New Year, New School, New Goals #SundayFunday

So, I’m teaching at a new school this year which is equal parts exciting and terrifying. My first day of orientation is on the 8th and students have their first classes on the 16th. I’m teaching Physics (have taught this for 5 years), AP Physics 1 (have taught this for 3 years), AP Physics 2 (have never taught this), and Algebra 2 (have never taught this either!). And to top it all off, I will be the lead mentor of the San Diego Youth Space Program which will be sending a student engineered experiment into the International Space Station in about 10 months. Right now I feel whelmed, but that’s probably because I haven’t given my situation enough thought to feel appropriately overwhelmed.

This post is supposed to be about our goals and I honestly don’t have any big goals right now other than surviving a new school and new classes, so here are some small ones:

  • Make a few friends over the next week. I had the pleasure of working the past 5 years with someone of the closest friends I’ve ever had and not having that this year is my biggest fear right now. So, new work friends, if you’re out there, you have big shoes to fill.
  • Figure out what teaching Algebra 2 is all about.  I have vague thoughts about what this class should be/could be, but right now, I’m staring at standards and it’s like I’m 6 inches away from a Seurat.
    • I will need to spend at least 2 full days stealing skill lists, lessons, and Desmos activities from all you wonderful #MTBoS folks.
  • Convince more students to take physics at my school. Right now, to say the enrollment in my 3 sections of physics is underwhelming is the understatement of the school year.
    • I really don’t understand why more students don’t take physics since it’s a class about how the world works. My 4 year old son spends the majority of his day asking questions that a good high school physics class answers. Do students lose this curiosity about the world or have they not been told about how great this class is!?!

I know that there are more goals that my summer addled brain can’t come up with right now, I’ll try and come up with a more substantive list later this week. But I wanted to start this SundayFunday blogging thing off right.




What’s Good: The My Most Anticipated Album of 2016 is Out Edition

So, I’m not really doing this well in the #MTBoSBlaugust Challenge (I don’t know what doing well is, but I haven’t been as prolific as I was week 1, the drop off is a mixture of laziness, end of summer blues, and busyness), but I’m hoping that I’ll get back in the groove as I trudge toward the beginning of the school year.

I decided to change the “Stuff I Like” weekly/biweekly/whenever I get around to it post series to “What’s Good”. I feel like the phrase is more inclusive. And maybe I can get suggestions from people in the future to put on here. Just a thought.

maxresdefaultTV: I started watching Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down on Netflix. 1 uneven episode in, I’ll definitely be back for more, but the show is kind of all over the place tonally. Thankfully, the young leads of the show are compelling and the history & artistic integrity of the show are on point (Grand Master Flash and Nas are consultants/producers.

Last week I finished Stranger Things and it’s the best thing I’ve watched all year. Everything about the show is fantastic, it’s so much more than an homage to the 80s movies it clearly is referencing.

I enjoy watching the Bachelor and Bachelorette (the former more than the latter), but I really love watching Bachelor in Paradise. Part time villain, Nick Viall, did a really good podcast interview with The Ringer’s Juliet Litman this week that gives a peek into how that show works and what it’s like being on The Bachelorette twice in a row.

Movies: Jen and I watched The Big Short this week and both really enjoyed it. I tried reading the Michael Lewis book the movie is based on when the book first came out, but couldn’t get into it. I followed the housing crisis pretty closely by listening to things like the Planet Money podcast from NPR, so the subject matter is something I’m historically interested in. Thankfully, we didn’t get caught in that bubble, but I can imagine how people who were affected by the housing collapse would find that movie incredibly hard to watch.


Video Games: I never had an Super Nintendo growing up, so I never played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I have rectified the situation by building myself a RetroPie emulator using a Raspberry Pi 3. I now understand why this is considered to be one of the great games of all time.

I’ve been playing Dots & Co on my phone. I found out about it on my Twitter timeline. I don’t know who mentioned it, but I would like an apology.

Music: Burying the lead! Frank Ocean’s new album Blonde has finally been released. It was apparently going to come out a few weeks back (with a different title) but ended up getting pushed after a New York Times article spoiled the surprise (this gives new meaning to Trump’s failing NYT critique). Channel Orange is on my Top 10 albums of the decade list, so to say this is hotly anticipated, is an understatement. So far it hasn’t disappointed. I’ll probably write more about it next week.

Misc: I took Beckett to Disneyland twice in the last 2 weeks. Going on E-Ticket, big boy rides with your 3 year old son for the first time is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Over the last week I took him on Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Radiator Springs Racers for the first time, and he has loved all of them.

