AP Computer Science End-of-Year Survey Results

I recently reviewed the end-of-year feedback from my AP Computer Science students. This year we moved to a new textbook. Last summer, I focused on selecting new practice activities from the textbook and improving the summative labs that students complete at the end of each unit. I made the decision to invest most of my time in the development of the summative labs rather than the practice activities. My focus (and lack of focus) is evident in the feedback. In the following charts, a “1″ represents strongly agree and a “5″ represents strongly disagree.

I see practice activities as the aspect of the class most in need of improvement. While the feedback was largely positive, it was as positive as I would like. I believe the feedback on peer programming was a result of how I introduced, structured, and facilitated peer programming rather than a poor reflection on the methodology itself.

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The feedback on summative labs was much more positive, which is good because I put forth a lot of effort to improve those! I plan to retire the ActorBox lab which was an early introduction to GridWorld. I may do a turtle lab instead. I also need to re-evaluate the Word Search lab. The lack of popularity may be somewhat due to timing rather than the lab itself. I may look for a different lab for arrays and ArrayList. I would love to create something with more social relevance. The DrawingEditor was fairly well liked but was too much of a challenge for too many students. I may consider replacing it with the new AP Elevens lab.

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The chart is a shout out to Canvas’s Speed Grader. I sung its praises in an earlier post.

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I was surprised how many of my students were planning to major or minor in a computer-related field. I would expect about three-quarters of them would major in a STEM-related field, not solely computing related.

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I had a very simple standards-based assessment and reporting system for this class. Summative assessments were scored on a 1-5 scale. Each unit that consisted of one exam and one lab. I almost never had a conversation with students about scores or grades. Lots of conversations about computer science instead.

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My focus for this summer is to improve the practice activities by selecting fewer and selecting those that students will find more relevant. In addition, with the practice activities, I want to achieve a balance between instructor-led examples, individual development, and peer programming. I specifically want to improve my facilitation of peer programming. I also plan on developing my own slide decks instead of using those that are included with the textbook. Finally, we will be using GitHub next year and I want to move the summative labs into GitHub to provide necessary scaffolding for the students. Looking forward to next year!

iPad Resources for the Science Classroom

A colleague of mine will be the department chair at a 1:1 iPad school next year. While we don’t have a 1:1 program (yet), I have piloted iPads in my classroom. I wanted to share the apps that worked well in a science classroom and general deployment tips.

To start, there are some general apps for any classroom:

  • iWord (Pages, Keynote, Numbers)
  • iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand)
  • iBooks
  • iTunes U
  • Dropbox (or another cloud-based file system)
  • Canvas (you are using Canvas, right?)

Labs are a critical part of any classroom. I’m a huge fan of Vernier’s LabQuest 2 devices which play particularly well with their Graphical Analysis app. A lot of great lab work can be done via video analysis through Vernier’s Video Physics app. I didn’t use an app for lab notebooks in my classroom, but I recently visited 4th and 5th grade classrooms where students were working through a STEM unit and were creating fantastic lab notebooks with data tables, graphs, videos, and written reflections using the Creative Book Builder app.

There are several other apps which I have found very useful:

  • For collaborative drawing and problem solving, I haven’t found an app that is better than a $2 whiteboard. For individual note taking and drawing, Notability is my favorite app.
  • For additional analysis, the Desmos app is a fantastic graphing application. The best calculator app is PCalc.
  • For formative assessment and peer instruction, I had a lot of success with Nearpod.
  • For project and screencast projects, Explain Everything is fantastic.
  • It isn’t released yet, but I’m looking forward to Computable which combines IPython and SciPy on the iPad.

These final two aren’t apps for the iPads, but enhance the utility of iPads.

  • An iPad easily (and cheaply) replaces a document camera. I use the first version of Justand, but Justand V2 looks even better.
  • To share whatever is on the teacher’s or any student’s iPad by projecting it so the entire class can see it, I run Reflector on my laptop which is connected to the projector.

You may have the best collection of apps on your iPads, but if you don’t have a strategy for device deployment and management, you’re in trouble. MDM is pretty much required these days and iOS 7 plays well with it. Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers have a lot of experience deploying and managing iPads. Their podcast Out of School has a series of episodes focusing on deployment.

