Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Physics War 2008

The physics war is so much a part of the culture here and my class that I will never be able to stop doing this project. It is for this project that students sign up for my class.

The basic idea is that groups of 4 students get a length of PVC piping, a 2x4, and some surgical tubing (plus a few other nuts and bolts) which is built into basically a giant slingshot with a barrel. It's ... kind of awesome. :) hahaha. The students do a lab where we measure the angle and the corresponding range and explain their results based on the range equation.

This all culminates with a class vs. class physics war where each class has tin cans and they try to knock over other class' cans with tennis balls launched out of their slingshots. The four classes were in four corners of a field with the cans out in front of them. This is then followed with a panel discussion on war. As recommended by my mentor teacher, Tom Tailer, I invited an army recruiter, a returned soldier, a war veteran, and a pacifist and the students could ask them questions.

Well, to be honest, the panel discussion the last couple years has been remarkably lame, only barely physics related, and not nearly as controvertial as I had hoped. So this year I'm shifting. I'm going to make the war part more like Tom's and the post-war debrief less like Tom's.

Tom gives the groups an accuracy test and whoever gets the longest accurately-tested range gets the first choice of country. Yes. Tom sets up the soccer field like a map of the world and the countries available for choosing are known or suspected nuclear powers. Countries can invade each other and take each other's resources, which provides a motivation for who to aim at.

Now, he buys his students like pizza and rice and other "culturally typical" foods, but I wasn't quite ready to buy like eight pizzas for my students. :P So instead I've come up with my own unit of physics war capital: m&m's.

Yes, every country will receive an amount of m&m's proportional to that country's GDP. In order to invade another country (thus taking their m&m's) the aggressing country must knock over that country's can a number of times proportional to that country's millitary strength, measured in dollars spent on millitary.

If they one country invades another they get to take that country's m&m supply.

Meanwhile, I'm morphing the panel discussion into a student debate. We might debate in our own classes questions like "When is war justified?", "What is proper procedure for introducing weapon based on new technology?" (Tazers, EMP bombs, nukes, etc.), "Is it ok to perform medical testing of any kind on prisoners of war?" (The students came up with that last one).

So there we are. I'm pretty excited about it. It should all be going down either Halloween or the Thursday after Halloween. Ohhhh my it will be cold! :/

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Weatherization Training in Physics Class

The Ken Jones-led "Weatherization Training at School" was a total success. I definitely need to write him a thank you note. Students learned about how thermodynamics principles connected to home heating, and got to see weather stripping and where on a door/window it goes. We did some experiments with tin foil boxes and ice cubes - it was great. Specifically we built two boxes out of tin foil. One went over in a corner away from everything. One went on the vent, which was spewing room-temperature air. So which melted first? The one on the vent. Why? Convection. BAM! Students learned that convection is just as important as conduction to account for the heat loss in a house.

Some interesting nuggets:
  • A 1/8" gap around a door (which is typical) is the same area as a 4" hole in your wall. Seal that up!
  • Frequently the holes that are cut for cable to enter a house are not sufficiently sealed up/insulated.
  • The "pink stuff" is not as awesome as people once thought. Apparently it's good for preventing conduction, but is quite awful at preventing convection. You can blow air right through it, and so if there's a way for air to get into the outside part of your wall, and there's an opening to the outside somewhere higher up, it can create a heat pump through the walls of your house!
  • The best windows ever made (for insulation purposes) have an R of 3.5. Whereas regular 1" foam insulation (with tin-foil on the sides) is R: 7.5
Ok that's it for now :)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Update from the NEGEF Retreat

So the reality is I'm exhausted right now and it's not even 10pm. That's preposterous.
In considering where my exhaustion comes from I must site something rather unusual: over-inspiration. Sometimes I think there are just SO many great ideas in the world they wear me out.

I'm currently at the New England Grass Roots Environment Fund annual retreat for grantees. They gave us a grant for the Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative.

So let's make a list of all the good ideas that have been thrown at me and apparently are sticking:
1) Carl Etnier (of the Post-Carbon Sustainability Network, WGDR, and WDEV) proposed that he and I lead a professional development workshop for physics teachers about peak oil. We could teach it through Yestermorrow, which he's got some connections with. So I was like... dang. Yea. ok.
2) I just found another young professional Christian person in Montpelier (this is quite rare). I'm now up to 5 of us, and that may just constitute a critical mass to start a discussion group. Focusing quesitons: what does it mean to be a Christian? What is church?

I don't think I've blogged about this at all...

Well... here we go: St. Andrew's Christian Church of Burlington is thinking about starting a church farm. We've started a dialogue with St. Michael's College to see if we can team up with them to use their land since we've got people... but no land.

Anyway here there are at least 2 Burlington-based community garden groups. They want to work with low income families. We want to work with low-income families. BAM! We should team up. Meanwhile there are at least 3 other people here who are connected to church-based gardens. Turns out this is not a new idea. *gasp!* :) So it will be great to take back their contact info so we can ask them questions like "What have you learned from this process? What would you do differently? How do you divide up the harvest? Do you have private plots?"

