Day 21-ish: Looking for Originality

Somewhere in the last few weeks I lost the ability to count, so the numbering on these trip-related blog posts is off. This probably wouldn’t bother a normal person, but it’s driving me nuts so I’m going to go ahead and correct it and move on. This post is about the 20th, 21st, and part of the 22nd days of our trip, which were a Saturday,  Sunday, and Monday, but I’m just going to call it Day 22. 

Saturday was a city day for us. We went into downtown Portland and did all usual downtown things: went to the open-air Saturday Market; had lunch from food trucks; window shopped; and looked for postcards and souvenirs. We also went back to Powell’s Books, but I was unsuccessful in my quest for additional references we could use in our curriculum redesign.

On Sunday, we went to the Childrens Museum, and on Monday we went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. (Before we started our trip we became members at our local science museum. Through their reciprocal membership program we’ve gained free admission to every museum we’ve visited so far. By my count, that’s a 200% return on investment so far and the trip’s only half over). I liked both museums. They were good and well thought out, plus they had some things I haven’t seen before. The Childrens Museum included an outdoor area where the kids could dig in the dirt, build a lean-to, and play in a fountain. The Museum of Science and Industry had a chemistry lab where the kids could conduct experiments, like seeing how acidic lake water becomes after acid rain. Despite this, I was left wishing for more.

I’ve been seeing a lot of repetition in the physics areas of these museums. Demonstrations of physics principles have usually involved electricity, magnetism, or optics. When they do include principles of mechanics, they’re all pretty much the same: simple machines, leverage, or center of gravity. I’ve seen very little that’s new or innovative in a couple of weeks. Fortunately, I have a solution for this.

The physics portion of our precalculus/physics course follows the AP Physics 1 curriculum. Our students take the AP exam in early April, which gives us 2-3 weeks between the exam and the end of the year. We could use this time for a project in which the students have to create an exhibit for a science museum that demonstrates something related to the principles they’ve studied during the year. We’d get student engagement and authentic assessment, and we could even enhance the real-world aspect of this by having some faculty children test the exhibits and incorporate their feedback into the grading. I’ve collected enough examples on this trip that I can show them what’s already been done so that they’re pushed for truly original solutions, too. We have to figure out how to ensure they didn’t just Google science museum exhibits, but if we can overcome that then I think we’ll have a great end-of-year project.

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