Project Collision

We began with a fairly classical Egg Drop.

Decisions had to be made due to a budget and the criteria and constraints were pretty simple. Drop the egg from 5 meters, no additional materials and no guts. Well, we got plenty of guts though a few successes. This launched our project which was tucked into the theme of drone delivery systems. (An eye opener for me as I learned more about the big idea was how much drone work is actually being done right now.) Students had to design a delivery system that would allow an object to be dropped from a drone from a height of up to 10 meters.

This project was nestled into a slot between winter break and a week-long Chinese New Year break. Hit it and quit it! As such, we settled into the idea of covering some basic concepts of force and motion and focusing heavily on the iterative process of design.

For this project, we really wanted students to zoom in on the process of developing a testing plan and using data to inform their decisions. A big challenge was that collecting force data on items inside a falling package did not seem to be a possibility. Oh the planning meetings that took place as we went round and round. If you have a great solution, please let me know! Ideally, we could measure the force of the collision on an object inside a falling box but this did not happen.

The next idea was to drop items onto a force plate and measure the force on the outside of the box. Then, we could use that value as a design target.

The 5 m drop zone

Using a Vernier force plate, we began dropping “unprotected” boxes. The data was horrible – completely unreliable and through some research we came to the conclusion that due to the super short impulse / contact time of the package and the force plate, coupled with different parts of the package making contact that the data was expected to be unreliable. Back to the drawing board…

Finally, we landed on the idea of using LoggerPro to measure the velocity of the package as it fell. If the velocity just before hitting the target was reduced, then the force on the contents would also be better.

That was happening “behind the scenes”. In the meantime, what were the students dropping and what all were they measuring. To get the students into the project, we decided to open it up for them to decide upon what would be delivered and what would be their metrics for success. Products ranged from coffee to clothing to first aid containers to fast food to electronics…The ideas were everywhere which made it a lot of fun. Groups then met to discuss what would be a successful design. Two metrics continued to repeat: a “soft landing” and accuracy. The landing was measured using the video analysis and the accuracy measured in distance from the force plate.

Goals were set for each group to make it through at least a couple of design iterations though after a slow start, many groups began iterating like crazy. It was as if a certain amount of tinkering time was needed before essential pieces were put together and then projects quickly moved forward. The final exhibition was scheduled for an audience of high school students and parents of our students. This exhibition would include a pitch where groups talked to “potential investors” about their designs and an 8 meter drop.

A few take aways on the project:

  • Students were super into the act of iterating. In reflections at the end, it was voiced over and over how important this process is to a final design.
  • Students wanted more time to work on their projects. Yep – it was a quick one!
  • Students wanted access to more materials. At the beginning, I did not provide students with many materials. My hope was that students would search about a bit and have more creativity in their projects based upon gathered materials. This did not work out. More thought needs to be put into materials in the future.
  • Groups can either excel or sink. It was a quick project and so apparent as to which students do not do their part.
  • Dropping mechanisms that more simulate being released from a drone would be nice.
  • Being up 8 meters on the machine can get a bit sketchy!

Express It! (an FA Ignite Week)

During the fall semester, students in Futures Academy participated in their first Ignite Week. It was also my first Ignite, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to focus on nothing but one project for the week. I wrote about the Makey It! Project here.

The theme for this week was Express It! and the hope was for students to dive into their creative side. My group focused on a deeper look into what one day of their life would look like. They planned it out and then collected footage about their day. Some wound up with a video, some with comic and some used Scratch to create an animation.   I was actually a bit surprised at how quickly students got going on this project but it was about themselves! I liked the variation that came out of the work and the opportunity for conversations with students about their lives. Check out a few examples below! (Unfortunately, WordPress is not playing nice with our school video channel so videos are not embedded…)

I love watching the day start with the buses and cars in the background.

Video 1 – awesome FA student

The following video captures the work of a student creating a comic. He decided to film the his work in action and make it into a video. Pretty cool to watch!

Video 2 by another awesome FA student

A slightly different version, this student decided to use Stop Motion to express her day.

Video 3 by another awesome FA student

This grabbed the students as the focus was on themselves. I also think that the project chunk was manageable for students. From the beginning, they could visualize a final product. They know what one of their days looks like and then set out to capture it. This combination of being highly interested and having a good understanding of the final product kept all students engaged for the duration of the project.

