Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects

Sight and Sound in Nature



Student Pages

Internet Links



Mr. Tom Henderson is part of a talented science staff at Glenbrook South High School. Glenbrook South High School (GBS) is set in an educationally supportive and affluent community. The physics staff work in teams teaching physics to over 80 percent of the student population and are constantly looking for ways to use technology to empower students with the ability to apply learned concepts of physics to their lives. With this goal in mind, the physics staff has instituted a second semester project which is an engaging, student-directed project. It currently runs parallel with a traditionally formatted, highly structured physics course and is preceded by many smaller, developmental projects during the first semester. The traditional nature of the class is providing the team with the opportunity to run the project parallel to existing curriculum in order to study its effects on student learning and the ability of students to meet the goals of the course. Three course goals appear to be supported by this project. These three goals are that students will demonstrate the ability to:

It is the hope of the author of this project that it will be used effectively in the classroom and make a positive impact on the ability of students to learn concepts relevant to physics. It is also a hope of the author of this project that this type of engaged learning experience and use of technology will increase the use of this type of activity in other classrooms.


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The Development/Rationale of the Year-End Project:

Approximately four years ago (prior to the 1994-95 school year), a decision was made by the Glenbrook South Physics 163 teaching team to utilize a set of projects as both engaging learning experiences and authentic assessment tools. Over the next several years, the Physics 163 teaching team experimented with a variety of approaches to and designs of physics projects. A repertoire of performance-based projects slowly emerged. Today's Physics 163 students complete a quarter 1, quarter 2, and year-end projects as part of the course requirements.

Each project shares the following set of features in common.

The culminating activity of the Physics 163 course is the "year-end project." In fact, the first and second quarter projects are viewed in part as developmental activities designed to prepare students for the successful completion of the year-end physics project. Most recently, a variety of curricular and instructional changes have even been made with the year-end project in mind. Such changes include a revision of a variety of labs to make them more inquiry-based, an increase in the number of opportunities to practice experimental design skills, an increased number of exposures to the use of the World Wide Web, the use of small writing assignments that require the construction of computer graphics and the inclusion of such graphics in word-processed documents, the student use and teacher demonstration of specific software which provides ideal modeling and investigative environments, and an increased number of exposures to data and graphical analysis procedures. These changes have been made to the Physics 163 program in order to better prepare students for the year-end projects. In this sense, the year-end projects have become the test which the teachers teach to. The year-end projects are the ultimate standard by which the success of the Physics 163 program is measured.

The first semester in the Physics 163 course involves an in-depth study of motion concepts. A learning-cycle approach to instruction is consistently implemented and students are involved in a variety of engaged-learning activities. A classroom set of 12 Macintosh computers are consistently used for data collection, data analysis, simulation and model-building activities, and assessment projects. Instruction is frequently delivered using the classroom Macintosh and overhead display. Writing and thinking activities are abundant, allowing students multiple opportunities to apply physics to daily life. The course is extremely web-based, with an extensive quantity of pages devoted to student help, visualization of concepts, reviews, extra credit opportunities, internet research, and makeup labs. Students grow accustomed to inquiry, knowledge-construction, model building, project work, technology use and the internet as second-nature to the course. All of this has prepared the way for what is perhaps the most exciting (and most important) part of the second semester - the year-end project.


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Teacher Preparation for the Year-End Projects:

The year-end project involves significant preparation on the part of both student and teacher. The first semester has targeted the student side of the equation for a successful year-end project; they have become habituated to the type of thinking patterns and performance skills which are required for heavily-oriented inquiry project. The teacher side of the equation is heavy on extensive work and tedious preparation. That preparation begins as early as December and continues vigorously through the first half of the third quarter. Careful and elaborate planning is essential if the classroom is to be transformed into an environment where up to nine different experiments are being conducted at once, each requiring its own individually chosen lab equipment, hardware, software, probes, and other physical needs. By the beginning of May, the classroom will no longer look like a classroom; instead it will be transformed into a laboratory. (In fact, some may regard it to bear more resemblance to a war zone.)

One of the first tasks which must be worked on is the acquisition of the necessary equipment. In some instances, special software is ordered. For example, this past year we added a video analysis package to our collection for use by students studying the physics of sports. Since last year was the first year for the Special Relativity project, we purchased a copy of the RelLab software package. The purchase of software involves a survey of what is available, a comparison of available packages by reading reviews and talking with colleagues, requesting and receiving permission for the purchase, and finally placing the order so that it arrives in time for the project.

Other projects often require the purchase of specific lab equipment. This past year, was the first year which we did the Physics of Sailing project. The advent of this new project required that we purchase a fan cart with an adjustable angle between the sail and the cart's wheels. Sometimes the lab equipment does not need to be purchased, but rather retrieved from the deep space in some closet, dusted off, tested and repaired. When the Sight and Sound project was added to our repertoire, a ripple tank set-up with an accompanying wave generator was retrieved and prepared for use.

Each year that we do the year-end projects, a few new audio-visual tools seem to be added to our collection. This past year we purchased the Science Grab Bag video titled "How to Make a Musical Instrument" and a CD-ROM titled "Theme Park Physics." Occasionally, we are able to convince our Instructional Materials Center (IMC) of the need, and thus they are willing to cover the cost of the purchase. GBS physics teachers have found that the success of the projects can be enhanced if teachers continuously be on the look out for AV resources which adequately support year-end project topics. On occasion, the aquisition of new AV resources is as easy as surveying the television guide and finding appropriate programs for videotaping.

An evaluation of current literature sources is made each year. New books are ordered and purchased. These books and others are placed on overnight reserve in the IMC for the months of April and May. The IMC staff is kind enough to catalogue the books and pull them from the shelves in advance of our projects. With the advent of the Sight and Sound in Nature project (as is the case with any of our projects), the current IMC holdings are surveyed for relevant titles regarding the topic. Often, additional titles need to be added. A trip to a few local libraries usually leads to the identification of other books which can be ordered and subsequently added to the collection of literature sources. In addition to books, there is a folder for each project which contains photocopies of relevant articles. The photocopied articles are typically articles from The Science Teacher, The Physics Teacher, or some other periodical which students would have difficulty acquiring through normal means. Duplicate copies of each folder are made, placed in a box with a reservation list and kept in the classroom for the duration of the project. Students frequently check the folders out overnight for use at home. The preparation of these folders requires an additional chunk of teacher time. Finally, the Internet links are checked for accuracy and new links are added. Since the URLs for last year's sites may no longer be posted or may have been changed, they always need updating. Furthermore, sites which are often better and more understandable are new on the Web and need to be added to our Internet listings. A classic example is the Physics of Sports project. The first year the project was done, there was little information available on the Internet regarding specific sports. This past year, there were a large quantity of pages on several sports which were relevant to our students' interests (most notably, golf). Each year, approximately three hours per project is spent using a major search engine to identify new sites and add them to our current listing. The time spent updating the Internet links will double or triple the effectiveness of the time spent by students conducting their Internet search.

