Apr 03

Blast Off!

Soda Bottle Rocket

Every Spring, our physical science teachers have their students research, design, create, and launch soda bottle rockets. It’s an amazing assignment, and it’s always fun to spend the day outside watching the rockets shoot into the air and then hoping that a stray rocket doesn’t come crashing down into the parking lot. As I was watching the launches this morning, I started to think how this would be a perfect opportunity for an assignment on data collection and analysis.

Before launching the rockets, have the students generate a list of the rocket characteristics that could affect the rocket’s hang time and/or maximum height (It is important that all of these characteristics should be quantifiable). Before launching their rockets, the students could calculate these measurements. A couple characteristics that the students might brainstorm include:

  • Weight of the rocket
  • Height of the rocket
  • Width of the rocket
  • Angle of the rocket’s fins
  • Weight of the rocket’s fins
  • Weight of the rocket’s nose cone
  • Ratio of total weight to fin weight
  • Ratio of total weight to nose cone weight

Then, put all those items in a Google Form along with data to describe the rocket’s success:

  • The maximum height (You could use an inclinometer or make your own out of a protractor, weight, and string)
  • The total hang time

After launching their rockets, have all of your students (in every class) submit their data to that form. Then, the students could manipulate this data in Excel (make it sortable in table form, create graphs, etc.) to look for correlations between the various rocket characteristics and aspects of rocket performance. As a reflection and culminating activity for the lesson, have the students write a letter of advice to a student that will complete the same assignment next year. This letter could discuss the following:

  • What they learned from the assignment
  • What they did well and what they would improve on
  • What aspects of the rocket design are the most important (using data to support their statements)


Soda Bottle Rocket Launch from HCPS Instructional Technology on Vimeo.

Mar 28

NBA Passing Dynamics and Percentage

(Click image to view original image that can be expanded)

A friend of mine sent this infographic (originally from this article) to me the other day and it got me thinking that with current Madness of March, this could be a decent way to teach or review percentages with your students.

Brainstorm with your students how they could use percentages to analyze the performance of a basketball team and individual players. The students could come up with a list that would most likely include the following:

  • Individual and team shooting percentages
  • Percentage of shots made from various points on the floor (Paint, 3 Pointers, Right or Left Side of the Floor, Etc.)
  • Percentage of touches that an individual has for their team (as the above infographic suggests)
  • Percentage of shots an individual takes for their team.

You could come up with a HUGE list and have each student in the class track just one of these stats in a collaborative Google Doc with all the information. Then, after watching a quarter, half, or whatever condensed footage that you have time for, have the students become sports analysts and use the data that the class has collected to discuss the performance of each team and individual players and what they need to do in the second half in order to succeed.

Luke and I did something similar with Football and integers last year, but I feel like basketball would lend itself more towards percentages than football would.

Mar 28

Listen to Wikipedia

Audio Wikipedia

I found the site “Listen to Wikipedia” thanks to this Mental Floss Article on “Web Toys.” The site is an audio/visual representation of edits made to Wikipedia entries along with new users that join the site.

This could be an interesting site to show to students as they are learning about the research process. You could show the students this tool, explain it to them, and then ask:

  • Based on what you see here, what are the benefits of Wikipedia over other sources of information?
  • What are the downsides of Wikipedia?
  • How do the internet/social media affect our knowledge base?

The site also doubles as soothing background music. I’ve had the site running in the background for about 45 minutes now and feel like I’m getting a massage…

Mar 28

Endless Interestingness

Endless Interestingness

I found the site “Endless Interestingness” thanks to this Mental Floss Article on “Web Toys.” When you visit the site, you’ll see a huge variety of thumbnails that are pulled from Flickr. Clicking on any of the photos will take you to that photo’s page on Flickr.

This could be an interesting tool for creative writing prompts and/or vocabulary work. Here are a couple thoughts on how you could use Endless Interestingness in the classroom:

  • Challenge the students to find a “string” of 5-10 photos in a row and connect those images by writing a creative story that incorporates the subjects, themes, moods, etc. of those photos.
  • Provide the students with a vocabulary word. Have the students go to the website and choose one photo that best represents that word. Students could explain and justify their choice to the rest of the class. A Padlet wall would be a great tool for this assignment, so that all students could quickly share their work and view their classmates’ ideas.

Mar 26

Graph TV – Statistics and Line of Best Fit

In between testing duties this morning I read this article on Wired and started thinking about how you could use Graph TV in a math classroom.

When you visit Graph TV you are prompted to enter the name of a TV show:

Graph TV 1

You are then presented with a graphical representation of the IMDB ratings for each episode of the show. Each season of the show is color coded as well.

