Monday, February 6, 2017

Bouncing Balls (Days 95-96)

Here is today's Pappas question of the day:

Find the positive roots of this equation: 4x^2 - x - 30 = 3x^2

This can be rewritten as x^2 - x - 30 = 0. We can factor this as (x + 5)(x - 6) = 0, which provides us with two roots. One of these is negative, x = -5, so we want the positive root, x = 6. So the answer is six -- and of course, today's date is the sixth.

This isn't really a middle school question, unless we mean eighth grade Algebra I. But lately, on coding Mondays I haven't been assigning Warm-Ups where the answer is the date. Instead, I've been assigning for classwork a page from a workbook (the old 1-2-3-4 homework before I was required to give Illinois State online homework). This is to provide a quick 10-15 minute filler lesson after the coding is complete.

Yes, today is a coding Monday. Basically it's a continuation of last week's lessons. But fortunately, this is a two-day post, so we get to look ahead to tomorrow's lesson.

Learning Module 11 of the eighth grade Illinois State text is called "Bouncing Balls." As the title implies, in this project students will be bouncing balls and dropping other items.

Notice that this is considered a STEM project, but this one naturally lends itself to science. Indeed, students are to drop two items from the same height at the same time -- reproducing Galileo's famous discovery that objects of different mass nonetheless fall at the same speed. Other experiments include bouncing different balls to measure how high they bounce.

As appealing as it seems to try to tie this to science, I don't know whether there's anything in this lesson that leads to getting questions right on the California science test in May. I notice that the NGSS unit on gravity appears to be mainly concerned with the gravitational pull between planets, moons, and the sun, not dropping objects in a room. Even the old California standards apply gravity more in outer space than on earth.

Once again, it all goes back to the fact that I didn't teach science well for half the year. Right now I have to establish credibility as a science teacher, and that means giving real science projects. The last thing any student wants to hear is that I can't do science because I don't know what exactly will be on the test in May. Things would be different had I taught science correctly all along.

It's plain, though, that the branch of science this lesson leads to is physical science. Under the old California standards. eighth grade was physical science, and even under the new NGSS standards, physical science is included in the eighth grade standards.

Right now, I'm not sure whether the students even think of physical science as science. When they think fondly of past science projects, they are invariably life science projects (such as dissection), since after all, they just completed seventh grade life science. Chemistry may be obscure to them, and even less apparent to them is physics, which is what tomorrow's bouncing ball project really is.

As for the other grades, seventh grade has a project on nutrition, where they consider what they eat and how many calories it contains -- it follows naturally from last week's project. Sixth grade, meanwhile, takes a look at what they throw away in the trash. I know, this is an environmental project, but it's not directly related to Green Team (which focuses more on energy and water). The Green Team project should be just around the corner.

The traditional lesson connected to the new learning module for eighth grade is statistics. But I'm actually going to push the algebra standard for one more week since, as I wrote earlier, the students definitely need more time to work on solving equations.

In fact, I'm still trying to find ingenious ways to cover all the content in my classes. You many recall the problem I had with covering decimals in my sixth grade class. Well, more often than not, the questions that appear on the new Monday worksheet (that I mentioned near the start of this post) for sixth grade include decimals.

On this week's worksheet, there was one multiplication question and one division question. Each question actually has the student complete two problems -- the same digits, but one without a decimal point and one with the decimal. So these were two great questions for the students to answer to learn more about decimal multiplication and division. I'm considering calling this new weekly worksheet "The Monday Five" since there are five questions, but this week for sixth grade it was really "The Monday Two," since I only had the students answer the decimal problems.

Meanwhile, in seventh grade, the Monday Five worksheet had a probability question, where a king had to choose a jewel for his crown at random. Then that afternoon during SBAC Prep time, there was a practice question on probability, so I just went back to the Monday Five question and expanded upon it.

This Monday Five trick may help squeeze in more standards (especially those that aren't MC, or Major Content) in the limited time that I have. But still, I worry whether the students are actually learning anything because this is actually jumping from standard to standard. The Monday Five is set up so that of the five questions, there's one from each strand. (Even the multiplication and division of decimals are theoretically from different strands -- Number Sense and Ratio, respectively.) This helps the student review material from the various strands, but not necessarily learn new material.

The plan is still for me to introduce learning centers on Thursday. It could still happen on Wednesday, as the traditional lesson may be incorporated into a learning center. Notice it's even possible for centers to appear during Tuesday's STEM project -- suppose there's not enough materials for all the students to complete a STEM project. So we must make the project one of the learning centers!

This is a two-day post. My next post will be Wednesday.

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