In addition to the equipment needs, there is an array of paper publishing which must be done. Each project has its own Project Information Sheet, its own Technology Acquaintance Sheet, and an array of other relevant aids which enhance student performance. These sheets, along with the set of student rubrics, are copied, organized and placed in a dual-pocket folder which is prepared for each project. When a group of three students from Mr. Henderson's class sign up for the Sight and Sound in Nature project, they will receive a single copy of this folder. It contains everything which is needed for this project. All these information sheets must be edited, altered (usually) from the previous year, printed, and copied. When there is a new piece of software, there is a need to provide a short description of the software and a set of directions for its use. When a new literature source is added to our IMC collection, it must be added to the Project Information Sheet. When a new video is purchased, a note or memo should be written for placement in students' folders. Finally, we have never used the same rubric twice. Each year, it seems to change in a manner which reflects the consensus of teacher thought about what is relevant in the assessment process. Consequently, the rubrics undergo revision (often significant revision) prior to printing and inclusion in the folder. This too takes another sizeable chunk of teacher time.

The final preparatory task involves the confirmation of a schedule. GBS physics teachers find that it works best to decide on the project schedule in advance, to inform students of the schedule (particularly the due dates) and to never change it. This insures that students know exactly when an element of the project is due. Rather than change the project schedule should a need arise, we change the course schedule. Since we run the coverage of content (refraction and reflection) alongside the operation of our year-end projects, we must synchronize the coverage of topics, the implementation of exams, and the set-up of labs with the scheduling of project activities. Since extra audio-visual equipment (VCRs, laser disc machines, monitors) and computer rooms must be reserved in advance, it is important to plan the project well in advance in order to secure lab space and AV equipment. And if we are find our students will not be prepared for the upcoming Reflection quiz, then we postpone the quiz rather than postpone an activity associated with the completion of the year-end projects. The adherence to the project schedule at all costs not only relieves us of a logistical nightmare, it sends a strong message. Students quickly get the message: the year-end projects rule! If the literature search is scheduled to be submitted on April 22, then students know that it is due on April 22.


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The Sight and Sound Project - an Anecdotal Account


Introduction to and Selection of Year-End Projects:

The second semester of the Physics 163 course begins with a one-week study of special relativity, a four-week study of electrostatics and electric circuits, followed by a four-week study of waves, sound and light. Midway through the nine-week quarter, students receive a one-page handout describing the year-end project. The handout describes the rationale for the project, the listing of project topics, a description of the assessment plan, a list of projected due dates, and a description of the various components of the research project. Mr. Henderson comments, "This is the most important sheet of paper which I have passed out all year." He assigns the handout as evening reading and asks students to return tomorrow to ask questions.

The next day, as students enter class, there is a good deal of discussion about the evening's reading. Some students come forward to the teacher table to ask about certain topics. Eric, sensing a good deal of work and responsibility on the horizon, enters and asks "Mr. H, could we just skip this project altogether?" Dan reinforces the thought, "Yeh, Mr. H! We're second semester seniors." Brooke wishes to know if she has to work with a group. Leslie says she hates projects because they are too open-ended and she never understands what she is supposed to do. Jim expresses a different opinion: "I love the physics projects. I'm good with hands-on activities and I like using the computers." Sarah chimes in: "We don't have to use computers again, do we?" Mr. Henderson quiets the class and begins his introduction to the projects. When he explains that the projects comprise one-third of the quarter 4 grade, he has captured the attention of even the least enthusiastic student. A ten-minute discussion follows; students ask a variety of logistical questions like :

Mr. Henderson briefly describes the nine projects, identifying any characteristics of a project which might appeal to (or scare) certain individuals. He explains that the project information sheets are located on the bulletin board in the back of the room and on the World Wide Web. Students are asked to give serious thought to which project they would like to do and with whom they would like to work. Students are told that the projects are equally difficult and that there is no easy ride. Mr. Henderson states, "Since you will likely be spending 40 to 60 hours on this project, be sure to pick a topic which engages your interest and curiosity. This project must be able to motivate and sustain your interest for the next several weeks." Students are then told that project sign-up begins next Wednesday (see Project Calendar) on a first-come, first-serve basis, starting at 7 a.m.

For the next week (see Project Calendar), Mr. Henderson spends approximately five minutes each day describing a study conducted by former students. In an effort to whet the class's appetite, he described the question which the group asked and subsequently investigated. The experimental design was presented and the actual lab report was shown to the class. Most students in the class were amazed by the scope of the study and the thickness of the lab report. Some students were amazed by the complexity of the experiment which the former lab groups had conducted. When told how one group used an air track, a cart, and a sail to simulate the variables which effect the propulsion of a sailboat across water, Jerry asked, "How did they know how to design such an experiment?" Mr. Henderson explained that the question and ultimate design of the experiment emerged after the lab group had conducted several hours of library and Internet research and came in for a couple of short private consultations. One project which Mr. Henderson described involved the use of a microphone-amplifier to study the sweet spot location of various tennis rackets and the effectiveness of vibration dampeners in alleviated tennis elbow. Jim immediately burst out with excitement, exclaiming "Wow! That's a neat study. I want to do the physics of sports." Later in the week, Ashley and Jaime became excited when Mr. Henderson described the efforts of one lab group to compare the relative strengths of the overtones produced by various musical instruments and subsequently relate their findings to the richness of the sounds which they produced. Ashley and Jaime became amazed that physics had such a signigicant relation to their favorite extra-curricular activity. Erin, Allison, and Susan became excited when the "Sight and Sound in Nature" project was described. Erin, who has aspirations to become a marine biologist, exclaimed "Free Willy! That's my project."

On Wednesday morning, several student lab groups came early to get first dibs on their project of choice. Sarah was waiting at the door to sign her group up for the Physics of Planetary Motion project. Blake was delighted that he was the first group to sign up for the Physics of Roller Coasters. As expected, Erin, Allison and Susan arrived at 7:15 a.m. to enthusiastically claim Sight and Sound in Nature as their own mission for the remainder of the year. Later in the day, Laura and Staci felt bad that they did not come in earlier. They were left with their third choice, since the Roller Coaster and Auto Collision projects had already been chosen. In class, Mr. Henderson made sure that every student had signed up for a project. A set of nine Project Information Sheets were lined up across the teacher's desk. Students took the sheet for the project which they selected and were told that it was assigned reading for the evening. Mr. Henderson explained that he would bring more detailed information for each individual project tomorrow.

On Thursday, Mr. Henderson returned to class with a box full of dual-pocket folders. The folders were color-coded according to project topic. Each folder contained a wealth of information relevant to the topic and handouts for student use. The center clasp of the folder held ten sheets which were to be used for assessment purposes. When Eric saw the folders, he pondered out loud, "Wow, Mr. H! You have this project like really organnized. You must want us to do really well on it." Mr. Henderson grinned, thinking to himself, "It's becoming harder each year not to do a good job on this project." Leslie wanted to know what the "stupid folders were for." Mr. Henderson responded, "The folders are for your group's collective storage of computer disks, data sheets, rough drafts, Internet printouts, photocopied journal articles, note cards, and email letters, as well as a source of detailed information about the project. Brooke asked, "Can we take the folders from the room?" Mr. Henderson suggested, "Removal of the folder from the classroom should only be done with caution. If you take the folder from the room and are ill the next day, your group is out of luck." Meg was reminded of an incident during second quarter, "Yeh, really! That happened to our group twice during the Interactive Physics project. We were like paralyzed for two class days."

