Thursday, September 25, 2008

ORE, CAN, and Service Learning

First for some odds and ends:
I think I'm going to video tape the students' water rockets and analyze them in Logger Pro. hahaha. This is going to be awesome. We'll predict the velocity vs. time graphs ahead of time, and then compare them to what we actually get. Yes!

Service Learning (not to be confused with Community Service or Community Based Learning) is addressing authentic community questions/problems through topics embedded in the curriculum. The Service Learning Team in our district is attempting to increase the number of teachers participating in Service Learning type projects, and one of the biggest sticking points we have (and there are a few) is connecting community problems with teacher's curricula. Teachers are often simply unaware of the needs in our community.

Enter the Onion River Exchange (ORE) and Capitol Area Neighborhoods (CAN).

ORE is a time bank, where people offer services (I offer physics tutoring and wine-making help) and needs (ex: could I borrow your car every Sunday? your vacuum?). Basically it's a list of needs in the community.

CAN is a network of Montpelier neighborhoods attempting to plan for winter heating and financial crisis. We're canvassing this weekend, knocking on every door to make sure that people have information about 211, the energy/heating hotline, local foodshelves, etc. We'll do some asset mapping, meaning we'll give out a survey which asks questions like "Do you have a shovel? Snow blower? Are you willing to help a neighbor without a snowblower? Would you like help shoveling?" and my favorite "Do you have expertise in plumbing ... so we can call you at 3am when someone's pipes burst?" I'm TOTALLY excited about getting my neighborhood more connected.

These are two groups that will be very in touch with the needs in our community, which makes them an easy place to look for curriculum connections.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with Ken Jones for ideas of how to connect weatherizing with thermodynamics, so I'll more ideas then, but for now I'm thinking we'll need to put out a survey to student's families to see if there is any interest in us going to their homes to weatherize. There is a residual question about who would get priority for weatherizing materials and labor - first come first serve is easy, but it would have to be dependent on a pre-labor site visit to make sure it's the kind of work we can do, and safe (no viscious dogs or verbally abusive grandmothers, stable floors, and no asbestos, etc.).

Enjoy the lovely day! :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Impromptu Project: Renting Students Water Bottles

All day today I've been building rockets with my physics students. We're going to use them to as an excuse to run some calculations about acceleration with real data, and also I get to work in some rather tangential physics-related topics: center of gravity, center of drag, gyroscopic motion (rifling), as well as Newton's 3rd Law. It felt awfully like a nonsequitor though to jump in to these other topics while acceleration was the supposed to be the purpose. I could do rockets with Newton's 3rd Law, but really... by the time I get to Newton's 3rd law launching rockets outdoors is unpleasantly chill.

I didn't think 8th period would be much different, but a dialogue from yesterday came up at the beginning of class. We make these rockets out of water bottles from the recycling, and yesterday it came up how plastics have BPA and it's so silly that people buy these bottles over and over, when they could just bring their own.

So today, the kids came up with the idea to rent BPA-free Nalgenes or Kleen Kanteens in the cafeteria to students who forgot to bring bottles of their own, and it'd be cheaper than buying water. Yay! I said, "To heck with the rockets! This is way more interesting". So we spent the entire class hashing out a mission statement, we called Kleen Kanteen and they said they could get us a 30% discount on a <100 shipment of bottles (amount tbd), and we spoke with Debbie the kitchen lady about what we should consider before we go to Betty the head kitchen lady.

This. Is. Awesome.

I'm so excited to see how it all turns out. We really need Betty to be on board, because I do NOT want to wash water bottles after school :( :P

To do this I think we need to show her that this system will pay for itself and how soon that will be, factoring in: extra washing time/man power, soap, initial cost of bottles, and proposed cost of renting a bottle, approximation on how much this would reduce her Dasani water profits.

Meanwhile we should also calculate the increase of local water consumption, ultimately going back to the local utility and staying in Montpelier. I think the students would like to do a taste test of the drinking fountains in the school as compared to Dasani water. My hypothesis: no one will be able to tell the difference when they're all at room temperature.

This is all great. Yummy. Wonderful.
However, at the end of the day I am left feeling a little silly... how will I justify that they are learning physics by doing this?

I could call it a gigantic Fermi problem that got out of control. I could call it chemistry - oh wait, that doesn't work. I could say it's energy. I could say it's unit analysis. Or better yet: Vital Results! haha :) As long as they sufficiently learn about acceleration in the same amount of time as the other students I will be happy. Suggestions welcome... :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scientific Election Issues

In case you're interested, I was just sent a link to McCain and Obama's answers to the "top 14 science questions facing America". Fascinating reading... perhaps I'll post more thoughts later.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I Hate Giving Homework

It's true. I can't deny it. I don't want to give it or grade it or find out why kids haven't done it. I might even go so far as to say I'm philosophically against it.

Or at least I was.

I think I may be changing my mind.