Modeling: Before and After

I see modeling as the window into the thinking of students. An NGSS shift that I have attempted to make is to begin each phenomenon with a model that captures what students think prior to starting a deeper investigation into the concepts. Later, after investigations have been completed, necessary mini-lessons given, and lots of conversations had, students again model their thinking. One this year’s shift is the effort to tie a cross-cutting concept into the model as they develop. This additional move seems to result in a better grounding student thought. 

The following models are a series of before and after models. The phenomenon was an egg placed in vinegar to first remove the shell and then rotating between corn syrup and water. Students worked on developing investigations to quantify the changes in the egg after it was soaked in vinegar. The primary cross-cutting concept was structure & function. I like looking at the differences of the two models as their thinking mostly increased in depth.

recap: November Field Study

With temperatures dropping and the heat turning on across the northern part of the country, we begin rolling the dice with air quality. For a week, the forecast was looking doubtful but our morning dawned to favorable winds and somewhat blue skies! Below are a few snippets from student blog posts regarding the trip. 

Quick reflection: We are managing to get to the site and back in almost a school block. This quickness is nice due to the changing temperature though most students are coming dressed to stay warm. They are getting more efficient with data collection and their conversations as a result are becoming more interesting.

Blog Posts – This time, we scheduled the return block at school for students to submit their posts. A more detailed structure was provided as the reflections were generally weak last time. Wow! Many of the students provided much more detail in their thinking. I need to continue working to use structure as a way to allow students to better access their thinking and make ways for stronger connections to be had.

That’s it for 2018. We will again head out in January. One of the benefits I already see in visiting the site each month is that students are slowly developing a feel for seasonal differences. Some think it will begin getting warmer in January so we’ll see….

Always Formative(?)

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At one point the “Always Formative” blog was a constant tab open in my browser. It was 2011 or so and I was teaching at a small school and struggling to find a community of educators to tap into. Somehow, I came across Jason Buell’s blog and began reading. Jason is also a science teacher so his examples appealed to me. (Unfortunate side-note: I have no idea what happened to Jason Buell. His blog has not been updated since 2014 and his twitter handle (@jybuell) is no longer active.) 

The idea of Standards-Based Grading had not been on my radar though I was struggling with giving students meaningful feedback.  After reading a few posts, I immediately began shifting my practices. In hindsight, the students I taught that year probably wondered what in the world happened to their teacher as “grading systems” were tossed on end. But, it made sense. Assessment is a conversation and if the goal is continual learning, we should continue the process of working on an idea, developing our thinking and building upon that. If a school believes in reassessment of summative assessments then why not just focus on formative assessments. (Ha! that’s a lot of edu-jargon in one sentence.)

Where am I now? Over the past few years, I have been pulled in a different direction. I have spent countless hours developing, administering and grading summative assessments. In this time, it has been rare that a summative assessment resulted in a “surprise,” meaning that a student performed in a way that did not reflect their current work. The only surprises have come from students who were performing well but did not fully understand that particular question. Is this fair for them? So after straying away from Jason Buell’s mantra of Always Formative, I again feel drawn to his reasoning. Are there others out there who believe the same way? The following tweet from Kath Murdoch, whose inquiry work is currently shift some of my practices, caught my attention.

The question that drives this article and its response nicely put together some of my own thinking when thinking about students as learners.

“We questioned: is it necessary to have a summative assessment or could each project be a continuous learning journey with formative assessment opportunities during each stage of the process? “

“After the success of the marble run, we realized that we wanted to continue our development of creative projects for assessment and learning. Our aim is to create authentic projects which require our students to demonstrate their understandings in a meaningful context. These projects will be open-ended, with students starting from the same point but with opportunities to take them in different directions according to their interests and understandings. Students will make connections and use what they are learning throughout the unit. The projects will encourage students to carry on learning by making mistakes, trying again and having conversations with each other. Students will also benefit from the conversations at home. We realized that we had gone from summative assessments to creating continued learning experiences that often stretched beyond our classrooms.”

Shifting back to the lens of a science teacher, I think about the core of the NGSS standards: do science and solve problems. The goal is to weave together the three strands of science and engineering practices, content and cross-cutting concepts. Questions…

Shifting back to the lens of a science teacher, I think about the core of the NGSS standards: do science and solve problems. The goal is to weave together the three strands of science and engineering practices, content and cross-cutting concepts. Questions…

  1. How do we design a learning space that is full of inquiry where students are continually getting feedback on their progress as scientists?
  2. Can an active science notebook that includes modeling, investigative design, data collection and explanations be used as an ongoing process? This process is formative in nature as students are continually getting feedback and ideally improving each time a new phenomenon is investigated.
  3. If students are focused on the study of a phenomenon / engineering challenge, and their thinking is directed towards being a scientist what is the purpose of tacking on summative assessment at the end?

