Monthly Archives: August 2014

Slides, Patterns, and Space-stuff: Days 4-5


Estimation 180 -> Discussion of Daily Learning Targets and Agenda -> Review of Last Class -> Notes on Translations -> Practice with Translationss

Nothing too much to note here, we did a little I DO, WE DO, YOU DO to talk about the notation and process of translating points and then students worked on some practice problems. I was originally going to try to find some activities for the lesson, but all of our school’s Geometry teachers are supposed to stay together so to make up for the time lost last time I decided to just keep this lesson simple. Students picked up on it with little to know difficulty so I’m not too upset about it, and I know that I will need the extra time on the reflections and rotations lessons.


One of my favorite pieces of the Modeling Physics curriculum is the Scientific Thinking unit. The unit builds the foundation for the later material by teaching students how to linearize data in order to create equations. This is what makes the Paradigm Labs possible and so useful.

Over the summer, I was introduced to the “Patterns Approach to Physics” materials by Casey Rutherford (@rutherfordcasey) on Twitter. I really like the materials, especially the first unit, and they are easily integrated into a modeling approach.

So for the third day in class, I gave students a short lecture about how to fit curves in order to write equations and make predictions. I hate just sitting at the board and lecturing to the students, but I have no idea how to teach this portion of the class any other way. If any experienced modelers have any advice I would love to hear it.

After that we practice the new techniques on the data we got from the pendulum lab in the previous class and yet again, I did not get to use my bowling ball pendulum. I think I am going to somehow integrate this into a test question and then after the test we will see how well students’ predictions worked out.


After the debacle that was the last class, I decided I am going to jump into Optics and teach the math skills the students are deficient in through the light applications I gave a brief lesson on the properties of waves and then we jumped into a PhEt simulation in an attempt to determine the relationship between wavelength, velocity, amplitude, and frequency. I feel that the lesson went well, but several students voiced their dislike of my curricular decision to start with light (and not with space) and the use of math in the course, even after I promised them that both were very important to the ‘space-stuff’ they were craving. Hopefully, I can get students to buy into my curricular vision and of the importance of mathematics.


Getting Caught Up: Days 3-4

I’ve gotten a little behind on my writing, primarily due to the fact that WordPress is driving me crazy not displaying the links that I’ve placed in my post. I’m not sure what’s wrong; I’ve tried several different methods, but ultimately always have to revert back to doing the link in HTML (which is ok, but if there is a button, it should work.)

For the second day of Geometry we jumped right into the content. I really love the way the Common Core State Standards leads off with Transformations in Geometry. It lends itself to a more dynamic view of geometry, which I feel really benefits students as compared to the more traditional approach later in the course.

This summer I read a good amount about Piaget’s Learning Cycle (which is almost synonymous with the Modeling Cycle) and I am really trying to integrate it into every subject that I teach.


So for the Exploration stage (Piaget), or Paradigm Lab (Modeling), we played Tetris. Well, not exactly, I gave each student a unique Tetris board with pieces already in place, a 10 x 10 grid, and an assortment of tetriminoes. Their goal was to get their partner to perfectly recreate the puzzle without pointing at the board, touching the pieces, or showing their puzzle. 

The students were very engaged and seemed to enjoy the activity and after, lead to some really good discussion about the basic moves of tetris: slides, turns, and flips (traditional tetris has no reflections; however, I did not include any mirrored pieces in the students’ set of tetriminoes which made them really think outside the box when it came to turning pieces over). The last little bit of class we spent discussing what you information you needed to know to perform each of the individual movements.

This activity was great, but it seemed liked it took a long time to get across a pretty simple point. Next year, I think I am going to do something similar to what Kate Nowak did to introduce congruence through transformations. I feel like her approach still allows students to explore while still getting the content across and it would allow me to go ahead and start teaching Translations the same day. I wish the entire country started school at the same time so I could steal ideas as I needed them instead of having to file them away until next year.


