A student came into the lab on a Saturday and put together this video of her CVPM practicum. Anytime a student comes into the lab to work on a Saturday afternoon is a pretty good sign to me:

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A student came into the lab on a Saturday and put together this video of her CVPM practicum. Anytime a student comes into the lab to work on a Saturday afternoon is a pretty good sign to me:
This year we’re replacing the old buggy collision CVPM practicum with one that uses robots. Students have to program a robot, with a fixed starting location so that it hits another robot right when it reaches the origin. We are also able to differentiate this assignment a bit, offering the students a choice of target robots, ranging from an easy one that moves at constant velocity, up to a hard one that moves erratically forward and backward.
I’ve been trying to make a habit of stopping class a few minutes early and asking the question “what did we learn today?” followed by “how did you learn it?” This comes at the suggestion from Eugenia Etkina, who visited last year and noted that we could do a better job with ending classes.
I’ve tried a bunch of ways of doing this—setting reminders on my phone or computer, but the only way that has worked is setting a physical alarm on my phone to go off 5 minutes before class. On the iPhone, I can set alarms for 5 minutes before each of my classes end, and turn them on and off as needed each day. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s made a big difference in my being able to remember this.
The other great thing to happen to me today was this email from a colleague.
Last year, I did this lesson with my class on Feynman’s Blocks analogy for Energy. While I liked the lesson back then, I felt like was a lot of me talking, and not much student engagement. I tried to make some small changes to that this year, by pausing and having students explicitly think of what things they’d need to know to determine the number of blocks in the toy chest, then define variables for each quantity, and finally come up with an equation. This turned out to be far more successful then when I simply tried socratically polling the class, and one or two kids shouted out the answer last year. We also got into some great discussions about variable naming conventions and units. The other thing I tried to be better about was emphasizing the big picture of what we are seeing—this equation has 9 variables and it looks super complicated, but the idea it is trying to tell us—Energy Conservation—is so very simple. One last thing that probably help rout at the end was giving them the formula for Kinetic Energy and asking make measurements that would let them determine the kinetic energy of a moving robot, which turns out to be tiny compared to a peanut or even a battery.
Today we played with Lightbot 2
in computer science. The students loved it, and managed to figure out the meaning of the term recursion completely on their own by playing through the tutorial (one student called it “functionception”). After about 30 minutes of gameplay we stopped and talked about what we were doing, and I was deeply impressed by how many lessons on computer science students were taking away from the game. One student decided to write out all the steps of his program and then went back and looked for blocks of code that he could turn into reusable functions.
Canvas is a pretty amazing LMS. All I did was post one Peter Bohacek’s Direct Measurement Videos to a discussion and the the students took this idea and ran with it.
Here’s a video of our first whiteboarding session where I introduce whiteboarding to my class and we go through two pretty simple problems, but along the way, the kids make some important discoveries about how we represent change in position on motion maps and graphs.
Also, I welcome any feedback or observations you might have about this class—feel free to submit your feedback using this form:
I really wish I could some how store the energy, enthusiasm and excitement that is just so palpable in both me and my students and the beginning of the year. I’m pretty sure a couple of teaspoons would be all I need to make power my way through February.
In Intro Physics, we are making progress with the battery and peanut question. We made a bit of a side venture to identify various units of energy, and perhaps more importantly, talk about what units aren’t energy. I was trying to stay away from giving definitions to the kids, so when the idea than a volt might be a unit of energy came up, I pointed out that AA, AAA, C and Db batteries all have the same voltage, and my students were able to conclude quite quickly that a volt couldn’t be a unit of energy, since they thought a D cell battery must have more energy than a AA.
After some more calorimetry experiments we returned to the classroom to try to calculate just how much energy it took to raise the the temperature of the water by the amount they measured. At this point, students wanted to know a formula, but we started with the definition of a calorie, which a number of students already knew
1 calorie of energy will increase the temperature of 1 g of water by 1°C
From there, I asked what would 5 calories do to 1 gram of water, and students quickly saw that it would raise the temperature of the water by 5°C. And then we started to think about other things 5 calories might do to a different amount of water. One student suggested it would raise 5 g by 1°C, and then someone realized it would raise 10g by 1/2°C, and we continued to put up different ideas, and one then suggested that it would raise 2 grams of water by 10°C, and this led to an argument, as some could see that this combination didn’t follow the pattern, and others saw that it didn’t make sense for 5 calories to raise the temperature of more than 1 gram of water by more than 5°C. Soon enough, we started talking about dividing that energy equally into 1 gram boxes, and then a student proposed a pattern that the mass multiplied by the temperature change must equal the energy, which led to a great discussion of units, and that while the numbers might work in that equation, the units did not, bringing us back around to the specific heat of water, 1 cal/(g°C), that when multiplied by the mass and the temperature change gives you energy.
Overall, I think this was one of those lessons where I felt like I was getting more understanding as we were talking, and students were picking up an insight here or there, but I wish I’d had more time to have them do some of this pattern discovery on their own, rather than have me lead them through it.
One other tidbit that I need to make a habit—stopping class with 45 minutes to go at the end and simply asking “What did we learn?” and “How did we learn it?” Today, I had to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to have this conversation, and I was so glad that we did—students could clearly acknowledge that they had figured out how to calculate the energy required to increase the temperature of the water, and they had done this through discussion, and without the need for a formula.
In honors physics, we had a great moment where we challenged the students to take the robots that we’ve been using to study constant velocity, and program them such that they all arrived at a position of 2 meters from the origin after 20 seconds, while each robot also had to have a different set velocity while moving. I’m going to try to write up in much more detail how incredible the change to robots from crazy expensive PASCO carts has been for our kinematics work thus far, but for now, I’ll let this video speak for itself.
This year, I asked my students to write a short reflection piece on what they learned after the buggy robot lab. I was amazed by a few of the responses. Here’s one:
I’m trying to focus on giving feedback that will push my students’ thinking, and entice them to follow up. Along those lines, I’m also thinking about having some sort of metacognative lesson about how students should use feedback to get better.
Today was also the first day of Computer Science 1, and we opened the class with the person finder activity I found in this excellent paper. Asking students to put themselves in the role of aid workers and devise a protocol for how you would reunite people with their family members turned out to be a great activity—I think it helped show students that Computer Science deals with far more important issues than my old “make a PB&J sandwich” used to show, and it creates some very rich discussions. Plus, it’s a problem where some great computer scientists have made tremendous contributions in Google Person Finder.
Here are the slides I used for the presentation