AP Physics 1 Unofficial Pilot

This past school year, my colleagues and I restructured our Honors Physics course to unofficially pilot the AP Physics 1 course. This was motivated by several factors. We wanted to get a jump on the new AP Physics 1 course so that this summer we would only have to revise the course since we also have to create the new AP Physics 2 course. We wanted to create a pipeline of students prepared for the AP Physics 2 course. We also were dissatisfied with the current structure and emphasis of our existing Honors Physics course.

We’ve structured our course around Standards-Based Assessment and Reporting (a.k.a. Standards Based Grading) for many years, and we continued to do so this year. We did make some changes to the specifics. We transitioned from a binary mastery / developing mastery system to a 1-5 scoring system. All of the details are captured in my syllabus.

A vast majority of the units follow Modeling Instruction and leverage a combination of the official Modeling Instruction materials and derived versions. A notable exception is the electric circuits unit for which we leveraged a combination of Physics by Inquiry materials and the Modeling Instruction CASTLE materials. The current model is based on the Physics by Inquiry investigations and the electric pressure (voltage) model is based on the Modeling Instruction CASTLE materials.

Below are our AP Physics 1 standards for the 2013-2014 school year. Standards that we felt were more significant were weighted twice as much and are designated by the “B” suffix as opposed to the “A” suffix. We will certainly revise these somewhat for next year after reviewing the College Board materials, attending AP workshops, and integrating our new textbook.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with how the AP Physics 1 pilot class was and what our students learned. The incorporation of Modeling Instruction; focus on in-depth, guided inquiry-based experiments; peer instruction-style discussion and debate of conceptual questions; and a great team of teachers with which to collaborate were the keys for the successful year.

Monkey and the Hunter Conceptual Explanation

Back in mid-November, I posted to my 180 blog about the classic monkey and hunter demonstration. In that post I referenced a conceptual explanation as to why the hunter should aim directly at the monkey. Andy asked me to share the conceptual explanation and I’m finally taking time to do so.

For many years the best conceptual explanation I could offer was based on that of a student who came up with the following after seeing the demonstration. Imagine there is no gravity. The angle is such that in the time it takes the projectile to move horizontally, it will move the necessary vertical distance to hit the monkey. The effect of adding back gravity just adds the \frac{1}{2} a t^{2} part of the equation which is the same for the monkey and the projectile.

This year, I developed an alternative conceptual explanation. Put yourself in the frame of reference of the monkey. The difference in the vertical component of the velocity between the monkey and the projectile is the same and will remain the same due to the acceleration of gravity. Therefore, the projectile has a constant velocity and, if aimed directly at the monkey, will move in a straight line toward the monkey.

I received a GoPro for Christmas and plan to use it to film this demonstration from the perspective of the monkey.

CSEd Week

Due to space availability, we held our Computer Science Education Week activities a week early. My colleague and I and our students shared student work over three days in the cafeteria. We highlighted robotics, art, and games over the three days. We also provided the opportunity for students to participate in the Hour of Code. My colleague, @Mr_Alesch, created the following poster to promote our activities:

Download (PDF, 603KB)

I created the following video to promote computer science:

Computing at NNHS from Naperville North High School on Vimeo.

A handful of students completed the Hour of Code and many more students saw what students in the various computer science classes created. It was a good outreach activity and we learned how to make it even better next year. Students enrolling in computer science classes appear to be increasing; hopefully, this helped.

Physics Capstones

This year’s AP Physics B capstones were as great as last year’s. Click there to read more about how I structure capstones.

