Friday, March 18, 2011

Physics Resources for New Teachers

There's a list of resources for (new) physics teachers over at action-reaction.

What would you recommend?

Physics Jeopardy: What's the Question?

For "Journal Meeting", Benedikt is having us read this paper about Physics Jeopardy problems by Alan Van Heuvelen.

He has asked us to come up with one physics jeopardy question to share. Here's mine:

What do you think? What situation could this represent? What question might have been asked?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rainbow Question with the LAs

The activity went really well. Partially because I did a better job facilitating, but also because my class is already comfortable with me, with each other, and with doing science.

I was able to stick to my time schedule. I was able to facilitate well. Writing down ideas on the board help immensely. We laughed a lot.

Here are the ideas and questions we generated:
  • What do we mean by color? - primary colors, crayon colors, secondary colors?
  • Where is brown? Is it there? Isn't brown from mixing colors?
  • If white light has all colors, why don't we experience seeing all the colors when we see white light?
  • Is this question being asked to like a scientist or like an artist? It seems like that would matter
  • What about black? Is black a color? It seems like its the absence of color? But then again, there are black crayons.
  • What about neon colors? Are they in the rainbow? What makes something neon?
  • Doesn't a rainbow have all the light colors, because it breaks it up like a prism.
  • Isn't purelight ROYGBIV?
  • In ROYGBIV, Yellow + Blue = Green, and that makes sense because green is between yellow and blue. But Blue + Red = Purple doesn't make sense because violet is on the end, not in between red and blue.
  • What about a blind person? Would they just see the rainbow in grays? Does that mean gray is in the rainbow?
  • Can you be underneath a rainbow? Can you see a rainbow from above? Yes, I've seen rainbows from above
  • What about double rainbows? How does that work?
  • When people look at a rainbow from different angles, can they all see it? If so, do they all see the same rainbow?
  • When you mix paint colors you get poopy brown, but when you mix all the light you get white light. Why?
  • Absorbance vs transmission? Doesn't that matter?
  • How do we see? Do we see what's reflected or what's absorbed?
  • What's a shade? Are shades in the rainbow? Can rainbows come in different shades? Would the rainbow be a lighter shade on a sunnier day? Would pollution effect the color of the rainbow? Isn't a shade like when you add white to it.
  • What is the wave length of brown? If we know that, we would know where it goes in the rainbow
  • Since rainbow is the diffraction of light through water? Does the color of the rainbow depend upon properties of water?
  • Is pink in the rainbow?
  • Don't we see color because we had rods in our eyes?
  • How does the brain interpret color?
  • Can a color blind person use 3D glasses?
  • How do 3d glasses work? Old vs New ones?
  • How does turning a color photo into a black-and-white photo work? How does black and white TV decide to make colors into different shades of gray?
  • How does gray work? If white is all the colors, and black is no colors? What why does having less of "everything" look gray?
  • Does needing glasses to see influence the experience of seeing color?
  • Does my "anti-glare" glasses that look blue-ish change my experience of color? Like more blue? Or does my brain correct for that over time? We've heard that when you wearupside down glasses you're brain corrects for the flip. Would it correct for color, too?
  • Can you create colors that don't exist yet?
  • Turquoise - it seems like it should be a mix of blue and green, and therefore be in between blue and green. But it doesn't look like right. It looks like a lighter shade. Which raises the question again of "are shades in the rainbow?"
  • Red-violet seems like it can't be in the rainbow because red and violet aren't next to each other. But we can see red violet. What if we could bend the rainbow in a circle? Would we get red-violet?
  • Red-violet is like the color of a plum. So it must be a color, because it exists. If it exists, does it have to be in the rainbow?
  • It seems like white and black aren't in the rainbow, and therefore gray can't be in the rainbow.
  • If brown has a frequency it's in the rainbow, if not then it's not in the rainbow.

Afterwards we talked about three questions:
  1. What makes a science conversation interesting to you?
  2. What helps in a science class to keep a science conversation interesting? (What did we do as a group? What did Brian do as a teacher? What features of the lesson helped?)
  3. What's something from the reading on argumentation that relates to our activity together?
This went well also. But not as well as I would have liked. I think my students wanted to keep talking about colors, so it was kind of a drag to stop and talk about teaching. ;)

For what makes a science conversation interesting, they included:
  • having relevant everyday experiences to draw on
  • having a diversity of opinions and people
  • having a culture of trust already established
  • having fun and laughing
  • Being challenged
  • Making progress, getting somewhere
  • Feeling like part of a group but also an individual
  • on listening and sharing, not just waiting to talk

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Plan for Running the Rainbow Question


I am currently teaching a 1-credit "science teaching seminar" for ten undergraduate science majors, each serving as a learning assistant for a different university science course in chemistry or physics. This week, I'll be running the "Are all the colors in the rainbow?" question on the heels of a reading on talk and argumentation in the science classroom. The focus of the reading is on making thinking visible in the classroom.

