A Tale of Two Projects: Week 2 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project)

This blog entry describes what my students and I did during Week 2 of the Emerging Tech (NSF Grant) project.  The events in this blog entry took place at the same time as the events in this article.  As a pair, these describe what a PBL teacher does while running two projects in two different preps at one time.  To see accounts on earlier or later weeks of these projects, go here.


Week 2, Day 1 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



During Day 1, I was not available to work directly with the students because I was at a training related to my responsibilities as Campus Testing Coordinator.  The students started work on informal presentations on physicists who had contributed to our understanding of nuclear phenomena and quantum mechanics.  The students delivered these presentations on Day 4 of this week.

Each team was assigned a different physicist.  To start preparing students for a grant they would write several weeks later, the research questions for each physicist focused on the research of the physicist, its intellectual merit, and its broad impact.  The assigned physicists and related questions for teams 1 to 6 are shown in this linked image.  I provided them with at least 3 age-appropriate and accurate sources to research the questions to streamline their research process.


Each team was also given a template slide deck that limited teams to 3 slides per scientist (see linked template).  The template also constrained students to mostly images and very limited text on the slides.  The bulk of their responses to the research questions were hidden in the slides’ speaker notes sections.


Later on Day 1, I finalized a lesson for Day 2 of this week by analyzing test bank questions related to TEKS on nuclear phenomena and the weak nuclear force.  I found that my workshop needed to focus on types of radiation (alpha, beta, and gamma) and their relationships to nuclear forces (weak and strong) and various technology.  They also needed to introduce half-life and how to use half-life to select appropriate isotopes for different types of technology.  I designed a graphic organizer that included an embedded half-life chart and questions that asked students to interpret the chart to select isotopes for different technology applications – see Day 2 handout.


Week 2, Day 2 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Early on Day 2, I made some minor adjustments to my visuals for the upcoming Nuclear Workshop because I needed to look up specific radioactivity values that corresponded to harmless and harmful levels of radiation and their effects.  I typically outline and draft lesson plans and related resources several days ahead of time and then refine them until the day before (or day of) the actual lesson.


Later on Day 2, I facilitated a workshop on Radioactivity with the IPE classes.  In this workshop, we introduced healthy and dangerous levels of radioactivity and used these thresholds to interpret the harmfulness (or harmlessness) of different types of radioactive technology.  We introduced the idea of half life and used specific half lives to discuss whether or not various isotopes were safe (or not) for consumer use.  We also introduced 3 types of radioactive processes (alpha, gamma, and beta) and discussed their connections to nuclear forces and technology applications.  After the workshop, students had time to answer the questions on the graphic organizer and to continue developing their presentations on nuclear / quantum physicists.


Later on Day 2, I finished grading revised reports from the previous IPE project on Rube Goldberg machines.  In this project, students built and tested Rube Goldberg devices in order to investigate conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.


Week 2, Day 3 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Day 3 was the final work day that students had to prepare for their informal presentations on nuclear / quantum physicists.  In the warmup, we practiced using the half life chart to select the appropriate isotopes for specific technology applications.  During the warmup discussion, I was able to repeat and model correct thinking relating to interpreting the half lives of isotopes in the context of emerging technology.


While the students worked on their slides, I started contacting potential panelists in order to provide feedback to students during Week 5 of the project when students would draft their grant proposals.  I drafted a recruitment letter that summarized the project logistics and the types of support the student needed.  I linked the recruitment letter to a Google form that gathered information on volunteer panelists’ degrees, areas of expertise, and availability.  By the end of this week, this work yielded 5 panelists, a great number to support 10 student teams.  If you’d like to volunteer to be a panelists at CINGHS, click the linked form above.


Also during student work time, I ordered equipment from the UTeach department that related to an upcoming emission spectra lab.  I thought this equipment was critical to give students hands on experiences related to modern physics and to give students a break from a project featuring lots of online research and very few hands-on research activities.


My co-teacher and I prepared for presentations the following day by setting up Google Forms to gather peer grades on collaboration and oral communication.  I created a set of note sheets for capturing our teacher notes on teams’ presentations on quantum and nuclear physicists.  To prepare for our notebook grading day later that week (Friday, Day 5), we decided what assignments we would grade for that week and how many points we would assign to each assignment in each of our class’s learning outcomes (Oral Communication, Written Communication, Collaboration, Agency, Knowledge & Thinking, Engineering Content, Physics Content).


Week 2, Day 4 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Early on Day 4, I decided to create an experimental tool to keep students in the audience of presentations more engaged.  I created a graphic organizer that students could use to take notes on other teams’ presentations.  I showed this tool to my co-teacher, Mr. Fishman, and shared a related idea: why not let presenting students’ stamp the parts of the graphic organizer related to their presentation so they could get real time feedback on how well they communicated their key points and also hold their peers accountable for taking good notes?  He was willing to try it.



The experiment was a success.  The students seemed to really enjoy stamping their peers.  Also several students insisted on making their peers improve their notes prior to stamping their papers so the level of accountability was kept high throughout the note-taking activity.  In addition to note-taking, students in the audience evaluated the presenters on their oral communication skills.  Meanwhile, my co-teacher and I took notes on their presentations relating to the rubric so we could use our notes to supplement what we would later gather from reviewing their slides and their hidden speaker notes.  Sometimes students say more than they write, so we use both our notes from what they say and what they write to evaluate their presentations and related research.


Later on Day 4, I used pivot tables to analyze data gathered via Google Form to generate peer grades relating to collaboration and oral communication.  I typed out my presentation notes in order to create a graphic organizer that summarized the key points delivered by all teams in both class periods.  I shared these notes with students the following day so they could learn from students in both periods.  See linked notes on tne left.  At the end of Week 4, the students used these notes and other notes to take an open notebook test on nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and biotechnology.


 Week 2, Day 5 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



On Day 5, we switched gears by introducing emerging (and ancient) examples of biotechnology.  We opened the class with a discussion on a Washington post article on the creation of pig-human embryonic chimeras.  After this introduction, Mr. Fishman led the class through an introductory workshop / discussion on biotechnology.  Students were so open with their opinions and prior knowledge of biotechnology that the 1-day workshop spilled over into the following day.


Week 2, Day 6-7 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



On Saturday morning, I checked the file revision histories of report documents to check which students were in danger of not meeting the final report revisions deadline.  I called the homes of all students who needed extra reminders and parental support to meet this important deadline.  Later on the day, I held online office hours to support students working on their report corrections.  While doing this, I gathered and re-formatted sample grant summaries that students would eventually analyze to learn the style of writing related to their grant proposals.  I also created a test on Nuclear Physics and generated the question sheet and bubble sheets for this test.


On Sunday, I graded the final revised versions of the students’ engineering report from the prior project (the Rube Goldberg project).  I also graded students’ presentations from earlier in the week using my presentation notes and also considering all the written texts and images on students’ slides and their speaker notes.  Using our IPE tool, the rubric chart (see linked Google Sheet), I was able to grade their presentations fairly quickly and enjoy the rest of my weekend.  The presentations were easy to grade because most of the students had done the assignment perfectly or nearly so.  I think the pre-selected articles, the specific research questions and the verbal feedback on the slides given throughout the week had really helped the students create quality products.


