Day 7: Engagement, Lab, and Forces

Physics: Today was the exam. I spent the time doodling around with ideas for how to encourage engagement, not alienate the quieter students, and get something to put in the grade book. I’m not a fan of grades for the sake of numbers, but I’m also uncomfortable with the only grades being exam grades when the exams for this class are incredibly challenging. The idea I had was to each day give students a mark for engagement and at the end of the week translate that into a grade. I chose “engagement” over participation, because participation implies to most students “speaking up in front of the whole class”, which I don’t think is required for learning. Engagement is required, and I think that can look like a wide variety of actions, not all of which must happen only during class. I’ll run it by the students tomorrow and start implementing it on Monday, and then I’ll ask for feedback after a few weeks and make adjustments.

After grading the exam, the scores fell out in a class of 15 to be 4 As, 4Bs, 6Cs, and 1F. There were some problems practically everyone missed, but with the opportunity to do corrections and re-think about these problems, I’m ok with that. Dynamic equilibrium is a really challenging concept.

Honors Physics: Whew! This day did not go as expected! I was planning on very briefly going over the homework and focusing on free body diagrams and system schema, but the homework options turned out to be really confusing and not all that helpful in terms of practicing the skills, because the questions were not clear about which forces were important and which could be ignored and how to deal with three dimensions. I think I need to write some practice problems for this section and not depend on the book questions, which are far less helpful than they seemed when I looked over them before assigning them. So there was a lot of me saying, “Nah, you don’t need to worry about that,” and them saying, “But the book!” and me sighing heavily and feeling like a doof. I’ve marked this section in my course schedule to be revisited and reassessed for next year.

AP Physics: Lab quiz: Constant velocity. It gave them a v-t graph and asked them to find some changes in position, to construct an x-t graph, and make a motion map. Very, very basic ideas. I was still toying with the idea of corrections, but after seeing how they did, I decided to go for it. This is supposed to be an easy success and based on material that we’ve already covered thoroughly, but also a chance to uncover an under-the-radar misunderstanding. The first class did generally well with a few bobbles and one person who needs to do major corrections. I haven’t graded the second class yet, but I’m hoping for a similar or better set of scores.

Lab: Uniform Acceleration Lab. Gave them the same tasks as I did the honors physics class. Does this toy show uniform acceleration? Changed up the baseball and ramp to be a baseball, tennis ball, and ramp to see how they compare. I’m excited to see what the two different AP classes produce. I think the tractor and the indoor soccer ball are far more interesting than the ball and ramp, so I need to be on the lookout for more accelerating toys for students to check in future years. The ball/ramp is just a third accelerating thing that I could easily put my hands on. I had them all take pictures of their whiteboards and post them on the class website before erasing, and it’s interesting to see how different groups chose different ways to measure and represent their toy.

Duty Night: Thursday is my duty night. Last week I was still a little uncomfortable with the role of hassling kids a few times a night while they were trying to study, but after reading two weeks of other people’s duty logs, I started to see how important it was to really connect with the students. It’s not hard to read when they want to get back to studying and when they need a quick break or some encouragement or a new way to think about the material. I had some amazing conversations. I talked about the Renaissance and Machiavelli with multiple students in the same class, and some of them didn’t realize that being called “Machiavellian” wasn’t a good thing. It’s cool to see them absorb new information and think about ideas differently. I talked to another student about finding parallels between the book she was reading for English about the colonization of Nigeria and what they were studying in history about Mexican cultures before and after colonization. She was stunned that that was something you could do, connect subjects like that. Weird! I also helped a ton of kids with their math and science, which I found super fun. I think next week I am going to have to have fewer awesome conversations, though, because it took me nearly an hour and a half to check in on all the students once, and all of study time is only two hours. I swept through the dorm one more time in the last ten minutes of study time so I checked in on each student at least twice, but they really are very interesting and interested students. I also chatted with the prefects about their homework load. It’s barely a week into the year, and they’re already so stressed it’s already affecting them physically and severely affecting their sleep. I think that is a conversation that really needs to be had with the larger faculty about loading up especially the seniors who are also dealing with college apps and SAT/ACT/other exams for the next couple months on top of their heavy AP-loaded course schedules plus sports and activities. There needs to be some sort of balancing somewhere rather than just adding more and more and more to their plates. A lot of them have eyes much bigger than their bellies, and everyone knows it, but no one takes any action to help them. “That’s just how it is,” is not an acceptable answer to me.

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