I hope to do the rainbow activity and then, afterward, use that activity as the focus of a conversation on argumentation in the classroom. I also hope to model for them a few specific strategies for facilitating classroom discussion that are mentioned in the paper.

Here's the new plan:

1. Students do a five minute free write on the question, "Are all the colors in the rainbow?"

2. Students share their ideas with a partner (5 minutes):
  • I circulate, listen, praise their ideas and questions, and probe for specificity, explanations, and evidence when appropriate.
3. Whole class discussion (15 minutes)

My goal is to write all the ideas on the board and to model for them a few of the following strategies:
  • Wait-time...
  • Asking for agreement, "Does anyone want to agree or disagree with what that?"
  • Asking for additions, "Does anyone want to add to what so-and-so just said?"
  • Acknowledging significance "That sounds really important. Let me write that down"
  • Requesting explanation, "Why do you think that? What made you think that?"
  • Re-voicing, "It sounds like you are saying..."
  • Asking for restatement, "Does someone think they can repeat what so-and-on said in their own words?"
I want to end the rdiscussion by valuing the questions that have come up. I also want to point out that some interesting examples have come up, and that I think we can make progress with our questions by having everyone to scrutinize closely some of our interesting examples.

4. Students go back to working with partner (10 minutes):

I pass a pack of crayola colors to each group and sort into three categories:
  • Yes, in the rainbow. For all the colors that are in, sort them into rainbow order. Explain
  • No, not in the rainbow. It not in the rainbow, explain why it's not in the rainbow.
  • Unsure or undecided. Explain why you are unsure. What arguments do you have either way?
5. Come back as a class. Have each group discuss a color of their choice.

Changes to the Lesson Structure

#4 on the list is modified from how we ran it in the workshop. It is now more structured and focused by passing on the crayola colors that we think will drive further discussion. It also allows the whole class to focus on a common set of colors, rather than each group doing something different. It also temporarily suspends consideration of "what counts as a color?", because I am tacitly asserting that each of these crayola colors has to be considered. While we need to return to the question, I think it's valuable to close some questions so we make progress on others.

My Goals for Better Facilitation

  1. Stick to my time-line, or at least consciously not-stick to it. Last time, I was always surprised by how much time everything took, and often realized that I let the conversation go too long. I shouldn't be caught off-guard like that. Maybe I need a watch.
  2. Model strategies with deliberate intent. Benedikt said in the Friday's morning workshop session I covered almost all of the facilitation strategies listed above, while in the afternoon session I hit maybe one or two. That's a big difference! Glad I had Benedikt to call me out on that.
  3. Write down all their ideas and questions on the board during discussion. I think it's a mistake not do it, because doing so contributes to "valuing" participants ideas and questions rather than answers.
What do you think? I'll let you know how I did and how it went.

No, I'm Trying to Sell You Anything

I have found this book immensely fun to read but also rewarding.

I would not suggest trying to read the whole book quickly and then setting it aside hoping that its wisdom infuses into your life. Rather, I would suggest reading just one chapter and then go about trying out a few of the strategies. Monitor your interactions by journaling, blogging, whatever. Then once you've got it down, read some more and try out some more strategies.

At the end of the day, we don't learn by reading, but through the work we do by practice and reflection. This book has some great ideas for becoming a better listener in the classroom, but also a better listener in life.

Introducing Science Notebooks

Brought to us again by Leslie Atkins and Irene Salter over at Student-generated Scientific Inquiry, here is one cool activity to introduce science notebooks , especially if you are looking to establish the purpose, norms, and assessment of science notebooks in your class.

Here's the breakdown:
  • Student groups each get copies of pages taken from six actual scientists notebooks (Darwin, Einstein, Pauling, etc) such as the picture shown below

  • Students work in groups to write down things they notice on whiteboards. There are some guiding questions such, "What do pages look like?", "What is the writing style?", "What's similar and different across the examples?"
  • Teacher opens the discussion to whole class and jots down everything on the board

  • Teacher shifts conversations from "What do we notice?" to "What are science notebooks for?" Leslie suggests you might say something like this
"This is a great list of observations. What do these observations tell us about what a scientistʼs notebook is for? What is the purpose of them? Who reads them?"
  • Teacher shifts conversations from purpose of science notebooks to "Our Notebooks". For example, Leslie suggests you might say something like this,
"It seems that we are now in general agreement that the purpose of scientistsʼ notebooks is _______________. As I mentioned before, you will need to keep a notebook in this class and I want your notebooks to be modeled after a scientistʼs notebook. What should be the purpose of notebooks in this class? What kinds of things are reasonable to expect from yourselves in creating a quality notebook?

