Physics of Little Mermaid- Passion Projects- The worst or best science teacher?

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 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??


Spanning the Ocean Travel Brochures (updated)

SPANNING the Ocean Partnership- “We are gonna be BEST friends!”

Riverview High School exchange students used Nureva SPAN and Microsoft SWAY and SKYPE to span the ocean and partner with year IV and V primary students from Pheasey Park Elementary in the UK. Their task was to form a partnership where they would both learn valuable curriculum by building electronic travel brochures.

There is an active exchange program at Riverview High School, New Brunswick, Canada. There are students from nine different countries around the world attending school at RHS in Canada trying to learn English, under the guidance of Ms. J. Crozier. Their abilities range from very basic vocabulary, to getting ready for university studies in English. Their final oral test happens to be in a British accent, so finding British people to speak with and listen to would be useful.

Gareth, a primary teacher from Pheasey Park Elementary in the UK (@GarethHancox), David (@davewhy) and I (@ifoggs) have done some projects together in the past around Engineering Brightness ( but we wanted to expand from Engineering and Science. Their elementary students have a requirement to study geography. They need to learn about different countries and it might be helpful to learn from someone first hand. Let’s work together to make travel brochures.

A partnership is born. We divided up the project into a series of steps based upon our previous experience.

Step #1- Introductions. Students need to build a relationship with each other before they can be expected to get to work. Too many times, teachers are excited to get right to the academic work at the expense of building relationships. talks about the importance of relationship building in their Action1: “Go SLOW to Go FAST”. Each student gave a one sentence introduction of themselves to the combined class connected by SKYPE. One of the UK girls exclaimed over SKYPE, “We are going to make friends, BEST friends!”

Step#2. Learning Vocabulary. Our exchange students needed to learn some vocabulary prior to our next interaction. They spent a few days learning things like “currency”, “attraction”, and “events”. Scaffolding the vocabulary and creating a word wall would be crucial if we wanted students to converse in the next session.

Step #3- Designing the brochures using SPAN/SKYPE. This day was a brain storm or ideation session between the students to determine the various parts that should be in a travel brochure.

We connected the classrooms with two pieces of technologies, Skype and SPAN. SKYPE is a familiar technology used for voice. However, students needed a common digital work space that was large enough to hold all of the possible headings, pictures and ideas. While there are many digital work spaces out there, the SPAN WALL has a unique physical size that allows students to view the large amount of content simultaneously. SPAN also does not require either school to be a GOOGLE School nor an O365 School. It allows students span both sides of the ocean to contribute digital sticky notes, pictures, drawing and headings to a common space using their individual devices or an interactive surface. Students use the SPAN system to brainstorm all the important parts of a travel brochure.

Step #4- Building Small Group Canadian Travel Brochures. In an attempt to have students practice their vocabulary, the RHS exchange students worked in small groups to build a travel brochure about a Canadian city, their temporary home. They chose Vancouver and Quebec City. The exchange students spent three days building their travel brochures using the ideas from the SPAN brainstorming session. SWAY, a cloud based Microsoft presentation package, contained their work. They spent a bunch of time with pictures of restaurants, hotels and activities. There was little text. After three days, they were at a point where they needed some feedback from the UK students.

Step #5- Feedback on Canadian SWAYS by SKYPE. The exchange students had three pieces of technology running. SKYPE provided voice, the SPAN wall was running to display the results of the last brainstorming session and the new SWAYS were projected for critique. The exchange students presented their SWAYS on Vancouver and Quebec City to the UK kids and in return, the UK kids gave us a list of the things that they liked, particularly the video and the range of possible hotels. They also gave us a list of things that could be improved. They wanted to know about celebrities, currency, more activities, languages etc..  They wanted more text. In addition, the UK students had some interesting questions like, “Why was the Queen of England on Canadian currency and why was the French flag flying in Quebec?”

Step #6- Using the Feedback. The exchange students used the feedback, laptops and interactive surfaces to improve on their Canadian travel brochures in SWAY.

Step #7. Global Travel Brochures by Individuals. The exchange students built their vocabulary and their capabilities by working in groups for the past few weeks. At this point, it was time to expand the travel brochures to a global scope and to have individuals produce their own individual works. They produced travel brochure SWAYS on their home countries of China, Japan, Turkey, and the Philippines.

Step #8. Links to all of the Canadian and the Global Travel brochure SWAYS were given to the UK students. Although the technology exists for shared editing privileges, we purposefully did NOT give editing privileges to the UK students. The point was to have students talk, listen and write. If we gave them editing privileges, the UK students would most surely expertly edit the SWAY and get to a better final series of brochures sooner. However, they would miss out on the process, the conversations about geography and the English. The social constructivism would not be maximized.

This brings us to the present. As of today, the UK students are working their way through the brochures. Next steps would have us use SKYPE, SPAN and SWAYs to receive feedback from the UK students, to have students talk to other students and produce another iteration of their work.

We started this project fairly late into the semester. It was a great success, particularly for a first attempt. Successful enough that next year, we will base much of the semester around repeating this project, but starting much earlier in the semester.

The RHS exchange students practiced listening and speaking English, while the UK students were learning global Geography during the editing and feedback sessions. Each tool and each group member from each school had a particular job to complete as we spanned the ocean for learning. This was a productive partnership that will continue next year with a new group of students that would not have been reasonable without user-friendly connected technology.

SPANNING the Ocean Partnership- “We are gonna be BEST friends!”

A partnership requires interdependence on each member of the partnership. It needs to be a give and take, where some times you are the expert, and sometimes you are the learner.

