Regents Grading System – and how I got to it

So when school started, I had a bunch of ideas of how exactly I wanted to grade my students in my Regents Physics classes.  I wasn’t 100% settled on how exactly I wanted to do it.  So, I threw together something that I thought sounded okay, but I wasn’t believing in it 100%.  Originally I wanted my grade to be 100% pure Standards-Based Grading (SBG).  I dove into SBG last year and I’m 100% onboard with it, and am so glad that I took this leap.  It changed a big part of how I view education, as did Modeling.  Last year It was 95% SBG and 5% Quarter Exam/Project. Last year, though, I didn’t have a Regents curriculum to follow, and the curriculum didn’t have a required number of “documented lab hours” i.e. I keep all of the students’ lab reports incase the school gets audited by the the NYS Education Department.  So, taking that into account, along with suggestions by my supervisor (who is/was a veteran physics teacher), I came up with this:

  • 10% Labs, using lab notebooks and an SBG-esque grading style
  • 10% Homework and “Participation”
  • 80% Quizzes, using SBG

I’m gonna break this down a little bit for you.  And the post gets long, so I’m putting it behind a break

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First Day – Ball Bounce

BallsLast year, I did a “Ball Bounce” activity on my first day.  I am a fan of this activity because it introduces students to how we take data, observe patterns, do graphs (with labels and units), and make predictions in this class.  I’m going to do this just with my Regents-level class, and not AP (the time crunch and all).  Here’s how I do it.

  1. I divide the students into groups of 2 or 3 (not 4) and give each student a ball. I try to make the balls different so each group has a unique set of data.  I give them the task: “Find a way to predict from which height to drop the ball so that it bounces back up to a certain height that I will give you”  **** see note below
  2. Give students white boards and allow them to write down their data and present their “method of prediction.”  The majority of the class will take data in a varying range, and just say “we’re gonna use our data table to predict the bounce-back height” which is fine.  I didn’t tell them how to do it.  Others will look for a common proportion in their data (“It bounces back up 55% of the original height every time”).  If you’re lucky, you’ll get a couple kids graphing the data (Probably like watching your kids helping to clean up after dinner without you having to ask them).
  3. TAKE AWAY THE BALLS (make sure they remember their ball, this is when it helps to have different ones, or numbered ones).  This prevents them from “sneak testing” for the target bounce height.
  4. Give them their “target bounce height.”  This past year, it made it 77-ish cm.  That was outside some of their ranges.  Give them a few minutes to predict from which height they need to drop it so that it bounces back to 77cm.  Don’t let them give you a range, have an exact number.
  5. One at a time, I go around and each group “goes to bat.”  I will video each group to see how accurate their predictions are.  Students will then write up on white boards their method, prediction, results, and they will present.
  6. In their presentations, I will ask them “what do you think caused errors in your method?”  “How would you do this again?”
  7. Go back to step one and repeat.  This time though, I require each group to graph their data (Discuss the dependent and independent variables), and put a sketch of their graph on their white boards.  When each group “goes to bat” this time, they will have significantly better results.  In the discussion this time, we won’t compare accuracy of results, rather we will compare balls and graphs.  How does the slope of the line describe a characteristic of the ball?

**** Note from above:  This past year I struggled with how to present to students how they need to go about an inquiry based lab.  How much can I tell them?  How much do I need to leave up to their imaginations?  What I want to say is, “Design an experiment to determine the relationship between drop height and bounce height.”  But on the first day of physics class, that will sound like Greek to them.  I feel that I got some good suggestions for how to get students going in this kind of activity in my modeling workshop last summer, which is why I started with “Find a way to predict ______.”

*Also note:  You might want to remind them that they are dropping the balls from rest, not throwing them down.  There were dents in my ceiling tiles.

As a separate, or perhaps follow-up activity, I would do the “How much weight can the spaghetti hold?” experiment.  It’s done in similar fashion to the ball bounce.

