twitter will put in on a shared question amazes me):

Bottom line? This is a super-cool question that only seems tough when you’re in equation-hunting mode. But with basic reasoning, it’s not too hard to figure out logically. That’s all I want my kids to see, so I’m glad it showed up in a WebAssign problem set this week.

Day 13: First Quiz

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Lots going on today! Let’s start with the quiz that two sections took. I wrote it up on my full-length blog because it was the first I’ve administered using WebAssign. Here’s my favorite question:

Yesterday, the kids chose which musical instrument they want to build: a flute or a diddley bow. As they finished the quiz today, my flute builders moved to the back of the room where I had materials for making a PVC flute. Though I was inspired by several online procedures, this design was unique enough that I needed to set up directions for the kids. Here’s one step that was taped to a table with the necessary tools:

a screenshot of directions given to students on building a flute

We didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped but the kids did a great job! (oh and the diddley bow makers started research papers while they wait for their building day).

a student uses a Dremel rotary tool to sand down a section of PVC pipe a student uses a drill to make holes in PVC pipe a student uses a Dremel Rotary tool to sand down a section of PVC

Finally, I’ve refined my homework routine and have been rolling it out this week. Every kid has this sheet that I gave them on day 2:


The Homework Tracker wasn’t working quite how I wanted. It was intended to give students all their assignments up front and I planned to dole out one assignment after each class meeting. In that regard, the tracker works great.

Problem was that the system was a ton of maintenance for me — I was updating Schoology with due dates, after looking at our rotating calendar to select those due dates, and keeping track of each class’ meeting dates (rotating block schedules are complicated!). So a minor tweak: every night is now a “choose your own homework” night. Since assignment lengths vary and my kids are involved in lots of after school activities, this also fixes the student problem of “I don’t have enough time tonight to do a big assignment.”

notes on the whiteboard with updates to the homework system