I made my first Desmos Activity the other day. It’s an activity to introduce limits to my AP Calculus class. It’s not perfect, but I’m proud of it.

So, what’s good with you?

Homework Ideas for a New Year

Last year I wrote about how I was going to start lagging homework in my AP Calculus class. To recap real quick: problem sets covered the information from the prior week, assignments were given out on Mondays, solutions were posted on Thursdays, assignments were due on Friday, feedback (but no grade) was given over the weekend and returned on Monday, if students did the work (and corrections) they got full credit.

Overall, the process worked well, but I still dealt with the majority of my class waiting until Thursday evening to work through the problems (which meant I never had kids in tutoring sessions or class asking questions on current homework assignments). In order to combat this phenomenon, I’ve decided to chunk their weekly homework assignment into daily portions that will be checked and stamped for effort at the beginning of class each day. Assignments will still be collected and responded to on Fridays and solutions will be posted for them on Thursday. I know this seems somewhat punitive but was the only solution I could figure out. If you have any other ideas of how this could work, it would be much appreciated!

Here’s an example of what an assignment will look like:

Before School Starts To-Do List

I have just under two weeks before I have to go back to work for two weeks of staff and student orientation, professional development, and team building (we don’t start school until the Tuesday after Labor Day, summer Eric loves this idea, 1 week till the AP exam Eric hates it). So, getting some sort of a to-do list down is probably a productive use of a blog post.

  • Create year plans for all 3 preps (and pray that I don’t get a 4th prep added at the 11th hour). I just try to get a general idea of where I need to be throughout the year on an Excel document, nothing earth shattering here.
  • Edit syllabi for AP Calculus and General Physics (I got AP Physics rewritten today).
  • Tidy up my classroom procedures and policies.
  • Edit concept/skill lists for all 3 courses. I use SBG in all my classes and right now AP Calculus is the only list that I feel confident in rolling out at to start the year.
  • Rewrite my unit 1 packets for AP Physics and General Physics. Thankfully, I’m using prewritten materials so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, there are some small things that didn’t work well last year that need to be tweaked.

In the weeks following I’ll probably add new things that come up and strikethrough stuff that I complete. What’s at the top of your to-do list?

PC: Jasper Nance via Flickr

15-16 Recap: General Physics

Last week I wrote reflection posts for AP Calculus and AP Physics, today I’m going to take a critical look at how my General Physics class went this past year and how I can improve it for the upcoming school year.

I teach two periods of physics to mostly juniors and seniors. We have a sizable population of international students from all over the globe, so I sometimes have a few international freshmen and sophomores in my sections as well. Similar to AP Physics I use the Investigative Science Learning Environment, created by a team led by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen, approach in my physics classes, which helps students build these skills, not just computational skills. Specifically I use their Physics Union Mathematics (PUM) curriculum with some resources from Dean Baird and others mixed in.

What Went Well

  • I had my students take the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) at the beginning and end of the year and statistically significant growth in my classes as a whole.
  • I emphasized the use of multiple representations (words, graphs, charts, tables, equations) throughout the year, so students got used to expressing their understanding that way.
  • Students had really productive struggle throughout the year and their biggest aha moments came when I took myself out of the learning equation as much as possible. Having well developed curriculum gave me a lot of freedom to step back and let them do the learning.
  • Students got to do a lot of hands on work throughout the semester.
  • My 5th period class was probably one of the most unique, supportive, loving classes I’ve ever taught. They went through a phase where they gave me akward compliments for minutes at a time. I had to call another teacher over and leave my class a few times, just because I was so embarrased. Plus they always seemed interested in learning!

What Can Improve

  • On the FCI, I had students who did worse, which either means that they guessed on both the pre & post tests or they developed more misconceptions throughout the year.
  • Homework was a disaster. I tried lagging homework like I do in my math classes and that didn’t work at all. The PUM homework was overwhelming for a lot of students, so I moved away from it as the year went on.
  • I haven’t figured out how to do reading assignments (I really dislike my textbook). Toward the end of the year I started assigning reading out of The Physics Classroom which my students didn’t seem to mind. Unfortunately, it’s an online only textbook, so that presents its own challenges.
  • Notetaking/notemaking. I need to teach students how to do this and why it’s important. Especially in science classes, where the reading is significantly different than in humanities, students need to be taught how to comprehend what they’re reading.

15-16 Recap: AP Physics

Yesterday, I wrote a post a reflection on AP Calculus, today I’m going to take a critical look at how my AP Physics class went this past year and how I can improve it for the upcoming school year.

