This week my students are doing marble roller coasters to study the law of conservation of energy. It is one of my favorite activities I do all year because student engagement reaches an all time high. It makes me think of this iconic clip from Dead Poets Society.
A small change in environment can lead to a large increase in engagement. For a couple of days, the classroom looks so different as tubes hang from walls, tables, and the ceiling. Students themselves are if different locations than usual. The are on tables, under tables, standing on chairs, lying on the floor. This is not a project which requires lots of technology. It really demonstrates the simplicity of a physics investigation.
When getting students out of their seats or into unique environments, the challenge is trying to focus the energy into a learning opportunity. Six Flags Great America allows for an authentic application of many physics topics studied in class with a marble roller coaster. When we've taken students to Great America, it is very easy to give assignments that are so basic they could be done without the experience or ones that are so complex that students aren't able to complete them. Sometimes the discussions we have on the bus ride back after a day of feeling mechanics first hand are were deeper understanding occurs.
I could easily teach the content of the marble coaster project in a single class period, but it is the incorporation of the other skills that leads to the higher level of engagement. I am willing to make that trade off in time if it means that students can gain experiential knowledge of the topic. The concepts are no longer abstract. Students have a tangible experience.
So here's the issue I'm having this year, different groups are finishing at dramatically different times. So, what do we do in these situations. I understand assigning enrichment activities, but if students complete a problem solving task more quickly is it fair to require additional work? Or, is this where we allow for opportunities to distinguish between proficient and advanced? If students aren't fast enough in problem solving, is it fair to deny the opportunity to show advanced levels of mastery.
Perhaps this is where personalization and multiple pathways can come into play. It is easy to scale back requirements for those groups who are struggling while still ensuring the opportunity to demonstrate advanced mastery of content standards. Perhaps those who finish early are ready to move on to the next activity or unit of institution.
What do you do with students who reach mastery earlier than others without giving them "extra work"? Tell me, I'd love to hear your strategies.