For more grading tricks, go here.  To continue reading  about this project, go here.


A Tale of Two Projects: Week 1 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF) Project

This blog entry is the partner entry to this story: Week 1 Algebra 2 blog entry.  During the short week between Wed, 1/18, and Fri, 1/20, we launched two projects in my main preps: the Emerging Technology (or NSF) project in Integrated Physics and Engineering and the Sports Science Video project in Algebra 2.   The events in this article occurred concurrently with the events in this article.  To get links to accounts of earlier and later phases of this project go this page: A Tale of 2+ Projects.


Integrated Physics & Engineering, Day 1 NSF Project , 1/18

Students in IPE were greeted with this visual when they arrived in class in Day 1 of the Emerging Tech project.  The branding on this agenda slide shows the icon from the previous project with a bandaid over it.  This reinforced the warmup for the day which was a reflection on their past report scores and their plans to use report feedback to raise their scores that week.  In the IPE class, student work is graded once a week: notebooks are graded on Friday’s and major products submitted online are graded on Sundays.  Students have up to 2 weeks to revise their work: after 1 week, they can earn up to a 90% on late or resubmitted work and after 2 weeks, they can earn up to 70% on this work.  After 2 weeks, my co-teacher and I no longer accept the work.

After the students completed the report reflection warmup, we held our once-a-6-weeks Class Officer Elections.  Nominated students gave speeches to earn student votes in elections for 3 officer positions: Facilitator, Time Manager, and Grade Manager.  The facilitator goes over the daily agenda at the start of class each day.  The time manager tracks the time left in class activities and class periods and provides periodic time announcements describing the amounts of time left for activities and left in class.  The grade manager uses a weekly task completion chart to follow-up with students who did not turn in assignments.  All 3 officers support the class when I’m sick.  Subs who have taken over my classes are usually just adults on record who take attendance and watch while my 3 officers lead students through the day’s activities.  Three of my Algebra 2 officers that were elected earlier in the morning during 1st period managed to get elected in the same positions in their IPE class periods. I allowed them to run for office again because I enjoy having experienced and committed class officers.

After the officer elections, we announced teams.  The teams claimed new team tables to serve as headquarters for their new teams.  They used the visual below to set up their notebooks for the next project.

We explained to them that we were going to do a project in “Advanced” Physics and Science topics.  We explained that “advanced” in this context did not necessarily mean more difficult.   What it really means is that it involves science discovered “later” than much of the science we had studied throughout the year.  We also explained that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has a very large budget (order of billions) which it allocates to science and engineering proposals with the power to advance our understanding of science (intellectual merit) and to improve our society (broad impact).  We explained that the goal of the project was to create an NSF proposal that involves emerging technology that has intellectual merit and broad impact.  To give them an idea of some the problems they could address in their proposals, we watched a video about the NEA Grand Challenges in Engineering.


After we watched the video, students working in teams dissected the project design brief and created a chart listing their Content Knows and Need-to-Knows and their Project Logistics Knows and Need-to-Knows.  For the final activity of the day, the facilitator in each class period led a class discussion to consolidate all the students’ Knows and Need-to-Knows:

 While they shared their prior content knowledge in their Content Knows, I appreciate how the 4th Period students gave me a brief summary of what they remembered about atomic theory and what they knew of GMO’s.


Later in the day, I prepped for activities later in the week by continue to conduct research and to draft visuals and question prompts for my first workshop on Nuclear Physics for Day 3 of the project.  While reviewing the nuclear material I decided that the way to chunk the Nuclear Physics was into 2 parts.  Part 1 would focus on the strong force, energy-mass equivalence, fission, and fusion and its applications.  Part 2 would focus on radioactive decays (alpha, gamma, and beta), the weak force, the idea of half life  and applications of radioactivity.


I also prepped a Test Correction assignment because trimester exams are in 5 weeks.  In this activity, students use a key to correct their test using a colored pen or pencil different from the color they used in the test.  The color contrast helps students know what concepts they need to revisit when they study for their trimester exams.


Integrated Physics & Engineering, Day 2 NSF Project , 1/19



On day 2 of the NSF project, students did a warmup that reviewed Laws  of Exponents.  I designed the warm-up problems to take on the same form as the energy-mass equivalence (E = mc^2) problems we would introduce the following day.  This warm-up gave us the opportunity to review laws of exponents and putting final results into scientific notation.


After the warmup, the students created their team norms and agreements and documented these in a team contract using this template.    They also set up their Google folders and shared them with their teammates.  On this day, we started the useful practice of adding the team number to the name of the Google folder.  We linked their Google folder links to the project rubric chart:


The rubric chart is our one-stop-shop for all the electronic work students submit for the project.  It also contains text from all the project rubrics (see left column) and has column boxes which we populate with yellow (partial credit) and green (full credit) stamps as each team completes parts of the rubrics in their products.  After the students set-up their team folders and team contracts, we gave them time to work on their test and report corrections to wrap up class Day 2 of the NSF project.


Later in the day, I prepared for Day 3 by finalizing my lesson outline, lesson visuals and lesson handout for Nuclear Physics (1 of 2).  To really focus the lesson, I referred back to my analysis of a test bank aligned to my target TEKS.  This analysis led me to focus my lesson on binding energy, mass defect and how these relate to fission, fusion and mass-energy equivalence.  In addition I found this great gif that illustrates the chain reaction that occurs with uranium-235:



Integrated Physics & Engineering, Day 3 NSF Project , 1/20

On Day 3, I facilitated part 1 of 2 of a workshop on Nuclear Physics.  Because our previous project had focused on conservation of energy and momentum, I integrated questions in the workshop that tied the new forces (strong forces) and new energies (binding energies) in nuclear physics to concepts we had already learned in previous projects: energy transformations, Coulomb forces, potential energy, and kinetic energy.  We learned about the role of the strong force in the stability of atomic nuclei.  We learned how to calculate the mass defect and the binding energy using E = mc^2 where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light.  We learned about fission and fusion, their connections to the strong force, and technological applications of each.


Later in the day, I graded all the Week 19 assignments in students notebooks.  I also learned how to install a TI-83 emulator unto my laptop so I could model how to do calculations with very large and very small numbers in our class set of scientific calculators.


Integrated Physics & Engineering, Week 2 Prep NSF Project , 1/20

Over the weekend, I prepared for Week 2 of the NSF project by setting up a rubric, research questions and suggested sources for presentations students would give on nuclear and quantum physicists.

#Edublogsclub Prompt 5: Free Web Tools

Here are the free web tools I’m currently using most to manage my life and teach my students:

All the Google Apps (Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets,  Google Slides, Google Keep):  My favorite features include:

  • Explore (in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides): I use this feature to search for Creative Commons images and drag these directly into documents and presentations.  Many of the images have clear (as opposed to white backgrounds) so they are easier to layer on top of other objects.
  • Pivot Tables (in Google Sheets): I use this very powerful tool to summarize complicated data sets.  For example, if students fill out a Google form to provide collaboration scores on their teammates they will generate several rows of data for each student.  Pivot tables will consolidate that data for each student and will give several options for how to combine the data (via averaging, summing, finding max/min, etc)
  • Conditional Formatting (in Google Sheets): I set conditions in conditional formatting that automatically change the text/cell background colors.  One use of this is to set up rubric charts with hidden scores.  Yellow squares denote partial credit and Green squares denote full credit.  Hidden under the conditional formatting are actual scores that I can use later to calculate their project grades.