Just to give a little background, I teach AP Physics 1, a course that just finished its 2nd year of existence. College Board decided to split what was AP Physics B into 2 separate courses, Physics 1 and Physics 2, each course representing 1 semester of college course work. The exam is now very light on computation (when I’ve taken AP practice exams, I have not needed a calculator) and heavy on deep conceptual understanding of physics principles and scientific thinking.  I use the Investigative Science Learning Environment, created by a team led by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen, approach in my physics classes, which helps students build these skills, not just computational skills.

What Went Well

  • I was able to cover all the topics in the Course Outline, which I wasn’t close to doing in year 1.
  • I gave my students an awesome final project, which led to some of the best work my students have done since I began teaching high school.
  • I had my students get familiar with using physics probeware and data analysis software early in the school year.
  • I allowed students to struggle through the process of breaking down misconceptions and building up correct ideas about how the world works and why things are the way they are.
  • As the year went on, I got better at writing assessment questions that really dug down into their conceptual understanding of a topic.
  • I assigned reading from the textbook and had students do some good reflecting about what they learned from their reading.
  • I stopped class one day, did no physics, and sat in a circle with my students discussing something that had come up in chapel earlier that day (I teach at a private Christian school and we have chapel once a week). One of my (highest performing and academically minded) students has mentioned this to multiple people (including in her graduation speach) as the most important classroom moment of her high school career.

What Can Improve

  • I spent waaaaaaayyyyyyy too much time on kinematics, which ended up putting us in a real time crunch at the end of the year.
  • On the final project, some students worked with a partner who clearly didn’t keep up their end of the partnership, so we ended the school year with some mild resentment between students. Next year, I need to either make it individuals only or add in some sort of group/partner accountability/evaluation piece to the project.
  • After introducing students to the probeware and software, we used it very little.
  • I still don’t trust students to do what they’re supposed to do all the time, so I intervened too early and too often in their discovery processes (I think part of this has to do with time, we have 52 minute periods, and I always felt like I was falling behind my year plan).
  • I just threw a bunch of AP exam review at them with a month left, but didn’t spend a ton of time with them on how to prepare for or what to expect from the exam.
  • My homework was a mess, inconsistent in both it’s frequency and quality.
  • I need to do a better job of organizing the class, from how we spend class time, lesson sequencing, homework, and assessments.

15-16 Recap: AP Calculus

As promised, this is post #2 today to make up for missing yesterday. This one will actually be about teaching, but since I apparently can’t do anything the easy way, I’ll be doing a series of 3 posts about what went well and what could be improved upon in AP Calculus (both AB  and BC flavors), General Physics, and AP Physics. So today, let’s start with AP Calculus. Lot’s of stuff to ponder, as I write this, I’m seeing that a few of these need some more unpacking, thankfully it’s #MTBoSBlaugust!

What Went Well

  • I lagged homework in AB (one of the few things I’ve written about in the past and something I need to write about more in the upcoming few days).
  • I posted full solutions to homework assignments in AB the night before the assignment was due and most of my students turned in fully corrected and annotated assignments on time.
  • I had students do 3 full 6 question FRQ exams and a full 45 question multiple choice exam prior to the actual AP exam in May. Gave them a lot of exposure to the type of problems they were going to see on the real exam and what they needed to spend the weeks prior to the exam focusing on.
  • I improved my pass rate.
  • Students did a lot of really good group work on VNPS.
  • I wrote a lot of good problems throughout the year to dig into student’s conceptual understanding.
  • I wrote some good notes and activity structures throughout the year.

What Can Improve

  • Students had difficulty transferring what they learned from lessons and the more skill based, formulaic problems they saw in their homework to the conceptually deeper AP style problems I gave them on assessments, midterms, and finals.
  • I’m not totally happy with the sequence of topics right now (might need to pick Jonathan’s brain more about the reasoning behind his sequencing).
  • By the time the third FRQ rolled around, a few of my students thought it would be useful to just memorize a bunch of FRQ solutions available on the internet (their ability to do stuff like this but not complete a simple homework assignment on time is staggering) and hope that they showed up. Luckily for them it did. Unluckily for them, those same problems weren’t on the AP exam (shocker!) and they got a 1 since they didn’t really study and prep.
  • I had a 4 person BC class that I structured more as an independent study course than a normal course. They were pretty productive most of the year, but didn’t do as well on the AP exam as they could have if they pushed themselves more throughout the year.
  • I had some students walk into an assessment (I use SBG), put their name on their paper, turn it in, and say they were going to reassess it next week. This is the first time this has happened in 4 years. Needless to say, it brought about a crisis of faith in the system and led to some long talks with these students about personal accountability in a high stakes class (due to the subject matter difficulty and exam at the end of the course) that sometimes feels like a low stakes class (due to reassessments).