Week Two: LIFTL

“Gather round every body! This is awesome. Come here, gather round and check this out.” I wait until everyone is zoned in on what is about to happen. I lift the fuzzy, bright green tennis ball into the air and let go. The ball speeds up and hits the floor with rubbery “pop.” Just as the ball bounces back up to it’s new top height, I catch it mid air.

“How high was that? Does anyone know?” They usually make guesses.

“But how do you know for sure? Could we find it exactly?” They agree a meter stick would help. So I have a student hold the iPad camera on the meter stick and the class watches as the ball bounces back up. We disagree on an exact height, but agree it’s within one centimeter.

“Find a way to predict… from which height to drop the ball so that it bounces back up to a certain height that I will give you.”

I give them whiteboards, markers, rags, a meter stick, and a ball (golf, tennis, or racquet). I tell them I will give them a bounce back height in 14 minutes and start the timer.  I give them no further direction. What will they come up with?

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I saw just two data points and proportional reasoning. That group called it good after 2 minutes. Haha (and they ended up doing pretty well!) One group also took two data points and found an equation of line of best fit on their graphing calculator and scribbled… alot. I liked that one group dropped the ball and found 3 different bounce back heights and took the average. Then another group went all out and did four rounds of dropping at ten different heights and took averages. Another group found percentage (bounce back / drop height) and then wrote every “sciencey” equation they knew. They also drew me a flux capacitor and Dr. Who police box. Completely unexpected, one group used the board as a recording tool for each drop and bounce! So cool!

I told everyone the height I wanted it to bounce back. Something like 77cm. Some groups had that as a data point already, some did proportional reasoning, others had equations, and some groups plain old guessed. I wasn’t super strict on bounce back, but wanted them to see how close they were.

Afterwards, we all gathered around with white boards and had our first… wait for it… board meeting. They laughed at my first pun, this could be a good year. I asked, “Which groups were successful (pretty close)? What do we see in common on those boards.” I get responses like, “Uhh, there’s numbers.” I really have to lead them this early in the year. “Those numbers are data points. How many data points did everyone have?” We hear everything from 1 to 50. “What was the bare minimum for successful bounce back?” The class agrees 10 data points is pretty good.

“When you have data, how do you make sense of it?” Now we really get going.

One student replies, “Well we tried to find a pattern.” I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I’m really glad she said that! “What were good ways to find a pattern?” They really think for a bit. Then things really get rolling. “Well you could graph it?” “Yes! You can graph and where can we go from there?” “Well if there’s a pattern, we could probably find an equation?” “YES!”

At this point, I’m stunned this conversation is actually happening. Am I dreaming? Also at this point, the students are scared because I just yelled, “YES,” at the top of my lungs…

“So, we need 10 data points, a graph, an equation, and some calculations. Let’s try this again with a new type of ball and a new bounce back height. Ready? Go!”

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Amazingly significant improvement. It should also be noted that I have 9th – 12th grade students from Algebra to Calculus. When I see high math students explaining how to find a line of best fit for data to lower level math students, I nearly giggle with excitement.

I tried to video tape these with slow motion app Ubersense, but I don’t have my iPad mini lab up and running for everyone to use. Next year?

As a end of class challenge. I tell them we should drop the balls from the school balcony in the commons to see if we can calculate the bounce back height. We measure the height at 588cm and everyone does calculations. None of the drops bounce back to the calculated height (golf balls were close). In the little time left in class, I asked why. Partly because I didn’t know, but mostly because we should always ask why. I figured it out pretty quickly (before we made it back to the room). I’m excited to get to conservation of energy later this Fall to talk about it again.

I mentioned last week I started teaching sig figs and unit conversion and how much I regret doing it. The regret is still there, but what’s started should be finished. So, I did my best to make it fun and use physical examples. Standing in front of class, I slip my show off my foot with out them noticing. I tell them, “Today we invent a new unit and we call it…,” kick shoe in the air and catch, “the SHOE.” They’re all impressed because they didn’t expect it. Then I spend a couple minutes trying to catch the shoe behind my back from kicking it off my foot.
“Everyone take off a shoe and measure (use your partner if you need to) your heigh in SHOEs. Then measure the length of your shoe in centimeters and find how tall you are in meters. This takes a bit of time, but they get the hang of it.

