Scribe Posts

This year my students are doing scribe posts. They have been a riot for me to read. It is interesting to note what kids pick up from class. I am especially interested in what we will use these posts for as the year goes on. Right now the feel too much like me. I am trying to think of ways to use the posts to get more learning and engagement from the students.

I am wondering, what more can I do to make the posts something that are an essential part of the class?

The scribe posts have led me to an interesting realization. I am  a huge fan of moodle. I cannot imagine having a laptop program without moodle. However, I can now imagine using only a blog for all my class organization. I think Posterous would do everything that I need now. Make a single posterous with a lot of contributors for the scribe posts and the hub of every day's activity. Use a blog post and the comments as forums. Add pages for the more permenant stuff like assignments, schedules, and standards for grading. Pictures of class activities become easy to add. I have really loved it so far, but want it to become more.

Physics Is Streetlights

So we bounced balls and we modeled the real world with some math. I even had students with graphing calculators out with no prompting. We figured out that we can do the basics of this physics thing. But why would we do this physics thing?

I had the students look at this picture for a few minutes. Actually 3.5 minutes exactly. I do this thing where when I give them time to complete a task I open up my iTunes and play a song the length that I give them to work. I even have music sets for longer periods of time. And just in case that is not enough the last song in a set is always orchestral in nature so they know that work time is coming to an end.

I asked them to write about the picture. Start with just noticing details and then ask questions about the picture. What do you want to know about what is going on?

"In this picture, the first thing that i saw right away was the race of all 7 men. They are of course sitting in the streets and they have notebooks and books with them. As people would get stereotyped into the group as "People who live in the projects, have no future". But looking at this picture made me feel like they wanted to better themselves and better their lives and get an education. That was my first assumption. Also, it looks dark outside, and they are outside reading. I'm not sure if it was night or early morning. If it's the morning, it made me feel like they were maybe waiting for a bus or about to go to school. If it's at night, maybe some of them don't have homes with electricity. So they need light to see what they are reading. Their cloths look rugged and worn. They aren't the newest, yet they aren't the oldest. But as I looked into every each and one of their faces, you can just see the determination and dedication they have to better their lives, and actually have and hold a future, instead of risk themselves surviving without an education for the rest of their life."

What teacher needs to say anything when the students bring that kind of heat? What if we brought that to our studies? What if we had a reason to bring that kind of dedication to our studies? The students do not know the question ahead of them yet. The big question will hopefully make their studies this important. And physics is what brings us light today.

First Day: Physics Is Hula-Hoops

The first day of school is important. Teachers know this. Dress sharp. Do not show your fear. Smile. Shake hands. move around the room. For years I have lead a physics tour. Student file into the room and the second the bell rings I say follow me, and we go on a tour. I loved this because they do so little on a typical first day in any other class. It screamed we are going to do things in this class. It did not require laptops (which get handed out in English class the first day), pens, papers or anything else.

So this year I did not know what to show them. The goal is simply stated, bringing light to rural schools in Nicaragua, but the path is unknown in many ways. What I wanted is to set them up with the reason that this goal is physics. So what is physics? I am not sure. But I do know a few things about it.

The week before school I got an email from the NSTA physics list serve. One of the heroes of the list serve is Frank Noschese. He sent this gem to the list as an opening day lab.

I've also done a ball bounce challenge.
Each group get a different bouncy ball (tennis, lacrosse, golf,
handball, pinky, superball, etc.)
The challenge: Drop the ball though a horizontal hula-hoop elevated
off the ground so that the ball rises back up to the level of the
hula-hoop. The catch -- they only get one chance. (Similar to your
hit the target).

Kids do not know the height of the hoop in advance. However, they can
"play" with their ball and take whatever data they need first. Then
all the balls are collected and the hula-hoop is placed. Students can
measure the height of the hoop and make a prediction for their drop
height. When they are ready to drop, they get their ball back to drop

If you cannot get a set of different balls, but can get identical
balls, then each group gets a different hula-hoop height to prevent
sharing of answers between groups.

I hope this makes sense. The data is very linear and is easily collected.

I ran with it. Physics is intuitive. Physics uses math without ever really knowing you need to. Physics is real. Physics is experimental. Physics is active on the first day.

Who knew that hula-hoops are a seasonal item not available in August? I did not. On my way home the first day (I split the lab across two days) I stopped at 3 stores and called two more. A red piece of tape on the wall had to suffice.

A good couple of days.

How can we bring energy to rural Nicaragua?

I am three weeks into an experiment. It is big. I am not sure how public to be about it. Since it is here, I guess I want it to be public and I want help.

A little background. I have been teaching physics for 15 of my 17 years. I was at first working closely with another physics teacher, who is in most ways my teaching mentor. He left close to the start of a school year two years later and I was called up to the big leagues, all the sections of physics. I love it. I love teaching physics because it is the most like being a camp counselor that you can be and still be teaching an academic subject. There is not one experiment (hardly) that kids cannot do.

I have also been blessed to teach physics in an environment rich in technology. I assigned online individualized homework for the first time in 1999. I have always had a large stock of probes and other data gathering devices. It has been wonderful. I started student blogs in 2005, which I think is before it was cool, although not right on the cutting edge.

Two years ago I got an idea from my mentor to organize my second semester course work around the idea of energy. This was not really anything new. I had always studied heat, electricity, and nuclear during the second semester. These are all energy topics but he thought I could tie them into the bigger energy topics of our day, especially the proposed new coal plant for our town. I took the challenge and added in ties to the bigger picture of energy and a required public presentation on an energy topic.

This summer I took a class in curriculum development. In that class was a teacher from Nicaragua. Her job: find power for rural schools that are off the grid. The professor assigned us to work on a project together and the wheels in my brain started turning. What if my physics course was an learning conversation about how we the physics students in Michigan could learn the physics needed to bring energy to schools that do not have it? She thought it was a great idea. A partnership was formed, I am living the answer to that question every day right now. Keep reading and you can come along for the ride too. Better yet chime in and help us out. We have never done this before. The people there need your help too.

There are a lot of posts about the last three weeks built up inside my head. Hopefully they will start coming out at more regular intervals.

A Charge To Care About Energy

Be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils.

Today we installed elders and deacons at my church. I had not closely read the form for ordaining elders and deacons in a long time. Buried in the charge is this great line.

I know that God calls us to care for his world. I wish the church acted like it more often. I am glad that in my church the deacons are charged to care about energy, the environment and how its abuse impacts people.