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Getting the buggy lab out of the sand

August 23, 2011

Yesterday, I had both of my physics classes and the goal of the day was to get ourselves out of the mental sandtraps and moving our understanding of constant velocity forward.

I started with my 3rd period class than only had 5 minutes for a board meeting last week. I began by handing out the Board Meeting Ideas document, and this time, I gave them time to read it. We then re-watched the 5 minutes of video from our discussion last week, and I asked students to identify the key moments in the discussion that pushed the understanding of the class forward. My students all caught the exact moment when a student had the courage to ask a question about why a graph went downward. This time, I also set them out with our big goal—describe the relationship between position and time, verbally, graphically, and with an equation.

From there, we had a 20 minute board meeting, and toward the end, I stepped in with a few questions to direct our discussion toward the major understanding. Here’s the video.

My second class, which had more or less completed their discussion on Friday started with each student taking 1 minute to write a big idea they were recommending for Post Game Analysis on an index card. Surprisingly, the most common answer was something along the lines of “human error causes our results to be different.” Since students wrote this out on index cards, I get to give them a little bit of feedback on these ideas, and push them to be a bit clearer in describing both “human error” and “differences”.

We went into a discussion led by me of the post game analysis were we wrote out the big ideas of CVPM:

  • Verbal description: the buggy travels equal distances in equal time intervals.
  • Graphical description: The position vs time graph is linear with the slope representing the velocity.
  • algebraic description: we can use the slope intercept form of a line to write the equation x=vt+x_i.

When we were finished, students seemed to have a much greater understanding of these ideas, and so I told them the next challenge—I’ve marked 6 starting positions and directions on the floor, and I was giving them 5 minutes to measure the velocity of their buggy, and be ready to make a prediction of how it will finish in a 1 m race with the other 6 buggies. Students also had to put together a position vs time graph on a sheet of graph paper for me to give them feedback. In the end, we ran out of time just before doing the race, but I think today was a big breakthrough in terms of understanding for this class.

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