Meanwhile, I remain feeling over-committed and sleep deprived. And it's only 10:04pm. So I'm going to go to sleep. Cheers, friends!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cleaning up after the sub...

It's the reason teachers cringe at the thought of a sick day: Sub Plans.

There's no telling who you'll have, and so sub plans must be idiot proof. Not that subs are idiots - I have a lot of respect for anyone who is willing to subject themselves to the great terror students unleash on a spineless substitute. Nonetheless, I would not volunteer myself to teach something like Art, or Biology, or Band. I could get by, but my gosh, nothing would really get done. Even if my students were a little uncomfortable with how it all went down the upshot of these last two days was that everything I asked for did get turned in (yay!).

Sorry ~ yea, this venting is more for me than for you...

And now for more cleaning up of another kind:
During the faculty meeting today a student came up to me and said, "We found this on top of a locker in the boys locker room". It was a stack of cards I had kept in a wallet that went missing last spring. I assumed I had lost it. But as of this afternoon I've come to accept that it was stolen. :( . It shouldn't matter cause it's water under the bridge by now. But wow. weird. I might have lost like $5 or so, but I at least I got back my library card and an un-used bus pass (the credit and debit cards got canceled shortly after it went missing). After reviewing last year's roster I've got it down to a short list of 4 and shorter list of 2 possible people. I guess I should report it to the assistant principal and let it go from there.

I guess I'll not be bringing my wallet to school anymore :P

In other news, in the last week like 3 people have asked me if I've sold my car yet. Wow. Thanks for checking in with me about that. Yea - no. :P Not at all. I've had more conversations about it, and the goal is really live a fossil-fuel-free lifestyle, but I own my car completely, so I could just let it sit somewhere. I might have to park it far away to force me to actually find transportation solutions. This is the running option right now. But as Carolyn K observed this weekend "my values are in conflict".

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Professional Learning Communities with the DuFours

I just returned yesterday from Montreal where a crew from the school district heard Rick and Becky DuFour speak on their rendition of the "Professional Learning Community" model of education. Everything they said was dead on ~ their model makes sense and they have the data to back that up. However, I do feel like it's difficult to apply their model to a small school.

My understanding of their model (in a nutshell) is to have teachers who teach the same course or content administer the same test to their students, and then they'd have data by which they can assess how effective their teaching is. Then teachers can ask each other for help with their areas of weakness.

Sweet. Basing decisions on data seems like a good idea. :)

But how do you do this in a small school? I am the only one teaching my content area. So here are our options (which I have to think a bit about since I'm the PLC leader for the science department):

1) The science teachers talk about the big ideas of science that connect us, and we collect data on those things: inquiry, ethics, sustainability, etc.

2) We find people in the region who teach our same course and we collaborate with them about our actual content, administer similar tests and compare data to each other to see our strengths/weaknesses and then learn from each other.

I'd like to pursue both options, but for now option 1 will be the most easy to implement. I do feel like it might feel somewhat contrived, if we find that we may not actually have that much in common - or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'll surprise myself.

In any case, I miss my kids. I hate having to write sub plans :(

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Operation Plastic Removal

A lot has been going on here, but I really should keep it short because I need to get up early early tomorrow to meet a carpool to drive to Montreal for a training in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Turns out I'm the leader of my department's PLC, which I suppose is a little like being science department chair. Gah. I just thought about that for realsies today, and it kinda scared me a little bit cause, man, I don't like being in charge. :P bleh. Nonetheless I find myself going to this training tomorrow to become a better PLC leader. Yea.

Meanwhile the Period 7-8 physics class has formed an organization they've named Operation Plastic Removal, or OPR. There's also now officially a facebook group (but I think you have to be invited to join - sorry guys).

The OPR news is that the cafeteria wants nothing to do with renting bottles. This made us pause a bit and re-evaluate what our goals were. We determined that a suitable solution would be to sell mason jars with full screw-top lids. Simultaneously a student came up with a REALLY sweet t-shirt design based on an SNL skit about Sofa King Cool. ha. It's a funny shirt (if you don't get it just say it 5 times really fast). Aaaaand it also involves mason jars. Nice. We'll definitely sell a bunch. I want one and I don't even swear. So we figured we could sell these T-shirts and give away mason jars with them. In addition we could sell Mason Jars alone for 50 cents (cheaper than buying water in the cafeteria).

At this point no one has done the financial analysis to estimate payback time, but that may be a next step, right along with the taste test scheduled for tomorrow - to determine which water fountain in the school is the tastiest.

Meanwhile, what will this have to do with physics? haha - you thought I'd forgotten. Well, what's the downside of mason jars? They break. So what I'd love to do is get different thickness socks, or beer cozies, or the like, and do some impact/impulse/crash test measurements to see what impulse they can withstand. This is totally momentum, force, impact, change in motion ~ basically a physics fiesta. (Ok, now I'm starting to sound like my students, so it's time to go to bed).