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First Day

September 6, 2011

I started the physics classes today by putting students into their “research teams” and issuing the Marshmallow Challenge.  Only a few groups actually managed to put together a functional tower.  These groups generally used an iterative design process.  They built and tested often and weren’t afraid to scrap a bad idea and re-distribute the spaghetti girders.  Conversely, the unsuccessful groups tended to spend most of their time debating various designs before finally settling on an idea.  By the end of the 18 minute time period they were just putting their marshmallow on top of their super-tall tower, only to watch it buckle under the weight of the marshmallow!

Students definitely enjoyed the task.  There was lots of lively discussion, debate, and laughter, which is exactly what I want happening on the first day.  It sets the tone for the course!

The real learning opportunity came after the challenge was done and we analyzed the features of successful team work.  I then made the leap from the Marshmallow Challenge to how they will be applying a similar technique while building “mathematical models” throughout the course.

We then discussed the changes I made to the physics classes (i.e. modeling instruction and expectations-based grading) and how they should help bring my students above Hestenes’  “Newtonian Threshold”.  Students were particularly intrigued by the expectations-based grading system, especially after I showed them the parachute packers graph.

So I seem to be off to a good start.  Tomorrow we start the Constant Velocity Particle Model (CVPM) cycle.

Here we go!

August 28, 2011

This blog chronicles my professional development as a science teacher.  My purpose for writing is primarily to keep my thoughts straight and to receive some feedback from like-minded professionals.  I will be posting my instructional materials as I revamp my courses, so perhaps you may find something useful.  I only ask that you let me know how it works in your class!

I teach grade 11 university preparation physics (SPH3U), grade 12 university preparation physics (SPH4U), grade 12 college preparation physics (SPH4C), and grade 11 workplace environmental science (SVN3E) in Ontario, Canada.  All of my materials are designed for the Ontario science curriculum, but I’m sure science curricula have more similarities than differences across various districts, so feel free to adapt them for your use.

There isn’t a whole lot available right now, but I will be updating regularly!