Handbook of Engaged Learning Project



HELP Index




Student Pages


Mr. Brian Wegley is part of a talented science staff at Glenbrook South High School. Glenbrook South High School is set in an educationally supportive and affluent community. The physics staff work in teams teaching physics to over 80% 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. Among the goals of the course, two appear to be supported by this project. These two 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 while being able to retain concepts and methods of learning new concepts.

It is also a hope of the author of this project that this type of engaged learning experience and use of technology will lead to an increase of this type of activity in my classroom as well as the classroom's of myself and my colleagues.
Students have finished first-semester final exams. During the first semester students have participated in several authentic mini-projects that have built their skills in knowledge-building and collaboration. Students are used to engaged learning activities that make them responsible for their own learning. Several of their projects have been viewed by Mr. Brian Wegley as application projects that act as summative evaluations and many have been formative (generative) exercises that actually generated knowledge the student retains.

The classroom has 12 Macintosh computers connected to the school's server and to the Internet via a T1 connection. Students have previously completed activities that have familiarized them with the wealth of resources on the Internet and the powerful use of technology for communication.

The physics class is in the second week of the second semester. The teacher begins the class by telling the students that they have the opportunity to choose a variety of areas of physics about which they would like to learn more and on which they would like to perform some form of analysis. The teacher asks for areas in which they have interest and invites two students to the board to act as recorders. Several topics are mentioned: roller coasters, music, optics, sports, sail-boating, collisions and auto-accidents, flight, planetary motion, and one student brings up the title of this project....special relativity.

After the brainstorming, the teacher asks students to pick a topic they may want to study and get into groups by topics. The students are asked to go one step further and generate a list of things they might have interest in analyzing. Each group develops a list of ideas they record on the board, and the class adds to the list during a discussion. Some great topics come up and the class comes to an end with the teacher asking the class to decide what topic they would like to make theirs by tomorrow and to generate a list of things they know about the topic and a list of things they need to find out.

The group of students interested in relativity have not gotten much of their information from class. The teacher has had the opportunity to work at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory during the summers and started the course with a discussion of some strange theories of science when the class discussed the difference between theories and hypotheses. The topic has come up a few times during discussions as well, but no formal study has been performed. There is much they need to know.

The next day the students come in and the teacher asks them to immediately get into their group of interest. The group is asked to think up general things they know and things they need to know in order to be successful. The Relativity Group's Know/Need to Know chart is heavy on the Need to Know side.

Once each group has generated their list, the groups are asked to decide on the information for which each member will be responsible to research. The groups are told that they will eventually break up into groups of two or three and that each should research outside of class and that time will be given in class as well. "The first day for in-class research will be this Friday. What things do we need on your project page to help you out?," asks the teacher. The class decides that they would like some initial connections to sites that would help along with a list of possible searching terms and some information on searching the Internet in general. The teacher agrees to get a starting page set up and asks each group to start the key word search with a list of terms. The teacher gives each group time to come up with a list and adds them to the project pages (e.g. Relativity Project Page). The teacher ends the class by telling students that he will try to add experts with whom they can interact if they would like and they respond with enthusiasm, "You mean we can ask a real physicist about our questions?" The teacher says, "You can ask, but if your question is not a high level question that you can't just find in a book, you probably won't get an answer." "An example is a page that a student found last year that allows you to ask a wide variety of scientist questions. We had some great interaction last year and have lined up some other one-on-one helpers this year."

Thursday's and Friday's classes meet in the Instructional Materials Center in the computer labs. A brief reminder is given to students on searching and locating the project home page that is wrapped up with the discussion, "The Internet empowers us with the ability to find information that is not in any textbook. It provides powerful information that is weeks, days or sometimes hours old. Virtually all the fields you have chosen to study offer much new information that is available on the Internet. This new information can be accessed during an active search for up-to-date information. Good luck." The students are given a recording page for the e-mail sites they find. The net-site trail papers are filled out as the students surf the web. As they put information together they use that information together including a bibliography page. Students are checking out books and magazines in the IMC, searching on the Internet and continuing to update their journals.

