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Day -2: My set-up for vertical non-permanent surfaces


Ended up using 2 ring stands with T bases to support the boards in front of the windows.

Day 1: Whiteboard Problem Solving


AP Physics C: After playing the lab grouping game, we solved a problem on whiteboards to prepare for tomorrow’s quiz on the summer assignment. (This is my largest AP Physics C class ever with 26 students!)


NGSS Science & Engineering Practice 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking



Day 6: Which Graph Do You Like Better and Why?


College-Prep Physics: This is a revision of Friday’s graphing lesson that I was able to use with another class today. We compared individual attributes of two handwritten bouncy ball graphs. Compared titles, axes labels, axes scale, BFL, graphing all data vs. average, etc. Because not everyone voted when we did show of hands, I had kids stand on opposite sides of the room to vote on which graph they liked best for each attribute.

Students then made their own Bouncy Ball graph in light of the previous discussion.

NOTE: I need to make a better handout next year. Plus, I never got around to writing the BFL equation and slope calculations for the first graph.

Day 5: The Dreaded ZigZag


College-Prep Physics: In two of the CP classes, students graphed their ball bounce data. Part of it was for me to see were they are with their graphing skills and help correct mistakes. The classroom arrangement isn’t very conducive to walking around and looking at their work, so I was just talking from the front of the room as questions arose. It wasn’t a great lesson, and I need to revise it for my third CP class on Monday.

I tried using the above visual to show why “zigzag” breaks on graph axis can be bad. The paper folds over to show how the zigzag part is eliminated and creates a false y-intercept. (Thinking about this now, it would be even better if the graph was a parabola or square root. You couldn’t tell if the trend curved or not if the beginning of the graph was zigzagged out.)

Day 4: Feynman, Petals on a Rose, and Ball Bounce


College-Prep Physics: Feynman says doing physics is like figuring out the the rules of chess by watching the chess games be played. It’s a great analogy for doing science and modeling:

Then we did our own version of this, with a little game called Petals on a Rose. To make the game go quicker, I just rolled two dice (live) instead of five. The kids were really into it. It was great watching them build their mental models for the how the game worked. Even better was when, after several successful predictions, a roll would NOT match their prediction. “WHAT?!?” they’d say. But after a few minutes, just about everybody came around.

For the remainder of the period, students worked on collecting and analyzing data for the ball bounce lab. Last year I limited students to just 10 minutes with the ball. Big mistake. This year they had about 30 minutes … gave them lots of time to take lots of data points and do repeated trials. How/what data they collected was up to them. Tomorrow I’ll bring out the hoop and they’ll get one chance to drop the ball so it rebounds up to the height of the hoop — not any higher or lower.

Day 3: Whirly-gig Lab


College-Prep Physics: Whirly-gig Experimental Design Lab

“What do you notice about the whirly-gig? What do you wonder? Pick a wonder question and design an experiment around it. Describe your experiment in detail. What will you measure? How will you measure it? What will you change? What will you keep the same?” (Each student designs his/her own experiment.)

Students carry out their individual experiments, with help from their lab partners. Once students finish their experiments and write up their data analysis and conclusion, I tell them about the Whirly-gig Challenge — build a whirly-gig with the longest air time. Now each student shares out their results (even if unrelated to air time) KNOWING the challenge lies ahead — helps them stay focused. After the last student shares, each lab group has 10  minutes to build their spinner. Then we head to the staircase, each group drops their spinner one at a time, and I time the fall with a stopwatch.

Here’s where I got my inspiration for this lab, and the templates:

PS: To make the year more interesting, I’m incorporating many of these lab challenges into a Physics Olympics. This is the second event we’ve done (the pasta tower was the first, though I didn’t tell them until the next day). Each event has it’s own scoring, and I keep track of how many points each team/kid earns. The points aren’t tied to grades, but just some fun competition and I’ll have some prizes at the end of the year.

Day 2: Mystery Cube


College-Prep Physics: “What’s on the bottom of the cube?” (no peeking!)

I borrowed this idea from Gary Abud’s post The Magic Number Cube Consensus Game. I added yellow and blue colored paper so students had to predict both the color and the number on the bottom of the cube. Also, the numbers are not labeled like a die where the opposite sides add to seven. I think these two changes opened up more possibilities for student responses.

Day 1: Unique Tower Design

Photo Sep 09, 10 31 06 PM

College-Prep Physics: While not the tallest spaghetti tower, it is a unique design that I haven’t seen in the 3 years that I’ve done the Marshmallow Challenge. Also, having each group’s materials pre-made and ready-to-go have made this the most efficient Challenge yet. In the 24-minute block, we did the 18-min challenge and had time for quick announcements and introductions. Rather than show the TED talk in class, I’ve assigned it for homework. I used a Google form, which are now capable of having YouTube videos embedded into the form. You can see it here: Marshmallow Challenge HW.