Adventures in Olympics, Physics & Empathy!

The Olympics remain the most compelling search for excellence that exists in sport, and maybe in life itself.

– Dawn Fraser
Australian swimmer, 3-time winner at the Olympics

If you know me, you know I’ve always exclaimed, whole-heartedly, how the world would be a much worse place if it weren’t for the Olympics. It’s a cruel thought, really, because it postulates our world was a bad place to begin with. Our world is not a bad place. It’s just I think the Olympics help make the world a better place. This cloudy gray February, cooped up with my 8th-graders and a healthy dose of cabin fever, I couldn’t agree with myself more. This Adventure comes from a tired optimist championing through mountains of grading on Pluto’s dwarf planet status, rinks of endless planning instruction around the rest of the solar system, icy slopes of grief over Parkland, Florida, and colorful podiums of joy in the (science behind) the Olympics. It’s been a record-setting couple weeks.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.07.13 PM

We are almost done with Astronomy. We still have the characteristics and formation of the solar system to go, and some mind-blowing looks at other galaxies, too. Soon, however, we’ll move from Unit 2’s Astronomy to Unit 3’s Weather & Climate and on to new Adventures. Did I miss writing about Unit 1 on Forces & Motion? Yes and no. I was swamped beginning a school year on two campuses, so am using this opportunity to bring motion and sports full circle through a celebration with the winter Olympics. Since summer Olympics occur before school starts, teachers can really only maximize on this unique opportunity every four years.

What I did not expect, however, was being able to make connections between Unit 1’s Forces and Unit 2’s Astronomy foci with a thematic approach like Olympic sports. That. Is. Awesome.

What do figure skating and Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion have in common? Duh, Angular momentum! Snowboarding the half pipe and potential and kinetic energy? Gravitational acceleration, of course. Engineering performance suits and spacesuits? Materials science and solar radiation. Speed skating, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Curling, friction. Thanks to the exceptionally well-done videos from National Science Foundation’s “Science and Engineering of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games,” each day was its own mini-celebration. I opened each day with a different video from this 10 part series (nicely fitting over ten days of instruction), and then opened it up for a quick brainstorm on how these videos are connected to our over-arching theme this year, “Science is Everywhere.” Keep reading and you’ll find examples of this in Teachable Moments. But first, an ode to Pluto.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.08.07 PM

Pluto and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand. Not only is it nice when a holiday ties in to the curriculum, like when Valentine’s Day falls over an investigation and debate over Pluto’s fabled status as ninth planet vs. a dwarf planet, but it’s also fun. To celebrate, I created this valentine featuring Pluto’s icy heart.  

I then used the last five minutes of Wednesday’s class to have students fill them out and paste in the hallway for all to see. 

Just some great responses from my students from both campuses:

  • “Pluto, come back! Maybe if you eat your vegetables and drink your milk, you’ll grow big and strong like the other planets!”
  • “Pluto, stay small.”
  • “Pluto, we all have to go sometime.”
  • “Pluto, I’m sorry you’re not a planet anymore. Next time, maybe stay out of Neptune’s orbit.”
  • “Pluto,well, you tried.”

Using academic discourse and accountable talk strategies, we concluded our “what happened to the ninth planet” research with a debate (or panel in some cases) on Pluto’s dwarf planet status. We also had fun watching this video on how planets should ‘behave’ with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.45 PM

The NSF “Engineering Suits” video connection to the Olympics and space was kind of a last minute thing. We were studying sunspot activity and I needed a way to tie in how solar radiation is absolutely a factor in space exploration and space suits. We did a quick overview of Mars exploration (we touch on this through the year thanks to my obsession with Elon Musk, SpaceX and NASA), courtesy of Space.com and Smithsonian. That tie-in helped hook students from an otherwise low-level scenario for why they were to graph sunspot activity with magnetic storms to begin with. Here was their original introduction to the topic:

As for our Unit project on consulting for movie sets and anatomy of scene building, stay tuned for the next Adventure.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis is the time of year where deeper connections are made with students depending on their independent interests, concerns, and development. I’ve enjoyed this rewarding, albeit exhausting, part of teaching. Some love me, some hate me. Some are checking in and some are checking out – it is middle school after all. Some are consistently improving, others in spikes. Two students made me a haiku on string theory, and another gave me a journal for exploring. I love letting them choose their own ’emoji’ eraser when they come in for extra time to work, because ‘with responsibility comes choice.’ One very diligent student loves flowers, and when I gave her my personal copy of a botany coloring book offering to make a copy of the pages she was most interested in, this is what she brought back. 