As these two days go on students are constantly interacting as they find sites that help their group members and the teacher records information on student information sheets of which he has a sheet for each student. One of the first resources visited by the students was a page put together by CPEP entitled THE PARTICLE ADVENTURE that is an interactive tour of high energy physics.

One of the pictures that the teacher uses in the discussion is shown below. This site and many others are invaluable because this information is not in their physics book. It includes information on the mass of the Top Quark that probably won't make it in physics books for 10 years! This is an important resource for the students because they need to explain the quark or lepton structure of the particles of which they will eventually analyze the decay.

From the Contemporary Physics Education Project

The teacher calls the class together at the end of the second day and reminds them that their journals need to be updated with new questions they have as the project progresses. The teacher concludes the two days of research as he summarizes the productive work he has witnessed in the lab. He instructs the groups to continue their research as the project continues and reminds them that they will decide on the requirements of the information summary in class on Monday.

The students walk in the class Monday buzzing about the questions they have, and most are claiming to have many more questions to which they do not know the answers than questions to which they do know the answers. Students are given time to meet together to summarize information they have so far and to decide that which they still need to find.

The teacher asks the class if two more in-class days would be enough for them to gather their information for their initial information summary and they agree to two more days if they are spaced out to allow outside work also. The teacher then focuses the class on how these information summaries should look and what the class would like to do with these projects when they are completed.

Students quickly focus in on the construction of a rubric for assessing their information summary so everyone would know the expectations, and the class asks if the three levels of using the rubric could be used as well. The three levels used by the class in the first semester was:

Level 1: Each group will assess their own performance using a rubric. The group will be doing this as they construct a given portion of the project.

Level 2: Groups will also be paired up and asked to assess another group's performance using a rubric. The basic goal is the presentation of accurate information that is clear and understandable by people who are at the knowledge level of their classmates.

Level 3: Finally, the teacher will assess the the group's performance using the same rubric and will consistently assess logic and potential for continued success.
The teacher and class agree to construct a rubric that will clearly set up expectations and then move to discuss what the class wants to do with these projects. The teacher restates the goals of learning some physics in-depth and seeing students apply the scientific method to come to conclusions that follow logically from collected data and information. "But from there, it is open what we do. What do you want to do?" The teacher gives the class some time to talk it out and then asks for suggestions. One student suggests a written project and another student asks, "How will we know that all the members really know the physics?" That students suggests an oral presentation because she would like to see other groups' projects as well and would like to ask them questions. Still another student says, "If we are going to make a project that we present to our class, we should post them on the web. We did that in another class and it only takes a few minutes to convert things using programs like Adobe PageMill."

The class argues that too much has been brought up but agrees that all are worth doing. They decide to let all of these options stand for now and the class will come back to these. The class then gets back to the discussion of the information summary rubric and the teacher shows last year's. The class asks for an example of one from last year and the teacher shows one information summary on the overhead. The students change some wording and add a category to the rubric and agree that it is fair and that they will be able to easily know what is required. The teacher agrees to put the information summary rubric on the web so they can access it any time.

The teacher asks students to set up an initial timeline for the project and the parts of the project are discussed as times are roughly decided upon. The teacher also agrees to put the time line on the web.

The next two weeks go on with many questions being asked of the teacher. Some questions the teacher answers, some he refers them to the Internet links to find answers. As the students are going on, they complete a thorough information search and start thinking about the information on which they want to gather data. The teacher reminds students to start grouping up in twos or threes.

At the beginning of the second in-class information gathering day Julie came in class and said, "Mr. Wegley, I found a site on the web that would allow other schools to find the project pages we put together and would allow another school to join in our project if they were interested. Should we try to post our project page?" The teacher asks the class if they are interested in possibly getting others involved and everyone enthusiastically agrees to see if any other schools would enlist. "What is the name of your site, Julie?" asks the teacher. Julie replies that the page was called the Global SchoolNet's Internet Projects Registry and she volunteers to register our project pages.

