Day 155: Monkey and Gun

Thursday, 20 April 2017

This one kid asked about the Monkey and Gun demo because his father remembered it from his days as a student. Did we have a way to set it up? Of course we do! So, in the last few minutes of class, I found the apparatus and they set it up. Here’s the slo-mo money shot:

The apparatus is I have is made by Pasco but I cannot find the exact electromagnet monkey-dropper available online, though this is a similar product.

Day 151: Throwing Things

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

While two of my classes took a unit test today, the third got sent outside to throw things  in the air — for projectile motion. I asked them to show evidence as to whether or not the sportsball they chose was in equilibrium while flying through the air, considering horizontal and vertical equilibrium separately. Here they are filming their throws:


and here’s one group’s graph:


After 15 minutes of throwing, filming, and video-analyzing, we circled up and discussed. The evidence went something like this: See this position-time graph above? Because the vertical motion (in blue) shows changing velocity, it must have non-zero net force. And because the horizontal motion (in red) shows constant velocity, it must have zero net force.

Side note: I default to video analysis whenever possible, so my kids are good at it by now. We did this entire activity in about 20 minutes, including the discussion.

Day 150: New Tech

Tuesday, 11 April 2017


My colleagues ordered new carts and we used our PLC time this morning to see how we like them. These connect to a computer over Bluetooth and have an integrated 3-axis accelerometer and a force sensor. Pasco makes these carts.

One of the features of the software (Capstone) I liked was that to show data on a graph, you have to choose what to show. I think that step makes the student think about what they want to see rather than have the choices made for them.


image source: Pasco

Day 149: Rethinking Test Formats

Monday, 10 April 2017

For the last five years, I’ve assessed almost exclusively on computers. The test software I use[1], allows for instant feedback like this and this. Over time and with different groups of students, I’ve seen this system work better and worse.

Recently, I’ve been frustrated with the process. Problems I was seeing included:

  • Students showing next to no work on paper,
  • my own lack of testing led to a number of errors,
  • some students getting upset over the preliminary grade reported by the computer scoring system (before I even looked at their partial credit), and
  • fixation on numerical answers over thought processes or partially correct work.

So this week, I went back to paper assessments and I think they have solved all but the last of my problems.

One feature students love about the computer quizzes is the ability to immediately know about a mistake and the 2nd chance I give them at each problem. I was able to implement that on paper, and it’s totally Frank Noschese’s quiz idea, which despite being over six years old, is my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten off of Twitter (thank you, Frank!).

Students do the whole quiz, then take their paper to the side of the room where I’ve laid out answer keys, and check their answers against mine. This student, for instance, missed question 3.


The erasure marks on the force diagram are telling.

But then, here’s where I added my own twist — everyone goes back to their desks and takes their time to rework the problem. This student left a great note to themself:


This student note is gold: “if (@rest, constant velocity) equilibrium, all forces horizontally & vertically balanced no matter the direction force is applied.”


[1] Moodle then WebAssign

Day 141: Back to the Challenge Course

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

In class, we’ve been learning in the traditional ways about forces like friction and in experiential ways about ideas like torque. This blended approach deserves its own teacher-focused reflection, and that will happen, but my update today is about the two different directions the classes took in a single period.

For Physics of the Challenge Course, we have two main goals — learn about forces in a real setting and build empathy by proposing a universally accessible element to the school for future construction. I can handle the first topic. The second required an expert and last week, we were fortunate to have Ben Kopp from Signature Research visit our classes. He spoke about building Challenge Courses and designing them for those in wheelchairs.

Today, some groups needed to go back to the Challenge Course to get photos or try out an idea. I accompanied them.


The Team Wall folks needed additional photos and video for their project.


Also, they wanted to see what it looks like to come down the back side of the wall so they might propose an accessible way.

Meanwhile, other groups needed time to work through their ideas. Every group will present their universally accessible challenge element, produce a video, as well as write a proposal. The groups in the classroom today used their time to make diagrams and record voiceovers.


Whale Watch is a giant see-saw that these students redesigned to be wheelchair-accessible.

Day 133: Leadership Training for Discovery

Friday, 17 March 2017

This week, I’ve been involved in a leadership training course for new Discovery Leaders. These are students who will be facilitating our experiential ed program for freshmen. The leaders have been learning how our program works, how to facilitate and debrief, as well as safety regulations. It’s a great group and I’m proud to have been part of their initial training.


These new leaders first participate in an activity then later learn how to lead it themselves.

Throughout the week, I’ve worked closely with Emily, a colleague who runs the student leadership program, as well as three experienced leaders, passing on the torch.

Our leaders will facilitate all sorts of on campus activities, from the Challenge Course above, to a trust sequence, to games like elbow tag. Along the way, the freshmen they ultimately lead, will learn to work as a team and to think of the group’s best interest.

High school offers many leadership opportunities and this is my favorite of them all. The students who opt to become Discovery Leaders are some of my favorite kids on campus.


Discovery leaders explore Lake Allatoona while on their training expedition, on March 18. This, just after we learned how to lead freshmen in assembling and eating a trail lunch.

Day 131: STEAM Show Opening

Wednesday, 16 March 2017

Today was opening day for the school STEAM show. I contributed work from students on the following projects:

  • Pinhole Photography (Physics)
  • Musical Instruments (Physics)
  • LED arrays (JanTerm)
  • Repurposed material lamps (JanTerm)

The best pinhole photos on display at the STEAM Show were chosen for a combination of composition, exposure, and interesting subject matter.


A JanTerm lamp built inside a Care Bear (don’t worry, it’s a cool-burning LED bulb in there).