Monday, July 9, 2012

NYC Modeling Workshop: Day 1

Today was the first day of the Modeling Workshop graciously organized by Fernand Brunschwig and PhysicsTeachersNYC. After getting up way too early and catching two buses, I found my way to the site. (It's a little odd to be walking into the buildings on the north side of 120th instead of the ones on the south side of 120th. I will have to squeeze in some time to visit some of my college haunts.)

Although I've used modeling materials for a couple of years (and follow Kelly O'Shea and Frank Noschese online), this is my first actual Modeling Workshop and I'm picking up on some things I hadn't noticed from the printed versions. I'm going to try to journal what I'm learning, but it's not going to be nearly as polished as some of the other Modeling Workshop diaries out there.

OK. Today was intro day. We did Mark Schober's favorite intro lab: spaghetti bridges. After brainstorming a long list of possible factors that might affect the bridges, we chose to test the relationship between number of marbles supported and number of strands of spaghetti. We had a brief discussion about whether it's better to allow students to choose their own variables to test or direct the choice, but Mark simply said he wanted us to work on the same set of variables and none of us were deep enough into student mode to be obnoxious about it. Our group chose to keep the bridge supports very (almost ridiculously) close together, so our bridge held roughly 10marbles/strand. Other groups had different separations and types of pasta and got different slopes, which pointed out the importance of some of the variables 'we' hadn't decided to test directly and helped answer some of the questions about choosing the tested variables after all.

We also had a discussion of whether variables should be labeled with units as numbers are and whether it's proper to mix numbers (with units) and variables in the same equation, which, honestly, I hadn't ever thought about before. The discussion brought out some of my thinking on why I want numbers to have units and variables to not have units, as well as how I should address the topic with my students to help them understand the difference between variables and units.

After lunch, we started the Methods, Measurement, and Graphing lab, using two alternate stations in place of the dart launch and projectile stations (on account of misbehaving equipment). While I've done some of the experiments, I hadn't done all of them before today. Taking the data was interesting, and analyzing it was/will be interesting as well.

Tonight's homework was reading a couple of articles, looking over worksheets 1&2, and doing worksheet 3. Sadly, while I can read on the bus ride home, I can't write on the bus. Maybe I'll try recording thoughts on the worksheets in Evernote or something similar on the bus in tomorrow...


kellyoshea said...

Did you talk about how numbers are adjectives, but units and variables are both nouns? So if you put units on a variable, you're trying to modify a noun with a noun, which is kind of weird. The idea of number as adjective, not noun, shocked them so much last year that they wrote facebook statuses about it (or so I heard from other students). !!

jsb16 said...

I didn't mention it yesterday, but I did mention it to a couple of people today. I think the analogy may need to be extended to operators, as we tweeted about today, but maybe not. If I catch up on sleep this weekend, maybe I'll have more thoughts on it.

kellyoshea said...

Why do you think the analogy has to be extended? For the sake of teachers, or for the sake of students? I liked your question, but I've also never had a student go there (yet).