Just as the project was getting stale, Julie's idea paid off. About two weeks later we had two responses to our project. One response was from a physics teacher in Normal, Illinois. She is interested in working on the project with us and has Internet access for students and an enthusiastic class that wants to join and exchange information. One student from each main topic, Julie included, suggested that we could post our summaries on the web and that the students could use our information and give us feedback about what they could not follow. They also hoped that the students from Normal would add any additional information onto web pages at their school.

The other class agreed to join in and keep information posted. The classes also posted questions the group still had and would post answers to those questions as they were found. Many students from the Normal school had e-mail and all of the students from Glenbrook have e-mail addresses through the school's IMC.

The feedback and information that we got helped the class clarify their information summary a lot. The class very actively sent us questions on e-mail about what different parts of information meant. The information summary pages became more clear and complete as the project progressed. The teacher took detailed notes on how each student continually participated in the project because different outcomes were being met all the time.

The second class connection was a middle school's 8th grade science class that was interested in doing a scaled-down version of the project. Their teacher was interested in using our students as resources for his students. The teacher asked for students from each of the groups who might be interested in taking some time to answer e-mail questions from the 8th graders of this middle school and virtually all the students were interested. With their e-mail accounts, accessible through the resource center's computers, on their own time they served as the experts for the 8th graders. Many good questions were asked by the 8th graders and many of the questions caused the students to research something a little further before responding. The teacher asked two things of the students who participated in this. He asked them for a description of themselves they could send to the middle school along with a few sentences indicating how they think they could be most helpful to that 8th grade class. The second thing he asked is that they save the questions they were asked in a file along with copies of their responses on a file that they could continually dump into Mr. Wegley's folder so he could keep track of how much help they were giving this class. As it turned out, there was a lot of interaction as this middle school had adequate access to the Internet and e-mail also.

With feedback from the Normal school, each group completes their information summary, self-assesses it with the rubric (Level I) and then meets with a different group which assesses it (Level II), and finally posts a version of their information summary they want to be assessed by the teacher. The information summaries are very good. Additional information which groups learn as they complete their project are continually added. Much background information is now in the hands of each group member. The teacher then asks the students to decide upon their group of two or three and to focus their project in on an initial problem to study. The only direction from the teacher comes when he reminds them that they will need have the ability to systematically gather data from which they can come to logical conclusions.

Students quickly get into their groups and are invited to try and narrow down a topic to study that will be interesting to them, challenging, but not impossible to gather information. Each group has a topic on which to focus by the end of the day and another know/need to know list is generated. The room is set up with many measurement devices. Some of these the students have used in previous labs, some have not been used and the teacher invites students to spend the rest of the day working with the equipment, videodiscs and CD-ROMS to get an idea of how they might make measurements on their topic.

One group has decided to study the physics of the human voice. They eventually narrow their topic to the fundamental and overtones produced by the human voice when producing a C-note with an open mouth and closed mouth along with some variations in between. They play with software that has the ability to graph the sound while performing Fast Fourier Transform analysis on that same sound. Through playing, they find ways to measure the fundamentals along with harmonics and find some interesting results.

One group is studying roller coasters and has set up a hot wheels track and are measuring the speed of their car at different locations using photogate timers and a card taped to the hot wheel car. One of the group members is also playing with some simulation software to attempt the measurement of acceleration and speed at the top of a loop-the-loop.

One group studying flight gets excited when they see a video segment of analysis of the lift of wings. In the analysis on the video segment, the researchers have mounted the wing sideways on an air track cart and are measuring lift force by measuring the acceleration of the cart with a sonic ranger. They begin to work on a procedures for possible lab studies.

