Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rollercoaster Physics - that DOESN'T take weeks to complete!

I'm sure you've seen those paper rollercoasters that some students make  - they're about a meter high and have all sorts of turns and loops.  Pretty neat - but who has the time?!  

Not I.

So instead of spending weeks sitting and waiting while my students cut colorful cardstock and glue and tape I do a version that only takes a couple of days to complete and is far more rigorous in terms of the Physics calculations.

After doing some research (like going to Canada's Wonderland) the students sketch out a rollercoaster ride that they would love!  Once they've got a nice shape that loops back to the beginning they need to come up with the dimensions for this rollercoaster.  

They'll do all sorts of calculations, but need to make sure that the rollercoaster meets certain restrictions:
-Max speed between 135 and 150 km/h.
-At least two hills – one high hill and one no higher than half the height of the other.
-A power calculation showing the power required to pull a 12000 kg train up the first hill.
-A calculation to show the deceleration of the train in no more than 10.0 m.  (They’ll have to determine the initial speed)
-A work calculation to show the work done by the brakes to slow the train to a stop in no more than 10.0 m at the end of the ride. 
-Optional: (Level 4) Includes a loop where the rider feels 2-4 gs.
-An obvious theme.
-A title.

To put it all together in a neat presentation, here's how the students layer their rollercoasters to show all the different features and calculations.
Layer 1: White board
Draw the rollercoaster to scale.
Layer 2: Plastic (clear drop cloth for painting or dollar store shower curtain works well)
Label the heights of all hills and loops.  Label all speeds at the top and bottom of hills and loops.  Label the power, deceleration and work as listed in parts 3, 4 and 5.
Layer 3: Plastic
Show all calculations for speeds, power, deceleration, work.
Layer 4: Plastic, optional
Any other cool design features, scenery, additional awesomeness.

These student came up with such great themes, drew everything to scale, calculated velocities, energies, work and power, made sure that the riders wouldn't experience too much speed or g-forces and added incredible design details - all in TWO 75-minute periods of class time!

How Google Forms Saved This Teacher's Sanity

I’m writing this tutorial as I sit at my kitchen island, eating a scone and drinking a coffee.  I know what you’re thinking – this teacher has time to sit down?! Oh yeah, sit, eat and have a coffeeHere’s my secret. 
I’m an idealist.  I want to give my students everything they need for success and that includes lots of descriptive feedback.  I’m sure, like many of you, I was doing this to my own detriment.  I was spending so many hours carefully going through assignments and projects to give specific feedback.  What I was finding, for the most part, is the comments I was writing were repetitive. 

 “Be careful not to use first person when writing a lab report.” x 5

“How could you rephrase your headline to catch the reader’s attention?” x 20

Refer back to the success criteria to be sure you are meeting all of the expectations.”  x infinity

My hands were sore and I was tired.  I’m sure you can relate.

I was bringing home so many projects to mark because they just took so long to mark I couldn’t get them all done at school.  With a toddler at home and another on the way, there is no such thing as down-time.  I needed a better way.

I played with trying to solve this problem with some programming in Excel, and debated getting out my old programming books, but the answer was much more obvious: Google Forms.

If I could put all the typical feedback comments into a Google Form I could just check the ones that apply to the student’s work.  Genius!  Except it didn’t format nicely.  That’s where the add-on docAppender comes in.  It takes the data from the Google Form and puts it so nicely into a document.

What I love about this is that I can still give my students plenty of feedback.  If the comment I want to include isn't already in my form, I can always add more comments at the end of the feedback question.  Plus, once I have this done for an assignment it won't take much work to use it again for a different assignment or even for next year's class.  What a lifesaver!

It does take a while to do the first time, but the time savings when it comes to marking is worthwhile.  Now when I do my Inquiry Projects, I can mark the entire classes work in one prep period!

Here's how I do it:

First set up your folders, files and forms in your Google Drive:

Next, make the form amazing by adding in the rubric, and all the comments you'd expect to be using for this assignment.  This takes a while, but the beauty of this is when marking you'll mostly just be clicking instead of writing by hand.  Also, you can copy this form for your next assignment.

Now we need to set up docAppender.  This is the add-on that makes the form's data presentable, so you can just print out all of the comments instead of writing by hand.

Once docAppender is all set, try assessing an assignment.  There is an extra little step to remove the commas that appear between each of the comments you check.

There you have it!  Once you do this once, a lot of the work is done forever.  You can copy forms and edit them for different assignments.  It's an upfront time investment, but I can't even believe how many hours it has saved me in marking even on just the first few assignments.  Oh, docAppender - I LOVE you!

This is so great for inquiry projects.  If you want to save even more time, check out my Inquiry Project Package that you can use for ANY subject.  It includes a Google Form template you can use (with comments and a rubric) you can use to save you an incredible amount of time!

Let me know if you've tried docAppender, or if you have any other tips for giving lots of feedback efficiently!

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