On Friday, Mr. Henderson brought 12 folders from previous years to the classroom. Each folder contained a copy of all rough drafts and the final drafts of the lab reports. He explained that these were examples (see online examples posted on The Refrigerator) of what he hoped the project groups could ultimately produce. Mr. Henderson pointed out that project groups could benefit from surveying the organization and coherency of the final lab reports and reading some of the teacher comments and suggestions which were made on the various rough drafts. Sarah was grateful that Mr. Henderson gave her a chance to see a few examples of the end product. Mr. Henderson stated clearly, "Each year our students do better and better work on these year-end projects. We would expect that this year's students would surpass the performance of last year's students." He allowed the groups ten minutes to look at the folders and become more acquainted with the scope of the project and the appearance of the end project. While groups busily looked through different folders, Mr. Henderson circled through the room, answering questions and observing student enthusiasm. After approximately ten minutes, the productiveness of the activity began to decline and Mr. Henderson knew it was time to proceed with the lesson of the day.

Later that day, as Mr. Henderson drove home for the weekend, a sense of satisfaction welled up inside of him. Alas, the year-end projects had begun. He was being reminded once more of the thrill of overseeing extensive scientific studies conducted by his students, of the virtue of maintaining an environment where student inquiry can occur, and of the joy of watching his students take the leadership role in the learning process.


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Conducting the Literature Search:

On the week following the project selection day (see Project Calendar), the Instructional Materials Center (IMC) was reserved for Thursday and Friday. Three groups had signed up for the Sight and Sound in Nature project, and all three project groups were anxious to begin their research. The two days in the IMC were set aside for entire devotion to beginning the literature search; no other instructional activities were planned for these days. The goal of the literature search was:

On Wednesday in class (see Project Calendar), Mr. Henderson reminds his students that the last two days of the week will be spent in the IMC conducting research for the year-end project. Since the students have already conducted literature searches for previous projects this school year, and since they had been assigned to read the Project Information Sheets on multiple occassions, they are familiar with the procedure. Some students are looking forward to the start of the project; some students are merely looking forward to a break from the usual class routine. Mr. Henderson is looking forward to seeing if the hard work, the many hours of preparation, and the strategic changes which were made since last year's project enhance student performance.

Thursday arrives, and Mr. Henderson's students stroll into the IMC. There is a noticeable level of anticipation sensed in many of the project groups. Allison, Erin, and Susan excitedly approach Mr. Henderson before the bell signals the start of class, and ask "Can we begin now?" Mr. Henderson organizes each lab group together at the same table in an area reserved for classes who are using IMC resources. While students are still strolling in, Mr. Henderson asks Sarah and Margaret to pass out the project folders to individual groups. The bell rings, Mr. Henderson quickly quiets the class and explains the goals of the literature search and today's purpose. He asks groups to look at the project calendar which is included in the project folder; he points out that the calendar shows that today and tomorrow are reserved exclusively for IMC research and that the first draft of the literature search is due one week from Friday. Mr. Henderson shows the classes the box of research folders which are available for their use in class as well as for overnight check-out. Then Mrs. Luebbe takes two minutes to identify the location of key information resources, to identify the location of guidelines for citing Internet sources, and to offer an invitation to ask for help when students begin having difficulty. The entire introduction to the day's activities requires five minutes; the remaining 50 minutes are left for student research.

Allison, Erin, and Susan quickly leave the tables and converge on the IMC resources. They followed Mr. Henderson's suggestion and plotted a plan in advance. They had divided up the basic research questions into three categories and each student took one of the categories of questions. Furthermore, Allison and Erin were going to start on the IMC computers using the Internet for their research while Susan focused upon the reserved books, the periodicals, and the research folder. Allison and Erin began by using the page of Internet links which were prepared for them. They carefully read each site's description and evaluated whether it was pertinent to their interest; if pertinent, they navigated to the site, searched around, recorded a few notes on their Web Site Trail Sheet, and printed a few selected pages. Erin focused much of her research on sight and sound in whales while Allison quickly became intrigued by the echolation techniques of bats. Allison became elated when she learned that bats used the doppler effect to detect the location, speed and direction of motion of moths. Eric, who was working at the adjacent computer workstation, said, "Those moths must be good in math." Erin couldn't wait to tell Mr. Henderson that scientists believe that certain sperm whales produce 250-dB sounds which stun, immobilize or kill fish and squid. When Mr. Henderson asked how they knew that, she quickly commented that "they have found sperm whales who had such badly damaged jaws that they could not grab and hold a fish, yet they were healthy and well-fed." Erin mentioned to Allison that maybe their group could focus on sounds which are outside the human range of hearing - "like ultrasound and infrasound in nature." Allison became excited by the idea of seeing a concrete direction which their project might take.

Meanwhile, Susan was able to find basic background information on the nature and behavior of sound and light. She commented to Mr. Henderson that "much of this information we have already discussed in class." Mr. Henderson responded, "It's good that you recognize that. The idea of the project is to take the information which we know about the physics of sound and light waves and apply it to the study of how animals see and hear." Susan paused and replied, "So really, what we should be trying to do is to investigate how physics applies to the real world of animals." Mr. Henderson assured her that she was on the right track. He further suggested that she check up on Erin and Allison's progress to see if she could research any areas which they were finding interesting and understandable.

While Allison, Erin and Susan were conducting their study of Sight and Sound in Nature, other students were engaged in learning about sports, musical instruments, planetary motion, bunjee jumping, roller coasters, automobile accident reconstruction, special relativity, optical instruments, and sailing. Mr. Henderson's role was to circulate through the room and talk to students about their progress. He often had to refer technical difficulties to the IMC staff so that he could concentrate his attention on guiding student inquiry. As he walked through the room, many students stopped him to show him a cool Web page which they had seen or printed. Other students inquired if Mr. Henderson knew of some sources of information on a particular area of interest. Mr. Henderson, who knows the literature resources very well, would often pull a book off the reserved rack and suggest that they look through the Index or Table of Contents for the needed information. Many students were excited by the fact that physics really did have huge relevance to real-life applications. They were even more excited that they were now the ones who were discovering these real-life applications. It was no longer a matter of Mr. Henderson identifying the applications; students were now owning their own learning process by extending physics beyond that which they were taught.

