Category Archives: physics

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.



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.