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:

NNHS Computer Science Education Week Poster by gcschmit

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!

OSMOCES 2013: Computational Modeling with VPython

If you are in my OSMOCES 2013 session on Computational Modeling with VPython and want to try the models as we go, here are the three links to you need to get setup:

Install VPython for your system and download my vpython-physics repository from GitHub.

If you referring to these materials later or just browsing, here are the slides I shared.

OSMOCES 2013 Computational Modeling by gcschmit

I also shared several links to other resources, textbooks, papers at the end. They are reproduced here to make navigation easier.

Introducing Growth Mindset and Deep Practice to Students

I read Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle this summer. The three of us teaching Honors Physics this year agreed that we should share the concepts of mindset and deep practice with out students, emphasize them throughout the year, and measure how our students mindsets change throughout the year.

Inspired by the efforts of John Burk and Mylène. I put together some materials that focus on mindset and learning attitudes. There are a coupe of surveys, some in-class activities, and some readings for homework and in-class discussion. I think focusing on these concepts can have a significant impact on our students. I also wanted to collect some data that measures the impact of our new approach to Honors Physics.

We started with John Burk’s intelligence survey which is a short survey to be administered before discussing mindset and deep practice. We assigned this survey for homework and captured the data in Canvas.

Some results were quite promising and indicative of more of a growth mindset than I expected:

Screen Shot 2013 09 22 at 12 42 06 AM

You can greatly change how intelligent you are.

Screen Shot 2013 09 22 at 12 42 15 AM

You can greatly change your ability to understand science.

And some indicate that there is plenty of room to change attitudes about learning and physics:

Screen Shot 2013 09 22 at 12 41 57 AM

How well you can memorize mostly determines how well you can do in science.

Screen Shot 2013 09 22 at 12 42 40 AM

Watching an instructor do examples is the best way to learn new material.

After students completed the intelligence survey, we introduced the concepts of growth vs. fixed mindset and performed activities from The Talent Code to demonstrate deep practice and chunking. At home they watched Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit. Here are the slides:

Mindset and Deep Practice Intro by gcschmit

We then assigned The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids a New York Magazine article for reading at home. We also distributed copies of Diana Hestwood’s slides about how the brain learns.

The next day in class, we had a great discussion about this article and the slides. Several students really identified with the boy Thomas in the New York Magazine article.

The final piece as to administer the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) which was developed by the PER group at Colorado Boulder. We wanted to administer this at the start of the year to capture student expectations and then again at the end of the year to capture how student attitudes have changed. Administering this survey was a bit tricky since these students don’t have a previous experience with a physics class. So, we encouraged them to complete the survey based on their expectations.

To achieve our goal of having a significant impact on our students, these activities must only be the beginning. We will have to make a concerted effort to reinforce growth mindsets explicitly throughout the year and implicitly with a culture in which a growth mindset can flourish. While I fear that the traditional school environment fosters a fixed mindset, I hope that at least our classroom (especially with standards-based grading) can provide a refuge for the growth mindset.