  • Alternating Colors Formatting (NEW in Google Sheets):  I use this to make my grade sheets easier on the eyes.  I like how the alternating colors of each row are preserved even after I sort the data in my grade sheets.
  • Sharing (in all Google drive apps).  All docs I co-create with my co-teachers are made in shared Google drive apps.  I have no idea how we produced collaborative docs before this feature.  I know we used to live without it but I’ve blocked those dark times from my mind already.
  • Shared To Do lists (in Google keep):  When I’m collaborating with several people on a project, I’ll sometimes setup a checklist in Google keep and share it with them.  This app works in web browsers and also has a mobile version.


  • I use this app because it allows me to update several notebooks which are accessible online and off-line on all my devices.  The interface is very simple and user friendly.
  • I draft most of my blog posts in here.  I also maintain my 2017 Daily Resolution To Do Lists in here.


Desmos:  This is the iPad graphing calculator that my students use the most.  It also works in web browsers.  Some cool features include:


Coach my Video:

  • We use the free version of this app to advance videos frame by frame and gather timestamps at each frame.  My students and I used this to analyze the motion of runners on a 100 meter track and the motion of marbles moving through a Rube Goldberg dervice.  For more about that, go here.


PhET Interactive Simulations:

  • Dozens of simulations featuring concepts in physics, biology, chemistry, earth science and math.
  • Each simulation is linked to a bank of lesson plans.
  • Some of the simulations are starting to become available in HTML5 format which makes them accessible to my students iPads.  If I ever won the lottery, my first selfish act of philanthropy would be to make a large donation to the UC Boulder program that maintains the PhET’s so they could convert all the sims into HTML5.
  • Some of my favorite sims for teaching Physics include: The Moving Man, Wave on a String, Energy Skate Park, and the Circuit Construction Kit.


BONUS TOOL: Tweetdeck

  • I use Tweetdeck to organize tweets into columns dedicated to specific handles and hashtags.  This helps me to participate in Twitter Education Chats with other teachers.  The schedule for these is posted here.  Without the column organization, I would be too confused by the mad jumble of tweets in my Home page to participate effectively in the Twitter chats.
  • I also use this tool to schedule future tweets.  Last year I undertook this hobby project to tweet a blog article related to my notes on various teacher books everyday for an entire school year.  I used Tweetdeck to schedule a long series of these book notes tweets in advance.  For the complete list of book notes articles, you can go here.

A Tale of Two Projects: Week 1 Algebra 2 Sports Science Project

The first week of the 4th-six-weeks grading period was a short one at Cedars International Next Generation High School due to a school holiday on Monday, 1/16, and Benchmark testing on 1/17.  The 3 remaining days were still quite dense.  In this time, we launched two projects in my two main preps, Algebra 2 and Integrated Physics and Engineering (IPE).  This article describes the the first week of the Sports Science Project, an Algebra 2 project on Quadratic Functions.  The next article in this series will describe what happened in the first week of the Emerging Technologies (or NSF) project in IPE. To read about the prep that went into preparing for the launches of these two projects, you can read this blog article.  To read about later phases in this project, visit this page: A Tale of 2+ Projects.


 Repeated Disclaimer: If you don’t want to know about all the details in the PBL sausage, stop reading.  


Day 1, Algebra 2 Sports Science Project: LAUNCH!

On Wednesday, 1/18, we started the Algebra 2 class with a few activities to wrap up the NERFallistics project.  In that project students learned about polynomials and applied that knowledge while analyzing the trajectories of NERF gun pellets.  These wrap up activities were designed to give students time to reflect and revise their work.  To set the right tone and maintain the suspense for the new project a little longer, I used this for my opening agenda slide:

The band-aid is over the project icon for the project we were wrapping up, the NERFallistics  project.  The icon symbolized the work we were going to do to fix the boo-boos in our last project.  

In the NERF Report Reflection warmup, the students read over their report feedback, checked their report grades, and made plans with their NERF teammate to make revisions on the report.  In my classes, students always have 2 weeks to re-submit deliverables: after 1 week, they can earn up to a 90% on their resubmitted work; after 2 weeks, they can earn up to a 70% on resubmitted work, and after that, I no longer accept the work.  After they completed that reflection, I gave students time to complete a culminating activity from the last project that many teams did not have time to finish during our last class meeting.  In the Target Practice activity, students had to solve a regression equation the modeled the trajectories of their NERF guns to in order to hit a table and a small chair in the common room of our school.  One team succeeded in hitting the table and the chair shown below from distances of 10+ meters away.  They were exuberant to find that sometimes, Math really works!

After these wrap-up activities, we started off the six-weeks with our traditional once-a-six-weeks Class Officer Elections.  Every six weeks, my students in each period elect 3 class officers: a facilitator, a time manager, and a grade manager.  I learned how to integrate and train student leaders in my classes from my friend and mentor from Manor New Tech HS, Ms. Holly Davis.  The facilitator starts the the class each day by going over the class agenda with the class.  He or she does this while I take care of start of class logistics like taking attendance, refilling my coffee, etc.  The time manager keeps track of the time for the class and makes time announcements to alert students and teachers of the time left in class activities and in the class period.  The grade manager gathers student work on my grading days (each Friday) and follows up with students who need to submit work late because they missed some due dates.  The elections are both playful and quite serious.  Candidates give speeches to convince the class that they will be the most effective student at their desired roles.  

I let the students take their time with this process because I rely heavily on my class officers to do my job effectively.  I’m so used to effective time managers that I don’t know what time some of my classes end.  I’m just used to my timekeeper telling me when to wrap things up and move on to the next period.  My facilitator acts as my acting sub when I’m absent.  When I’m out, the facilitator leads the class through activities while the adult-sub-on-record takes attendance, hangs out, and watches.  Sometimes I get so far ahead in my prep that I forget what we’re about to do in class until my facilitator goes over it with the class.   My grade managers are amazing!  I may not have the best turn in rates on the original due dates, but my 1-week-late turn-in rate is awesome thanks to all the in-person / emailed reminders students receive from my grade managers when they forget to turn in work.


After class officer elections, we announced new teams and set up our notebooks for the next project.  

After setting up their table of contents for the new project, the students read over the design brief with their team and came up with at least 10 Knows and 10 Need-to-Knows for the project.  They divided these into Content (Algebra 2 related) items and Project (logistics, deadlines, etc) items.  The design brief communicated the project’s objectives, purpose, rough timeline and deliverables.  In the Sports Science project, students will gather and analyze 100-m dash data to create a sports science video that investigates the question: What separates everyday and world class athletes?  In addition to analyzing the Design Brief, we watched a sample ESPN Sport Science video featuring Lebron James.  This video provided a sample of their final product and showed them how motion data can be used to make a compelling argument.


