Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Teacher, leave those kids alone

Schoooooooooooooool's out for the summer! Now I can do whatever I want from now until Labor Day! I'm not setting an alarm tonight!

Yes, New York schools really do go this late.

Graduation was yesterday, and I walked with my homeroom of 2.5 years, and they have now been unleashed on the world. Congratulations to the class of 2005! The salutatorian began her speech by reading suggestions that other students had given her for things to say, and one of them was "Be excellent to each other." I was outraged when I was the only one in the room who even chuckled! Then I realized that the graduating students were two years old when that movie came out!

Readers have asked how the Regents exam ended up. Quite well, thank you! Everyone in my classes who took the exam passed, and one class averaged around 93 (the second-highest section average in the school, not counting freshmen and AP). Actually, the scores were high all around (at least at my school; I know nothing about citywide or statewide results) -- every section had a majority of students achieving mastery level (85 or above). So it's possible that we're better teachers this year, teaching better students, or it's possible that the state fiddled with the curve to make all the scaled scores higher, because they were tired of bad press. But if we're not happy when the scores are low, and we're not happy when all the scores are high, then when can we be happy? So let's be happy now. All the students with scores close to 100 would have scored close to 100 regardless of how the exam was curved. Congratulations to all these students!

Notes to self, to spend a total of 10 minutes next year to raise the average Regents score by at least 3 points:
  • Hit "universal mass units" (aka amu), and use E = mc^2 to convert between amu and MeV
  • Emphasize units units units! Even slopes of graphs have units!
  • Spend a few minutes modeling the way the Regents want calculations to be shown, "1 point for equation and substitution with units" and all that (yes it's superficial, but if that's the way to play the game, then why lose a point when you don't have to?)
  • Define "total mechanical energy" (it's just kinetic plus potential, and my students certainly knew the concept, they just didn't know that term)
  • Define "internal energy" (not on the Regents this year, but sometimes in other years. same deal where they know the concept but not necessarily the term)
Math-related notes to students (which won't affect your Regents score, but will prevent physics teachers from laughing at you behind your back):
  • Sig figs! A number of students wrote that the speed of light in water is 225563909.8 m/s. Thank God for the .8 ! (I blame utexas.)
  • If you thought 10 sig figs was a lot, some students included infinite sig figs! Leave the repeating decimals (with the line over the 3) back in math class.
  • And the fractions.
  • And "rationalizing" the denominator. Especially when the denominator isn't a number, but a letter! And "rational" and "irrational" have no meaning in physics, where everything is approximate! And you don't really need to rationalize the denominator even in math class, unless you're still using a sliderule.

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