The above activities repeated themselves for each of Mr. Henderson's three classes as well as for the other five sections of Regular Physics. The other two groups conducting research on the Sight and Sound in Nature project were equally productive. One group became intensely interested in the sight, sound and hearing of bird species. Early in the period, the group - composed of Katie, Jennifer and Mike - learned that owls are able to produce low frequency sounds which carry through the woods. They learned that the success of the long-distance propagation of these sounds was due to the ability of high wavelength sounds (low frequencies) to diffract more easily around trees and other obstacles common to forests. Katie wanted to know how their group could experiment with owl sounds. Mr. Henderson assured her that there were definite means of studying how the ability of waves to diffract is dependent upon their wavelength. Mike quickly burst out, "Yeh! Like that water demo you did with the waves and the video camera." Mr. Henderson responded, "You mean the ripple tank demonstrations which we projected on the overhead monitor using a video camera." All three harmonized, "Yeh, that's it." Mr. Henderson praised the group for thinking about how they might be able to pose a question which was testable in lab. Yet he encouraged them not to put the cart ahead of the horse; the goal at this stage is to acquire a breadth of information on the topic of sight and sound in nature. For the remainder of the period, Katie, Jennifer, and Mike engaged in an intense search for information related to sight and sound in birds. With ten minutes remaining, Jennifer stopped Mr. Henderson to show him the various applications which they had made to the physics (and biology) of sight and sound in bird species. Such information included:

The final group conducting research on the Sight and Sound in Nature was composed of students Brian, Allicia, and Kelly. This group started slow and spent the first twenty minutes of the first day quietly talking and attempting to camouflage their lack of productivity with open books and notebooks. Midway through the period, Mr. Henderson asked the group if they were finding what they needed and if he could help in anyway. The group responded with "everything's great." Mr. Henderson glanced at their blank notebooks and made a mental note of the page number which one of the students was turned to; he then walked away. Five minutes later, Mr. Henderson returned, knelt down beside their table, made a quick survey of the table for evidence of work (of which there was none), and then took a few moments to explain the realities of the project. "I require an incredible amount of performance on this project. And I provide an incredible amount of assistance and time. It makes me worried when I see a group of talented students wasting one-half of the two days which are allotted in class for the literature search. I hope that your group can quickly turn the corner and begin making a productive study of the topic which you indicated you were interested in." Begrudgingly, the group parted company and began work on the literature search. It was clear by the end of the period that they had not had success using the Internet or with other available resources. Their day had been wasted.

The next day however was a different story. Brian, Allicia, and Kelly came into the IMC with smiling faces. They told Mr. Henderson, "Today, we're going to be your best researchers, Mr. H." And they were right. They were ideal researchers - organized, engaged, inquiring, and collaborating. Throughout the period, they shared with each other interesting facts which they were learning about Sight and Sound in Nature. Their search took them many different directions, but the most common thread among the three students' research was the sight and sound of insects. Brian and Allicia were captivated by the compound eyes of insects. Kelly and Allicia became enthralled with information about spider eyes. They pulled Mr. Henderson aside to ask him what was meant by the term f-number. Mr. Henderson explained the concept and mentioned that the subject would come up in class in two weeks and maybe they could explain it. Brian gathered his group saying, "Maybe we should study insect sight. It might help us in our current unit of study in physics." After further research, Kelly leaned back in her chair and informed all neighboring students of her fascination with spiders, saying "Spiders have eight eyes; only two of them provide a clear image of the world; they are a nocturnal species which have extremely acute night vision due in part to eyes with very small f-numbers; etc., etc." Meanwhile, Brian discovered some further information about the ability of crickets and cicadias to produce and detect sound. By the end of the period, Brian, Allicia, and Kelly were shining. They felt good about themselves, their efforts, and their project. Mr. Henderson felt good about them.

On Monday in class, Mr. Henderson reminded the classes of the objectives of their literature search and of the upcoming due dates. Despite the very successful information gathering sessions, many students were confused. Sarah asked, "Like what exactly are we to write about?" Jim wanted to know, "How long does the literature search have to be?" Others lamented, "This is confusing." Based on past experience, Mr. Henderson expected this and was prepared for a response. Mr. Henderson reminded them that the Basic Research Questions was a good starting point to determining what should be written about. He also reminded them that there are a list of online examples posted on The Refrigerator which they could look at. He also invited individuals and groups to come in on their free time and look at other folders full of examples from previous years. Mr. Henderson held up his attendance book and showed the class the weekly calendars which were clipped to the front of the attendance book. Mr. Henderson noted that all his free time is noted on the schedule and that students were welcome to come forward on their own initiative at any time to sign up for a 15-, 30-, or 45-minute time slot. Sarah and Margaret immediately began to confer about a good time to come in for assistance. Finally, Mr. Henderson told the class, "The year-end project is a highly open-ended project which allows you to study an area of interest. There are a limited set of directives and guidelines associated with each project and as long as a project group stays within the framework set by their Student Information Sheet, the sky is the limit." Mr. Henderson knew that for many students, this was not a consoling thought; to some students, open-endedness is the cause of ulcers, not freedom and creativity. He encouraged such student groups to arrange a time slot to come in and discuss interests and possibly outline a strategy for completing the literature search. To conclude the discussion, Mr. Henderson summarized, "The idea of the projects is for you to express your understanding of the concepts and principles of physics within a real-world context. If your project is Sight and Sound in Nature, then I would expect your group to discuss the physics of waves (both light and sound waves), the physics of seeing and hearing, the physics of ray optics, and then the application of these physical concepts to how animals hear and see. The idea is to demonstrate to me that you understand the physics of your projoect and its application to a real-world context." Some heads nodded; most students seemed satisfied. It was obvious that the students were ready to learn some physics associated with the current unit - Reflection and Refraction. Thoughts of the year-end project were set aside as Mr. Henderson started the day's lesson - the formation of images by spherical mirrors.

The first draft of their literature search was due on Friday (see Project Calendar). Mr. Henderson gave four points for the completion of this draft. Most student groups earned the full four points credit (out of 200 total possible points). Many groups were not pleased with the current condition of the literature search; this was to be expected. The point is that the first draft deadline forced them to put some of their thought in writing. Mr. Henderson allowed 15 minutes in class for groups to exchange their rough drafts and make very general comments and provide constructive feedback. Mr. Henderson asked the groups to look for particular features in each first draft:

Feedback was made on each draft and returned to the project group. Meanwhile, Mr. Henderson circulated to answer specific questions. Mr. Henderson informed the class that the next draft of the literature search was due on next Wednesday (see Project Calendar). He emphasized that this was an important draft because he would be reading it carefully and commenting on each aspect of it. He proceeded with what might seem more like a sermon than a peptalk, saying "The rough draft which you give me next Wednesday needs to be your group's best possible effort. The effort which you put into it will be reflected by the effort which I put into providing feedback and suggestions. If you give me a piece of trash, you won't get very useful feedback. On the other hand, if you give me a tremendous effort, I will spend 45 to 75 minutes carefully reading it and providing suggestions, corrections, areas of further study, etc. You want to do a good job. A job well done at this stage in the project will result in less work later. When it comes to this project, many student groups will dig an early grave. Graves are six feet deep and your failure to put effort into this literature search will be equivalent to approximately three feet of grave depth." Students were humored (and maybe even a bit annoyed) by Mr. Henderson's analogy; nonetheless, they did believe him because many had already witnessed these truths during previous projects during the first and second quarters.

On Wednesday, student groups proudly walked into the classroom to submit multipage literature searches to Mr. Henderson. The groups seemed to take pride in their project; many decorated them with elaborate covers which were constructed using computer clip art and a color printer. In all three Regular Physics classes, there were only two groups who took the opportunity two dig three-foot graves. One group which stood out by the width of their smiles was Brian, Allicia, and Kelly; they had prepared a literature search which consisted of 15 pages of information, complete with diagrams, pictures, charts, etc. The projects were slowly graded, a wealth of comments were made. Suggestions for further research and research sources were listed. The scoring rubric was used to assess their progress and another 12 points was added to the group's score (see Scoring Summary). The careful grading of the projects at this stage assures high quality performance on the part of project groups. Furthermore, a careful analysis of the groups' efforts at this stage means that later evaluations will take less time. Mr. Henderson requires that the project groups hand in both the rough and final drafts of the literature search. The final draft can be quickly graded by comparing it to the rough drafts and looking for significant changes. For Mr. Henderson, hard work at this stage translates into better products and less work later.


