Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Will They Take Home?

I covered for our art teacher during my plan today. I always like going into other classrooms to see how the kids act in a different environment. I found out that kids in the art room behave about the same as kids in my room.

We have three foreign exchange students this year and two of them are in the art class I covered. Both were working on clay masks in a country they have lived in for eight months. My mind wandered off and for some reason I got to thinking about how they would get those clay creations home.

Would they pack them in a suitcase? On a carry on? Maybe they would mail stuff. How much did they bring over in the first place? How do you plan to spend a year away at school halfway across the world?

I don't have any of the girls in my own classes, but they have all been involved in everything they possibly could throughout the year, so I have come to know them a little bit through the track team. I know they are homesick (who wouldn't be?). I know they are all pretty smart and are taking some challenging classes. I know at home they do not have school organized sports and the whole idea of sports competition kind of freaks them out. I know they work harder than a lot of kids that live here.

I haven't had much of a chance to talk to them about the differences in school cultures, so I don't really know how we compare, but from what I gather, aside from the language barrier, they haven't been terribly challenged academically.

So I'm wondering what it is they will take home. When you go home and talk about your experience with your friends, what do you say?

"Those Americans, no wonder they do terrible on international tests!" *

"Those Americans are so lucky to have what they have and they take it for granted!"

"Those Americans, they have it made, short school days AND the school pays for your sports!"

"Those Americans are so lucky, their teacher talks to them like a person!" **

"Those Americans have lots of bad weather!" ***

"Those Americans made me feel like I have lived there all my life!"

I don't really know what they will take home. I hope it is good. I hope their experience has been one that will stay will them for the rest of their lives.

And I hope they look back at their time here as an amazing experience that was filled with everything they expected and more.

Now that I think about it, I truly want that for the kids that live here as well.

*Like I care...
**This is actually paraphrased from one of those kids talking about me.
***I live in Kansas. We have had three tornado warnings this spring, not to mention hail about once a week.
****Got a little heavy handed with the footnotes today, didn't I???

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Catapult Project

We started building catapults today. Unlike the Roller Coasters, I actually came into this one with a plan.

This was based on a Science Olympiad problem that required teams to launch an object of unknown mass to an unknown target. That is a LOT of unknowns, so I have given my kids a little more direction.

I want them to build big catapults, but I want them to understand how a catapult works and what kind of plans they are going to need.

So we started off with mini catapults.

That shoot M&Ms.*

You have not lived until your kids have permission to launch candy across your classroom.

Cody is having WAY too much fun with this. (Also, please ignore the incredibly messy lab room, we are still recovering from the roller coasters.)

Today was the idea day. They got two paint stirrers, 2-4 mini clothespins, one stick of hot glue (I have discovered that this is PLENTY) and a snack pack of M&Ms. Anything else they wanted to use had to be approved by me.

After about three minutes of stunned silence, they took off with this and had a wonderful time trying to figure out how to build their catapult.

I'll give them couple days to perfect their catapult before we have a test day where they have to launch their M&Ms. I'm thinking prizes will be awarded for distance and accuracy.

*Next year, we will shoot marshmallows. M&Ms get eaten pretty quickly and shatter when they hit my floor. I had a lot of explaining to do when the custodian came in this afternoon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roller Coaster Success

I have always been annoyed that my Applied Physics class has never actually been, you know, applied physics. We created the class to cover standards on the state assessment for kids who would never be able to pass regular physics. While a typical day in that class is spent doing labs, they have always been pretty canned.

Last week I got bored with it. I was sorting through an old pile of papers and came across a roller coaster project that someone had presented years ago in a teaching methods class. We have been talking about speed and momentum and acceleration and energy. This just seemed perfect. So off to the hardware store I went.

I gave my kids 15 feet of conduit insulation, some masking tape, a marble and some pretty vague instructions about how to build a roller coaster. The only requirements at this point were that the roller coaster had to have two hills and a loop.

They ran with it.

They talked about energy.
They talked about momentum.
And acceleration.
And velocity.

And whether or not their roller coaster was one they would actually want to ride.

This coaster was changed because of that. They ended up putting another length on the end and tried to get the marble to come all the way back to the start. It was close, but couldn't quite make the return loop.
They had incredible discussions about everything we had learned in class. I was truly amazed. There is no way these discussions would never have come out of working problems on a worksheet.

Even when I upped the assignment to figure speed and acceleration, they jumped right in. They had to pick six points on their track and determine the speed and acceleration at each point. Kids who refused to do these problems as practice showed all their work WITH LABELS in order to prove their roller coaster was the fastest.

For a project that took about eleven minutes for me to plan, it turned out really well, although there are several things I am editing for next year.*

-First off, they don't get to use my metersticks as supports. Just a little glitch if you require them to, you know, measure anything. I soooo didn't see that one coming.

-I would also like them to compare the speed and acceleration to real life roller coasters.

-Maybe make a commercial advertising their roller coaster?

-I'm thinking I could have a couple staff members listen to the presentations and pick a "best of show."

-Glass marbles shatter when dropped off the bleachers. Into millions of little pieces.

After I got them all started and I started Googling, I came across several sites on project based learning. New obsession here. While this isn't exactly where we are at the moment, we are definitely going to be doing more of this in class. These guys will be my guinea pigs this year and I think they are totally okay with that.

*Is it considered editing if I didn't have it written up??? I'm not even sure I can claim the planning part.

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