Day 44: Starch Peanut Lab #2

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Science 9 – Like my grade 8 classes, I decided to do a Smarter Science activity with the grade 9’s using the dissolving starch packing peanut.  I had noticed that in their previous lab, the students had a difficult time carefully thinking through their experiment even though most of it was laid out for them.  It seemed as so they could use more scaffolding in creating experimental procedures.

The grade 9 classes were able to work through this experiment fairly quickly. As well, their inquiry questions were more focused.  Most importantly, many groups recognized that they were missing two key parts for a successful experiment.  First, some groups discovered that they needed to properly calibrate their timing. In other words, they needed a way to control when the timer should be stopped.  When is it an appropriate time to say that all the dissolving is finished?  The packing peanuts do not fully dissolve.  The other key piece that was missing was their ability to control the stirring.  Many groups independently worked out a stirring rate, but others were not clear on the issue of pushing the peanut into the water (the peanuts float).

I’m hoping that the lab reports are finished promptly and are of decent enough quality.

Day 43: Force Concept Inventory


Physics 11 I wanted to have a short end of term conference with each student, so I decided to give out the Force Concept Inventory to the class while doing interviews.  We’ve had two classes looking at what affects gravity, but otherwise we have not explored Newtonian mechanics.

The above photo is blurry, but the results are as I expected.  The average for my students was 29% (N = 57).  I think 5 students achieved a score of 50% or more, with one student getting 77%.  It will be very interesting to see where kids are at next spring.

Day 42: Vitamin C Analysis


Science 9 Students spent the class performing a lab where they use an indicator to determine relative amount of vitamin c in fruit drinks.  The lab was too complex for them to design all of their own procedures.  Instead, the lab is broken into two parts.  In Part A, students are given a dark blue iodine starch solution and a vitamin c tablet.  There job was to crush the tablet into a 100 mL water solution and then slowly dropwise add the solution to the iodine.  At some point the dark blue turns clear, indicating that the vitamin c has reacted with all of the iodine.

For Part B the students were to design a procedure for using the above calibration to determine the amount of vitamin c in different juices.  This proved to be quite difficult for some groups.  Several then started off with fruit juices and added the iodine solution to it dropwise.  They couldn’t see any colour changes, other than dilution, because should have been adding the juice to the iodine. I was a bit surprised at how many groups got this wrong. What didn’t surprise me is how almost all students immediately starting working on the lab prior to actually clarifying and writing a procedure.

The majority of students were able to use good reasoning and determined that apple juice, which took the fewest number of drops to clear the blue iodine colour, had the most vitamin c.

Day 41: Body Systems


Science 8 Students shifted to a new unit on body systems.  First we went over the overall plan and key questions for the unit, and students brainstormed their own questions that they’d like to inquire about.  Next, I had the students trace out a body and try to place/sketch as many organs and body systems possible.  This activity helps cement questions that they may be curious about.  For example, while all the kids have heard about kidneys, they are now really interested to know where in the body they are located.  As well, the process of sketching helps the students revisit and test themselves on their previous knowledge.  The lessons serves as a good Engage activity for a 5e learning cycle.

Day 40: Introduction to Gravity


Physics 11 Using the ideas from Preconceptions in Mechanics (Camp and Clement), today in physics we had our first look at gravity.  The focus of the day was to see what factors affect gravity: rotation, magnetism, pressure and mass.  Frank Noschese and his 180 day blog is my other go to resource for these topics.  There’s not a lot for me to write other than to point you towards Frank’s blog: Noschese 180

One tool that I like to use for these types of discussions and explorations is the idea of Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning.  The Claim really helps the students stop fence sitting, while the Evidence discourages guesses and makes students connect with their own reasoning.

Day 39: Tissue Analogy

Science 8 As a lead into our unit on body systems, the students were introduced to a new analogy. The idea is that there are four types of tissues in the human body and to better understand them, we can relate them to a household item. Tissues serve as the basis that ties the body systems together.

This analogy was from our BC Science 8 textbook and we all agreed that it worked quite well.  The analogies appear to be very intuitive and make sense to the kids.

Day 38: Kinematics Quiz


Physics 11 Well that didn’t go so great [the above is a screenshot of the standard kin.4 from ActiveGrade, which shows most kids not having mastery]. On average the students were not able to show mastery of our constant acceleration kinematics problem solving standard.  Most are very close, so I’ll have to make a decision on where we go with this next. I can do another quiz during class, give an after school quiz, or leave it for student initiated assessments.

