August 2015 – Vol. 27 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 past-president of CSTA.

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Where California K-12 Science Teachers Go for NGSS

Posted: Friday, August 14th, 2015

RegisterNowMedNow is the time to register for the 2015 California Science Education Conference presented by the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA).  Attending the CSTA 2015 conference is a great way to gain professional development, and network with other science teachers from across the state, and obtain new classroom ideas, in one place over three days!

The California Science Education Conference is your best source of information on implementing NGSS in your classroom.

The California Science Teachers Association hosts this conference to focus on what California science educators need to know to hone their craft, stay updated on standards, and apply best practices gleaned from experts throughout the state. 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.

What Is the Role of Lecture in NGSS?

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Is there a role for lecture in NGSS classrooms? Anyone who has spent much time working on the NGSS knows that NGSS is learner centered, more about helping students to develop the tools to investigate the world than about teachers supplying knowledge. The traditional teaching style of the teacher talking and students taking notes seems to be opposite of this vision.

This vision is supported by research indicating that traditional lecture is not an effective way to teach science. Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Carl Wieman makes a strong case against lecture as a way to teach science.  Click here to read a summary of his findings. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Middle School Integrated Science – Getting Over It!

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

Last spring I wrote an article/blog post that addressed the growing discussion about the decision to teach middle school integrated or discipline specific science. The article gives the rationale for the change and also some different models that were considered for how to transition.

There was a lot of feedback to that post: strongly supportive, deeply skeptical, and many follow up questions. Now that Palm Springs USD has finished the first year of the transition, I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how it went.

The middle school teacher leaders who helped to make the decision chose the “fast” transition plan below. Year 2 was what we just finished. 6th grade teachers (and kids) were introduced to structure and function in living things. 7th graders tried chemistry for the first time, and 8th graders played with waves. Everyone tried a little (or a lot) of engineering. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Staying Connected by Volunteering

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Lisa Hegdahl

As an 8th grade science teacher in a district that is participating in the CA NGSS Early Implementation Initiative, I spent much of my summer break training with members of other Early Implementer districts (see NGSS Blog- Middle School Integrated Science- Getting Over It! By Peter A’hearn. Just as our students want to feel connected to each other (see Starting the School Year Right, by Joanne Michael) teachers also seek opportunities to connect and collaborate with other educators – even more so now with NGSS implementation actively happening in California. Perhaps connecting with others is the reason why, this year, the California Science Teachers Association had a record number of its members volunteer to serve on its committees. Teachers know that we are stronger when we come together to overcome our challenges. Learn More…

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

Where to Go in Sacramento: Field Courses for the CSTA Conference

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

When it comes to conferences I’m pretty much a workshop guy. You get lots of great ideas in a short time, lots of choices, and you are hearing it straight from teachers. But looking at the field studies being offered at the 2015 California Education Conference in Sacramento this October, I’m thinking I might just spend the whole conference learning science on the amazing field courses being offered.

Here are your choices:

AHearn_Field_Course_Photo_1The Science in Your Beer: Chemistry, Microbiology, and Sensory Analysis at Sudwerk Brewery – Visit with the scientists at the UC Davis Brewing Program, the yeast geeks at White Labs, and the brewers of Sudwerk Brewery to learn about the biochemistry and microbiology that goes into the beer you love to drink. We will share NGSS aligned activities (classroom appropriate) on reaction rate and population biology. You will also explore the chemistry of beer flavor and learn how to make taste testing scientifically rigorous! Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.