I am curious to hear thoughts that support always formative and those that feel that a summative assessment is absolutely necessary. In the end, I would like students to leave a year of learning with me with the thought that they are scientists and have a lot of evidence to support their thinking. This evidence would come from a notebook full of phenomenon-driven inquiry where they have actively modeled thinking (capturing key content), designed and conducted investigations and engaged with cross-cutting concepts. 

Working with NoTosh – session 1

“Sometimes it’s the haystack you need to find.” 

~Ewan McIntosh

A week ago, I had the great opportunity to work through a design thinking process with Ewan McIntosh of NoTosh. The purpose of the group is to work on the mission and vision of ISB. I’m excited to be part of this conversation as well as to be a participant in a deep design thinking project.

By no means am I a sketch-noter or an artist of any kind, but I did try to capture the flow of the day through notes.

IMG_3056 (1)

A few take-aways for my teaching practice:

  • Get people up! At one point in the day, we began a session and Ewan let us go a bit. Groups were mostly sitting down as they discussed. Some productivity was happening. A short video was shown and we were asked to notice what the participants were doing in the video. Their energy level was markedly higher and a lot of it was due to the way they were interacting. People were standing. They were closer. They were engaging with the ideas in front of them. So, we stood up and started. Boom! The volume of the room increased (not to an unmanageable level but to a good buzz) and the walls began filling with ideas. This is not new to me. I try to get my students up all the time but it was the first time that I deliberately changed the way I worked in a group. It drove the idea home and continues as another point in my debate between vertical and horizontal whiteboard spaces. My students often like keeping butts in chairs but get ’em up!
  • “Why” questions are hard. After “going into the wild” and talking with students, teachers and other community members, we rejoined to share ideas and dig deeper into some of them through the 5 whys. It’s a fairly quick process – ask a why question, get a response, ask a follow-up, get a response and continue until the 5th why. Now, there is a question to work with! The first time, I slipped into “What…?” frameworks and the questions went quicker but when we repeated with “Why…” I found them more thoughtful yet harder to generate.
  • How can Day 1 be the Groundhog Day? The energy, the care, the excitement, the memories – can all of those magical things that happen on the first day of school be continued each day? Teaching is hard. Each year I feel that the train leaves the station in August and moves quicker around the seasons until June. The speed and the work can wear one out. Yet, as educators we need to keep students inspired and excited about their learning. Each day. Along these lines is one of the reasons I’m trying to post a Twitter image at least daily. There has to be something each day work posting, right?
  • The power of paper – there are so many pulls to the digital world but the short-term permanence and strength of tactile and visual thinking through paper needs to have a place in our rooms.
  • 12% rule – don’t talk to much. A class is a learning space, not a soapbox.

Over the next few months, we have been tasked with collecting a lot of data. A project nest is set-up and I’m excited to see what it will look like in February when it is covered with stickie-notes. I look forward to be par of the process that then works through this amazing amount of data. Big thanks to Ewan McIntosh for the learning!

Experimenting w/ Student-Driven Inquiry Structures

Disclaimer: This is fully a work in progress. The post, the ideas, everything. I’m trying to get my thoughts in order so comments and suggestions are appreciated.

When I think of what I would like my science space to look like, I see students moving about independently. Some are modeling, some are collecting data, some may be researching, some are talking about their ideas and I’m getting the opportunity to engage with students about their data and their thinking. This does happen sometimes and it is great. What has not happened is where students are working on lots of different phenomenon at the same time. That’s what I’m trying to move forward on.

Upcoming are several standards relating to cells, body systems, cellular respiration, and photosynthesis. I am working towards setting up multiple presentations that students can access. These presentations do not tell students how do go about designing their investigation but leads them through key elements.

Starting Point: A phenomenon. This will likely be through the form of a video (as shown in the following presentation), a demo or directions for an activity.

Design Cycle: This year, I am working hard to embed the ISB Design Process into my practice. As such, stages of the design process correspond to student activity.






Science Notebook: The presentation has keys back to the science notebook to help with student organization. Work is to be done in the notebook with the exception of published elements.

The following presentation would be a choice for students. They would watch the phenomenon at the beginning and then begin work if they chose to continue. Feedback would be appreciated!

  • What are potential hang-ups?
  • What are improvements?
  • What are suggestions in managing students on multiple inquiry projects at the same time?

*Special thanks to Paul Andersen – many of the icons and scaffolds come from his great site.