Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Connecting the Dots

As mentioned in a previous post, a PTSOS participant alerted me to the prospect of constructing a wave machine with Gummy Bears.

I was intrigued enough to give it a shot.

The inertial candies used in the original were the UK-specific Jelly Babies. Sure, we have Gummy Bears (and Gummi Bears) here in the states. But their masses are significantly less than those of the Jelly Babies.

A Jelly Baby packs 6 grams of gelatinous sugar into its plump, opaque body. A Gummy Bear gets by with a mere 2.5 grams of see-through, rubbery gel. It could be eaten by a Swedish Fish for a twist of confectionary irony.

I opted for Dots, a product of the Tootsie corporation. They're nearly 4 grams each. (I didn't know the actual mass of a Jelly Baby until after our in-class project).

My OCD tendencies required that step 1 of the project was to sort the five flavors/colors of Dots. The Wikipedia entry for Dots says that Tootsie claims all flavors are produced in equal amounts. We found that cherry red outnumbered any other flavor by more than 2-to-1.

The rest of the project is represented fairly well in the video I produced and uploaded to YouTube. (Curiously, I produced the video in Apple's Keynote, which allowed me to include some nice construction animations.)



A draft PDF of the student lab activity write-up can be found here:
Connecting the Dots.

If you have trouble opening the PDF, welcome to Snow Leopard 10.6.7, the update that unceremoniously broke Open Type Fonts. It seems it won't open in Safari or Acrobat, but it will open in Firefox (with its PDF plugin), and it will open in Preview, oddly enough. One hopes this will be addressed in 10.6.8, whenever that comes out.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

ExploratoRio 2011 photo prelims

IMG_0140

While hosting ExploratoRio, I try to snap a photo or two. That's probably a bad idea, since there are so many mini-crises I should be resolving. And I should spend more time greeting the visiting teachers and chaperones. And I have students who are supposed to be snapping pics all day long. But I can't help myself.

Here is a preliminary set to show for our efforts until the student photos comes in. With any luck, they will have minded shooting details better than I did.

But for now...



Oh, we did have 14 elementary classes visit from 8:30am-12:30pm. That translates to about 400 students (in addition to my 150). It's not a trivial matter for teachers to coordinate a field trip to come visit us, so it was especially delightful to see so many young investigators throughout the day.

The rooms were rockin' all day. The little ones were impossibly cute and overflowing with unrestrained enthusiasm as they pulled each other over to their favorite exhibits. Their unvarnished expressions of wonder and joy could make you cry.

Monday, April 04, 2011

ExploratoRio is coming (and I may try something new)

UPDATE: ExploratoRio evening program has been bumped up. It will run from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. 
It seemed so far off when we began preparations six weeks ago, but April 6 is rapidly approaching. That's the date of Open House, so that's the date of ExploratoRio 2011.

Student exhibitors have been building and researching their exhibits. Elementary class hosts have booked every visitation slot on the schedule; we should have young explorers visiting from 8:30am to 12:30pm.

I spent a few hours in the classroom over the weekend to beat back the entropy of of the school year. I was also inspired to develop a new "snack." Over the years I have developed a handful of ExploratoRio Science Snacks for students to choose from, in addition to the Exploratorium Science Snacks published in Square Wheels and the original Exploratorium Science Snackbook.

My new snack is "Wristbandits," inspired by the recent renaming of Sacramento's ARCO Arena to Power Balance Pavilion. Earlier this year, I developed an in-class lesson exposing the pseudo-scientific hoax that the highly-popular wristbands (with or without holograms) represent.

With the onset of ExploratoRio, I thought it would be nice to have an exhibit exposing the methodology of the fraudulent demonstrations used to promote the bracelets. Once I was struck with an appropriate title, it was on.

All I need now is to draft some student exhibitors to present it. In any case, we set up tomorrow after school, clearing the room from 3-5pm and installing the exhibits from 5-6pm. ExploratoRio runs from 7:50am-12:30pm and 7:00pm-8:30pm 6:30pm-8:00pm Wednesday. By 10:00pm 9:00pm Wednesday, it will be as if nothing ever happened: the classroom will be a classroom again, ready for regular use on Thursday morning.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

My HS Physics to California Physics Alignment

In the residue of the school's recent WASC evaluation process, there is an interest in increased "transparency." There was a sense that we're doing well as far as instructional outcomes go, but that it's difficult for outside parties—themselves not a part of the school's community—to see how we do it. And it's been decided that that is something of importance.

Action plans are being formulated. Benchmarking and data-generation are priorities. Interest is keen in collecting data to demonstrate student attainment of the school's Expected Schoolwide Learning Results. [I would have linked to the ESLRs, but either my google-fu is poor or the school's website doesn't offer the document online. And that seems unlikely since each classroom was provided with a 24" x 36" laminated copy.]

Curiously, those ESLRs were fashioned to represent broad, longitudinal goals to be attained over the course of a student's four-year tenure at the school. And that's what ESLRs are supposed to be. Though I travel far and wide, I have never seen data-collection instruments designed to show ESLR attainment.

But ever the student, I'm eager to see effective examples such instruments. And even more eager to see the spreadsheets of the meaningful data generated by such instruments. And the remedial measures that will be enacted to ensure that each graduate will have ESLR data to support their right to walk at commencement. (That in addition to CAHSEE results and adequate academic performance and attendance records.)

To better serve outsiders looking in—now that I'm coming to terms with their priority as stakeholders—I have modified my Physics 1 unit schedules to include actual text of the California 9-12 Physics Standards covered in each unit of study.

And I'm hoping that this alignment document will bring joy to someone who might find value in it. Anything I might have accomplished in the time required to prepare the document will pale in comparison to the fulfillment and reassurance it will provide to outside investigators curious to the methods of our campus.

I am nothing if not a team player.