Inquiry Three: Investigating Extreme Temperatures

I know it has been a while. Life. One post a day, every day of break. A goal.

At the end of my last entry on the project to Nicaragua I asked where I should head. I headed in the direction of investigating heat energy. I thought this was the easiest on ramp to understand the most we would need to understand about energy to begin to build efficient and useful devices for energizing Nicaraguan schools.

The challenge I presented the student with was this. Produce a graph of a temperature held steady for 5 minutes above 103 Celsius and 15 minutes below -3 Celsius. I allowed them to use our Vernier GoTemp! probes and let them start writing grants.

My idea is that this would make them innovate a little and that the students would take one of two approaches. They would either take the path of finding something with a freezing or boiling point in the range and let said item freeze or boil for the allotted time. This would emphasis heat being different from temperature. It would show that heat can do work as well as increase temperature. It would make it clear to groups that heat is energy stored microscopically, which was one of the standards of the unit.

The other approach I anticipated was that students would pick something to depress the freezing point (like salt) or increase the boiling point (like salt) and then take away or add heat as necessary to keep the temperature stable. This would be a different approach and would emphasis that heat is constantly flowing from hot to cold (heater to water when making the solution hotter, water to room when you remove the heater). This also was a standard.

There were many interesting experiments. Much success and some failure. I had hoped that the presentations would show students both concepts and I encouraged groups that had chosen one method on the cold experiment to try the other method for the hot experiment.

At that point we were off to the races. Here are the rest of the standards for the unit.

Caught Cheating

There is a cheating scandal going on at UCF, with two sides to the story. What does this say about us as humans? Teachers should approach everyone, students and other faculty alike, searching for the image of God uniquely revealed in that person. This posture or approach does not have to stem from faith, but the lesson I think is the golden rule. Neither side wanted such public treatment of the real issues at hand. Students are very busy and any edge is important. Professors cannot possibly be effective with 400 students in a room. Ostensibly, everyone in the class, professor and students alike, wanted to know more about the truth of a subject. To know more about the truth of a subject you need to find out what others think, what the image of God revealed in them has to say about the subject. How could each side have looked for the best in the other in this situation to move everyone towards the goal of learning something cool, rather than shutting down the learning in favor of accusation? This is a hard question worth answering.

Drawing Pictures as a First Step to Solving Problems

During a literature review for the class I am taking this semester I ran across this bit.

The teacher or textbook may say that it is important to do such things as to "draw a diagram," but they seldom say why, and the student can see that the answer comes from a formula, so why bother with a diagram? (1987, p18)

One of the best parts of this school year has been my students drawing pictures. I have never had so many pictures. I had so many I complimented them and scratched my head about why. I wonder if because we have entered all our topics with real questions about the world and started by looking at the world as a real place and noticed how hard it is to describe it mathematically if the pictures became important. My students are starting their problem solving by relating it to the real world, with diagrams. All I really know is that they are drawing more and better diagrams this year. 

Hestenes, D. (1987). Toward a modeling theory of physics instruction. American journal of physics, 55(5), 440–454.

I am never sure how to cite offline work, so at the bottom please find the APA cited reference. A link to Amazon (or WorldCat or Better World Books if you would like to reduce commercialism) means so much more today than a cite. 

David Hestenes, 1987

David Hestenes, 1987

As awareness of a national crisis in science education has increased recently, substantial federal funds have been allocated to cope with the crises on the secondary level. However, little of this is directed toward significant pedagogical research, and much of it promotes a reactionary "back-to-basics" approach. I am not alone in the dour prediction that the main result of this movement will be more bad science teaching and in the opinion that substantial pedagogical research will be essential to a more salutary outcome.

from: Toward a modeling theory of physics instruction. Am. J. Phys. 55 (5), May 1987, pp 440-454.

Inquiry and Play

Part of the change in physics this year as we move towards helping those who need energy is that the students need more freedom to create. This has caused me to use a lot more inquiry than ever. What has been great about this is I have been giving each cycle of inquiry time to unfold. One thing that I have noticed is that students, like adults, dig right in when they have a challenge at hand. It is only when they are asked to produce a final product that they go back and structure up their work.

I think this is good. I think we call it play. Playing is really imagining the world as something different than it is. Eventually that is what my students will need to do. They need to imagine a world where poor schools in Nicaragua have lights, fans and CD players. Before they can do that they should probably be allowed to play qualitatively with some temperature probes and immersion heaters. So that is what we did today. We played. We got used to the new equipment. We learned how to avoid spilling on our laptop and we started experimenting with what we might do when we formalize our experiment. And what is the goal of that experiment? For that you will have to keep reading.

For now suffice to say that I was happy as a clam all day helping kids play with physics equipment. We learned a lot of qualitative conclusions. But I was shock how the great subject of thermodynamics reared its beautiful head early and often. Groups called me over and asked why the boiling water was not raising its temperature. You cannot pay for moments like that. Plus when the real experiments come the students all will have gotten a lot of the ugs out of their systems, all from playing with the physics. A great day.

So, on the best test ever, what grade did you give the kids?

Lately I have been getting a lot of email about my blog. I love it. This question rocked. Here is what I responded. If you want to evolve the conversation yourself feel free to comment, email, tweet or contact me in some other way.

On Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 9:02 AM, Henry wrote:
Oh yeah...I have been reading your blog.  I have you as someone I follow on Twitter so I link off of that.  So, on the best test ever, what grade did you give the kids?  All the same or did you still give individual grades?  I liked the getting the group consensus on a question and having anyone defend it--just didn't know how that fit the pressure of giving a grade.