Later that day, I prepared for Days 2 and 3 of the project by preparing a workshop and practice set on position-time graphs and by purchasing a 300-ft long tape measure.  My co-teacher, Mr. Fishman, had me download the Home Depot app so I could shop for my tape measure efficiently.  When you’re in the store, you can search for products and the app will give you the aisle and section of the store for the product along with a labeled map of the store.  It was so sweet.  I bought calculator batteries and a crazy long tape measure in record time using the app.


I sometimes joke with my friends that my Algebra 2 class is my Physics-2 class.  About half of the students in Algebra 2 are also taking my Integrated Physics and Engineering class.  Sometimes our projects in Algebra 2 are situated in Physics contexts because the math fits and I can’t resist because of my physics background.  This is why I found myself preparing an activity on Position-Time graphs for my Algebra 2 (not Physics) students.  I prepared the lesson because it was in my students’ need-to-knows and because I knew that students needed to be equipped with this knowledge to make sense of the data they were going to gather on their 100-m runs.  (On a side note, my students sometimes get confused by all the math they are learning in physics and all the physics they are learning in math; sometimes they write their notes in the wrong notebook and end up writing a weird location in their table of contents for an activity they placed in the wrong notebook.)


I also spent some time search for videos of world class athletes in 100-m races that we could analyze for our comparison cases.  It was really challenging to find the perfect video because many distances within the 100-m are not marked.  I settled for looking for videos with sideview camera angles and found one video that compiled sideview from several races.


[Spoiler alert] Later in Week 2 of the project I came up with a way to approximately analyze world class run data.  Usain Bolt’s stride length is well documented.  I was able to analyze his world record 100 meter run by using Coach my Video to find the times associated with each of his strides (exact time that one foot hit the ground) and used his average stride length to determine positions for those times.  Later in the project, I provided students with a data table of his world record run so they could analyze it and  compare his motion stats to their own run data.


Day 2, Algebra 2 Sports Science Project: Team Contracts / Explore Position-Time Graphs:

We started off Day 2 by completing a warm-up that was a pre-assessment on what students already knew or could deduce about position-time graphs:


I scanned their notebooks and the results were hit-or-miss.  A couple students did it perfectly, many more guessed several wrong, and a couple didn’t know where to start.  After the time manager let us know that the warm-up time was over, I told students I was going to break protocol and not go over the warm-up at this time.  I did this because we were about to go over position-time graphs and I reused the warm-up problems to make up half of the follow-up practice set to this activity.

After the warm-up, the student facilitator went over the agenda and then led a class discussion to come up with a compiled list of student Knows and Need-to-Knows.  Here are the students’ Content Knows and Need-to-Knows:


And here are their Project Knows and Need-to-Knows:

I had to play devil’s advocate a bit to get students to elaborate on their Content Knows.  They’re pretty good at specifically articulating  their Content Need-to-Knows and Project Knows and Need-to-Knows.  Over the course of the project, we will revisit and update their Knows and Need-to-Knows as students learn new things and develop more questions.

After the Knows and Need-to-Knows discussion the students set up their team contracts and shared project Google folders.  The students completed this Team Contract template and then placed their finished contract in a sheet protector and inside the Team Contract binder.  Over the course of the project they will revisit their contract and use the back side of it to document their Work Log goals and agreements.  While they prepared their contracts, I linked their Google folder to the Project Rubric Chart:


I’ve streamlined student turn-in processes such that their nearly all their work lives in 2 places: (1) in their notebook and (2) in shared project Google folders.  If their work is located in a project Google folder, I link the folder and its key contents to a rubric chart.  I use the rubric chart to give students yellow and green stamps on project work that relate to rubric items (see left column).  Having the links very close to the rubric makes it easy for me to assess project products against the rubric.  Later in the project, students refer to the rubric chart on work days to see which items they have earned full (green stamp) and partial (yellow stamp) credit.  

After they set-up their team contracts and team Google folder, we started an activity on Position-Time graphs.  I set up the workshop to be interactive. Throughout the workshop, I displayed a prompt on the board and had their teams discuss the prompt while I played Jeopardy music. While the music played, I overheard their discussions and looked at their proposed motion graphs.  After the music stopped, I called on the students with interesting insights and went over the correct answers.  We did this 10 times.  By the end of these cycles we had completed and thoroughly discussed a graphic organizer that showed the shapes for all the types of motion they would need in the project: stopped motion, constant velocity (positive and negative direction), increasing speed (positive and negative direction) and decreasing speed (positive and negative direction).

Also, while developing these workshop slides. I came up with a new trick to convey the alignment between state standards and workshop objectives.  I color-code the verbs (red) and noun / noun phrases (blue) in both the standards and the objectives to highlight the connections between the two.  I now do that in all my workshop objectives slides and in all my daily agenda slides.

After the workshop, students redid the warm-up problems and did a few more practice problems on motion graphs.  Nearly every students was able to do the warm-up perfectly on the first try after the workshop.

Later on Day 2, I did some big picture planning of the content scaffolding in the Sports Science project.  I looked at the standards again and ranked them from easiest to hardest and grouped them by similarity and developed an outline for a lesson sequence that would cover all the standards.  In broad strokes I decided we would start by learning several techniques to formulate quadratic equations (from easy to hard), then learn how to solve quadratic equations, and then learn how to solve systems of linear and quadratic equations.  


Day 3, Algebra 2 Sports Science Project: RUN, STUDENTS RUN!!!

Prior to class on Day 3, I prepped for an exciting Data Collection day by using spreadsheets to create a Track Marking conversion chart (meters to feet and inches):

I also created this visual to convey all the hats students would need to wear in order to ensure a safe, efficient time in the parking lot:


Also at the end of Day 3, I knew I needed to get student work for my grading day, so I created this visual:

This visual shows my Algebra 2 grade manager in the middle of his election speech.  He gave me permission to use that pic in visuals reminding students of deadlines.   [Spoiler Alert] My grade manager enjoyed this image so much, he had me put it up again in the IPE class where he also got elected into this role.


Data Collection day was a blast!  The whole class helped to prepare the track on the parking lot behind the school.  I put a student in charge of the tape measure and in charge of organizing the team effort to create the track.  The students were really smart.  They designed the track in a way that made data collection of a tricky data set really simple.  They used long lines to mark each 2-meter increment and they marked each line with the total distance from the starting line to that line:

It took them about a half hour to create the track.  Then I demonstrated how to properly videotape a run, by taping Mr. Ray while he ran.  This involves some back pedaling and some frantic, laughing and chasing while trying to aim the iPad camera in a way that the runner’s feet passing each increment line is captured throughout the 100-meter run.  It was really fun to watch students to gather data.  By some trick of Murphy’s law, nearly every team had a big height mismatch between their (very tall) runner and their (very short) camera-person.  However, the track design that my students came up with, made it possible to get excellent data even when the camera shorts were really dynamic due to the chasing that was occurring.  

Mental Note for Future Versions of this Project:  Everyone needs to wear running clothes and shoes because the photographers ended up running just as hard as the runner to get good footage.


