For the past 16 years, students have been asking me for ideas for their physics projects. While some have great ideas almost immediately, the tendency is to go to the internet, and duplicate someone else’s work. As a teacher, this is not as exciting.
When a students asks for help to be inspired, I ask them what they do after school, on weekends, for extra curriculars etc… In short, I am trying to find their passions.
Let me tell you a story of two students who started my physics class in September, both seriously considering Medicine and both have a passion for theatre. This year, the school play was “The Little Mermaid”.
In September, Arielle arrives in my physics class after a successful semester of my chemistry 12 class previously, with strong considerations for Medicine. She wanted to do a project. I wanted to expose as many different skills and possible careers to my students as possible. Ariel’s mom works in design, with 3D CAD and landscape architecture. We had a new 3D printer to explore. Together, we decide that she will design her ideas for props and sets for the Spring play. I believe that both Arielle and Arielle’s mom would say that the physics project brought them a bit closer, despite being extremely close already, because they had a better appreciation of what mom does every day. (#Better family dynamics though physics projects?)
I was expecting a few different designs for the boat or an under the sea scene. What I got was a to scale, to the very seat 3D virtual rendering of the theatre, the steps, the side rooms, the stage and the audience seating. She 3D printed the stage and some props so that she could use them to pitch to the director and the stage designer. This was about what I expected. The additional “wow” for me was how she used the 3D virtual space. She would place the props on the stage, and then pretend she was an audience member in the front left, or back right or directly in the center to see what the audience would see. Ariel would then make adjustments to placements, and props so that every audience member had a rich experience. The Physics and Engineering and CAD design was great.
Then the design part comes out, She starts talking about colours, fabric swatches, costume design etc. These are areas which she had never explored before despite being in multiple school musicals. She comments, “I think I like this design thing, and I think I might be good at it”. Although she did well in the traditional tests and labs of Physics 11, and although she continued to Physics 12, she also adjusted her class schedule so she could take a graphic arts design class, largely because of the passion she found while doing her physics project.
Does that make me the worst science teacher ever for pushing kids away from Physics, or does it mean something else?
We will come back to Arielle in a bit.
Eric took Physics 11 from my colleague, Chris Ryan, also with the intentions of Medicine. Eric too has a love and talent for theatre. I have seen him in many productions since he was in Oliver in middle school. During this second semester, he was in my Physics 12 class.
Near the end of the semester, he comes up to me with wet eyes. He talks about how he was uncertain about me and my teaching at first, but then recognized that I was teaching him more than physics “subliminally”. How to solve problems that they have never seen before, that being young means you know stuff and have skills, but are not brain washed, so use the respectful rebelliousness of the teens and twenties to think differently and can change the world now, not later. During his Student President farewell speech, he quotes me. It was my turn to get choked up.
Both Eric and Arielle are now in need of a Physics 12 project. The video from above is a portion of what they did.
Arielle has decided to pursue theatre studies, and possibly use it to help at risk kids. She is on her way to DISNEY in Florida for some summer workshops shortly after she graduates later this week.
Eric is moving with confidence and competence into medicine. He says that although he is humble, he thinks he might be a young person who can change the world. He is on fire.
Every year, I set up a video camera and allow students to do a little video reflection of the class, of me and of themselves. I promise I won’t watch them until after graduation. I am just chomping at the bit to see if they did a video and what it contains.
I like having my own sons hang around with both these kids. Surround yourself with the best people. And the cool thing is, they are not the only very cool kids in my class. I am fortunate and our future is bright.
Doing little passion projects can allow students to apply their diverse talents to my curriculum, uncover an unknown passion, and change a kid’s life. I am most fortunate to have been doing this kind of thing for 16 years now. In 2016, I am even more fortunate to be at the ground level of LIFELESSONLEARNING.com. Now there is a concrete framework and sequence to help bring passion projects and 2020 skills deliberately to the forefront, rather than by happenstance as I used to do.
I wonder what next year will bring, when my own sons are in my Physics 11, Physics 12 and Science 12 classes??