August 2014 – Vol. 26 No. 12

A Photo Finish for the School Year

Posted: Friday, June 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques and Katie Beck

CSTs and AP exams are over.  Students and teachers can all breathe a sigh of relief. With those pressures off, many teachers have a little more time for multi-day projects and experiments which all-too-often get squeezed out of the curriculum in our rush to make it to exam day. Many high school physics teachers have end-of-year projects which require students to be creative, have fun and apply concepts. Some of the more popular projects shared at a recent gathering of high school physics teachers included cardboard boat building, two liter bottle rockets, mousetrap cars, Rube Goldberg contraptions and catapults. There are variations to all of these activities but to be educationally valuable, students need to be able to explain the physics behind the project.

Surface Tension by Anna Christiansen Cable

The physics picture project described here is one that has been used in high school and university physics classes, but it could easily be used in other content areas. Adapted from the American Association of Physics Teachers Photo Contest, this project requires students to take a group of pictures to illustrate physics concepts. Virtually everyone has access to a digital camera these days (camera phones work fine for this assignment), so access to technology has not been a barrier, even in lower SES schools. Details on the project are provided below, but the goal of the assignment is to get students to photograph and explain how physics is seen in the natural (or posed!) world. Students need to explain the physics behind each picture and each of their pictures must demonstrate a different physical phenomenon. For example, they cannot provide pictures of a child on a slide and a child on a swing-set and explain both with conservation of energy principles.

Students have been excited about the project and the work they submit is really quite good. Pictures and their explanations must fit on a single page. Many of these are framed and posted in the classroom. Alumni love coming back and seeing their photos.  Current students are intrigued by the pictures and they read about the physics phenomena all year long. We have used this assignment as part of the final exam grade. It really is a culminating exercise, requiring students to retrieve and apply physics concepts from across the school year. It could easily be used throughout the school year as a portion of unit, quarter or semester grades. The goal is to require students to see and explain physics concepts at work in the real world. Group sizes can vary. We have had students work individually or in groups of 2-5. At the high school level groups have been used almost exclusively.

Assignment details: Take 10 (or some set number) of pictures which illustrate physics concepts. Your picture set must have a theme. For example, children at play (swing sets, slides, playing with slinkies) or a day at the beach (waves, rafts floating on the water, polarized sunglasses). Each picture must show a different physics concept and the physics concept highlighted in the photo must be explained in writing.

Variations on the assignment have included the teacher randomly selecting concepts or the instructor providing images which the students must describe. Our favorite version, though, is requiring teams to come up with a theme for their photo set and take their own pictures. It has been fun to see how clever and creative they are.

Purple Rain by Jason Daniel Connell, demonstrating vector motion.

We have found that doing a few sample pictures in class has been helpful. We show a picture and ask students to describe the physics behind it. Typically the class comes up with more than one physics concept that the image illustrates. For example, the kid on a swing-set mentioned above as an example of conservation of energy could also be an example of periodic motion. Instead of talking about the transfer of potential energy to kinetic energy the students could write about the period of the swing and the irrelevance of the mass of the child swinging as length is the only variable that matters. This is especially helpful for kids as they begin thinking about their project and helping them see that the pictures they take could be described using a different physics lens.

Try it out! You don’t have to start with a theme-based photo set of 10 images. Start out small with you providing a couple of pictures and see what they come up with. Then next year expand the project and have the students take the pictures. Another way to get started, and help the kids get comfortable with the idea, is to do photo analysis in class and include a picture or two on tests or quizzes which students must explain. This really helps students see physics as more than just a set of formulas.  Have fun and say cheese!

For more information, click on the links in the article or paste these urls directly into your browser window.

AAPT physics contest:  http://www.aapt.org/programs/contests/photocontest.cfm

Physics teacher gathering: http://www.physicsatthebeach.com

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president-elect of CSTA.

Katie Beck (kbeck@ggusd.us) is a physics teacher at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, CA and a member of CSTA. She has served as the PhysTEC Teacher-In-Residence at CSULB for the 2011-2012 school year.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

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Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards: A Paradigm Shift in Teaching & Learning – Two Locations

Posted: Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

This full-day workshop will highlight the many shifts required of both teachers and learners under the Next Generation Science Standards. In the morning session, participants will engage in an overview of the NGSS and its Three Dimensions. During the afternoon sessions, participants will be invited to experience either a K-5 or 6-12 session. Each of these sessions will further explore the NGSS with an emphasis on the impact it will have within K-5 and 6-12 classrooms.

This workshop is co-hosted by CSTA and CASCD – members of either organization may register at the member rate! Registration for the full day is only $90 if you register by the early bird deadline and includes lunch.

Participants will leave with:

  • An awareness of the NGSS and its Three Dimensions as they reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world
  • An awareness that the Performance Expectations will guide instruction and assessment
  • An awareness of how the NGSS is aligned with the Common Core State Standards
  • An awareness that the NGSS supports 21st Century Learning

Presenters: Jared Marr, Staff Development & Curriculum Specialist and Michelle French, Staff Development & Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA Night at the Aquarium

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Hosted by CSTA and the Aquarium of the Pacific, sponsored by Chevron.

Thursday, December 4, 2014, 7:00-10:00 PM

©Photo courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific. All rights reserved.

It’s a Night at the Aquarium! Unlike the movie by a similar name, we don’t need movie magic for this place to come alive at night. You will be surrounded by the amazing living creatures from the Pacific Ocean. See what they do at night (certainly not grading papers).

Join your CSTA colleagues and conference attendees for an amazing evening at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. Just steps away from the Convention Center and area hotels, the Aquarium will be all ours for the night. You will be able to wander through the aquarium, see sharks, touch rays, observe jellies, see the newly born penguins and all the other wonderful animals who make the LBAOP their home. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Time for a New Start – Again!

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Laura Henriques

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Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

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Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

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It wasn’t until one particular bunch of kids in one particular school year that I realized I NEEDED to take the plunge. It was no longer an option. It was a tough group that year. I found I was hitting my head against the wall trying to help some underachieving students be successful. I figured that if the “Interactive Notebook” (which I will refer to as IN) was good for improving the literacy of students learning English then it had to be beneficial for all students. Learn More…

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace teaches 7th grade science at Palos Verdes Intermediate School and is the Middle School/Jr. High Director for CSTA.

Are You Treating Your August Students Like June Students?

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Lisa Hegdahl

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is president-elect of CSTA.