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.
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.
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 (email@example.com) 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.
Posted: Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
by Robert Victor
These monthly charts plot positions of the stars of first magnitude or brighter and the five naked-eye planets at evening or morning mid-twilight. The charts can be used to follow the comings and goings of planets and stars. This selection includes dates of peak interest, when planets appear strikingly close to each other. We hope you and your students enjoy following the planets from one night to the next surrounding these occasions!
January 2015 at dusk: Mercury approaches within 0.6 degree lower right of Venus on Jan. 10. Venus and Jupiter visible simultaneously above opposite horizons starting late in month. See also the January 2015 Sky Calendar. Follow these two brilliant planets for the next five months, until their very close pairing on the evening of June 30. Learn More…
NGSS Implementation Update: State Implementation Plan, New Assessments, LCAPs, and Curriculum Framework
Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
by Jessica L. Sawko
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to implementing new state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are no exception. Two weeks ago the California Department of Education (CDE) and State Board of Education (SBE) responded to CSTA’s call to provide clarification regarding the standards that are to be included in a district’s LCAP when addressing State Priority #2. Today and tomorrow the CFCC will convene again with the writers of the NGSS Curriculum Framework to provide feedback to the writers on draft framework chapters and CSTA will be at the meetings to provide input into process. Later this week the SBE will interview candidates for appointment to the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) – the body that will pick up the work to finish the NGSS Curriculum Framework after the CFCC completes its work. Finally, next week the SBE will convene its November meeting on November 13 – 14, 2014. On the agenda for this meeting is a recommendation from CDE that the State Board approve the State Implementation Plan for NGSS – a plan which will lay the groundwork for implementation activities at the state and local level as well as for support providers like CSTA and others. Also on the agenda is a report from CDE’s assessment division with the results of the stakeholder group meetings that were held in July 2014 to inform the planning of the future statewide assessment system for science. Finally the SBE will appoint new members to the IQC. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
The 2014 NSTA Long Beach Area Conference – in Collaboration with CSTA is just one month away! If you have not already registered for what promises to be the professional learning event of the year for California science educators – it is not too late! Make plans to join more than 2,200 science teachers in Long Beach this December 4 – 6. Discounted registration rates are available through November 14, 2014. Please register today. Remember – both CSTA and NSTA members have the benefit of being able to register at member rates (a $90 savings).
If you have already made your plans to attend the Long Beach conference – please mark your conference schedules with these two CSTA events:
CSTA Night at the Aquarium of the Pacific NGSS Science & Engineering Showcase – Thursday, December 4, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Tickets are limited – purchase yours today (only $10 for CSTA members and $25 for nonmmebers – ticket price includes light food, admission into the Aquarium for the event, and one beverage). Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
by Laura Henriques
As a former physics/physical science teacher, the California Classroom Science (CCS) issue focusing on physical science is always one of my favorites. I enjoy reading about lessons, labs and teaching ideas that my colleagues share in each month’s CCS, but I really enjoy reading physics and physical science lesson ideas as those apply most directly to what I teach. As with past issues of CCS, we have some great articles written by a wide variety of members on a range of topics. Sadly (for me), only a couple of them focus on physical science.
One of the physical science highlights is Padma Haldar’s article that has students doing ‘mythbuster’ activities to help them better understand the Nature of Science. This project requires students to engage in many of the science and engineering practices (they ask questions, plan and carry out investigations, analyze and interpret data, and evaluate and communicate information) and Ms. Haldar seems to be explicit in helping students understand the nature of science throughout the process. Another article in this month’s issue is Valerie Joyner’s where she shares a primary activity which focuses on the crosscutting concept of patterns. Her lesson links patterns with properties of plastic lids. As is the case with crosscutting concepts, she shares how this activity about patterns could be linked to other patterns in nature and science. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
by John Spiegel, Anthony Quan, and Yamileth Shimojyo
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have the ability to transform teaching and learning in the classroom. They will dramatically change how students experience science by shifting the focus from the memorization of facts to greater student engagement in the processes of science. The NGSS emphasize learning in three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. In addition, there are seven Conceptual Shifts, or Innovations, that have strong implications for teaching and learning. These shifts include the interconnected nature of science as practiced in the real world, the integration of science and engineering, the use of performance expectations, a focus on deeper understanding of content as well as application of content, and alignment to the Common Core State Standards. Teachers will ultimately be tasked with implementing the NGSS, but cannot do so without extensive time to plan and engage in professional learning. Learn More…