Here’s a sample data set that came from a video that was really bumpy:

Even though they were unable to see some of the track markings (usually when the photographer transitioned from backpedaling to forward chasing), they still gathered enough data to see clear quadratic and linear regions.  Just the thing needed to learn how to solve systems of linear and quadratic equations!  Every team was able to get a good data set that made sense.  Data Collection day was a surprising success.  I was worried that the data would be too hard to get or too dirty to analyze, but everything worked out great.


At the end of Day 3, I did my routine Friday grading of notebooks. After I graded all the notebooks, I used conditional formatting on my Google spreadsheets grade book to create this visual.  I cropped out the student names for this post.  Red boxes represent missing work and green boxes represent turned-in work.  I emailed this visual (the version with the student names) to the grade manager along with a couple links to Google forms associated with a couple of these tasks.  My grade manager sent follow-up emails to students missing work and during the following week, he collected late notebooks from students on Tuesday when I decided to follow-up on some late work.  By Wednesday the chart was nearly all green except for one student who was out sick for several days.  Student Leadership Rocks!


Pre-Week 2 Prep:


Over the weekend, I prepped lessons that showed how to use Desmos to find linear and quadratic regression equations.  I also prepared a warmup that had students compare motion equations to linear and quadratic equations in order to relate motion quantities to the parameters in the standard forms of linear and quadratic equations.  I also finalized a Shell Science Lab Challenge grant in the hopes of getting more support to design more and higher quality STEM experiences like the ones we had in Week 1 of the Sports Science project.

A Tale of Two Projects: Week 0

In this blog mini-series, I will reveal how the Project-Based Learning (PBL) sausage is made.  I will describe week-by-week how two projects evolved in my two main preps (Algebra 2 and Integrated Physics / Engineering). The series begins one week before project launch to show how projects are designed and how project launches are prepared. The series ends one week after project presentations to show how reflections help students and teachers improve.  If you prefer to not know how much work goes into PBL, stop reading now.  If you’d like to learn about the nitty gritty details that go into running projects, read on.  To read about later phases in these two projects, visit this page: A Tale of 2+ Projects.


Week 0: Overview

When you work at school that champions PBL, preparation for upcoming projects NEVER occurs in a vacuum.  In the week leading up to the project launches featured in this series, it was the final week of the 3rd six weeks and two projects were wrapping up in Algebra 2 and IPE.  While preparing for the upcoming project launches, I was also doing a number of “other” things including: grading tests, calling parents, tutoring students, grading presentations, grading reports, grading notebooks, meeting with parents, etc.  


Here is my summary of the numbers of items on my task lists in the 8 days leading up the project launches:

The gray region was a 3-day weekend.  Less than half of the tasks I completed in the 8 days leading to the new projects were related to new project prep.  So how did I get ready in time?


Several years of PBL experience have taught me how to design projects while managing many other things.  I have learned what are the essential things needed to launch a project and what things are nice, but not so important.  I have learned to respect the number of things needed to launch successful projects enough to begin chipping away at the list at least one week ahead of launch (earlier if possible).


The agenda below summarizes the goals, main task phases (agenda items), and deliverables we produced during Week 0, the critical final week prior to project launch.


#1 Analyze Standards: Days 1-2


Before I even begin brainstorming a single idea related to a project, I do several things to make sure I have a really good understanding of the standards my students need to master in the project.  The first thing I do is analyze the nouns and verbs in all the standards tied to the project.


Here is my noun and verb breakdown for my Quadratics Unit in Algebra 2:

Here is my noun and verb breakdown for my Modern Physics Unit in IPE:

I analyzed the nouns (verbs) in the standards to determine the concepts (skills) my students will learn in the upcoming projects if I succeed in developing an aligned context that provides students with many opportunities to explore the standards.

To create an even more clear picture of what students will learn, I use software (DMAC Solutions) to generate test banks for all the standards in the upcoming projects.  Then, I scan through the questions to check that my interpretations of the standards are fully aligned to what students will see in formal assessments.

Analysis of the standards was especially critical in my IPE class because I have not taught modern physics since I was a grad student.  The upcoming modern physics project will mark the first time I will teach modern physics topics to high school age students.  The last time I taught modern physics, I was a teacher’s assistant for an Honors Physics seminar course at UT Austin.  It’s unlikely that the college physics I taught then was at the same rigor level as the physics I need to teach my highs school freshmen and juniors.  

To make sure I really understood the contexts and rigor levels of the modern physics standards, I did a noun-verb-topic analysis of the test bank questions in a spreadsheet that looked like this:

This analysis showed me that students needed to be exposed to a wide array of technologies and needed to use principles in nuclear and quantum physics to explain how those technologies work.  I added many notes in the content scaffolding section of my project planning form about the types of technologies that needed to be featured in upcoming lessons.


The analysis also helped me to the understand the role of binding energy and mass defect in the standard relating mass-energy equivalence (E = mc^2) to nuclear phenomena such as fission and fusion.  Binding energy and mass defect were not directly mentioned in the standard.  Through research, I learned that the sizes of the binding energies and the mass defects in fusion and fission interactions could be calculated using E = mc^2.  Had I not done the test bank analysis I might not have learned this connection in time to teach it to my students.  This analysis was so helpful that I converted my analysis spreadsheet into a template file and saved it to my Templates folder so I could use this tool for all my future projects.  

A similar analysis of the quadratic functions test bank really hit home the variety of techniques students needed to apply to find and solve quadratic equations.  I also noticed that a majority of the word problems dealt with some form of accelerated motion so I made a mental note that a project problem involving accelerated motion would nicely align to the quadratic functions standards.


#2 Brainstorm Project Products & Roles: Days 2-3


After (!!)  I have developed a deep understanding of my target standards, I let my brain loose on brainstorming real world problems that go with those standards.  In my early years as a PBL facilitator, I made the mistake a couple times of brainstorming projects prior to analyzing the standards and ended up with projects only partially aligned to the standards.  Partially aligned or unaligned projects are a tremendous waste of class time.  Students can get really engaged by project contexts; creating fully aligned and engaging project contexts can get students excited about learning the right stuff and applying it to things they care about.

I have an engineering co-teacher in IPE so we chose our project contexts and products together after we had both analyzed our standards.  Mr. Fishman’s target standards dealt with ethics in the workplace, science / tech / engineering careers, impacts of emerging technology on society, and biotech.  We brainstormed over the course of a couple days during our conference period, breakfast, lunch, and at random moments in class when students were working independently.  In addition to our standards, our thinking was influenced by a book we were both reading called Physics for Future Presidents and the upcoming Presidential inauguration.  

We finally landed on NSF grants.  We wanted our students to pose as teams of engineers and scientists applying for NSF grants.  The National Science Foundation grants are assessed in two major criteria that tie well with all our standards: (1) intellectual merit and (2) broader impact.  Intellectual merit is the extent to which projects have the potential to advance and transform scientific and engineering knowledge.  Broader impact describes how projects can benefit society.   Due to our time constraints, we decided our final product would be the first page of an NSF grant, the Project Summary.  This one-page document describes the project’s major logistics (target problem, methods, and anticipated results), its intellectual merit and its broader impact.