As for my Emoji prize system, I know I promised a section in this Adventure. It’s an awesome way to help emphasize my expectations of responsible citizenship in both schools, and it provides continual feedback. I have every intention to write about it, but I am heart sick about Parkland, Florida. And outraged. I am instead dedicating the rest of this Adventure to those 17 souls we lost in another round of senseless gun violence and the brave survivors who are standing up to make change. Being back in the classroom(s) has brought this (and sadly, the many other school shootings we’ve experienced) so close. A nearby arrest of a high school student who brought a loaded gun to school in my DC-area neighborhood brought this even closer. I am NOT prepared should this happen in my school(s), and I’m creating a network of concerned teachers and administrators who want to share knowledge in their preparation journey and make changes to our nation so we don’t have to ever use the knowledge to begin with. Please join the Blue Apple Network, and thanks to instructables.com for the use of our icon.

As for my prize system, stay tuned for my next Adventure.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.50.31 PM

Here’s just one example of how “Science is Everywhere” and can be taught with minimal effort, on the fly. In 10 minutes, we connected the concept of arm movements and spinning in figure skating with angular momentum of planetary motion by having students spin in an office chair and, for my higher-performing classes, previewing images of how this works with planets and Kepler’s Laws.

For my even higher-performing classes, we extended our work to Dark Matter and Black Holes. They could see and feel how these concepts are connected in a universal way (pardon the pun), and it was fun. It was science education nirvana.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.42.40 PM

I didn’t get to watch much of this year’s Olympics. I can’t tell you much about Shaun White’s big win, but we did enjoy watching a review on potential and kinetic energy and the science behind his boarding in the last Olympics. I missed Chloe Kim and Mirai Nagasu, I was buried in grading papers on gravity and revolution, both of which I’m sure these athletes appreciate on a whole different level. I missed the buzz about the eye-catching speed skating uniforms because I was reviewing the engineering suit clips, etc. I missed the Olympics because I was too busy teaching. It’s ok, because I knew the world was becoming an even better place in PyeongChang, with or without me. I chose to focus my time the way I did, because I wanted to teach, and I needed the focus given this sad time in our nation.

I did, however, make big strides in getting students to engaged in discourse. Yay me! On the list of favorites for students is debates. So, after a sobering lesson on comets, asteroids and meteorites, we had a 7-debate debate called “Are We Doomed?” inspired from assigned articles.

That’s Kathy, by the way, our new mascot (for this school). Her mate, Chuck, is the other school’s mascot. You’ll be seeing more of them as we go along, and they help remind me of the many lessons I’ve learned in my dueling trips to China.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.14 PM

I had lots of notes for undoing the misconceptions we bumped into through all of Unit 1. Graphing speed over time vs. distance over time, fails over calculating momentum and misalignment of math vs science when it comes to teaching scientific notation, you name it, I have Undo notes for it. Instead, this section is again dedicated to what should not have happened in Florida or any of the schools that have had shootings, ever. These are children we teach, our future care-givers. Not only will they hopefully choose STEM careers to save us from ourselves, but they will also take care of us when we are old. Yet, their lives are quite literally our futures, and they are crushed under our ridiculous present. We teach empathy but do not embody it? There are no words to express this incalculable rage and concern I have except these. Undo it.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 PM

I’m starting a new Adventure on literacy and looking at how reading for fun affects behavior in both schools. I’m meeting up with the Media Specialists in both schools for ideas, and I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Thank you Tennyson, for this wonderful song called “Beautiful World” which I play on sad days as students arrive (sadly, I’ve had to play it all to often this year). Also, happy International Women in Science day to all! Check this out! New templates to teach about women in science!

As the closing ceremonies near and our next opportunity to include the Olympics in instruction will be far, I end with a sincere thank you to the Olympics for bringing some well-timed inspiration to my winter classrooms. Yes, I love the science, but I also love the flags, parades, the international colorful zeal, the stories across all ages and walks of life, and the connection of sport and comrade from around the world. The distraction, I mean therapy, was particularly helpful this time around. The Olympics truly do make the world a better place, or at least my world.

Download & Thanks

I don’t know where the awesome graphic in this PDF came from, but thank you to whoever made it. I’m sending it along in an adorable valentine for all to use and enjoy.

I love you to Pluto and back

The mission of spectrumclassrooms.com is to document Adventures in cultivating student-centered classrooms in STEM and beyond. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright 2018 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content. Follow #onejobtwoclassrooms and #crazybusiness for more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s