My physics class this year is only seven students big and each of them are very gifted, so I’m hoping to get much further in the curriculum this year than I did last year. To start the first day of content in class we did the classic pendulum lab. I allowed them to brainstorm variables that could affect the period of the pendulum and then allowed them to take data for each of these ideas. Last year, when I allowed students to brainstorm variables to investigate I got several interesting ideas; however, this year the traditional three (mass, angle, and length of string) were the only ones suggested.

The experiments went really well and had students asking some really good questions. Several took way too long doing the mass portion of the experiment, because they refused to believe that heavier objects didn’t swing faster than lighter ones. We ran out of time before we could discuss everything. I am that, after we have discussed curve-fitting techniques, I can use my six-foot bowling ball pendulum to verify the models they create.


This is my first time teaching Astronomy and, even though I have received some great advice, from some great educators (let me know if the links do not work, I’m not sure how the permissions work on dropbox and google drive), I am having trouble getting all of my thoughts and goals together for the course. I’m pretty confident with my plans later in the semester, but for some reason the introduction is proving to be very difficult. Our textbook (“Investigating Astronomy” by Slater and Freedman) jumps straight in to, what I call, Visible Astronomy, which involves the motion of constellations, phases of the moon, eclipses, etc; but I decided to take a different approach and start with a unit on the Scientific Method and Optics.

So for the second day of class I gave students the first lesson from Astronomy Labs: A Concept Oriented Approach, which is suppose to practice some basic mathematics: conversions, scientific notation, and equation solving through the lens of planning a trip to Mars. I thought that it would be a great way to introduce students to the mathematical difficulty that was going to be involved in the course while also exploring an interesting concept.


It was a disaster. I clearly took the mathematical ability of my students for granted. Some students did fine, but others refused to continue after only a couple of problems. I ultimately reverted back to lecturing them through the asnwers, but ultimately I felt like the day was wasted, lesson learned. Luckily, I get another try second semester.

P.S. with the addition of Astronomy to my course-load, I might have to change the name of the blog from the Inclined Plane to the Inclined Ecliptic Plane; but that opens a slippery slope, I’m not sure I’m creative enough to keep the name chain going if I have to teach something new next year.

Day 1-2: Laying the Foundation

So we got back to the grind this week in Mississippi. This year I am teaching four geometry courses, one physics course, and one astronomy course. Add to that, this year I also have made the change to Standards-Based Grading.

I could sit and plan all summer for my first day of school. I want students to be blown away by their first encounter with our learning environment. Last year, I feel like students had a pretty good experience; however, I also feel like my classroom management was a bit lackadaisical (NOTE: I am not ascribing any correlation between the two variables), so this year I had to do things a little differently.

I still wanted to provide students with a unique, fun learning experience, but I first wanted to emphasize our daily routine and procedures. So we practiced entering the classroom, working on the daily / Bell Ringers, and moving into and out of groups. After we had laid out a solid foundation we moved on to some more interactive tasks.

SIDENOTE: Since adopting the methods I have found it very difficult to encourage the necessary classroom dialogue while also keeping all students involved and on task. It’s a bit easier with the upper classmen in physics, but my younger students in geometry make it quite a hassle. In no way do I want to be the guy constantly handing out detention, but I desire more to maintain the classroom environment. I would love to hear from experienced modelers on how they achieve this balance.

In Geometry we worked on a couple of in groups. These activities went over pretty well with students and allowed me to launch into the . We got to discuss what each practice looks like and then discussed which ones they used in the two activities. I gave everyone a copy to place as the first entry in their notebooks. We finished by taking the to help me determine at what stage my students are and to see how far we can move them along throughout the course of the year.

In Physics we began by doing Frank Noschese’s and then followed it up with the Marshmallow Challenge. A student assembly cut my block short and that was about all we had time for.

And finally, in Astronomy, I had students, in 140 characters or less, describe NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. After that we had time to have a contest to see which group could come up with the most astronomically named products/brands. By the way, this activity brought to the light the fact that, I am really out-of-the-loop with the products that adolescents are familiar with.

Overall, I was very pleased with my student’s performance and the overall flow of the first class periods and am very excited about what this year holds.