The quiz revealed the same things I see every year.  The absolute complete reluctance to write down information, make sketches, or sketch graphs.  The question that tripped most people is actually pretty straight forward if you bother to take the time to sketch the velocity time curve. Since we’ve been scaffolding graphing all the way through, it is disappointing to see it completely abandoned at this stage.  I could explicitly ask for graphs on the quiz, but then I would hear a large uproar of complaints about that too.

It is very odd.  The kids that do the best are the ones that complain the least.  They also do the little things right.  I wonder which comes first? Do they complain the least and do higher quality work because they already understand the physics?  Or do they understand the physics because they’ve taken the time to do the little things right and persevere?

We’re starting forces next, and I know that the same students that struggle when trying to do a graph or clearly write down the model they are using will continue down this path.

Day 37: Writiing Chemical Formulae


Science 9 Today the students continued with working on how to name chemical formlae, given the name of a covalent compound. There was an added twist to it when the students were introduced to the idea of multivalent ions.  Since we don’t go deep into the concepts behind multivalent compounds, I almost feel that these should be easier because you are explicitly told the ion charge of the metal.

I realized there is at least one sticky preconception that the students have which I had never noticed before. Whereas I thought the idea of a covalent bond exiting between equal and opposite charges was straight forward, the students really want to add the ion charges together. I have no idea why.  When probed, students simply replied that they thought they should add charges.

A similar thing happened when balancing ions.  For example, with iron(II) phosphide the chemical formula would be Fe_3 P_2 .  Students would have a hard time because they somehow wanted to had a +1 to the iron ion, so that it would have a total of 3 like the phosphorus ion.  They were missing the idea that adding atoms to the atom ratio was a multiplier of the charge, not an addition.

I checked in halfway through the class with the voting question above, using Plickers.  The students sorted it out pretty well using Peer Instruction.  Once they were back to their individual practice though, the problems continued.  On Wednesday we will have a quiz and I’m curious to see how they will do.

Day 36: Open Ended Scenario




Physics 11 Today the students had their first shot at a Transfer Task which was an open ended question. The situation posed was a car accelerating from an initial velocity to some other velocity within a certain amount of time.

All the groups completed fairly comprehensive analysis with a lot of good discussion. They were debating issues and pretty much everyone was involved. I don’t think I noticed any students that were not engaged.

One group did a comparison of finding displacement through two different equations, one of which relied upon a calculated value for the acceleration. They pointed out that the values matched but were slightly different because of rounding.

Several groups found displacement from calculating area under the v-t graph, instead of using a formula.

Many groups explicitly wrote down the questions they wanted to explore.

In the group discussions that followed, we had some good debates on whether magnitude of displacement and distance were the same in this case, and the need to state assumptions.

Finally, some groups started to work on “what if?” scenarios.

Overall the lesson was well received and students felt like they learned from the experience.

Day 35: Cell Concept Mapping



Science 8 Today I returned the students’ concept maps they did for cells. Prior to doing this cmap the students completed a form which described each organelle. The purpose of the cmap was not to test memorization of the organelles but to see what kinds of connections kids could make between them. It’s one thing to copy down a bunch of words and quite another thing to actively link different ideas and key words.

To scaffold concept mapping, I first do a gallery walk of about a dozen large concept maps completed by senior students and undergrads. We then discuss the features that seem to make up a good cmap. Students really like the idea of a cmap needing to be clear and easy to read. We also talk about the purpose of a concept map, and how it is primarily a tool that a student can use for learning. In this sense, a crowded cmap may be better than a neat and orderly one.

The worksheet I used is here: Cell Concept Map
The worksheet gives another set of examples, which I use to stress the importance of links. Links are not just randomly drawn lines between key words, but are expressions of understanding. In order to demonstrate and clarify understanding, words and descriptions have to be written along the links.


This student produced a wonderful infographic that did an excellent job of communicating her understanding. I love getting stuff like this, it shows just how capable students are. I spoke with this student about trying concept map next time, but I couldn’t fault her on her work.

In terms of assessment, I didn’t really give a grade for the cmaps. I did give feedback on four aspects: topics (subsuming old ideas with new), organelles, links, and link descriptions. Most research I’ve read recommends to not grade cmaps, and I agree. However, I did take the organelle aspect from the cmaps and use it to rate their organelle learning objective (SBG grading of cell unit)