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Project Proposal:

On the Wednesday (see Project Calendar) which the literature search was due, the entire day was set aside for beginning work on a project proposal. This day is referred to as the Technology Acquaintance Day. The objective of the day's activity is to allow student project groups to become acquainted with the technological tools and lab equipment which they will be using to conduct experiments for their year-end projects. As students enter the room, some are stopped dead in their tracks. There has been more than one occasion in which students stopped at the doorway, paused in somewhat of a petrified posture, took a step backwards to read the room number posted above the doorway, and then re-enter in total astonishment. The room has been entirely rearranged - lab tables are moved out of their usual position, signs indicating the location of project stations are posted on walls, and five new AV stations (monitor, laser disc player, and VCR) have been wheeled into the room. Upon entering, Mr. Henderson ushers students to their project station and hands them their project information folder. The rough drafts of the literature search are collected, and Mr. Henderson immediately begins explaining the objectives of the day's activities.

Mr. Henderson explains, "Today your project group should have one major goal - to become acquainted with the variety of lab equipment and computer/AV technology which you can use for your year-end project. When you leave the classroom, your group should have a clearly-defined idea of a purpose for your experiment and a general idea of the procedure for accomplishing this purpose. This is the only class day which is allotted for preparing for your group's experiment. With ten minutes remaining in the period, I will be asking you to turn off all the electronic equipment - computers, VCRs, etc. - and convene with your group to discuss your plans for conducting an experimental study. If you look in your project folder, you will find two copies of a sheet titled 'Technology Acquaintance Day.' Before you touch any of the equipment, please read the sheet from beginning to end. My role will be to circulate among groups and answer intelligent questions regarding your group's effort to design a multipart experimental study. Your strategy should be to follow the directions described on the sheet and make productive use of your time so that you might generate some clear ideas for a successful experimental study. This is another opportunity for your group to either make a giant step towards great success or to add another foot to the depth of your grave. Your group may begin reading the Technology Acquaintance Day sheet."

The introduction was brief, but sufficient. Mr. Henderson is assuming that these 17-year olds can (and will) read the Technology Acquaintance Day Sheet and then make productive use of their time. He is aware that this is probably the most stressful day of the project for both teacher and student. The room is a mess; there is no guarantee that the equipment which was working last night will still be working this period; the only specific directions given are on a sheet of paper, most of the equipment is unfamiliar to students, the students may have more interest in the change in external air temperatures than in a computer-interfaced science probe, and the rise of senioritis is reaching epidemic proportions. Mr. Henderson is thinking to himself, "This is a perfect recipe for brewing failure." He reminds himself to be calm and patient and begins his circulation through the room. His first trip is to the Physics of Sports station; the group has already started playing with the laser disc and computers and has clearly not read their Technology Acquaintance Day Sheet. Mr. Henderson turns off the TV and computer monitor and hands the group the Technology Acquaintance Day Sheet; he reminds them, "This will help maximze your success. Please read it before you begin." Mr. Henderson breathes deeply and then heads to the Physics of Roller Coasters station. He successfully offends this group by disabling the Hot Wheels track which they had so proudly and creatively assembled. With a smile and a wink, he says "Read this please." A few group members grin and pull the Coaster group together. In a few minutes, the room is quiet as all groups are back on task and preparing for the day's activities. One by one, the project groups finish their reading, plot a strategy for success, and begin investigating the equipment. Mr. Henderson breathes a sigh of relief. He knows that the Technology Acquaintance Day doesn't always start this well.

The station for the Sight and Sound in Nature project involved an elaborate set-up. There is a ripple tank, a wave generator, and several objects for studying the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of water waves. There is a computer and Universal Lab Interface box (by Vernier Software), with a light probe, microphone/amplifier and a sonic ranger. Accompanying this arrangement is a variety of equipment for the study of sound and light waves - a set of lenses with varying diameters and focal lengths, a light source, a digital frequency generator with accompanying amplifier for producing sounds of varying frequency. Finally, the station is equipped with software (the Optics Lab software package for modeling the reflection and refraction of light using a ray optics approach; Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software with files for exploring the image-object location relationship, and the intensity, distance, f-number, field-of-view relationships; and software to assist in the use of the electronic probes). The Technology Acquaintance Day sheet for the Sight and Sound in Nature project suggested that students explore all the various equipment and begin focusing on the specific equipment which might support the specific interests which they had acquired through their literature search. Students were told that other equipment might be available upon request. Finally, the sheet encouraged students to begin identifying an exact purpose for their study and a step-by-step procedure for accomplishing this purpose. The idea of the Technology Acquaintance Day sheet and the elaborate equipment at each station was to provide each project group an environment that would support a range of scientific studies. Since one of the objectives of the projects is "to demonstrate the ability to design and conduct an extensive scientific study involving the control and manipulation of variables and the analysis/synthesis of results," the provision of a suitable environment for variable control/manipulation is essential.

Allison, Erin and Susan quickly directed their attention towards the use of the sonic ranger. They believed that it would somehow allow them to study the use of ultrasound and echolation. When Mr. Henderson arrived at their station, they were talking and brainstorming ideas as to what they could do with it. Allison's idea was that they could construct a "cave" inside of a box using construction paper taped to wires and then model the ability of certain birds to use echolation in order to create a mental image of the geometric structure of caves. Mr. Henderson affirmed their idea, suggesting it had great potential and that we might be able to work with it. Trying to get more out of them, he asked, "What other physics do you know about echolation and bats?" Allison responded, "The doppler effect! Bats determine the speed of airborne moths using the doppler effect!" Mr. Henderson responded, "Great, Allison! Now there's some good physics in action." Turning their attention to the ripple tank, he continued, "Perhaps you could investigate the use of this ripple tank to study the doppler effect." The girls were excited about the possibility, turned on the wave generator and used the set of directions to begin exploring and brainstorming. Mr. Henderson was satisfied and continued his trip through the room to investigate how the other project groups were doing.

Approximately 15 minutes later, Mr. Henderson had returned to the Sight and Sound in Nature station. Allison, Erin, and Susan had made tremendous progress. They had identified a purpose and were brainstorming a procedure. Susan excitedly explained, "Our purpose is to study how the doppler effect is used by bats, and we're going to use this wooden rectangular block. We're going to send in a pulse of water waves at this moving block because that's exactly what bats do. And then we'll measure the frequency of the reflected waves." The girls anxiously awaited Mr. Henderson's approval. After a short pause and a glance at what they had written for the purpose, he responded, "You're making great progress - you're moving in the right direction. Now here's what I want you to begin thinking about: you need to identify a variable which you can change - such as the speed of the block, the frequency of the incident waves, or some other variable of interest. Then study the effect of that variable on some other variable which you will be measuring - such as the frequency of the reflected waves. Your purpose and procedure should reflect the fact that your group is investigating the effect of the _______ on the _____." The group looked at each other with a confused look. Susan, obviously disappointed asked, "What do you mean?" Erin, hoping she understood, said, "So we have to actually design an experiment that shows how one thing effects another thing. We can't just make a single measurement?" "Exactly, by repeating several trials, you will be measuring the effect of one variable on another quantity." Susan nodded her approval and understanding; Allison seemed to understand. The three girls looked at the bell, sat down at their table and began to modify their purpose and procedure. By the end of the period, they had completely produced an entire experimental design. That same period, several other lab groups had a similar degree of success. Best of all, the room was full with lots of critical thought about how to use the available equipment to design an experiment. The value of a carefully constructed environment was becoming more and more obvious to Mr. Henderson.

