Start the year by figuring out what the question is.

On Tue, Feb 21, 2012 at 5:01 PM, Kristin wrote:

Somehow over a month has past since I initially wanted to respond. Anyway, do you have electronic copies of the articles you use at the beginning of the year?

We used this activity, followed by a study of Matthew 25, followed by this activity with the linked articles below.

Big news about energy has been happening in Holland over the last year. You will be put into a group that will read an article about this issue. Discuss the article with your group and be prepared to share what your group says with others in the class. The person with the most white on their shoes today is the group scribe.

Expanding Holland's Coal Power Plant

Peter Garforth

The State of Michigan Sued!

What's the Plan?

Then we asked the students this: what big questions does a group of people in Holland need answered. This is the list the students came up with and the classes choose one as our question for the year.

Moodle User Groups

On Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 9:36 PM, Nate wrote:
Hi Jim,

I am a member of the Yahoo PowerSchool User Group and learn a ton from it each day.  Have you joined any Moodle User groups that you would suggest? 

I mainly do two things. First, I subscribe via RSS to the forums that interest me. Second, I also subscribe to this moodle RSS feed bundle. That bundle might seem like too much, so the two blogs I always read in the bundle are MoodleNews and Around the Corner

Interior Table Borders In Moodle 2.1 Course Content

I have had several questions about the interior borders of tables as we have moved to Moodle 2.1 from 1.9. In the new HTML editor is not as clear how to edit table properties and the default table border color for interior borders seems to be set to white. Once you have a table there are a lot more options, but you have to right click on a cell when editing a cell. Then you get a whole menu of options. The screen cast allows you to see how to change the default color of you borders to black in the table you are working on.

Transition to Moodle 2: The Switch Role To Menu Has Moved

On Sat, Aug 27, 2011 at 2:22 PM, Bob

HI, Jim,

Any way to toggle between teacher view and student view in Moodle when I'm logged in? Am I missing something?


I searched and searched for the relocated location of this incredibly popular and important peice of a moddle course that allows a teacher to see what a students would see. This setting has moved from a menu at the top to a menu in the side bar below the Edit Settings link. See the attached screen shot.

What Does A Physics Student Teacher Do To Get Ready

On Sun, Aug 7, 2011 at 2:41 PM, Luke

Mr. Peterson,

I just came to the realization that the school year is almost here.  I remember from somewhere that you guys start on the 29th-ish, but I'm guessing you might want me to start coming in before that.  So I've got just a couple questions about that.

1.  When should I start coming in?
2.  What should I be doing (e.g. professional development) during the week before school starts?
3.  What should I be doing now to prep for the semester?

Thanks, and enjoy the rest of you summer!

Awesome letter to get from your fall student teacher. After some of the details here is what I wrote. What would you add?

As far as professional development goes take no more than 20 minutes a day (35 minutes if it is after lunch, more minutes either time if you are enjoying it) and read all posts (except 
ones about teaching calculus) from this blog. Make sure before you read any posts you watch his TED talk. That does not count towards your minutes. He is the most on fire physics teaching blog at the moment. There are other blogs to consider as well. Teacher blogs will do for you every day what these books did for me. If you really want to go overboard get a twitter account and follow this list.

Texting to an iPod Touch

On Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 2:28 PM, Matthew wrote:

Could you easily get me more information on how to set up a way for kids to text my iPod?  I'd love to get that up and running before we start the projects.

Three options with comment:
  • Google Voice - A lot of really cool features but I had to wait for a number (a couple of weeks at the time) and the iPod touch interface is Google (in other words very practical).
  • TextNow - Awesome iPod Touch interface but costs money to get a number. Kids have to text to an email address (something like instead of a number. They will not like this and not all cell plans support it (notable Net10, a common carrier for kids whose parents do not pay the bills).
  • TextFree with Voice - iPod Touch interface is as good as TextNow, but no iPad interface so it is clunky if you ever get an iPad. Numbers are free although there were not any local numbers when I signed up. Instead mine is a Traverse City number. Free incoming voice calls to your iPod Touch on the number you get which allows kids to call if they need to. If calls are short this works great.
For just trying everything out and making it go smoothly and because you will probably not get an iPad in the next month and a half I would definitely recommend Text Free with Voice.

Matt knows that I tell students in my class to go where they need to to get their work done, but they have to text before they go. Even teachers who do not want to give our their cell number can do this. I tell students my TextFree number and they text me three things in this order.

  1. The name of the student texting
  2. The group members with the students who texted.
  3. The on campus location where they are going to be working.
I then have a handy pocket list of where every student is when we are doing any ind of work that requires being out of the room. About the third day of using this system the principal wanted someone and I looked down at my iPod and in five seconds told him where the student was. The student was right where the text said and everyone was happy.

Random Question about Food Energy

On Dec 18, 2010, at 10:26 PM, Emily  wrote:

> Just a random question... if you eat food warm vs cold do you receive more energy from it because heat=energy???

Great question. Off the top of my head the answer is no and yes a very
little. No there is not more energy to run your body in hot food. The
Calories in food do not go up when you heat up food. However, cold
food like ice cream does reduce your body temperature a little
requiring your body to use more chemical energy than it would have to
keep your body temperature up. This is where it is important to
remember that Calories for food are big C calories which are really
kilocalories. Eating cold food might use up a couple of small c
calories, several order of magnitude less than the the chemical energy
you are taking in. Ice cream is still a very high net calorie food,
celery is very low in net calories. Ice cream is more tasty than

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?