I have found homework to be the great divider among socio-economic classes. Those who "have" get it done, those who "don't" don't get it done. I don't have control over what happens to students outside of class; I'm not right there to answer questions; they don't have each other to lean on; it's just setting them up to fail. On top of that I would say that it's healthy to have a separation between work and play in one's adult career, so why should that not be true of student's life? I believe it to be hypocritical for a union teacher to refuse to cut into their own family time to grade or help the school out, and then assign homework.

(This is what the one side of me says - the side that loves my family, that's grateful to my Dad for not bringing work home. It's also the part of me that's lazy and unorganized).

Which brings us to today...

I have like 4 worksheets about acceleration I'd like to do. But... bleh. They're worksheets, and honestly, I burn out on worksheets. The students burn out on worksheets. :( I'd rather build rockets and do labs.

Solution: I should looking at what worksheets are really worth their time, and then which worksheets can be optional. I'll make the worthwhile ones homework and the redundant ones optional, so that we can do rockets during class.

Also, for the most part students haven't really had many questions on the class blogs, probably because I don't give much/any homework - and if I did this there would no doubt be questions. And then they'd get to teach each other. Yay :)

Planning Community-Relevant Projects

So I've got a couple ideas about projects to do with the kiddos that would be active, hands-on, and more or less relevant to their lives.

1) I've contact the Roots School (in Central Vermont), they teach primitive skills, and I think my low level students would TOTALLY appreciate knowing how to build a fire from nothing. Some of them already do, but I would love to teach that in the context of friction, forces, and thermodynamics. How awesome would that be? A teacher from Roots has already responded, so now it's time to plan a bit how it relates to physics, and also figure out where on school grounds this would be "okay" to do.

2) Button-Up Vermont holds workshops to help people do low and no-cost weatherizing solutions. Again as a part of my thermodynamics we could learn how to weatherize people's houses and then ... well... go do it! Tomorrow is Open House, so I'm hoping to solicit families who'd be willing to have us visit their house to do some weatherization work. .... potentially... i mean... assuming we're not busting through walls to insulate places and accidentally encountering asbestos. I'd want to check out the house ahead of time and figure out what work needed to be done and make sure that was within our capabilities as a class. I've already contacted a few people about this and it looks like something will emerge after we meet to nail down more details. (yay!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Class blog: why isn't Experimental Physics blogging?

It's been about a week since I assigned my experimental physics students to post on their blog, and well, they no one had. A few people left comments, but that's it. So today I opened up that conversation, why weren't they posting? What should we do about it? Is it something that people still want to do? Admittedly it was a little scary to put that out there as a question: "Is this something you guys still want to do?" And to my delight and relief they said, "Yes, but let's start over."
"So how should we start over?"
"Well, I know you showed us on the projector how to post, but honestly, it goes in one ear and out the other just to watch it - errr in one eye and out my ear. I have to do it. So I say let's go down to the computer lab and all post, and then we'll know how to do it."

Brilliant. Thanks to Ben for completely reading my mind and proposing exactly what I was hoping to do.

So I had them ALL post something about peak oil - the content we had just barely covered, so this was a way for them to apply to their lives what they'd just learned about - and the answers were fascinating, funny, and unexpected. For the first few (ones I read while they were still in class) I asked them to edit their punctuation/grammar, but the later ones I just couldn't get to. I think you can really tell who's I caught and sent back for fixing and those I didn't. We really need to work on writing in this school :P

Anyway, it was encouraging to me that they all posted today, and perhaps tomorrow I'll put an assignment out there to read people's posts and comment on someone else's thoughts. I wonder if they will do it on their own time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Caring for the Earth Conference and Shelburne Farms Harvest Festival

I haven't posted about VSHI in a little while - I suppose that's because we've been working out bugs on the VSHI donation website (carbon offsets) as well as the Addison County LIHEAP Pilot Project. We're hoping to do a massive media-oriented installation next month, and that will hopefully be good for donations as well.

Meanwhile, there are a few conferences coming up worth mentioning.

Caring for the Earth Conference at the Bishop Booth Conference Center in Burlington
October 26-28th, Registration: $40
It's all about faith communities coming together to address global climate change. We'll be looking into the future and see how we can move towards sustainability and help facilitate that transition, so I'm pretty stoked about it. Also VSHI is the very first presentation of the conference and everyone will be there: Gah! Exciting!

30th Annual Shelburne Farms Harvest Festival and Energy Fair
September 20th, Adults: $6, Children $4
There will be music and hayrides and fresh foods, like any good harvest festival should. But I'm sure among other valuable energy information, I'm told there will be a demonstration of grass-tablet making (grass tablets are less energy-intensive to produce), as well as a home-made gasification burner by Ethan Dressigacker (sp?), a teenage heating entrepreneur.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Class Blogs: Punctuation and Grammar

So I was already thinking about how to handle bad grammar/spelling on the class blogs when I went into a 504 meeting today. The parents were very concerned that their student was not getting the grammar and spelling support necessary for good writing in the real world, and that papers for classes other than English ought to grade these aspects as well.

I say: Fair Enough. Thus far I have not really paid much attention to grammar/spelling in, well, anything - mainly because I don't necessarily pride myself as being a good grammaricist or speller (case in point, eh?). However, I don't think my punctuation holds me back from communicating effectively, and there are some really whopping glaring errors in the student entries.