  • Materials: spaghetti, a cup with a string attached to hang from the spaghetti, and marbles (flat marbles don’t roll!).
  • “Find a way to predict the maximum number of marbles a certain number of spaghetti can hold without breaking.”
  • Things to keep constant:  Spacing between chairs, kind of chairs.  Cups, spaghetti type, marble type, can vary if you want, as they are easier to use to predict patterns (i.e. bigger marbles are heavier).  How separation between chairs affects the pattern is more vague.  Remember it’s day 1.  I want them to struggle but not to shutdown from being overwhelmed.
  • They put spaghetti over the tops of two chairs, and put marbles into the cup until the spaghetti breaks.  Record datums.
  • Graph #Marbles vs. #Spaghetti.  (Twitter has caused me to read that “hashtag-marbles vs. hashtag-spaghetti”)
  • White board, compare, discuss.
  • Common comments: “They had different marbles.”  “They had a different cup.”  “Our spaghetti was whole wheat and theirs was durum semolina.”
  • What makes this activity slightly richer than the ball bounce is that the meaning of the slope is very clear (number of marbles one spaghetto can hold) and you get a y-intercept on the graph.  The meaning of the y-intercept is not immediately obvious to the students (it’s the mass of the cup, in #s of marbles).  It’ll be fun to let them struggle/argue about this.

Activities like this can go on for days and weeks.  But I like getting into the real meat and potatoes of physics, so I spend maybe 3 class periods tops on these kinds of activities.  The benefit of these labs is that students see the lab process without having to process new physics concepts at the same time, thus reducing cognitive load in future labs.

Edit: Here are a couple posts from my 180blog that relate to how this activity went.  One is a video and the other is a whiteboard of the “part 2” that isn’t perfect, and my reflections/things I forgot to do.

Another Edit:  So in the end, I spent four 40-minute periods on the ball bounce activity alone(we have double and single periods at my school).  One period was for the initial “didn’t tell them how to do it” phase.  One for analyzing tests/discussing what “works best”/taking new data.  One to graph the new data (I did a whole lesson for that though).  The final one to discuss results (and for me, to get them into the lab-notebook habit).  I’m going to do the spaghetti activity starting tomorrow.  I’m guessing 60-80 minutes for that.  It will be a once-through activity rather than twice.

Barbie Bungee Activity

Today is the day before our spring break.  In my 3 years of being in a classroom, I have observed several things about this day:

  • Many students don’t show up.  Some because their parents chose an earlier flight to Florida to save some money, and some because of my next reason
  • Not much that is significant tends to happen on the day before a break.  Lots of movies, games, “parties,” etc
  • Kids that come to school expect these movies, games, parties, etc, and get upset when anything but that occurs.
  • There will be a big test and the students will hate those teachers FOREVER!!!

So, I gave my tests on Wednesday for my “regular” physics class, and yesterday in my AP physics class.  Today, I planned a Barbie Bungee activity.  In this activity, students created a bungee cord out of long rubber bands, attached a barbie to the end of it, and threw her off the back of the bleachers.  The objective is to predict the proper number of rubber bands to string together such that Barbie comes close to the ground, but doesn’t hit it (think The Price Is Right).  Here’s what I did:

  • I used two periods for this activity.
  • I had 8 Barbies, so I had groups of either 2 or 3 students
  • I gave the students some meter sticks and some rubber bands (like 5-7) in the classroom so that they could do some predictions
  • The students came up with a prediction, I wrote it down in a list, and we headed out to the football field bleachers
  • The bleachers are approximately 8.8m tall, and the students knew this when they were doing their tests
  • I counted the number of rubber bands before each jump to keep the kids honest and not sneak on/off some extra rubber bands before they went.
  • I had a student video all of the jumps at the bottom of the bleachers so that we could compare each “jump”


I had three classes doing this – two college prep physics and one AP physics.  I would expect AP kids to actually do worse in this activity because in my experience, they tend over think it.  However, I had the best results in my AP class today.  A lot of kids got Barbie relatively close to the ground, and the winner got her within inches of the ground (see video below).

