Monday, September 17, 2012

Physics Mad-Libs

In my Physics classes, we've just finished deriving the avg velocity equation and are wading into our first numerical word problems.  The freshmen, in particular, really need a fair amount of repetition to be taught how to cull variables out of word problems, how to figure out what equation to use, how to solve simple algebra problems, and then how to check their answers for reasonableness.  In the past, I've basically written up a number of problems along the lines of "a ball is rolling at 3 m/s for 9 seconds, how far does it go" and worked through them together on the document camera or in worksheets.  This year, in the spirit of gamification, I've been thinking about ways to make this tedious and teacher-driven day more engaging, and came up with the idea of Physics mad-libs.  Here's how it works - write up the shell of a problem, leaving blanks for nouns, verbs, and numerical values.  Poll the class for words / numbers to fill in the problem.  Trust me, they will be much more hysterical and interesting to the kids than anything you could possibly have dreamed up on your own.  As each numerical value is chosen, discuss the "reasonableness" of the value so the kids start to get a sense of how far, fast, and long SI units that they're not terribly familiar with are.  Have them solve it, again making sure to highlight whether or not the answer makes sense. 

For example:
A ________(noun) was __________(verb ending in -ing) because ____________ (reason).  If his/her/its velocity was _________(velocity including units) and he/she/it continued at this velocity for ___________(time including units), how far has it gone? 

And voila - they loved it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Obligatory "Hello World" Post

After hemming and hawing for a little over a year, I've finally decided to jump in an create a blog chronicling my classroom and curriculum as a high school Physics teacher in Portland, Oregon.  Honestly, the last two months have been stalled out partially due to my seeming inability to come up with a witty, germane blog name, and while I'm not 100% sold on Nature's Game, it's my favorite so far. 

At any rate, by way of introduction, I'm a lady-type Physics teacher in my fourth year of teaching.  Becoming a teacher was never really in my grand master plan - I studied geology and engineering in college and intended to spend my life roaming through deserts and using fancy tools to map out fascinating sub-surface geophysical anomalies.  After college I actually managed to find a job doing almost exactly that, but after five years of it I found myself feeling a bit aimless and understimulated.  So, after some soul-searching, I somehow narrowed my choices down to a) police officer or b) teacher.   When I presented these options to my wonderful, supportive husband, it took him about four seconds to respectfully veto option a, and I set about finding myself an unwitting classroom to throw myself in front of. 

Teaching is, in fact, stimulating.  After I made it through a terror-filled first day in which I tried to parrot a lesson from my "mentor" teacher, I very quickly discovered that I just couldn't copy material verbatim from anyone else.  I needed to re-learn everything I thought I knew about Physics, to approach it again from the point of view of a terrified high schooler, to tear each lesson down and rebuild it from scratch and to try and infuse as much common sense, intuition, and fun, as I possibly could into every single day.

So here I am.  This year, I'm digging deeper into SBG (I piloted a version last year), trying to give my kids some of the basic ideas of modeling while somehow blasting through mechanics fast enough to get to spend some quality time with electricity, waves, optics, and modern physics, and working on a master's thesis on gamification in the high school physics classroom.  I'm sure this blog will be a mixture of my experiences with all of these strategies / philosophies, as well as a generous dose of show-and-tell because I just like writing about Physics.  Above all, I just think it's about time I get myself into this conversation - to stop being a consumer of all the wonderful information on the interwebs and start contributing something of my own.  Thanks for reading.