I think I'm coming out with an addition to the requirements for a good blog/post (not just a clarification):
"If your post/comment has egregious spelling or grammar problems I won't approve it, and you'll need to fix the errors before it can be approved."

Class blog: content vs. daily log of activities

The class blogs are "running" now, in that students are posting, but it's not so far what I'd hoped for. It's more like a running log of "what we did" rather than what we're learning. :( Shockingly enough, the first model post that I did was more like a log than what we learned, perhaps because we were only doing introductory, nature of science, stuff, so it didn't feel like "content", but really that just means that I didn't identify what from the nature of science we were learning.

I should say that whatever notes were given that day should be a part of the day's post. Hm. That might be an awkward conversation: adding requirements after I've passed out the guidelines. Well... it's not really adding a requirement, it's that I need to clarify the requirement to post about "what we learned".

Meanwhile, I just had Experimental Physics class choose days, and they seem as into it as the other classes, which I find encouraging.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Student Posting Guidelines and Goals

So far I've shown them all how to log in and write an entry. So I shouldn't have been surprised when I gave them an assignment "look up peak oil, and leave a comment to this post about 'what is peak oil?' in your own words" that they all left entries and not comments. huh. Certainly these are bright kids, but I just didn't teach them how to leave a "comment" and so they did what I had shown them.

Meanwhile, I need to come up with a brief sheet about goals for blog use and guidelines for a good entry or comment.
Why am I having them do this? Why is it important?
1) I want them to learn from each other. This is a place to ask questions.
2) I want give them the opportunity to teach each other. I want them to be able to communicate their learning. It's about decentralizing the source of knowledge.
3) I want them to know how to use this technology (as April said) safely and effectively.

Guidelines for a good post:
1) Include content (ex: acceleration is..., the equation for velocity is...)
2) Include general activities (ex: today we did an Agree/Disagree activity)
3) Include homework
4) Tie in outside sources, other websites, pictures (make sure to site them!), java applets, whatever that helps explain the content.
5) Sign your first name at the end!
6) follows rules from the contract - respectful and clean, science-relevant, no last names, locations, or other identifying qualities, make sure you've dealt appropriately with any copyright issues.

Guidelines for a good comment:
1) ask a question about physics or
2) attempt to answer someone else's question about physics,
3) it can be just something cool that you found on the internet that's relevant to science, the post, or what we're doing in class.
Aaaaand it must follow all the rules from the contract.

Perhaps I'll have people post 2x a week either a post or a comment. Should it be more? 2x a week would be like 8x a month, that's a fair amount, eh?

Agree/Disagree and Facebook

Yesterday and today I've been doing an Agree/Disagree activity, which is where I put a statement on the board and then students move themselves to sign that indicates how they feel about that statement: Strong Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. And then they discuss their opinions.

So for your reading enjoyment, here are the statements I put on the board.

  • I like science.
  • Scientific Progress is “good”.
  • One theory is “truer” than another theory if it can explain more observable phenomena. -Karl Popper (my paraphrase)
  • There is no rule in physics that is not violated at some time or other. - Paul Feyerabend
  • There’s no such thing as neutral observation. - Thomas Kuhn
  • If humanity continued forever, someday we would know everything there is to know.
  • Someday soon we will run out of oil.
  • Vermont should build wind farms.
  • The world has more people than it can sustainably support.

They had a hard time with the Paul Feyerabend quote citing that they just didn't know. So I'll probably change that to some other Paul Feyerabend quote.

Also I took an informal poll about what Web 2.0 sites my students were familiar with:
many had experience with myspace,
none one was familiar with livejournal or xanga,
EVERYfreaking one of them has facebook, which is good to know since I now know what common language to use, e.g. "the wall", applications, commenting, "it's like writing a note", etc.

Interestingly, I only know of 3 other teachers in the whole district who have facebook accounts (total of 4), two of us at the high school, one at the middle school, one's the middle school tech coordinator lady. Hmmmm... what does that say? That we live in different technological worlds? For many that's probably true.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Class blogs & Beginnings

I've started the class blogs, and I've learned a bit already:
1) I'm torn about letting them choose usernames. I've got to filter them for appropriateness, and then give them a password. I'm email the web address, their username and password to each of them, but wow, that's taking a long time :P Probably I could write a program to do it for me, but that might actually take more time still! So I should just tell them that their username is their first name and then just write out their password. The set-up process is just taking more time than anticipated.

2) Thus far, in my syllabus and for this blog I've been using my personal email address, and it's occurring to me now that... maybe i should use my work address. About half way through emailing students I switched.

3) I still haven't decided how to go about the schedule of student's blogging/the amount of posting and comments I expect.

In general the classes so far (including my gigantic class and experimental physics) seem really great. They're a good mix of attentive and talkative and respectful. It feels good to have finally met them all.

Meanwhile here are the links to the classblogs! The students haven't started posting there yet cause they don't all have their passwords/usernames yet, but feel free to check 'em out nonetheless!

Period 1
Period 5
Period 6
Period 7