Other groups perform similar functions playing with simulation programs, force probes, etc. The relativity group is forced to take a slightly different approach. There is little chance that they will make direct measurements in class of objects traveling near the speed of light. Several options for gathering data have been presented to them. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has published some data on muon life times vs. momentums, proton/anti-proton momentums and speeds that can be calculated using revolution frequencies which are provided, and there are several opportunities for students to gather data from programs like the Hands-On Universe to which they can request measurements on red shift data, for example, to determine the relativistic velocities of a given galaxy if they know the proper position of the spectral lines.

This opportunity for the relativity group to obtain and analyze data excites them very much. Before they look at the data they are confident that they know the basic equations for special relativity. However, much of the data extends beyond what they currently know. They ask the teacher, "How do we measure momentum of an object moving at a relativistic speed?" The teacher asks them what they know about momentum and they quickly recall that momentum is mass times velocity. "Of these quantities, which are effected by special relativity?" asks the teacher. The students realize that mass is the effected quantity and make a guess that relativistic momentum is simply the relativistic mass multiplied by the speed. The teacher tells them to search and see if they are right. "Regardless, add the new information you get to your information summary," says the teacher. The students update their information summary on the web using the Fetch program and send their questions via e-mail to the Normal school students who are involved in their topic.

The class ends with much information gathered by the students. The teacher asks students to spend part of their evening defining what we need to have in our quest to apply the scientific method. "You already know this, we have done it before. Tomorrow we will revise the lab construction rubric and we will revise our conclusion rubric so that we are all on the same page."

The next day, the teacher and students clarify the scientific method rubric and spend the remainder of the day refining their lab topic, hypothesis, procedure, and data interpretation plan. The students are reminded that this will be the last day to work on their procedure in class but that time will be given in two days to come up with an initial draft that they will do a level II assessment on with the rubric the following day. After that assessment, groups will be given one week to finalize it and turn it in. The teacher tells students that he will look at their procedure to see if anyone could follow it and to see if it has a good chance of success. He reminds them that frequent problems he sees is that students write beautiful procedures that do not address the purpose of their lab. "For example, if you want to determine how the speed of the planets varies with the radius from the sun, you should be varying radius and measuring the resulting speed. Now lets suppose the group also wants to study how the mass of a planet varies its orbital speed. Should the group change the radius at which the planet orbits and the mass of the planet at the same time?" A student answers with a "No" and goes on to explain that we should vary one independent variable at a time and measure the effect of the dependent variable.

As the students finalize their procedure, the teacher updates the rubrics and posts them on the web for access by their students and those from the Normal school. That school is not using the same rubrics but post theirs as well.

After the procedures are approved by the teacher, the semester proceeds with labs, homework, and the study of physics. Weaved into the course are five days for the students to actually gather data, analyze that data and come to conclusions that follow logically from their data.

Each group continues their lab gathering, information gathering, and collaboration with experts. The relativity group continually comes up with questions they submit to their Ask a Scientist of choice. By the end of the five days for gathering data, students begin to put their presentations together and decide to simply use the world wide web for their presentation. They also use HyperStudio to show several video clips that accompany their web pages. The class decides that those two aspects will meet the requirements of the project and that no formal paper is necessary.

The groups each give a 20-minute presentation summarizing their analysis and conclusions. The students and teacher ask questions about their information as the presentation proceeds and the teacher ends the presentation with an extension question for each member of the group. The question is designed by the teacher to see the student apply their knowledge to a different and new situation. Students field the questions well as they have learned a lot about their topics!

Once the presentations are done and evaluated using the presentation rubric, students naturally want to get feedback from their partner school. The Normal teacher and I ask for each group to compose an e-mail message critiquing the group from the opposite school that worked on a project in their same area. The teachers ask each of their groups to send a copy of that message to them and it provides even more evidence that students have learned much about their topic and about performing a scientific study. The comments include critiques of both areas.

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Created: July 23, 1996
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/help/relativity/class.shtml