Sunday, October 25, 2020

A new letter grade for the pandemic: E

It is impossible to characterize everyone's experience with teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world by the novel coronavirus. 

Many teachers are working with unprecedented intensity to craft synchronous and asynchronous instruction that will cover and deliver academic content in an engaging and suitably rigorous way.

But the products of all this time, talent, and energy are not being universally absorbed by the students in the black Zoom thumbnails with muted microphones. There are stories in each one of those blank frames, covering a broad array of situations.

Many of us seem to have students who are completely disengaged. They are on our rosters, but we never see them, they are not in our Zooms, and they do not turn in assignments or take assessments. They rapidly descend into grades that are in the single digits, perhaps up to about 20%. 

But there are some who seem to be somewhat engaged. But their participation is scattershot. They fall below 60%, but remain north of 40%. I am wondering if an F is the best grade for them while schools are wholly shut down or (worse), engaged in the pure partial daycare service that goes by the name of "hybrid".

So what about a grade of "E" for them? Not an "F" grade of fail. But not really a "D", either. "E" for evidence of engagement.

As a practical matter, the best I can do for now is to expand my range for a "D–".

One thing that a number of us are seeing more and more of in our parent-teacher conferences is parents and students who want to take an F for this semester so that they can repeat the course for a better grade next I'm not a fan of that practice. [Side note: Physics and Conceptual Physics are scheduled to be replaced by Physics of the Universe in my district next year, so that practice will be messy.]

I would let students move on with Es. Otherwise there will be a pandemic of students wanting to repeat courses when schools reopen in a meaningful way.

It's just an idea for now. But I wonder if it's an idea that will make more and more sense the deeper we get into the pandemic.

What do you think?

RT;DL Thermoscope

I was reluctant to post this since thermal physics has been so thoroughly abandoned by NGSS (HSPS) and AP Physics. And also because the apparatus that I use appears to be unavailable. And the ones I was able to get most recently are a bit fiddly to use.

But what the heck? Physics teachers teach across a spectrum and not everyone is beholden to NGSS and AP. And physics teachers are a resourceful bunch: There may be other ways to do this without the exact apparatus I'm using here.

The demonstration revolves around what I've been told is a Galilean thermoscope. A narrow-throated Florence flask is used here, as is a beaker, some food coloring, a twist-tie, a blow drier, a hot plate, and some water.

I like it enough to continue using in in my AP Physics 2 unit on thermal physics which is a pre-cursor to the unit on thermodynamics.

An instant Zoom poll using participant reactions is once again included.

Student Google Doc - Thermoscope

HTML Presentation - Thermoscope (includes animations and live-action video)

If you have a clever workaround to get past the dearth of what were once sold by Sargent-Welch as "air bulb thermometers," let me know in the comments.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

My district bans a Jewish surname...

...from emails sent to district-managed student accounts. Here's the story:

In COVID-era Distance Learning, I have found Socrative to be a useful platform for administering student assessments. Among its useful features is the ability to send students their own individual scored test, showing which questions they answered correctly and which ones they answered incorrectly. The results can be sent to student email accounts with the push of a button. [You are correct to assume the instructor had to enter those email addresses into Socrative. But it's a one-time investment.]

This is a great feature for when we do Test Correction Journals.

But in my very first attempt to leverage this feature, it failed. I had, of course, tested the feature before using it with students. And it worked. But when I sent my students their test results, students insisted they did not receive them. I tried it using Chrome, I tried it using Firefox. Nothing worked. I had to create a privacy-respecting, individualized way to tell students which specific test items they missed. I created one breakout room per student, joined each one—one at a time, and announced which items they missed. While class time was burning.

I quickly came up with a functional workaround for the next period, but it fell short of what I needed it to do. And why didn't the student email solution work? 

Students suggested that the district blocks third party emails from student accounts. The vendor, Socrative, meets all legal privacy standards. District tech services said they do not block third parties. Further investigation indicated the emails were blocked because they contained objectionable content. That offensive content appeared in the following question. TW: "Objectionable Content."

[Secrets of the Psychics] Psychologist and former palm-reader Ray Hyman found that he had the greatest success with clients when he  

A. gave a straight-up reading in accordance with palm-reading guidelines 

B. told clients the opposite of what he saw in their palms 

C. imagined that he lived in an earlier era 

D. assumed his clients were skeptical of palm-reading and his abilities

There it is: the objectionable content, clear as day. What's that? You didn't see it? Look again. "hymen" is right in there. Prurient anatomical terminology titillation that would offend any community's standards of propriety. High school students must be protected from such filth.

Okay, not "hymen" exactly, but "hyman," a simple misspelling of a highly salacious, practically pornographic word. Okay, not "hymen" or "hyman" exactly, but "Hyman," a not uncommon Jewish surname. I presume my college hall mate's name, Steve Hayman would trigger that comprehensive filter, too, lest bad actors use simple misspellings to skirt content filters. 