Thanks so much for asking the question. It is so helpful for me. In rereading my post I realized I had not really talked about the grading at all. This adds so much to my attempt to clarify what I am doing this year in physics, I hope others will comment and contact me as well.

So there are two solutions in the pyramid testing option [PDF]. In a traditional points based grade book you might weight each section of the test to match what you are emphasizing that day. So a very generic match might be 50% of the grade is your personal attempt, 30% is the group's grade and 20% is the almost always totally correct class grade. It seems to me that this is a fair way of putting these grade into the book.

Here is what made me truly excited about what happened in my class on Wednesday. I have been using standards based grading. The unit we are in has four standards. The questions that I asked in class each focused some combination of two of the four standards. As students were working on the questions I had the standards in mind that I was evaluating. I would ask questions about why a student choose something (during the personal time) or I would listen into a group conversation. Then I would run up to my computer and record scores. I also asked if students wanted to hand in their work at the end of the hour. Some did. Others did not. Great work was handed in.

I am going to give one more attempt at each of the standards, so I am not too worried about them handing in something yet. If they do not after hand in something after the second attempt then their grade will not be good. They will be allowed to challenge that. Students are allowed to challenge any one standard on a given day. They have to name the standard and tell me what they have done to improve their knowledge. There is a long list of resources for them to use to improve.  I then give a quiz or just talk the standard through with them.

The main point of this is that the conversations I had with students were wonderful and very instructive about where they were at. The period moved quickly but without stress. There was no tension in the room like a normal test can bring. It was the first time I can remember feeling like I was evaluating while knowledge was increasing.

My Laptop has a Webcam, Now What?

I presented at the Christian Educators Association Convention this week. These are the slides and I already got one question. 

On Sun, Oct 24, 2010 at 5:42 PM, Deanna wrote:
I missed your presentation. Was it recorded?  Also, I know that your presentation was listed as one for grades 5-12, but my third graders are pen pals (and will be e-pals second semester) with a third-grade class in New Mexico.  Their teacher, Bill, and I are wondering what types of things would be reasonable and valuable for us to do.  Suggestions?  


I am not sure why I put a lower end on it, much of it would be easy for any teacher with a camera and a projector to use. Plus it goes against my idea that good teaching with technology is just good teaching. My presentation may have been recorded but I forgot to do it. I will send a link if it goes up on the CEA website.

I think there are a few things you guys should definitely do. 
  • Skype is one. I have done this with a few classes now, and it is a powerful experience. 
  • I think that pictures are also a great option. What kind of computers do they have in the lab there, are they iMacs with webcams? Send pictures to each other. May be wait until the end of the year for this, so it is something of a surprise.
  • I also think that if you could somehow each send each other a scavenger hunt of items that you want to see in the school (or home) that would be cool. The pictures become the vehicle for conversation. 
  • A final idea tonight is that your classes should both always take the other class on field trips. Borrow a few cameras and give them to the kids. The more attention problems the kid with the camera has the better. And let them take pictures on the field trip. Then when you get back you can have the kids write captions in letters to the other kids. 
Just a few ideas. Thanks for the email and keep me updated on any cool ideas you add to this list.


On Sat, Oct 23, 2010 at 5:32 PM, Julie wrote:
This summer you suggested getting a certain tablet for when I do tutoring on-line.  Do you remember what that was.  If so could you send me the name again.  Thanks,

If you are just going to use it with tutoring and making drawings for presentations and quizzes, then I think I would get a Wacom Bamboo. Any in the Bamboo line are fine, the pen is the cheapest. If you like so of the other features spend a little more. 

If you would like to use it in your classroom (which I do all the time) then get the Wacom Graphire Wireless. Unfortunately they do not make it anymore so you would have to find one used or buy the replacement (which I have no experience with and is pricey).

Finally, I have been playing with an iPad and AirSketch. I am not sure how it would fit the tutoring aspect, but it would make you look like the classroom technology master.

What site are you using to share audio and your screen?

The Frustrations

I write this to a physics teaching friend today. He helped me brainstorm the standards that I am working from for the year. I am unsure of the direction to head in next though. Now I put it out there for the crowd. I would like your help and I need it soon.

I started the year with a study of essentially the work energy theorem, because they had no idea what energy was. I am sure they are all in a better place on that front, but they only have a GPE/KE/Work understanding at this point. I would like to move them into the next topic, but I am really unsure about where to head next. Here are my ideas and the concerns I have about each. Mainly you could think about these and comment back or just tell me to calm down.

My comfort tells me to move on with energy into thermodynamics. This would get at your key concept, "Heat is microscopic energy, or energy stored microscopically." I have an idea of what labs to do to introduce it and how they will go. I worry that this is me controlling the direction too much.

I think the kids would like to start work on circuits. We have identified what we will need to put in the buildings, fans, lights, CD players. To do this we are going to need to know about power and circuits and generation of poser and storage of power. This gets at key concept, "Capacitors and batteries store energy." and "Work stores energy" (generating electrical energy).  I have added to that key concept two more key concepts: batteries do work (e.g. run fans, turn cds, make speakers move, light LEDs). My main concern here is that this is entirely uncharted territory for me. I did a little with DC circuits in the past, but nothing to this level. I do not really know where to start without getting really bogged down in a lot of details. I would rather have the students find out what they need to know. This will put each group in a radically different place with radically different details. I guess that is what I signed up for.

Finally, I have a silly idea about teaching velocity but doing it in the context of wiring LED throwies. This would skip any mathematical understanding of circuits (for now) and replace the math with projectile motion and velocity. I would then somehow use the throwies to make videos to analyze. This would hopefully help us get at the concept of velocity being free.

Thanks for listening.