For my Algebra 2 class, my analysis of the standards-based test banks had already suggested some problem involving acceleration.  I couldn’t do projectiles because we had just analyzed NERF gun data in our polynomial equations unit.  At first I thought we could use accelerated motion to design movie stunts.  But I wasn’t thrilled with that context because the means for gathering data were either dangerous or overly complicated.  My second idea was to analyze running data.  After more thought, I realized that running data would be a nice fit for the quadratics standards and also the standards on systems of linear and quadratic equations because these equation types  correspond to the position-time graphs of constant velocity and constant acceleration motion.  Once that clicked, my brain was off to the races …

I brainstormed people who would actually analyze running data.  People who do this include: track coaches, sports fans, and sports analysts.  One of my favorite science things on TV are the ESPN Sports Science clips.  So, I decided to pose students as analysts working for ESPN charged with making a Sports Science clip that investigated the question: What separates everyday and world class athletes?  To address this question, students will gather position-time data on everyday runners (themselves) and world class track athletes.  They will use various methods to find, solve, and interpret the systems of quadratic and linear equations that model the motion of the different runners.  They will feature their conclusions and their data collection / analysis methods  in their own ESPN Sports Science clip.  They will post that clip to our school’s YouTube channel and tweet the link to ESPN Sports Science Twitter page.


#3 Preliminary Project Mapping: Days 4 on …


One section of my project planning form is a project calendar that is a living document.  I tweak it throughout the project based on the unique twists and turns that occur during the course of project.  Prior to launch, I think it’s important to mainly know what are major phases in the project, what are the project deliverables associated with those phases, and what types of scaffolding are needed to support students creating those deliverables.  


In the past I have made 2 opposite errors.  Error 1 is to not map the project at all prior to launch and hope for the best.   Error 2 is to plan out every day in the entire project prior to launch.  Error 1 led to projects with muddy schedules that took more than they should mainly because I didn’t know enough to lead students along  a coherent path to success.  Error 2 can make teachers less receptive to flexibly responding to their students need-to-knows.  So the happy medium I now strive for looks like this for the NSF project in IPE:

and like this in the ESPN Sports Science Project in Algebra 2:

These preliminary project maps are shared with the students as parts of their project design briefs.  These maps provide a bird’s-eye view of the major phases, activities and deliverables in the project.  When it’s possible to put down due dates, I include those.  I included due dates in the Algebra 2 project because this project has a tighter time frame than the IPE project.  The Algebra 2 project will last 3 weeks while the IPE project will last 5 weeks.  


Over the course of the project, I develop more detailed project calendars and share these with students in time for them to have at least one week on minor project deliverables and at least two weeks on major project deliverables.  Prior to launch, it’s OK to not have these all these details nailed down because students are used to requesting these deadlines when they analyze launch materials and develop their lists of knows and need-to-knows.  


#3 Prepare Launch Materials: Days 4-8


Design Briefs: The first thing I create to prepare for launch is a design brief that outlines the project objectives, purpose, constraints, procedures, and deliverables.  This is the main document my students use to generate their knows and need-to-knows.  To help them prepare detailed and rich lists, I make sure that the design brief includes all the academic vocabulary in my standards and lots of details related to project logistics.

The objectives section of the design brief summarizes what students will learn in the project.  The purpose provides an overview of the project context and why it’s important.  The project constraints are used in IPE to select the final solution that students will develop from a number of brainstormed solutions.  These constraints are input into a decision matrix that is used to evaluate possible solutions and determine the best one.  In Algebra 2, the constraints provide a summary of the criteria that will be used to evaluate their products.  These criteria are further unpacked in the rubric.  To see examples of design briefs, see these links: NSF Design Brief and ESPN Sports Science Design Brief.


Entry Videos: To support the design brief, I either make or select a supporting video that gives students more info related to their project and/or provides a model for their final product.  For the ESPN Sports Science Project, I selected an ESPN Sports Science clip that featured LeBron James.  I chose this clip because it mentioned a lot of motion data and used it to explain why James’s block of a fast break lay-up was so impressive.  

In IPE, Mr. Fishman and I wanted to choose a video that showed students a wide variety of projects or problems that were NSF worthy so we found a video featuring all the NEA Grand Challenges for Engineering.  This video provided students with an overview of several problems they could possibly investigate in this project.


Rubrics: I’m going to write something that may scandalize my colleagues: I don’t believe it’s always necessary to present students with a rubric on launch day.  Sometimes I withhold rubrics on purpose.  This occurs in projects that are so heavily dependent on content skills that they can’t begin one item in the rubric without some content scaffolding first.  In that case, I withhold the rubric until they have passed assessments that show they are ready to begin tackling things in the rubric.

Sometimes I withhold rubrics, because I just don’t have time to finalize one prior to launch.  I don’t feel too bad because the design brief is so densely written that students can already start generating project knows, need-to-knows and next steps based on this document alone.  In the case of the NSF and Sports Science projects, the rubrics were not ready in time to release them on launch day and we launched anyway.


Overview Slide Deck: Now it’s time to discuss the secret sauce.  To avoid wasting time on selecting slide formats and to give all project slides a single cohesive (branding) look, I create a slide template file that has all the main slides I need to build daily project visuals.  

Here’s my template slide deck for the NSF Project:

Here’s its counterpart in the ESPN Project:

I make copies of the Template files and create project overview files.  These are living documents that include ALL the daily agendas and supporting visuals for the entire project.  The reason I don’t just build the overview files from the template is because I make copies of the Template file to generate other slide decks needed for content and product scaffolding activities.  To see the project overview files, go to these links: NSF Overview and ESPN Overview.


Team Rosters:  There are so many ways to make teams.  For these projects, we did it randomly but die rolls.  When students completed their final collaboration evaluations in the past projects, one question in the evals asked them to roll a die and record the number.  The students completed evals for each member of their team.  I gathered their eval responses using Google forms.  I used pivot tables to find their average die rolls.  Then I sequenced the students in ascending order using their average die rolls.  Then I grouped students into teams by the order the appeared in this list.  The only exceptions occurred when the die rolls placed students in teams that included partners from their last project.  In that case, I switched them with another student to ensure new team members for all.


Team Contracts:  For this project, I selected a shorter version of my team contract template that features one side of questions related to setting common goals and norms and one side for setting up a daily work log.  I chose this template because I wanted students to use the work log to make their work division agreements visible to all team members and teachers.  I included a detailed firing process instead of letting students make up their own process this time so we could practice reasonable warning practices.  In this contract, students are required to document warnings in emails that describe the behavior associated with the warning; these emails are sent to the teacher(s) and all the team members.  I had to specify this requirement because in our last project some students assigned warnings via email that just said warning and did not specify the reason for the warnings.  It created a lot of confusion and frustration.


Project Briefcases: I have two project briefcases per project: the public briefcase students see in Echo and a private planning version that is housed in Google drive.  Both briefcases have the sub-folders: (1) Launch, (2) Product Resources and Scaffolding, (3) Content Resources and Scaffolding, (4) Tests and Reviews.  The Google drive version also has a sub-folder called (0) Teacher Resources.  Prior to the launch, we populate the Launch folder of the Echo briefcase with  the design brief, the entry video, knows and needs-to-knows lists, and the group contracts.