There were two minutes left in the period and Mr. Henderson was exhausted. Much of his time was spent troubleshooting and problem-solving at various stations. Of course, the hope of a project such as this one is that students can do their own troubleshooting, brainstorming, and problem-solving. These are the thinking skills which will never be implemented during a lecture-demonstration, the reading of Chapter 16 in a textbook, and the solving of problems 5 through 22 at the end of the chapter. Yet these thinking skills - troubleshooting, brainstorming, and problem-solving - are the very skills which industries need and professionals must use to complete their job tasks. Many times during the period (such as when Joe could not figure out why the computer would not start up and assumed it was because they didn't like him), Mr. Henderson became reminded of this critical need. He only wished that there were more opportunities in his course (and in the school as a whole, and in fact within the entire educational system) which demanded such skills from students. Most of Mr. Henderson's students will never design an experiment during their entire career, yet nearly all will be forced to troubleshoot, brainstorm, and problem-solve. Today, many of his students were able to solve the problems which arose; yet some student lab groups couldn't even solve the most basic of problems. Mr. Henderson's role was to distinguish between those which should be clearly solveable and those which were not and to intervene in situations requiring teaching assistance. The exhausting part of the period involved being constantly bombarded with student requests which were logistical, rather than cognitive. Nonetheless, what makes the year-end projects rewarding were the numerous occasions in which students did problem-solve and the observances of the brainstorming and critical thought which accompanies the task of identifying a testable question which can be answered in the lab.

To wrap up the period, Mr. Henderson quieted the room and gave his standard paragraph, "Many of you have done a tremendous job today and have identified some testable questions which you can answer in the lab. One thing which always comes out of these projects is that students soon realize that doing science is difficult. If you thought science is difficult, then doing science - actually performing the same type of tasks which research scientists perform - is very difficult. But at the same time, another outcome of these projects is that students realize that doing science can also be very fun and exciting. Today, Allison, Erin and Susan's group, and Janet, Maggie and Erin's group, and Jaime and Ashley's group, and . . . are excited! These groups experienced the thrill of creatively generating a promising experimental design which will help answer a question which they find interesting. And that's part of the thrill of doing science. Before its over, many of you will experience that same thrill and many other thrills as we pursue the doing of science. Tomorrow, we'll talk more about the project proposal which your group must prepare by next Tuesday." He announced the physics homework and dismissed the class.

On Thursday (see Project Calendar), Mr. Henderson devoted the first 25 minutes of class to the year-end project. He began class by explaining exactly what he expected in a project proposal. "The project proposal is similar to the other proposals for the previous projects we've done this year. A project proposal is a proposal in which you identify the purpose(s) of a multipart experiment, list the materials which are needed for that experiment, and make a step-by-step procedure for accomplishing the proposal which you have proposed. The purpose of your proposal should reflect that you are investigating the effect of the ________ (a variable) on the ___________ (some other measurable quantity). In fact, you might as well use that very phrase in your purpose. Then in your procedure, you will list the specific actions which the experimenter (you) will take to accomplish that purpose. The steps should be numbered; and they should reflect detail. In fact, the procedure should be so detailed that on the day of the experiment, we could switch procedures with other groups and still easily perform the experiment. For example, instead of writing 'measure the speed of the car at the bottom of the Hot Wheels track,' you should write:

  1. Using masking tape, attach a flag (note card) to the top of a Hot Wheels car.
  2. Using a ruler, measure the width of the flag.
  3. Place a photogate timer at the bottom of the track; orient the gate so that it is perpendicular to the track.
  4. Adjust the height of the gate so that a car moving along the track will block the photogate beam.
  5. Release the car from rest at the top of the track; record the photogate time.
  6. Calculate the speed of the car using the flag width and the photogate time.

That is how specific you need to be. In fact, if you are not specific, then that is an indicator to me that you do not know what you will be doing and you probably will be wasting lots of lab time trying to figure it out."

To reinforce the idea of a step-by-step procedure, Mr. Henderson asks his students to look at the handouts for some recent labs which have been performed. He shows them how each lab has a step-by-step, detailed procedure. Mr. Henderson continues, "In addition to a clearly stated purpose which identifies the dependent and independent variable and a step-by-step procedure, your project proposal will have to reflect an ambitious study. You will have approximately five days to conduct your experiment (see Project Calendar), and I would expect an ambitous number of parts to the study. It should be ambitious enough that you will be engaged for the full five days of the study. It would be an ambitious aim to design a three-part experiment. Finally, the reason for all these requirements is for your own protection. You are the researcher and I am your adviser on this project. I will be able to help you in a few ways.

  1. I will be able to let you know if a particular study is too difficult or merely will not work. If you design a detailed procedure, then I will be able to evaluate the possiblity of your plan.
  2. If you have proposed the use of a particular resource, I can let you know if that resource is available or even if there might be a better resource for accomplishing the same purpose more easily or in less time.

Rather than wasting a lot of time traveling down the wrong path, you will be notified in advance and save yourself a day (or sometimes two). So an effectively written project proposal will save you a lot of time and frustration. Do the best job which you can and do it in a way such that I can help you as your adviser."

Mr. Henderson offered an opportunity to ask questions. He then reminded the class of the value of looking at the examples from previous years and the online examples posted on The Refrigerator. He lifted up his weekly appointment schedule, urging them, "Sign up for a 15- or 30-minute time slot if you are having difficulty. In most instances, it will only take 15 minutes to get your group headed in the right direction." The class spent the next 15 minutes organizing and discussing their plan. Mr. Henderson circulated through the room. Some groups asked questions. A couple groups grabbed the exemplar folders from previous years' projects and studied the layout of successful proposals. Two groups immediately walked to the front of the room to sign up for a time slot in order to consult with Mr. Henderson. One group asked if they could turn on the computer to look at the steps required to use the Interactive Physics program; Mr. Henderson approved. All groups kept busy - no exceptions. Mr. Henderson was amazed that a group of seniors (all accepted into colleges and suffering from the dreaded senioritis) could be so easily engaged. When Mr. Henderson pulled the plug on the planning session in order to start the day's lesson, many students groaned. Tongue in cheek, Mr. Henderson assured them that the thrill of doing science would continue at a later date; a different type of groan was uttered.

Over the next three days, Mr. Henderson met with several project groups (or individual representatives of project groups). Most meetings lasted 15 minutes, were highly productive, and demonstrated intelligent dialogue between students and teacher. It is likely that more was learned about the scientific process during those short consultations than could ever be learned by reading the first chapter of every high school science textbook ever written. The project proposals were drafted, peer reviewed, revised, and finally submitted to the teacher on the Friday of the following week. The overwhelming majority of the proposals were approved. Mr. Henderson placed a wealth of comments on each rough draft. Again, the philosophy was that lots of hard work at this stage translates into a better product and saved time later. Upon return of the graded proposals, the students were again reminded by Mr. Henderson that "red ink is good if you see it on a rough draft." Those proposals with little red ink were the worse proposals; such groups put less into their rough drafts and thus received very little feedback. Most proposals which fell into that category contained comments such as "Your group needs to arrange for a 15-minute consultation."

