Jesse Lucas – Newton’s Playground
Isaac Newton spent much of his life doing experiments to lay the foundation of modern physics. Often, people refer to physics done in a high school classroom as “Newtonian” Physics. Newton is also famous for the following quote, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” There is power in that quote, especially in a classroom setting when planning labs for your students. It is always important not to have your lab too complex so the students lose themselves in the nonessentials, but focus on the important aspects of the end goals, which is what they are trying to find by doing the lab. My philosophy in my classroom is to keep it as “Newtonian” as possible with active learning. My goal is to have the students discover the knowledge on their own. To do this, the labs have to be strategically planned and stay simplistic while also giving the students chances to find deeper meaning. So my research question is, can using wireless, simplified sensors increase the efficiency of a lab and therefore lead to more learning and deeper thought about the data?
This next fall, I will be teaching an intro to physics class aimed for freshmen. As I stated earlier, I want my classes to discover the information much the same way Newton did, through a series of experiments. Before I got here, my school had not had a physics class in five years which means much of the equipment is outdated, broken, or lost. My vision for the class includes the ability to collect accurate data in a simplified way. With the money I would get, I will invest it in data collection technology from Vernier. This includes getting Vernier Labquest 3’s which are “powerful, advanced, easy-to-navigate, and versatile data-logging solution for STEM students.” It is a durable piece of equipment and once you buy it, Vernier will allow you to keep getting the new software updates for free with it. This means I will be able to keep using this equipment for as long as I need to.
Each year, I will have four to five classes of around twenty students each. For all of these classes, I want to create an environment of problem solving and learning. By allowing them to spend their time on the critical thinking section of the lab, they will be better suited to critically think. Not only this, but allowing them to do this for a prolonged amount of time will allow them to blossom into independently minded students that can analyze situations and solve the problems at hand. The equipment will allow the students to collect the data in a smooth manner but also much quicker. This means the students will be able to spend more time analyzing the data and learning how to spot relationships and sequences. This ability to synthesize information can work across disciplines. In any subject in school, or any job in the real world, these students will need to be able to look at info and process. Innovative students will lead to innovative adults. We need more people in the world that are looking to innovate and lead in new areas of study today and tomorrow, much like Newton did in his time. The students will also get to experience a wide range of technologies and how they work. Other teachers may start to see what is going on in my class and want to piggyback on the class. We could collaborate with another class to tie disciplines together, such as statistics, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, etc. They may also want to improve what they are doing in the class if they see the fruits of this grant. This can do nothing but cause a snowball effect for the school and the area itself. These innovative students can come back to the area with a goal of building it up for generations to come.
During my principles of engineering class, we do units that could include the battle bot itself. We go over mechanical engineering, like building compound machines and getting powertrain elements to work effectively for a task. We do an electrical engineering unit where we learn how to wire circuits and how to pull the most power out of a power source. We do a computer science unit where the students learn how to program different sensors and robotics elements. I think battle bots could be an excellent co-curricular project that could span for the entire year. The students could form teams at the beginning of the year, create a plan, and stick with that plan from beginning to end. To do this, I would need three pound battle bot starter kits. These kits give students a base to start with and the students could customize it after this. To purchase these kits, I would have to order them from Fingertech.
To show these projects are successful, I would give them a pre assessment before each unit to get a baseline knowledge of the discipline. Then, after taking the assessment I will give them a post assessment to see what they learned. After this, I will give them open ended questions for them to answer. These questions will aim to see how the battle bots project helped them learn about the discipline and how it was different from the theories they learned about. I will also ask them after the complete build how likely they are to recommend someone for the class and how likely they are to try and go into a field that would relate to their experience. I believe the experience can be considered a success if the students are likely to recommend the class to a friend, if the students say they are now interested in getting into the field, and the students can show me they learned through the process. If the students can show me they learned how to adapt from the theory to real life, it will be a big success. It will be easy to see if it is due to the grant because it will be the only “real life” long lasting project that the students will do. So all the skills I am looking for the students to develop will be directly due to the project. Also, at the end of the year I plan on doing a tournament with the battle bots to get more students into it that are not even involved in the project itself. This will give the students a chance to not only show what they have learned, but also to make adjustments after battles because this would not be a single elimination tournament.
The equipment is also extremely durable. The parts are either composites, metal, or pieces that are fairly cheap. This means that the project can be one I could continue to do over and over. Since I decided to do a three pound battle bot and not a larger one, the consumable parts are much cheaper to repurchase and it is also much safer. I can use my classroom budget to rebuy the consumable equipment each year. Since it is much safer, the students are highly unlikely to get hurt from the project and they will still have a lot of fun competing.