Sunday, July 31, 2011

KSTF: Like a Shot in the Arm

My long hiatus from blogging here has really been due to the lack of internet at my abode. Though I don't regret this, I am pleased as punch to now have internet tethering through my phone. I sincerely hope that this means I will get back to blogging. Truth be told: I miss it.

Today I have the delightful task of doing absolutely nothing on a train from Philadelphia to the simple city of Montpelier. I'm pretty sure that some of the folks whom I told about my method of travel thought I was a little touched to choose an 11 hr train ride over a 2.5 hr flight. But I see it as a gift. How often do you get to just be quiet and do simple sedentary things? As a teacher/
ultimate player/non-profit founder/church goer/environmental activist, not much.

I'm returning from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation summer meeting, my 7th (or 8th?) time attending. And by now, I have extremely high expectations for this meeting. I was a little worried when the first session wasn't quite what I had hoped for, but I made the best of it, and the rest of the weekend blew me away it was so inspirational and curriculum changing.

At the moment I'd just like to jot down some notes about sweet things I'm taking away from that meeting while the memory of it all is still vibrant. Let's start with the easy things first.

KSTF Fellow Geoff Gailley showed us how to build small hydroponic systems, which I'd like to modify as a semi-primitive water filter using sand, charcoal, etc.

KSTF Fellow Aaron Debink taught us these super-easy pin-hole cameras for a unit on the particle model of light. Here we are using our new creations!

On an entirely different note, for some time now I have been using Logger Pro, but I never knew that including error bars on your graphs in Logger Pro was as simple as turning on a button. In fact, my friend (and fellow KSTF Alum) Charley has created a jing to help remind his students how to do that when they forget. (Link to come soon!). That way they can include a best fit line and see if it "hits the points" within the error bars. I have labored over a useful way to teach error bars, but resisted since it was more tedious than it was valuable. Hopefully this will resolve that issue.

Everyone in KSTF is deeply invested in the style of teaching known as modeling, and though I teach the four basic functions, I don't do much with explicitly teaching students to differentiate between them using data until their in the trenches of some other experiment. However, my friend Bradford spends time doing this using four experiments between these variables:
  • Weight on a spring and its stretch (linear)
  • Length of a pendulum and its period (quadratic)
  • The length of a written paragraph and the width of that same paragraph (inverse)
  • Distance of a sheet of paper from a projector bulb versus the size of its shadow on the screen (inverse squared)
As soon as I heard about these four experiments I knew I was going to steal them all. I can already see how I will frame the project for my students. This is going to be a new staple.

KSTF flew a master teacher in from California to speak to all of us, and to call him a master teacher would be an understatement: Amir Abo-Shaeer recently won the MacArthur Genius Grant for his work in physics teaching. Yes, that's right, he's a genius teacher! I have a LOT to say about what I learned from my interactions with him, but one simple piece I can capture here for now is that I need to ask last year's juniors to come back and work as teaching assistants in my classroom. This accomplishes three things: It provides another voice and pair of hands that can help students learn, it helps free me up to help more people, and it pushes the students themselves. They will gain a deeper understanding of the material and they gain experience as an authority figure which requires a higher level of responsibility.

Ok. That's probably good enough for now. More to come later... I'm certainly not done debriefing this meeting.