December 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 4

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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Who Else Wants to Share Their Great Idea?

Posted: Friday, December 12th, 2014

by Lisa Hegdahl

Colleagues Helping Colleagues

I have been to so many California Science Education Conferences over the years that I cannot be certain which ideas I obtained in which year, but I do know that most of what my lesson plans contain came from ideas I acquired at those conferences.  Destroying Water, Domino Derby, Student Periodic Squares, Buggy Car Physics, Valence Shell Ping Pong Balls, Vinegar/Baking Soda Conservation of Matter, Stellar Distances, just to name a few, were all given to me by colleagues that were willing to take the time to share a piece of their classrooms.

Your Great Idea

You know you have it.  That lesson that never fails to engage students at a high level of learning; that teaching strategy that works every time; or that technology application that brought your classroom into the 21st century.  Why keep it to yourself?  Share it with your colleagues at the California Science Education Conference, October 2-4, 2015 in Sacramento.  CSTA is now accepting workshop and short course proposals from classroom teachers, informal educators, university professors, education professionals, and other members of the education community.  Sharing our best practices with each other helps to make high quality Science education a reality for all students in California. Learn More…

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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.

The E Word

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jill Grace

There’s so much excitement lately in the world of NGSS. There is an energy I haven’t felt since I was a new teacher. It’s palpable. Teachers are once again the learners, outside our comfort zones trekking along a new path, making new discoveries, trying new things. Some of these new experiences are fantastic and fill us with a new sense of purpose and inspiration. Some end up being things we profusely apologize to our students for, “Sorry guys, that pretty much didn’t work out at all, let’s try this instead”. No doubt this is an exhaustive process, mentally and even sometimes physically, and on some days we might wish we could crawl up on our couches under that super fluffy blanket (insert comforting beverage of your choice) and forget that change is upon us. But it’s also exhilarating. It makes you feel alive again.

Given all of the changes, I have been feeling pretty comfortable. I thrive in “big idea land” and love weaving multiple layers into my instruction, so the whole 3D aspect to NGSS is gratifying to me (3D = the blending of Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Cross Cutting Concepts). I love the challenge of getting my students to the point where they have their “ah ha!” moment and see it all come together. With my background in marine biology, a very “integrated” field, I’ve had an easier time wrapping my head around the middle school progressions and seeing the connections in a way that I can tell is harder for many of my colleagues. I’ve been feeling pretty great about it all. Except for one tiny little thing.

Engineering. 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.

Season’s Greetings

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Laura Henriques

Happy December! I am exhausted but really happy after the Long Beach Conference. It was great to see so many CSTA members! With more than 5,200 people in attendance (most from California), this was one of the biggest NSTA regional conferences ever. Sessions were packed, some to the point of overflowing. I applaud NSTA’s efforts to extend the conference into Saturday afternoon and I thank the conference presenters who were willing to repeat their workshop on Saturday. (To get handouts from the sessions please visit the NSTA Conference site, browse sessions and select the session(s) of interest. If the presenter has uploaded handouts you will find them posted with the session information.) Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

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

CSTA Night at the Aquarium – A Good Time Was Had by All!

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jill Grace and Laura Henriques

Close to 700 science educators enjoyed an evening of Science, Engineering and STEM at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific on Thursday, December 4th. This great CSTA event was co-hosted by Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and CSTA and sponsored by Chevron.

In addition to having the entire aquarium to ourselves, there were five scientists who gave talks, two dozen table-top STEM/Engineering showcase presentations and the LBAOP’s Science on a Sphere. After eating dinner, glowstick-clad attendees visited the penguins, jellies, and other exhibits representing marine life of the pacific. 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.

Support CSTA and Take the Deduction on Your 2014 Taxes

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA is so fortunate to have so many hard-working and dedicated members. CSTA membership dues support the production and distribution of this newsletter, CSTA’s state-level policy activities, including NGSS implementation activities, the CSTA website, and a small portion of dues go to support our state-level legislative activities. 2014 is a special year for CSTA, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the filing to CSTA’s Articles of Incorporation. Many volunteer leaders were involved in that process 50 years ago and to this day it is volunteers that do much of the work of CSTA.

CSTA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and accepts donations to support our leadership programs, such as our leadership event held at the annual conference and designed to help nurture, inspire, and support California’s emerging leaders in science education.

As the end of the year approaches and you consider making contributions to charities and non-profits that support you and your values as a science educator, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to CSTA’s 50th anniversary fund. This fund was established at the beginning of 2014 and the monies donated to this fund support CSTA’s leadership development program. Donors who donate $50 or more will receive a commemorative 50th anniversary pin. Donations to this fund are tax deductible (please check with your tax-preparation specialist). Click here to donate online today.

If a donation to CSTA’s 50th anniversary fund is not a match for you this year, I hope you will consider supporting CSTA as you shop for holiday gifts (and year-round). Learn More…

Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.