Warmup file: For every project, I create a warm-up file that is home to all the warm-ups in the project.  It has a hyperlinked table of contents that includes for each warm-up: its date, its title, and a hyperlink  to the actual warmup.  Here are the links to the NSF and ESPN warm-up files.  There is a warm-up everyday except on test days and practice test days.  We use warm-ups to scaffold project logistics, content knowledge and skills, and product knowledge and skills.


Teacher resource lists:  In my project planning forms is a teacher resource section where I store a list of hyperlinks to sources I need for product resources / scaffolding and content resources / scaffolding.  I use this list a lot over the duration of the project.  This list grows as I encounter more helpful resources while developing materials for the project.


Materials lists: I started thinking about the equipment I needed to order to ensure that students are successful in the project.  In the ESPN project I researched really long tape measures because I knew that I wanted students to collaborate as a class to create a 100-m track with line markings every 2 meters in order to gather video analysis data on their 100-m runs.  For both the ESPN and NSF projects, I researched and downloaded a TI-83 emulator so I could demonstrate on the Apple TV via my laptop how to perform  tricky calculations using  special features in the TI-83.  I was able to acquire both resources in time to use them at the right places in the projects.  

My test bank analysis of the physics standards also led me to contact UTeach to see if we can borrow emission spectra equipment (spectroscopes, discharge tubes, spectral charts).   These are expensive pieces of equipment that are not yet in our science inventory.  They are too costly to purchase on short notice so we will need to borrow the equipment from the UTeach inventory (if they will let us, crossing fingers and toes) .

While earning my teacher certification through the UTeach program, I TA’d a Research Methods course that provided me with many opportunities to sample the many items in their extensive math / science lab inventory.  If their inventory is still similar to what I saw in 2004-2007, they have all the emission spectra equipment we need to teach that topic effectively.
Thus concludes Week 0 of a Tale of Two Projects.  Stay tuned for the Week 1 entry where we will look at Project Launches and Early Project Scaffolding activities.

CINGHS Week 3: September 6-9, 2016

Week 3 School-wide Events:


Week 3 featured our very first Game Night.  About a dozen students stayed after school Friday to play video games, games with foam dart guns, etc.  They enjoyed each other’s company and also pizza.  Game Nights will be a regular event occurring roughly every other Friday at CINGHS.  In addition, our school is starting an eSports club so that students can be a part of a team that plays video games competitively.


Week 3 in Algebra 2:


During Week 3, students interviewed Laura Hayden, a graphic designer who works for National Instruments, using FaceTime.  They asked Laura all of their Need-to-Knows related to logo design.  The students had many great questions about the processes graphic designers use to design effective logos.


During the week, I allowed students to use self-pacing to differentiate the class according to students’ individual needs.  Some students completed extra practice on parent functions and their properties (domain, range, axes of symmetry, asymptotes).  Students who were already comfortable with parent functions moved on early to workshops and practice sets dealing with inverse functions.


By the end of the week, the students were introduced to decision matrices so they could use this tool to select the brainstorming sketch that their team would develop into their amusement park logo.


Week 3 in Integrated Physics & Engineering (IPE):


In IPE, we continued exploring the Design Process by applying the following steps toward the design of next generation cooking devices: Define the Problem, Specify Requirements, and Identify Solutions.  The students created summary problem statements for the project (Define the Problem).  They analyzed the project design brief and rubric to create lists of project constraint and requirements (Specify Requirements).  They conducted background devices on old and current versions of their team’s cooking device (Identify Solutions).  They compared the old and current devices to identify improvements and to get ideas on new improvements that could be made to create their next generation devices.  They also created several brainstorming sketches in a Quick Draw activity.  Then they elaborated on each other’s favorite sketches in a Carousel Brainstorming activity.


Also, during Week 3, we introduced the Heat Equation and used it to analyze the required heat in several cooking scenarios.  Students voluntarily chose to attend follow-up small group workshop on the Heat Equation when they found practice problems challenging.  I like how students are starting to advocate for themselves by choosing to attend optional workshops to sharpen their skills.  At the end of the week, the students took a 3-color quiz on Heat Transfer mechanisms and the Heat Equation.  They used 3 colors to show what they were able to do with (1) their brains only, (2) with notebook assistance, and (3) with workshop assistance.  Many students were able to excel at the quiz with only 1 or 2 colors.


Week 3 in 8th Grade Math:


During Week 3 in 8th grade math, we continued to explore club data using more statistical tools.  We introduced a new spread value: mean deviation.  We practiced calculating it first on small data sets.  Then we started discussing methods for calculating it for large data sets so they would know how to analyze data sets that included the opinions of all the students in our school.  By the end of the week, the classes collaborated to create a survey that was completed by the entire student body that gathered data on students’ interests on a variety of clubs.

CINGHS Week 2: Aug 29 – Sep 2

Week 2 School-wide Events:


During Week 2, two students led our very first school tour for visitors from the Texas Charter School association.  The students presented an overview of our school culture and logistics while guiding our visitors through a tour of our school.  They did an excellent job for their first times. This was the first of MANY MORE tours that our students will lead this year and beyond.


On Monday of Week 2, our school tried out our very first Student-Directed Learning Time (SLDT) time.  During this weekly work session, students get to make their own choices on how to best use a 2-hour block of open work time.  Students got to choose from a menu of optional and mandatory 20-minute workshops in Art, ELA, Engineering, and Math.  Also during that time, students got several opportunities to attend an info session on the Games / eSports Club.  Students not attending workshops also had time to catch up on work in any of their classes while working as individuals or with their new project teams.  It was very cool to see many students using this time wisely to further their educations.


Week 2 in 8th Grade Math:


In 8th grade Math, we launched a new project, Join the Club.  In this project, students will learn about mean, median, mode, range, and mean deviation by gathering and analyzing school-wide data on students’ club interests.  One of the project’s early activities was the Graph the Class Activity.  In this activity, we practiced analyzing the interests of one period’s levels of interests in Mondays, Sports, Arts & Crafts, and Video Games.  While completing this activity, students practiced creating bar graphs and calculating mean, median, and mode.  During a class discussion on their results, my 4th period was very excited that many of their summary results equalled 3.  They claimed this was a sign of the Illuminati.  This outburst of enthusiasm showed me how willing the students are to make connections between math and things in their own lives that they find interesting.


Week 2 in Integrated Physics & Engineering (IPE):


In IPE, we launched a new project called What’s Cooking?  In this project, students will learn about the design process, thermodynamics, electrostatics and electric circuits by inventing next generation cooking devices that are battery-powered and also powered by standard US electrical outlets.  During our project launch, our newly-elected class officers got their first opportunities to lead student-led discussions.  Our facilitators led class-wide discussions aimed at generating class-wide lists of project knows and need-to-knows.  I was impressed by how well our class officers involved ALL students in the class discussions and at the amount of Content-specific information the students included in their knows and need-to-knows.


During this week, we led our first Content workshops: Intro to Engineering Design Process and Intro to Thermodynamics.  We also started our weekly Friday tradition of ZAP time (Zeroes Are not Permitted).  During this team, students checked their notebooks to make sure they had all the activity stamps in their notebooks that went with all the graded activities for Week 2.