“Everyone there? Okay, good. I want you to find the volume of the room in SHOEs. Choose one pair of shoes in the group.” We usually have to talk about how to find volume (must have been a long brain-rotting summer). They start climbing and crawling all over the room.

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My design for the work/note sheet ended up better than I expected. I definitely didn’t intend for this pleasant problem to pop up, but I’m glad it did.


I had students find length, width, and height in SHOEs. Then convert each of those into meters. They found the volume in SHOEs^3 by multiplying down the first column. A lot of students then found volume in meters^3 by converting from SHOEs^3, but this didn’t match their value for multiplying down the third column.

We ended up with a great discussion about unit conversion. They didn’t see that they had to convert each dimension of SHOE to meters in the last conversion. Many were upset when values didn’t match and the table didn’t sync. But, when we figured out the problem and all was good in the world, they were happy life made sense again.

I gather the classes attention again.

“Johnny, how tall are you in SHOEs?”

“Umm, seven and a half SHOEs tall.”

“Lisa, how many SHOEs tall are you?”

“Well, I’m seven and half SHOEs too”

“How does it make sense that Johnny and Lisa are the same SHOE height when Johnny could be a starting center in basketball and Lisa could be the basketball?” I didn’t really phrase it this way, but wanted to. The students talked about how the shoes weren’t the same length even though they had the same name. We discussed the importance of communication. Imagine what it was like way back in history. I also told them the story about the NASA teams that one used inches and the other centimeters (I don’t know the real story, but I made up a good one!).

“What values did everyone end up with for volumes?” We agree to use meters while talking now, so everyone is on the same page. Those values were ranging quite a bit. “So, what’s going on. The volume of this room isn’t fluctuating. Shouldn’t there be an exact value?” Then we talk about rounding and how the room isn’t exactly perfect box.

My take home for this week. Me asking questions is good. Me shutting up and letting them ask/answer the classes questions is better! LIFTL = Learning is for the Learners.


Week One: Introduction

Students meet physics. Physics meet students. You’re gonna get along just fine…

I started the first class by handing out laminated cards (yup, I even laminated them). Each student got a unique card that fit into a group of four. The trick? Some cards seem like they could be involved with other groups. (Keep in mind this activity is borrowed from Frank Noschese.) I gave no instructions except on the board in big letters, “9 GROUPS OF 4. GO!” Unfortunately, most classes were larger than 36 (holy cow that’s a lot of kids).


After running around confused at first. I can see people asking the right questions. Anyone else have a Car? Any Presidents? And so on. Near the end, most the groups have formed just fine. Sometimes there’ll be a group of 5 and I tell them only 4 to a group!

The groups are:
PLUTO, MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY (Disney characters)

I just love all the different ways some of these could have fitted in the others. Saturn can be a car. So can Mercury and Neon. Ford could have been a president. Washington could have been a state. One student pointed out that Green could be a color. Everyone wanted Pluto to be a planet, even though they all knew it no longer was!

Afterwords, I spend only a few minutes talking about how there can be more than one “right” answer. We mentioned how everyone’s input is needed to see a big picture. I don’t want to be too philosophical on the first day (because when I get rolling…).

Now that they are in groups, I get moving to the big challenge of the day. The Marshmallow Challenge is quite well known at this point.   I skimped out on the materials a little. I gave them 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, and a mallow. The groups have 18 minutes (strict) to build the tallest (base to mallow), freestanding (no touching when time is up) structure possible. Students are quick to try and tear down the rules and find loopholes. As an added/implied rule, I let them know they had to keep the marshmallow intact. Tricksy little studentses. *gollum voice*

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It was great to be bouncing around watching them talk and dive into the problem. I could learn so much about the type of learner and student each of them were. Some groups made a very average tower with more than half the time left. The rest of them were building higher and higher all the time. I was impressed with how well they understood structure, angles, and forces. There was excitement and engagement across the room. One of my favorite pictures, was the last one where there tower practically exploded with seconds left. In a last ditch effort to better than 0 in., the group pad a tiny 1/2 in. tower. Never give up!