Allison, Erin, and Susan took advantage of Mr. Henderson's appointment schedule. They met with him twice for a cumulative time of 45 minutes. Their interest in ultrasound and bats continued. With Mr. Henderson's help, they were able to contact a ranger at an Illinois state park located one hour from the school. The rangers at the park have an intense interest in bats and even hold periodic evening programs on the topic. The three girls held a phone conversation with the ranger and were even invited to attend a special Friday evening program on bats. Susan and Erin did not show much interest in the program, but Allison was elated. She attended the program (and even dragged her younger brother along) and was able to acquire information for use in the final report. But best of all, the ranger gave Allison a tape which consisted of bat calls; the ranger had used a detector which translated the bats inaudible sounds into audible clicks. She was elated to share the tape with Erin and Susan. As a result of their efforts, Allison, Erin and Susan developed a project proposal consisting of the following three parts:

Allison, Erin and Susan were attempting to use their experiments to formulate an understanding of how animals use infrasound and ultrasound as an effective tool for communication, navigation, and survival.

The other two groups doing the Sight and Sound in Nature project were having similar degrees of success. After several consultations with Mr. Henderson, a few more trips to the IMC and the Internet, and a meeting arranged with a local forest ranger, Katie, Jennifer and Mike had devised an exceptionally coherent study involving the sounds of birds. These three students had sketched out the following three aspects for their experimental design:

Katie, Jennifer and Mike hoped that their three experiments could be extended towards an understanding of how the actual frequencies (and thus wavelengths) of the sounds produced by forest-dwelling bird species are suited towards their behavior (particularly their tendency to establish large or small territorial regions) and their need (or lack of need) for long-distance propagation of their songs and calls. The design was clever and the three students were extremely excited.

Brian, Allicia and Kelly were equally excited about their project proposal. They decided to focus their project on the vision of animal species and the optics of the eye. After a few consultations with Mr. Henderson and some collaboration with a subject matter expert through the Emissary program at the University of Texas-Austin, these three students had sketched out the following three aspects for their experimental design:

Brian, Allicia, and Kelly hoped that they could apply the results of their findings to factors which effect the ability of animals to form clear, bright, and three-dimensional images.

Each Sight and Sound in Nature project group designed a step-by step procedure for each of the studies which they contracted to conduct and a discussion of their plan for analyzing and interpreting the data. Each of the proposals appeared do-able and ambitious. Futhermore, the project proposals described experiments which met the requirements of the Project Information Sheet - that is, the students had developed . . .

a well-defined project proposal based on background reading which includes (1) a statement of the purpose, (2) a step-by-step procedure for the analysis of sound and/or light and for the collection of data, and (3) a clearly-defined plan for interpreting experimental data and extending them to implications about sound and light in nature.

As a whole, the year-end projects were progressing smoothly. With only two exceptions, all project groups in Mr. Henderson's three sections were engaged and actively constructing a mental model of how their physics content applied to a real-world context. Many students (though not yet openly admitting to it) were actually experiencing the thrill of doing science. Furthermore, Mr. Henderson was quite pleased. The most important aspect of the project was finished - the planning stages. Nearly all project groups had succeeded at planning their play. It was now time to play the plan.


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Conducting the Experiments:

The Project Proposals were graded and returned on Tuesday (see Project Calendar). Students were given 10 minutes to look at Mr. Henderson's feedback and to produce a plan for revision. There were a few groups who needed major revision. On Wednesday, Mr. Henderson provided the students with 10 more minutes to prepare for the next day - the first day to experiment. Students were reminded that they will have to be responsible for bringing to class any equipment which they needed for their experiment. If a project group wanted Mr. Henderson to provide a particular material need, then they would have to make a request in writing at least 24 hours in advance. Groups used the 10 minutes to make arrangements for the next day. Some groups wanted a last-minute appointment, and thus signed up for a 15-minute time slot on the weekly appointment schedule.

When Mr. Henderson arrived at school on Thursday morning, Jaime and Ashley met him at the office door with a flute and a violin, requesting to use his office for storage. Mr. Henderson agreed. A few minutes later, Blake and Varoon entered, wanting to make sure that Mr. Henderson would supply the Hot Wheels car for today's lab. Mr. Henderson headed for the classroom to complete last-minute preparations of the environment. When everything was working; he knocked his knuckles on the wooden cabinet (his mother always told him that it brought continued luck).

As class began on Thursday (see Project Calendar), Mr. Henderson gave his brief introduction. "Today, many of you are going to feel like you have failed. [Pause] Even the best plans will not lead to expected results. Doing science is difficult and it doesn't always work the way you expect it to. But that's why I am giving you four full days and two half days to conduct your experiments. If the experiment doesn't go the way you expect it to, that doesn't necessarily mean that today has been a failure. Today will only be a failure if it doesn't go the way you expect it to and you still don't understand why it didn't. Your goal today, if the experiment doesn't work, is to figure out why it didn't work so that next time, you can get it to work. You will want to get the bugs out of the experimental design today. To do this, your group will have to observe carefully, think critically, brainstorm, and problem-solve. That's what doing science is all about. And if you do those things, today will be a success, even if you don't get the expected results. Remember, I am available for consultation outside of class. In class, I wish to help you with some of the cognitive tasks."

Mr. Henderson circulated through the room. He did a lot of observing, a little problem-solving, and some equipment repair/restoration. In some respects, it was exciting to see the students play their plan; at the same time, not all the plans worked and led to play. There were many opportunities for Mr. Henderson to assess the ability of his students to experiment; such observations were not always pleasant. One observation was that students had a tendency to make measurements without evaluating their meaning. One group spent twenty minutes changing the mass of a roller coaster car (by adding pennies to it) and measuring the speed at the bottom of the track; when finished, they were not aware that the changing mass had no apparent effect upon the speed at the bottom of the track. Another observation was that students apparently had difficulty immediately relating their observations and measurements to the larger context of their topic. A group studying the relationship between the stretch/compression of a spring and the quantity of potential and kinetic energy of an attached air track glider were unable to identify the location in the trajectory at which a bunjee jumper would possess the greatest amount of elastic potential energy.

Overall, student success on the first day of the experiment was fair to partly cloudy. Some lab groups became extremely frustrated and took Mr. Henderson up on his offer for a 15-minute consultation. Many students thought Mr. Henderson was a prophet for his ability to predict failure. Eric exaggerated the fact, "Wow Mr. H! You really know how to predict the weather. How did you know we were all going to fail." On Friday (see Project Calendar), 15 minutes were allotted for project groups to reflect on their successes and failures from the day before. It was a chance to regroup and redesign. Most groups benefited from this opportunity. Mr. Henderson was able to help a few project groups realize the reasons for their failures. However, there were a couple of instances in which he was still stumped by the experimental results. That's all a part of doing science.

