Pseudo Day 117 – Qfocus Day 2

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Science 9 – May 6

Today each group finished coming up with 3 high priority questions that relate to our Qfocus.  Many groups came up with questions that were right on target and approachable.


Some questions were really difficult, such as “What came before time?”


Some groups were off-track as seen above. I didn’t step in to change their questions though, as I wanted to validate what they were genuinely interested. Next year I won’t let this happen though, I will take tighter control over what their final questions are.  I made this decision after hearing a quote from Grant Wiggins, where he said that we make no apologies for setting the learning objectives.

This process was interesting and a bit worthwhile. However, the students were able to answer their questions within a couple days of work and we were still left to go over many more learning objectives in the unit.  This is a perfect example of me needing to share a methodology with other teachers doing something similar yet I still feel like I’m working in a bit of a silo.  This stuff is really difficult to do when you have no one else to share ideas with.

Pseudo Day 116 – First Day of QFocus


Science 9 – May 4

As we began a new unit on Space, I thought I would try to kick the inquiry up a notch by incorporating some tools that I read about in Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.  In this picture you see the students grouping together and discussing some new questions they have about Space.  The QFocus point that I gave them was:

The Universe and its galaxies were formed over 13.4 billion years ago

Yes, I know the Big Bang is thought to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago but the above 13.4 also includes formation of galaxies.


I also had the help of a co-worker who used his 3D printer to make a capacitor holder that I designed.  The idea is to use this to hold capacitors that I have soldered back-to-back. I may make a whole classroom set to use in the electricity unit.

Pseudo Day 110 – Inquiry into Floatation

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Science 8 – April 22

We are now working through a unit on fluids.  To start things off, we are focusing on the idea that some things float while others don’t.  Question Focus: Not everything floats.  This leads to questions such as:

  • do heavier things float?
  • what is mass?
  • what is density?
  • do more dense things float?
  • does it matter what the thing is floating in?

Day 70: Inquiry into Friction

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Physics 11 – We used most of the class to look a how friction could be modeled on the microscopic level, and the factors that affect friction.  The first class brainstormed possible factors that affect friction and then broke into groups to investigate a factor.  However, a few groups had a difficult time clearly identify friction force as the dependent variable, and a variable that they could directly measure.

I had the second class work through a more structured approach to designing their experiments, where the dependent variable was more explicitly stated and recognized as being something that could be measured. We used the Smarter Science framework to assist with this.  We didn’t have time to carry out the experiments, so that will be done the next day.

Day 53: Body Systems Wiki


Science 8 – As part of their unit on body systems, the science 8 classes had their own inquiry project to work on.  It was inquiry in terms of them crafting their own question and answering it, but it wasn’t really an extended study into a inquiry question. I think that once the students settled on a question, their actual research went quite fast.

Most students had difficulty in coming up with a question that was on-topic and could be answered.  Lots of questions were really too broad, such as “what happens when an organ no longer works?”  I’m partly to blame for this, as I didn’t scaffold it as well as I could have.  However, the students had to go through the process of fine-tuning and modifying their questions, and ultimately I think this was very valuable.  The art of wondering and asking is something that can be beaten out of kids in school, and it’s something that we should pay more attention to.

Not too surprising to me was how terrible kids were with using wikispaces.  There is a huge myth about the digital native and how good kids are with technology.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Kids are accustomed to using one-touch buttons to install apps that do things for them.  Even with something as simple as wikispaces, over 1/2 of the students had a lot of trouble. Signing up, responding to their email, joining the wiki, and then finally adding a page were difficult for many kids.  I had also created a screencast that should have helped with the process, but that was a wasted effort.  Students simply did not bother to look at the video, they were quite content to admit defeat (“I couldn’t sign up”).  Many kids didn’t even quite understand the idea of the website.  They thought that wikispaces was my own website, and had problems with the concept of signing for the wikispaces service, and then as a separate task they had to join the class wiki.  I’ve used wikispaces before, 3 years ago.  The students then were much better working with websites.  3 years of IOS and Android have really had an affect on people.

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 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 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 31: Length, Area, Volume

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Science 9  Most of my grade 9 students were away today, visiting one of their parents’ workplaces.  I started off the class with the screenshot at the top.  Here it is, a real life example of using math!  I was asked this question the night before from a friend. I had the students address the prompt. The first thing they had to do was figure what question it was that they wanted to solve.  Some chose length of books (books stacked), surface area of books, and volume of books.  With the odd bit of help from me, we learned a few things.  350,000 books will reach a height of over 11 km if stacked.  This is higher than Mr. Everest.  Laid out on a soccer field, we would need 12 fields to contain all the books.  Finally, we found out that we’d need 1.5 classrooms totally packed to hold all the books.  Clearly the woman was exaggerating when she said she had 350,000 books at home…

Not all the kids were engaged but most were.  It was another case of grabbing the students’ curiosity and running with it.

Day 25: Using Smarter Science


Science 8. Today we worked through an experiment using the Smarter Science framework. I could see its usefulness, as there were several places where students were tripping up in the process. In previous classes we talked through the experiment while I wrote things down on my tablet. Today’s class I tried using the post-it notes as shown in the photo above. I think that for grade 8’s, the overhead projector with both me and students writing at the same time was better. Using post-it notes left the kids doing nothing for a bit… They would just be watching me move the notes. It caused them to be too distracted.

What was really interesting to me was that a few students ended up with test procedures that were trying to test two variables at once. I’m looking forward to doing this again soon.