I also let students take pictures and tweet them out with our class hashtag. I also told one class with about 5 minutes to go their grade would be their tower height in centimeters as a percentage. I almost made a girl cry!

After time was up, I measured all the towers. Then we followed up with a discussion about what this project really represents. I made a modified slideshow of the one offered on the Marshmallow Challenge website. If you haven’t seen the TEDtalk as well, it’s a great discussion for class.

I wish I had timed the first day better. It will take some time to get used to 85 min. class periods. I had to spend the last part of class covering the class syllabus. Fortunately for the students, I get sidetracked easily and this quickly became story time. Hoping to harness this power of story time focus, for future learning!

The next couple of days I spent reviewing significant figures and unit conversion. I quickly found out review meant teach for the first time. (Especially when you have a class of 40 ranging from freshman in Algebra to seniors in Calculus.) This was silly on my part. I find both of these important to know and use, but not even close to things like Scientific Process and Creative Problem Solving. Next year, I plan to teach sig figs and unit conversion as it shows up in real every day problems. My hope is to improve it next week and then move on to real physics!

I survived the first week. The students didn’t chew me up and spit me out. In fact a couple smiled and I even had some say, “Thanks,” as they left for the weekend. I think I’m going to make it…


Week Zero: Last Minute


After a three day drive in our tiny Honda Civic packed with everything we own, we made it to Utah before the last weekend of Summer. Week Zero was a week full of meetings, getting to know staff, and last minute preparations.

I’m teaching at Corner Canyon High School. This is a brand new school where some construction and building prep has yet to be completed. The class schedule is entirely different than what I’m used to. We have A and B days with 4 blocks in each day. The students take a total of 8 classes, where a normal class lasts the entire year. Each class is 85-ish minutes long. I’m teaching three Regular Physics, two Honors Physics, and one AP Physics B. Each day I get an 85 min planning period and it’s wonderful. Our school has roughly 1900 students and class sizes are 35 to 40. I guess this is normal in Utah, but it makes for some tough lab management.


My room before we moved the lab tables

My class originally had no window. I decided to switch with the lab room. I want a window, but also it makes more sense to have a lab room that can be dark for light labs. The day before school started, my class tables arrived. I was hoping for 20 tables with 2 students per table. Turns out only 10 tables will fit, which means many tables have 4 students per table. Not ideal, but our unofficial school motto is “Be patient. Be flexible.”

Meetings weren’t too bad. I have to remind myself, I’m getting paid to sit and listen. I can do this. I’m very thankful for our School Policies Online Modules. We didn’t have to sit and listen for hours. We logged into Canvas and watched videos and took short quizzes. Much simpler and IMG_0006much easier to manage my time. I do gag everything I have to do make up cheesy acronyms. We are the Chargers and so we had to make a Science Department C.H.A.R.G.E poster. Here’s what we worked out.

Week zero also meant organizing equipment for the entire science department. As a new school we had to order all new equipment. I was hired after the orders were sent in, so I’m still wondering what will arrive when. We have all new Vernier equipment with new LabQuests. I have a class set of iPad mini’s (if they ever get loaded up). As a teacher,BRpgoWDCAAAoxzw I was given a MacBook and an iPad for teaching. But to be honest, my favorite purchase so far has been my whiteboards. I went to Home Depot and got 4′ x 8′ whiteboard and had them cut it for me. I bought 5 boards and made thirty 24″ x 32″ group white boards. I bought some Turtle Wax and duct tape for the boarder. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

I’m excited for a new school year. I like my co-workers and hope I like my students. I feel entirely and utterly under prepared for the school year, but I have to remember it won’t be perfect. Even though we have a beautiful new school, nearly nothing is ready for teaching. “Be patient. Be flexible.” Even if I don’t have everything planned, school should be about instilling a passion to learn in students. If they don’t remember a single equation, I don’t mind. I just want them to have positive feelings about my class and associate that with learning in general. Lofty goal, but it puts less pressure on me to teach physics and more push to build relationships.