Some might judge the content filtering of Jewish surnames (that are not anatomical terms) as anti-semitic. I'm confident the San Juan Unified School District doesn't intend it that way, but here we are. "Ray Hyman" triggered a full and immediate IP ban due to the district's sweeping content blocking protocols. 

I was given no reason to hope that this filter would be removed by my district's tech services, now that they are aware of the embarrassing error. It seemed as if the onus was on me not to include terms that would trigger bans, and I should just know what all those terms are.

The filtering is clearly far too aggressive and highly impractical. Blocking my instructional program (without notification) for the "crime" of including a Jewish scholar's name? That's beyond a bad look.

It's indefensibly paranoid and ignorant, in my assessment.

UPDATE: This is apparently just another instance of The Scunthorpe Problem, or as Tom Scott calls it, The Peniston Problem. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

RT;DL The Tower of Bottle

In the pre-blog, pre-social media days of the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was Alien-birthing from nothing (1994) to everything (1995), I was involved with the Southern California Alliance of Mentors for Physics Instruction and its Southern California Area Modern Physics Institute. Yes, two SCAMPIs in one. John Jewett (Cal Poly Pomona) and Roger Nanes (CSU Fullerton) outdid themselves on the acronyms!

Somebody at the California Department of Education liked what SCAMPI was doing, and wanted to get four Northern California teachers involved. I was chosen/selected to be one of them. Jessica Downing, then the Science Department at Esparto High School (now IB coordinator at Inderkum/Natomas) was selected as well. She and I conducted SCAMPI workshops throughout Northern California during those years.

I got this demo idea from her.

The gist is to show that the molecules in a jar of hot water are moving faster than the molecules in a jar of cold water. Just add food color and wait a minute. 

But while we're here, let's add some value. Lay a playing card on top of the hot water and flip the bottle over. The card stays in place and the water doesn't spill. 

Set the bottle mouth down on the cold bottle and remove the card. The result is surprising.

Then re-insert the (a) card and flip the configuration over so that the cold water's on the top. Remove the card. And it's a different outcome.

Last, a few questions of balance or imbalance. If you were nervous that I wouldn't shoehorn a Zoom participant reaction poll in, ease your worried mind.

Google Doc: Demo - The Tower of Bottle 

HTML Preso: Demo - The Tower of Bottle

Single-shot video of the complete demo

Enjoy!

Thursday, October 08, 2020

RT;DL Blowout—Newton's Laws Edition

My use of Pasco's Lenz's Law demonstrator as a blowgun to explore the equations of motion is discussed in a previous post. That's an activity I don't do in my regular Physics class, because number puzzles aren't a priority there.

In this activity, I introduce the blowgun to Physics, do a quick speed determination, and then detail how Newton's laws of motion apply to the various portions of the Hero's Marker's Journey.

How are Newton's third, first, and second laws relevant to when the marker (bullet) was in the tube (barrel)? Between the barrel and the box? When caught by the catch box?

I do this after all three laws have been taught in class. It's a nice review.

For example, when the marker is in the tube, Newton's third law is relevant in that the air pushes the marker forward while the marker pushes the air backward. 

Newton's first law is relevant in that the marker at rest would have remained at rest, but was acted on by an unbalanced, external force applied by the air. 

And Newton's second law tells us the acceleration of the marker will be proportional to the force that the air applies and inversely proportional to the mass of the marker. 

In the end, we ponder how to make a faster-moving bullet based on Newton's laws. I can't blow any harder. So we modify the bullet. 

Is this demonstration activity really just an excuse to do another blowgun activity in class? I mean... what are you even talking about right now? That's ridiculous! Why would you even suggest such a thing?

It really is a nice review of Newton's laws. 

Google Doc: Demo - Blowout (Newton)

HTML Preso: Demo - Blowout (Newton)

Enjoy!

Monday, October 05, 2020

RT;DL The Newtonian Shot

I'm embarrassed to confess that I don't remember the name of the physics teacher who shared this demo at the January 1986 MSTA Meeting in Lansing. I do recall driving past many cars that had slid into the ditch on the road from Ann Arbor that morning. It was windy and icy. And cold.

But the demo stayed with me, and I worked it into my curriculum early on. It was my first Show & Tell at an NCNAAPT Meeting (Spring 1992, American River College, IIRC). 

I think it's a great demo for the Newton's Law unit. There have been times when securing toy dart guns was a challenge. They can last for many cycles, but they were built as inexpensive toys, not precision science apparatus. Fortunately, Arbor Scientific has become a reliable source

I wrote a post about this demo previously, when I recorded some nice high-speed video of it. It includes a few more specifics.

Here's the RT;DL stuff:

Google Doc: Demo - The Newtonian Shot

HTML Preso: Demo - The Newtonian Shot (including convenient Zoom participant reaction instant poll)

As ever, my presos are designed to support my storytelling and do not stand on their own terribly well. (Like a backup band with no lead singer.) And you can see I use aluminum support rods to help with the simultaneous launch. I launch the darts from ceiling-level down to my countertop so students can see the landing point. I protect my concrete countertop with a wood plank.