Week 2 in Algebra 2:


In Algebra 2, we launched an Amusement Park Logo project.   In this project, students will learn about parent functions and inverse functions by using them to create and analyze an amusement park logo.  We held our first content workshop on Parent Functions.  In this workshop, we learned the parent function names and equations.  We also practiced finding the domain, range, axes of symmetry and asymptotes of parent functions.  We also learned how to represent domain and range 3 ways: inequalities, set notation and interval notation.


Toward the end of the week, we had our very first 3-color quiz on Parent Functions.  In 3 color quizzes students use 3 colors to represent 3 different sources of info: brain only, notebook and workshop.  After students had used all 3 colors, they had a visual on what they could do on their own and with the aid of resources (notebook and/or workshop).  After this activity I asked the class if they wanted me to create more parent function practice sets.  I was surprised and impressed that most of the class requested that I create extra practice sets so they could continue to develop their understandings of parent functions.

CINGHS Week 1: August 22 – 28

Day 1 CINGHS Orientation
On the first day of school, all the students met their advisory teachers and rotated with their advisories through 5 orientation sessions:
  1. School Philosophy: Who are We and Why (led by Mrs. Garner and Ms. Thompson)
  2. School Culture (led by Mrs. Harden and Mr. Hammontree)
  3. Intro to Project Based Learning (led by Mr. Ray and Mr. Chambers)
  4. School wide Learning Outcomes (led by Ms. DiMaria and Dr. Trinidad)
  5. School Logistics (led by Mr. Fishman and Mr. Santos)

I co-facilitated the School wide Learning Outcomes session with Ms. DiMaria.  We introduced the New Tech Network Learning Outcomes by playing games that represented each of the learning outcomes:

  1. Group Cup Stacking (Collaboration)
  2. Estimate the Jelly Beans (Knowledge & Thinking)
  3. Blind Drawing (Oral Communication)
  4. Group Paper on Growth Mindset Video (Agency and Written Communication)


I was impressed by all the students’ enthusiasm, team work, and critical thinking during the SWLO learning activities.  I’m really glad the CINGHS staff collaborated to create a cohesive orientation that presented an overview of our whole school on Day 1.  I believe it’s very helpful and important to present a unified school story and team from the start.  Our first day was covered by the Austin American Statements in this article.


Week 1: Integrated Physics and Engineering


For the opening week of Integrated Physics and Engineering, Mr. Fishman and I co-facilitated activities that enabled us to get to know our students, to introduce what is Physics and Engineering, and to give students a taste of the engineering design process.


On Tuesday, we started to learn student’s names and interests by playing 4 Corners.  We then introduced ourselves to our students with the aid of slides covered with picture collages.  We watched videos that described physics and engineering in general and used Mentimeter to gather student impressions on Physics and Engineering.


On Wednesday, we did a Carousel Brainstorming activity to guide students to brainstorm, create and refine norms based on our school’s Core Values: Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Perseverance, and Trust.  Several of the classes generated very detailed and helpful sets of classroom norms that rivaled the norms generated by our school’s staff members.


On Thursday, our students demonstrated what they know about gathering, organizing and using data by doing a Balloon Challenge activity.  They gathered data on balloons wired to strings via straws.  They used this data to predict how much they needed to blow up balloons to hit two targeted distances.  I was impressed that many teams were able to hit 1 (and even 2) target distances during the 10-minute test time at the end of the period.


Also at the start of Thursday, Mr. Fishman and my students humored me while I trumped up the Class Norm Signing Process by playing Pomp and Circumstance while the students signed the norms and while the norms passed through the laminator to seal their agreements.


On Friday, we set up their notebooks and started a workshop introducing the Engineering Design Process.  In this workshop, the students will learn all the steps of the design process we will apply throughout the year in several projects and will practice applying those steps to a sample scenario.


Week 1: 8th Grade Math


For the opening week of 8th grade math, Mr. Fishman and I co-facilitated activities from the Week of Inspirational Math series created by the YouCubed group at Stanford University led by Jo Boaler.  The series of videos and activities are designed to cultivate growth mindset attitudes towards mathematics.


On Tuesday, we played ice breakers to get to learn our students’ name and interests.  We did a How Many Dots activity and discussed how different people approach math from different angles.  We also discussed examples of behaviors that are good and bad for effective math group work.


On Wednesday, we elected our 3 class officers.  Then the students discussed, interpreted and created Emoji Graphs.  The students seemed to really enjoy mapping out their interests on two-dimensional graphs.  Also, our class officers quickly assumed their roles and started helping the class manage the time and materials more efficiently.


On Thursday, we helped the students set up their notebooks.  The students also did a Carousel Brainstorming activity to brainstorm, create and refine their classroom norms based on the 5 Core Values.


On Friday, the students completed their first activity in their notebooks.  They used drawings and mathematical reasoning to predict how a pattern of shapes was growing.  I enjoyed doing this activity as a facilipant.  At first I was pretty stumped and then one of the students shared a geometric insight that got my brain cooking and I was able to derive an equation that described the pattern growth for all cases.  The students and I also enjoyed imitating how the actors in Jo Baoler’s growth mindset videos acted out brain synapses everytime someone in the class had a cool idea.


Week 1: Algebra 2


In the opening week of Algebra 2, I facilitated ice break activities and more activities from Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math series.  These activities were similar to the 8th grade math activities in that they featured various aspects of growth mindset thinking and research and they were different because they were a little more advanced.


On Tuesday, we played a Ball Game to get to know each other’s names and preference.  Then we watched and discussed a video on Growth Mindset.  We formed teams and brainstorm Group Work Do’s and Don’t in teams.  Then the teams practiced creativity and order of operations in math by trying to create the numbers 1 to 20 using algebraic expressions that featured the number 4 four times.  The students asked for this activity to become a competition and they worked very intensely during the Four 4’s work time.


On Wednesday, we continued our Four 4’s competition by using expressions with Four 4’s to create the numbers -1, -2, … to -20.  The teams with the most improved number of expressions (from the previous day) and the most expressions earned extra credit.   After this activity, the students did a Carousel Brainstorming activity to brainstorm, create and refine their class norms based on the 5 Core Values.


On Thursday, we opened with a Class Norms signing ceremony.  Then we elected our Classroom Officers.  Only on person each nominated themselves to be the Facilitator and the Time Manager.  Four students nominated themselves to be grade manager.  Each gave a short speech on why they would be effective.  For the first time in my history of working with class officers, there was a four way tie for the position.  The Facilitator broke the tie with the help of the Time Manager by sitting in a spinning chair with his hand outstretched while the Time Manager gave him a few pushes.  The nominee closest to his hand when the chair stopped spinning was chosen to be Grade Manager.


Also on Wednesday and Thursday, we practice using skepticism to spur deeper thinking by doing paper folding challenges in teams and then practicing explaining the challenge solutions to skeptics who responded to the explanations with a series of questions that challenged the students to explain their methods using more details and examples.


On Friday, the students set up their notebooks and they finished an activity on Emoji Graphs.  They completed the activity with the same enthusiasm as the 8th grade math class.  I was impressed by how they used internet research to verify that their relative positioning of their points (foods, phones, song lengths, etc) was accurate.  We closed Friday with a gallery walk that got students to critically examine the Emoji Graphs created by other teams.