Once we have a list we can all agree to, I will use your list to generate a set of grading criteria for your notebooks for this semester."
  • Teachers write up a rubric based on what the students bring up. Here's an example Leslie shares with us

If you want to see some examples of the kind of science notebooks her students generate you can see a photo gallery here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Challenge: A Good Chemistry Discussion Question?

Here, Ellen has laid down the challenge of coming up with a good chemistry question–one that will stimulate interesting discussions like the rainbow question . So I'm giving that challenge to all of us.

If you're reading this, consider doing one of the following in the comments:
  • Let us know a good chemistry question you or a colleague has used
  • Brainstorm one or two possible questions (just throw 'em out there, see if they stick)
  • Toss out some topic areas that you think might be a rich possibility, and say why
  • Contribute a question about chemistry that has intrigued you personally
  • Suggest a demonstration, situation, or phenomena that might induce a good question
  • Suggest some essential features of a good chemistry question
  • React to someone else's contribution
  • Invite a colleague or friend to contribute

To help maybe start us off, here is a chemistry-related question over at dy/dan that led me and several of my colleagues to dig in for a few hours. My office white board is full of drawings, equations, arithmetic, etc. If you wanna know how that question might go in a high school classroom, there's a gallery of student whiteboards about the question over at Newton's Minions.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What could I do with this photo?

2010 AAPT Photo Contest Honorable Mention - Contrived Category

by Archan Baldev Luhar

School: Medfield High School

Teacher: Mr. Richard Shapiro

I've been in love with this photo for sometime now. I see a couple of good questions here, including some that I think could spark discussion and argumentation, representation, and problem solving (given a bit more info about the photo). What do you think? What do you notice about the photo? What questions do you see? What could you do with this?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Inoculating Impatience

At Friday's workshop, many expressed dismay at the impatience of students who are unwilling to wrestle with mutli-step problems or pursue challenging questions for more than just a few minutes. Across our two workshops, we identified several features of the rainbow question that can possibly help avert this, including
  1. The question generates more questions. Because of this I can try to inoculate "answer-seeking" by celebrating the questions students bring up.
  2. There is no right answer. This mean I don't have to fake it or use my poker face. I really believe there are good arguments for why colors like white, brown, pink, are in the rainbow and good arguments for they are not in the rainbow. I can celebrate the good arguments on both sides and make that clear to students.
  3. Everybody has experiences with colors, so everybody has something to bring to the table. I feel like I can call on anyone to contribute without feeling like I'm calling them out or putting them on the spot. With such a problem I can celebrate everyday experience and intuition rather than science facts and terminology.
  4. The question is simply stated, but deceivingly complex. The more you talk about it, the more layers of its complexity emerge. As a teacher, this questions allows me to celebrate complexity.
The point to me is this. If my students are engaged with each others' science ideas, and I'm in a position to celebrate questioning, argumentation, everyday experience, and complexity in the science classroom, I know I'm somewhere close to where I want to be. Maybe this helps inoculate impatience in your classroom. If not, maybe one of these will:

Where might this conversation go?

Pregame Preparation

To me, a big part of facilitating good science discussions involves getting students to let me "in"– in on what they are thinking.

My pre-game warm up for this includes trying to answer the following questions:
  • How will people react? What will they say?
  • What specific ideas might come up at first? What questions will arise?
  • What lines of reasoning might someone take? How might others respond? Are there counter arguments or supporting examples?
  • Will people change their minds? Why or why not?
  • What new ideas or questions will emerge later in the discussion that didn't at first?
I spend a lot of time trying to get in my students head before the game even begins, and I write all of my ideas down.

Post Game Review

After the discussion, I go back and review my notes. For the rainbow activity, Benedikt and I were able to anticipate a lot of the ideas, questions, and arguments that actually came up. But I also heard lots of ideas and question we didn't anticipate. Here are just a few

  • What would happen if we compressed a rainbow down, gradually making it smaller and smaller so the colors get closer? Would the colors look different? Would it look white if we compressed it all the way?
  • If rainbows are made by tiny rain droplets, why do wet get one big rainbow? Shouldn't we get a zillion little rainbows?
  • White light comes from the sun, and this light is being emitted from atoms. Since the sun only has certain atoms, do we only get certain frequencies of light? Does that mean we don't have all the colors?
  • A suggestion for what "in" means. A color is in the rainbow only if you can show someone else where it is by pointing to its location.
  • Is color even "a thing" that can be "in" something? How can something be "in" a rainbow?
  • Computer monitors as a "light" palette for testing out how to make different colors? Is that the same as mixing rainbow colors?
Practice makes perfect

The more I do this, the better I get at anticipating how conversations will go. The better I get at anticipating how conversations will go, the better listener I become. The better listener I become, the better guide I can be for my students.