  • Joe’s GravitON – A Python based N-Body Gravity Simulator. Cleanly implemented and well documented VPython implementation of the n-body problem. Can’t wait until Joe offloads process to the GPU!
  • Danny’s Resistance Bands vs Free Weights. A well-designed experiment to model resistance bands.
  • Andrew’s Amateur Kitchen Rocketry. Very creative. Have you ever considered building an olive-oil-powered rocket?
  • Helen’s [Springboard Diving](Amateur Kitchen Rocketry). Great video analysis and fantastic video interviews of coaches and divers.
  • Matt’s Pony Physics: Very creative and thorough exploration of the physics of My Little Pony.
  • Andrew’s Rifle Toss: wonderful application of more advanced physics to determine the energy needed for an 8-rotation rifle toss. (Web page struggles to display the equations; refer to PDF at the bottom.)
  • Nathan’s Physics of Intonation: answers the question “how important is it to play in tune?” Includes a Python script that calculates superposition and a great Minute Physics-style video.
  • Nathan’s Putt Simulator: Models the motion of a golf ball on a generated surface. Incredible application of calculus and computational modeling. (Requires Python, VPython, and Matplotlib.)
  • Michael’s Tunnel to the Center of the Earth: Wonderful Minute Physics-style video supported by Excel-based computational models. Cites Rhett Allain’s How Long Would It Take to Fall through the Earth, solves Rhett’s homework, and then assigns his own.

Based on feedback from students, I’m going to make a one change for next year. Several students actively peer reviewed each other’s capstones. This was fantastic and improved the quality. I wanted to make this a required activity next year.

I think this year’s class benefited from seeing examples from last year’s class. Now that I have a diverse collection of excellent capstones to share, students have an easier time understanding what a capstone is and how to present it in an engaging manner.

Recognizing True Professional Development

This fall, our school district adopted a new model for how professional development affects teacher salary. The new model provides various opportunities for educators to participate in professional development activates aligned to their personal career path. These activities may result in immediate compensation or “points” that can accumulate and move teachers across the traditional salary schedule.

Coming from the business world, the idea that employees would have a career path that they discuss periodically with their supervisor makes a lot of sense. I’m pleased that everyone will at least have this conversation as it is both a great opportunity to set goals as well as to identify opportunities for collaboration with teachers with similar goals.

I’m even more excited about the flexibility of the new model. The “bricks” that result in compensation or points can be coursework like in traditional salary models. However, they can also be earned by leading initiatives, participating in committees, creating and facilities professional development courses, developing curriculum, conducting research, and other professional learning experiences.

Historically, I’ve been pretty frustrated with how my professional development has been recognized and rewarded by my district. My time, like everyone’s, is limited and valuable. I choose to participate in those activities that will have the greatest affect on my professional development and my students’ learning. I carefully choose the conferences and workshops that I attend, the committees and professional development activities in which I participate, and the graduate courses in which I enroll. Only once in my seven years as a teacher has my assessment of professional development value and my district’s aligned. I received graduate credit for the Modeling Instruction workshop that I completed five years ago. The most frustrating was when I was denied credit when I was a Teacher Research Associate at Fermilab National Laboratory over one verb in the corresponding graduate course description. That summer, I worked on the Holometer collaboration and wrote a series of articles that explained the experiment at a level high schoolers and general public could understand. It was an incredible experience. I hope, with this new model, no teacher will ever experience the frustration that I did when pursuing such a rich professional development experience and not having that recognized by the district.

Now I’m about to test the flexibility of the new model.

I just finished writing a brick proposal for the “Discovery, sharing, execution, and enhancement of research-based and field-tested best practices for physics education.” I’ve come to realize that the most valuable professional development that I experience is with my online and Chicagoland colleagues. That’s why I invest my time in my weekly physics PLC Google Hangout, monthly Physics West meetings, my blog and 180 posts, and reading all of your posts and tweets. I tried to convey the significance of these experiences in my application:

This brick would be an example of blended learning. It would involve my participation with my online colleagues through a weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) physics meeting comprised of physics educators throughout the country (and world) that I most respect and through less formal interactions via Twitter and blogs. For example, check my blog Pedagoue Padawan and my 180 blog: Pedagogue Padawan 180. It would also encompass in-person activities with the Chicagoland Physics West group, which meets monthly at area educational institutions. Interactions with each group are shared with the other as well as with my colleagues at Naperville North. To provide some context, every significant change (e.g., standards-based grading, Modeling Instruction, peer instruction, computational modeling) that has dramatically affected student learning and my professional practice has been profoundly impacted by the interactions captured in this brick; significantly more so than any other professional development experience I’ve done in my seven years of teaching.

I’ll keep you all posted on how this goes and thank you in advance of your continued support of my professional development.

Happy New Year!