First period CP Physics – Actually, this group didn’t win, but they came really close.  The thump from Barbie’s head was a little too loud to have made her experience fun.

Third period CP Physics – This was the winning result from this class.  All of the others fell significantly less far than this one.

The day’s winner – two students from my AP Physics class got her within inches of the ground!

What was the take away from this lesson?  Well, it was out of context from our unit, but it presents a scenario that we do throughout the year – do tests to make a prediction, then apply it to a new scenario.  The students had to predict a value and then stick with it.  A lot of students actually predicted the number of rubber bands that my winning group had chosen, but subtracted a few “because of extra stretch.”  I asked them what they meant by it, and they said, “Well, we think the effect of having several rubber bands will add to the stretch of the chord – it won’t be perfectly proportional.”  It turns out, the students who got the best result assumed it would be perfectly proportional.

If I were to spend more time on this, I would allow them to go back after doing an initial test and re-do their tests based on the knowledge gained from the initial bungee jump.  It was a fun activity – got the students outside on a nice day to do a scientifically worthwhile activity.  Also, in my three classes, I had a total of 4 students absent the whole day.  That is the number of absences I get on an average day, so on the day before a vacation, I was certainly pleased.

A little introduction

Hi Everyone! I’m Dan Longhurst, and I’m currently in my 2nd-ish 3rd-ish year of teaching physics.  At this point in my career I’m loving almost every second of it.  I like lists, so I’ll give you some background this way:

  • I’m currently 25 and working at John Jay High School in Cross River, NY
  • I went to college at SUNY Geneseo where I majored in Physics, minored in Math
  • I spent a year living in France (in particular, Normandy – check out Vire) teaching English after graduating from Geneseo
  • I did my Master’s at Union Graduate College, in Schenectady, NY. I did a full-year student teaching at Shenendehowa High School with John-Michael Caldaro (full year, thus I sorta kinda consider it one of my years, though I was not paid) teaching a conceptual physics course and co-teaching an AP Physics B.
  • My first “real” job was as a 2-month leave replacement after completing my grad-program at Maple Hill High School in Schodack, NY teaching Regents Physics and Regents Chemistry
  • My first “real real” job was as a physics teacher at Guilderland High School, in Guilderland, NY.  There I taught Regents Physics and “General” Physics which is a conceptual-physics course.  Unfortunately, the economy, and thus I was a budget-casualty.
  • My second “real real” job is my current one here at John Jay.  I’m loving it here – great students, great colleagues (including Frank Noschese!), and great administration.  I’m teaching College Prep Physics (Regents-level without the Regents exam), AP Physics B, and Chemistry 1 (a half-year conceptual chemistry course).  Unfortunately, the economy, and a 2% property tax cap imposed by Cuomo, and thus I am yet again a budget-casualty.
  • I have been using doing the Modeling Physics curriculum in my College Prep courses which I loved from day 1.  With Frank’s help and ideas given by several physics teacher bloggers (especially Kelly O’Shea), I’ve taken my teaching practices to another level since I first started teaching.  I have not been doing Modeling in my AP Physics class, mostly due to time restraints (the 8-month sprint to Monday May 14th at 12 noon).  However, I would not hesitate to model in AP in the future.
  • In addition to doing Modeling curriculum, I have been implementing standards-based grading.  I watched Frank do it all first semester, and there were several episodes where I would say, “How do I divvy up these points on this problem that a kid did completely but sorta not totally wrong?” and Frank would say, “That is why I love standards-based grading.”  This happened several times.  So I dove in and switched.  Now I love it.  “Excuse me, do you have standards?”
  • Now a little about me outside of teaching: I love cheese (living in France will do that to you).  That’s all you need to know.

More to come! I intend to write a lot about my modeling and AP experiences.  As well as trials with standards-based grading.