Next week, I'm getting more practice. I'll be trying the "Are all the colors in the rainbow?" question in my science teaching course. I'll let you know how it goes. It comes on the heels of a reading called, "Making thinking visible: Talk and Argumentation in the Classroom"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rainbow refraction

where I break apart (get it) my thinking on this question is on the use of the word "in"...a color can't be IN something that is not a thing. A rainbow is merely a space where the raindrops and the light rays are aligned in such a way to refract the ray into different wavelengths. Color is light that has been split up so it can't be in a rainbow. Maybe a rainbow is just an organized area of droplets that are in the right place at the right time:)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are all the colors in the rainbow?

We got this question from our friend Leslie Atkins, who has posted a very detailed and helpful lesson plan guide for using this question as an activity

Where might this conversation go?

From conversations with colleagues and students, many people's first intuition seems to be a very firm "yes, all the colors are in the rainbow". However, upon further reflection it is easy to come up with interesting examples that require further scrutiny. For example, people are likely to bring up examples such as pink, brown, black, white, gray, gold, "neon green", "blue-green" and ask, "Are they really in the rainbow?"

We believe that this conversation can go in many directions. With that said, we have reason to think it is productive to use whatever examples surface as the focus of the group's discussion and inquiry, and to push the group to construct and scrutinize arguments for and against these colors as being in the rainbow as pursue the meaning and answer to the question.

Scrutiny of the examples is likely to raise lots of further questions and subsequent ideas:
  • What do we mean by color? What counts as a color? What do we mean by "all" the colors?
  • Are there infinite colors in the rainbow? Doesn't infinite imply all?
  • What do we mean by "in" the rainbow? Even if all the colors aren't "in" the rainbow, can we use the colors in the rainbow to make any color we'd like, by mixing?
  • Examples like pink beg the question, "What do we mean by a shade? If pink is a just shade of red (made by adding white), can we say pink is in the rainbow, because red is in the rainbow?
  • Can we say blue-green is in the rainbow because they are next to each other in ROYGBIV. Is blue-green color just a mix of blue and green?
  • Since black is the absence of light, maybe it's not a color. Perhaps It's no color at all. For that reason, maybe we don't need black in the rainbow to have "all the colors".
  • We know from experience that brown can be made by mixing a lot of colors. Since many (if not all the) colors are in the rainbow, can we essentially say brown is in the rainbow?
  • Others might say white (not brown) is made by mixing all the (light) colors, so white is effectively in the rainbow. But not Brown! How do you get brown light? Can you?
  • What makes a color like "hot pink" hot, or "neon green" neon?
  • Examples like gold and silver beg the question, "What makes a color metallic?" How is silver different than gray? What makes something "shiny"?
  • What colors mix to make other colors? How does that work?
  • What are the "primary" or "true" colors? (ROYGBIV, RBG, RBY?)
  • Why do paint and light colors mix differently? Have different primary colors?
  • How does a rainbow work?
  • Does white light look white?
  • What does frequency have to do with color? What happens when you have multiple frequencies?
  • How do we perceive color? How does eye work?
Why we like this question?

We fell in love with this question right away. The questions raises lots of questions–questions we would could pursue in a unit on light and color.

People have lots of everyday experience with light and color, as well as, some academic knowledge and terminology about light and color. This question can productively bring both of those together into the same space.

There really is not a "right" answer, because it depends on how you interpret the question. Some people might think that this makes it a bad question–perhaps they see it as vague or ill-defined. We like it because it's a real concise question–one that drives people to construct clarity and definitions for what they mean.

How we decided to structure the activity:
  1. 5 minute free write (to give everyone a chance to get their ideas out and be thoughtful before discussing)
  2. 5 minute share with partner (to transition to discussion and scaffold listening through one- on-one interaction)
  3. 20 minute class discussion (likely facilitated toward deconstructing counter examples, but open to other directions)
How did it go?

We asked participants at our workshop to log in to our blog and comment! See their comments.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Welcome to Students Talk Science!

Welcome to Students Talk Science! This blog serves as a platform for teachers to share ideas about students being engaged in productive science discussions in the classroom. It was initiated as part of a professional development activity at the High School Physics and Physical Science Teachers Meeting 2011, hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Maine.

The premise for this blog is that initiating and facilitating meaningful scientific discussions in the classroom is immensely rewarding and challenging. The workshop aimed to provide participants with ideas and tools for seeding interesting science discussions with their students and for establishing and maintaining a good culture of discussion, inquiry, and argumentation.

On this blog, we invite participants to share their ideas for engaging students in interesting scientific discussions, and to provide feedback on those ideas once you have tried them in your classroom. We will start off the blog by posting about the ideas for our workshop, and how we were planning to go about facilitating the discussions in the workshop.