This process of performing the procedure, collecting data, evaluating the results, regrouping and redesigning, re-evaluating and making meaning, and extending results to the larger context of study continued over the next several days (see Project Calendar). Many students commented that the ample time helped them to relax and focus on getting accurate results. They claimed that not having the feeling of being rushed helped them to perform better. They felt like it was possible to make mistakes and still succeed. Mr. Henderson loved the private consultations; students were appreciative of the help and Mr. Henderson could make close observations of students' cognitive efforts. Mr. Henderson also loved the problem-solving skills which were implemented when the first procedural plans did not yield expected results. A group studying the COR of a golf ball-club collision using a photogate had to try countless tactics to direct the ball through the center of the photogate upon rebounding off the club. Another group studying the COR of the tennis ball-racket collision had to problem-solve on numerous occasions before devising a method in which a ball and racket were suspended from a ceiling mount and a video camera was used to determine rebound height. One project group used their woodworking skills to design a guitar. When Humberto arrived in class on the third day of the experiment, he proudly demonstrated its use by his own rendition of La Bamba. Mr. Henderson thought to himself, " I am positive that this experience is far richer and will be exceedingly more memorable than using the resonance tubes to determine the speed of sound." A year from now, Humberto will not know what the value of the speed of sound is, but he will remember that the frequency generated by a guitar string is dependent upon the length of the string and the tension of the string. He may even have a few standing wave diagrams remaining in his mind as graphic reminders of the physics of musical instruments.


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Wrapping up with the Reports and Presentations:

Near the end of the data collection days, Mr. Henderson took five minutes of classtime to explain some details concerning the final draft of the lab report and the multimedia presentation. Using a graphic organizer on the whiteboard, Mr. Henderson re-explained the appropriate elements of an effective lab report. He showed the class that the majority of the report (Purpose, Literature Search, Materials, Procedure, and Bibliography) had already been completed. What remained for the completion of the lab report was a Data section (including collected and calculated data arranged in a row-column tabular format, graphs, sample calculations, etc.) and a Discussion of Results section. Mr. Henderson again reminded them of the available exemplars (both in the room and posted on The Refrigerator). He then demonstrated the use of a HyperStudio stack for the presentation. The stack was a template which students could use to organize their presentation. He opened the stack and demonstrated how the template could be used to prepare for their multimedia presentation; students watched on the overhead monitor. The template consisted of titled cards containing formatted text fields and already linked buttons. It was organized in lab report format such that students needed to merely dump already prepared text into the fields and retitle the cards. Directions for resizing fields, adding clip art, and using the graphic tools to construct simple graphics were also included in the stack. The stack was available on the school's file server. Mr. Henderson made an effort to emphasize, "The preparation of your HyperStudio stack need not be a stressful task. The template is prepared in such a way that any dummy could figure it out." Sarah whispered something to Margaret about the "any dummy" comment. Mr. Henderson continued, "Your group should decide on whose locker (on the school's file server) you will place the template, and then cooperate and collaborate to complete each section of the stack. If you have already prepared the lab report, the completion of the stack will be simple." Many students asked questions. Most students were convinced that the HyperStudio presentaion would indeed be one of the least stressful parts of the project. They were delighted that the template was made available to them.

Many student lab groups completed their experiments with a day or more of data collection remaining. These groups were able to get an early start on the completion of the lab report and the preparation of the multimedia presentation. As the date of the presentations neared (see Project Calendar), Mr. Henderson allowed groups to sign up for a time slot to give their presentation. Each presentation was limited to 15 minutes in length, which included two minutes for asking questions and defending their study. Since science classes are 55 minutes in length, that translates into three 15-minute talks with 10 minutes remaining to allow for transitions between groups and announcements. The order of choice for signing up for the time slots was based on the relative success of the groups; groups demonstrating the most effort, the best progress, and the highest quality in the initial stages of the project were rewarded with the first choices. Most of these groups elected the last day, thinking that this would allow more time for preparation.

Presentations were presented using the classroom computer and the overhead monitor. When finished with their HyperStudio stack, students saved the stack in Mr. Henderson's folder located on the file server. Students could access folder contents from the classroom computer in order to give their presentations. The use of the HyperStudio template forced student groups to organize their presentation. There was no beating around the bush or oral gymnastics. Students were mostly prepared, with all data, graphs, diagrams, charts, and conclusions identified on individual cards within the stack. Those groups who were not prepared (and some weren't) could not possibly disguise this fact; their lack of preparation was embarassingly obvious to both students and teacher.

The Sight and Sound in Nature groups awed the audience. Most classes were captivated by the interesting background information about the ability of animals to produce sounds and to see and hear. Allison, Erin and Susan used a videotape of their ripple tank lab to show the doppler effect and related their data and observations to the ability of bats to locate prey. They emphasized how bats modify the frequency of their incident pulses as they approach the prey in order to achieve greater detail about their exact location. They also demonstrated the use of the sonic ranger as a means of forming mental images of the surroundings via echolation. They had two boxes which they scanned using the sonic ranger; they related the graphical pattern to the actual geometric shape of the bottom of the box. Their classmates were impressed.

Kathy, Jennifer and Mike revealed the results of their studies of the songs and calls of forest-dwelling birds. Their background information was intriguing and even generated a few "Wows" and "Cools" from their classmates. They also used a videotape of their ripple tank experiments to show how longer wavelength sounds have a greater ability to diffract. They also showed how different shaped obstacles effected the diffraction of the water waves. They likened the different shaped obstacles which they placed in the water to actual obstacles which might hinder a sound wave's propagation through a forest. Finally, they showed how certain species, such as the owl, which inhabit and defend large territorial regions within the forests, have characteristicly low-pitch, high-wavelength calls; on the opposite end of the sound spectrum, songbirds which generally do not want to be heard by predators across large distances, have high-pitch, low-wavelength calls and songs; they supported this explanation with some documentation they had found on the Internet. They successfully related their experimental study to the principles of diffraction and the larger context of the songs and calls of forest-dwelling birds.

Brian, Allicia and Kelly were equally successful at describing the optical abilities of various animal species. They utilized some Microsoft Excel spreadsheet charts to explain the factors which effect the clarity and brightness of an image. They supported their study by demonstrating the pinhole cameras which they had constructed and discussing their experimental results. Due to lack of time, they were unable to perform the binocular study. They did however discuss the principles of 3-D vision and related it to the ability of birds of prey to form acute pictures of the world. They finished the presentation with a slide show of scanned images of various animals (lions, eagle, owls, frogs, octupus, manta ray, crabs, chameleon, etc.) with a single comment regarding a trait of their eyes; the slide show was created by flipping between successive cards of a separate HyperStudio stack. The classmates were captivated by the creativity of their conclusion.

The year-end projects were completed. The seniors had graduated. The Physics 163 teachers began collaborating about what went well and what needs to be changed. In general, teachers agreed that there were clear improvements in students' abilities to conduct an experiment. While there is still much progress to be made, there has been clearly noticeable improvements in the last three years. Glenbrook South physics students are getting better at doing science. Glenbrook South physics teachers are able to make these assessments because of the implementaion of the year-end project. The year-end projects have:


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Author: Tom Henderson, Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, IL.
Multimedia Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab. Funded by the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium based at the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
Last Update: July 8, 1997