Our English Second Language students are exchange students from other countries or brand new, soon to be Canadians. They need practice writing, listening and speaking. Typically they are shy and uncertain. SO perhaps if we could have them talk, write and listen about a topic where they are experts, it would allow them to have more confidence. They would only have to focus on vocabulary and English, not on the content. Their final test happens to be in a British accent, so finding British people to speak with and listen to would be useful.

Gareth and I have done some projects together in the past around Engineering Brightness. We wanted to expand from Engineering and Science. They have a requirement to study geography. They need to learn about different countries and learning form someone first hand might be helpful. They are already native speakers and therefore comparatively experts. They do not need to learn the language and can focus on learning geography.

Let’s work together to make travel brochures. A partnership is born.

Step #1- Have a short SKYPE to introduce ourselves. They were just 1 or 2 sentences to say hi.

Step#2. Our students looked at vocabulary such as what is an “attraction” or “event” etc…

Step #3- SKYPE/SPAN- Use the SPAN WALL to brainstorm all the important parts of a travel brochure. It is a chance to practice vocabulary and get used to the tech and the accents. We are still pretty quiet, doing lots of listening, and not much talking yet.

Step #4- Our students spend 2 days building SWAYs. They worked in small groups. One chose Quebec City and the other chose Vancouver. It is interesting that none chose New Brunswick. They spent a bunch of time with pics and restaurants, hotels and activities. There was little text.

Step #5- SKYPE-SWAY We were able to show off the SWAYS. The UK kids gave us a list of the things that they liked , particularly the video and the range of possible hotels. They also gave us a list of things that could be improved. They wanted to know about celebrities, currency, more activities, languages etc.. They had some interesting questions like, why was the Queen on our currency and why was the French flag flying in Quebec?

Step #6- Use Feedback Students use Laptops and SMARTBoards to use the feedback to improve the brochures.

Future Steps

Step #7- Hand over the Canadian SWAYs to the UK kids for them to help with the English. We are NOT going to give them editing privileges. The point is to have students talk, listen and write. If we give them editing privileges, we might get to a final product sooner, but miss out on the conversations and the English.

Step #8- Individual work. . Now it is time for each ESL student to complete a brochure on their own home countries. Thus far we have been working as a group so that students can help each other with the vocabulary. They are experts in this area and have some practice with the tech and the language.

Step #9- Hand over multiple travel Brochures to the UK for editing. The editing of the brochures will help teach about geography. Hopefully, we will have Skypes between small groups where there is more discussion.

WW1 Trenches, SPAN, SMART laptops and going over the top

This is still under construction…

I want to talk about how students at laptops contributing to SPAN Wall did not have the same conversations as small groups of students at SMARTBoards contributing to the wall. SMALL groups around SMART boards had emotional conversations about how they do not think they could go over the top, etc… I also want to talk about how having the whole brainstorm on one wall was immersive and impactful. As a whole class, the SPAN WALL allowed for a very different conversation. The grouping of images and organization of the wall allowed them to talk about the connections between different aspects. How did the architecture of the wall contribute to the flooding and the filth, how did that contribute to vermine like rats and how they used sick rats as biological warfare.

This is a great example of how at first glance SMARTBoards and SPAN wall are the same, but in reality they are not. They are different tools for different purposes.

I need to expand these ideas and add pics.   

Passion Projects, Metacognition and Nureva Troove

A major question around the passion projects in the earlier posts are how does one assess the learning when they are all learning such different things?

The answer comes in the form of a digital portfolio, in our case, Nureva Troove.

The portfolio contains multiple aspects of studying history and for being a student. Armand and I both believe that it is not enough just to study our subject area. There is an important but subtle difference. We believe that we are to teach kids how to be good students, and good people who have skills and that we are to use our subject area to do this. More important that a physics formula or a history fact, is the ability to time manage, to communicate, to think critically and not just memorize something or believe something because the teacher or a textbook said so. We must show it is important to us, but spending time and energy on it and providing a grade value to it. Troove helps with this.

Few assignments for the kids give them a chance to do a  video self-reflection. Although they have complete freedom, there are some broad guiding questions to help them along. Out of this came some very insightful comments about how students think they learn and their perception of the situation they think they find themselves. In some cases Armand was able to point out that there were times during the day that were bits of time that could be better used. Although we all need a break and lunch is important, talking with friends for 45 min rather than 1 hr at noon probably accomplishes the same mental wellness and social connections and yet provides some additional time to get some check on the to do list.

In some cases, it was eye opening to hear what kids lives were like at home. They were stressed about meeting a deadline. Although they were working hard and were excited about the project, they had to work 30 hours a week to contribute to the household income. Armand was able to encourage this student and discuss some options to negotiate a flexible deadline. Up until this point in time, that was not a typical thing that a student could do, negotiate with reason for a new deadline.

The video submissions in Troove helped to point out to some students that they were not good time managers and the number one way to decrease the stress of a large todo list was not to fret, panic and procrastinate, but rather start checking things off the list. Find some of the low hanging fruit and shorten the list. As the semester went on, I am thinking of a specific handful of kids who would say that they learned lots of history but they learned even more about how to manage time, stress and study.

Troove also had a more academic side, where students could submit aspects of their passion project and comment on them. They could do a self evaluation against a rubric. In particular, students gave them selves a low mark on the “wow factor”, often confusing flashy but superficial with depth. They did not equate multiple conversations with world experts in their respective fields with something that had lights, and animation and sparkle. If I were to combine the thoughts of many students into one, it might sound something like this…”I do not have anything special in my presentation, I just had multiple emails with people all over the world who do this kind of stuff as a living and then put them together to make my own idea that could be launched Canada wide.”

Some fantastic learning, but how do you put this on a test. Maybe a test mark is not the important thing.