Thursday, September 3, 2015

Day 2: The Greatest Show On Earth

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen!  In the center ring, you will see a middle school mathematics teachers doing an uncanny impression of a high school astronomy teacher!!

Today was the first day for my students.  It was...interesting.

I have a very front-loaded schedule, which works very well for me.  I teach astronomy for four periods in a row in the morning, followed by a quick break, another astronomy, lunch, prep and then I finish the day with Honors Physics.

I very much prefer to have a front-loaded schedule because I run out of steam around noon, regardless of where my classes are.

Since the student schedules aren't finalized yet, I didn't want to waste today giving out and going over the syllabus.  I had students sign in and I introduced myself.  I talked about growth mindset and my basic philosophies of education.

Then we talked about space!

"Tell me something you know about the solar system."

They had a ton of great information already and a lot of room to grow.  What I loved is how interested they were in having the correct information.

Almost invariably, the first answer I received was "it's really big." After we talked a little bit, I came back to that.  We discussed how the human mind has tremendous difficulty really grasping how immense the solar system is, let alone the universe.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is a torture device known as the Total Perspective Vortex.  It doesn't cause any physical harm to the subject.  It gives them a view of their current position, much like Google Maps, and then simply zooms out.

And zooms out.

And zooms out.

It demonstrates the unbearable insignificance of the subject in question, reducing their mind to jelly and causing a nervous breakdown.

We did a mild version of this.

I took the class into the hallway, at one end of which I had taped a scale image of the sun at about the size of a tennis ball.  I had them walk down the hallway and stand where they thought Mercury would be.  Some kids went to the far end (mostly the 6+ foot students).  Mercury sat about 19 floor tiles from the sun.

Then I had them move to where they thought Venus would be.  After Mercury, their estimates improved drastically and I commended them on the adjustment.

With each new planet, we talked about the planet and how long it would take light to reach it.  The jump from Mars to Jupiter was quite significant, and Saturn was outside of the building.

At the scale we were using, the nearest start would be in Los Angeles.

This activity grabbed the kids and got them thinking.  If I had had more time, I would have taken them outside and we would have done it on the road.

After the last group left, I wandered down to work in the air conditioning of the library to get ready for Physics.

This class is a double period every other day and closes out the school day.

Again, rather than handing out a syllabus, I had them do the Bouncy Ball Lab from Frank Noschese.  They were given a rubber ball and told that at the end of the class, they would be asked to have it bounce to a specific height on the first try.

They needed to design the experiment, collect and organize data and make predictions.

The teacher who taught this class last year told me that they major emphasis is on the scientific method and thinking.  Perhaps their ongoing homework will be to watch Mythbusters!

I'll give extra credit to anyone who can grow a Jamie-mustache.

There are two major things that I noticed with upperclassmen in the building:
2) I am very short...

Overall, this was a really good start to the year.  Former students continued to come up and greet me warmly with hugs and smiles.  It's a great reminder of the impact that we make on student lives.

Things are looking up.

Now...what to do tomorrow...

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