Graph TV 2

You can toggle the series and season trendlines at the bottom of the graph.

Both trendlines on:

Graph TV 4

Both trendlines off:

Graph TV 3

I see a lot of interesting applications for this site while discussing statistics or line of best fit. Basically, you could have the students pick a TV show, display that TV show on the projector (without the trend lines) and ask the students how people felt about the TV show over time. What patterns do the students notice within seasons and over time? Discuss with the students how these patterns could be displayed graphically. You could provide instruction on line of best fit and have the students predict what those lines would look like for each season and the entirety of the show. Then, toggle on the trendlines. BAM – instant feedback.

You could also use the data within these graphs to discuss topics such as the following:

  • Pick a TV show (that’s been on for multiple seasons). Make a prediction about the “best” and “worst” seasons and justify your predictions. Use the data within the graphs to calculate an average for each season and determine how close your predictions were to the truth.
  • Compare the ratings for individual episodes using a histogram.
  • Compare the ratings and trendlines for various TV shows.

Now I’m off to explore how people feel about Game of Thrones

Mar 26

This is a Generic Brand Video – Media, Persuasion, and Propaganda

I’ve worked on a number of lessons and projects this year that have focused on media, persuasion, and propaganda. This morning, I stumbled across this video and kicked myself for not finding it sooner, as it would be a great addition to any lesson on these topics. The video is based off of this script, that was originally published on McSweeney’s. The video and script do contain a few “choice” words, which you may need to edit or bleep out depending on your target audience.

Here are several thoughts on how you could use this video and script in your classroom:

  • Discuss with the class: “What makes this a brand video? Why are the images, scenes, and phrases represented in this video so popular with large companies?
  • After a lesson on propaganda, have the students locate as many different propaganda techniques as they can within the video.
  • Have students watch a variety of brand videos. The students could use these videos to generate a list of “brand video stereotypes.” Have students create their own “generic brand video” script or video and then compare/contrast their videos with this one.

These activities will definitely put your students ahead of the pack, allow them to innovate and change the current paradigm, and prepare them for life in a high-stakes, fast-paced world.

Failing that, these activities may at least allow your students to recognize how vague and meaningless these types of statements are without any real support or examples to back them up…


Mar 20

Feeling a Bit Bullish about this Assignment…

Yesterday, a math teacher and I sat down to discuss an upcoming project he plans to complete on the Stock Market. This teacher and a history teacher that he collaborates with have their students play the “Stock Market Game” as they learn about the Great Depression and the Stock Market Crash of 1929. In the past, this math teacher has prepared his students for the game by having them research various aspects of different companies (Price/Earnings Ratio, 52 Week High, 52 Week Low, etc.) so that the students can make wise purchasing decisions as they play the game. This year, we’ve decided to try things a little differently. Rather than research this information up front, we want the students to have a little more “first-hand experience” with stocks and then complete their research afterwards. We believe this change in structure will help the students retain the information better and will help better prepare the students to successfully compete in the Stock Market Game. Additionally, we want to hit on graphing skills, organizing data effectively, reading tables and charts, and using “data” to make informed decisions, as the students frequently struggle with these skills. That said, here is what we’ve come up with:

Project Structure:

Introduction (30 Minutes)

  • Have students discuss the following questions as a short warm-up:
    • What does it mean to “invest” money?
    • What are the positives and negatives of investing?
    • What is a stock?
    • Why does the price of a stock go up or down?
    • What is the purpose of buying a stock?
  • Have students examine the following media on investing and the stock market:
  • Have the students discuss the initial lesson questions once again. Discuss how their answers have changed.

Begin Creating Excel Document (30 Minutes)

  • The teacher will model for the students how they can create an Excel Spreadsheet that will allow them to follow their “portfolio” over the next three days. The teacher will choose two companies that every student will follow and the students will each choose one company of their own as well. A template of this spreadsheet is linked here. This template could be provided to the students, but it may be better to model organization methods, formulas, etc. for the students and allow them to create their own versions. Having the students create their own spreadsheets would allow for the discussion of mathematical calculations/problems while creating the Excel Sheet. For example, the teacher could ask the students, “What mathematical procedure would I need to complete in order to determine my total portfolio value?” Once students decide on an answer, the teacher can model a proper formula for them.

Day 2 Data Entry (20-30 Minutes):

  • Students will discuss and complete all the day two data fields in the Excel spreadsheet.

Day 3 Data Entry (20-30 Minutes)

  • Students will discuss and complete all the day three data fields in the Excel spreadsheet.

30 Minutes: Graphing Instruction and Questions

  • Students will learn how to graph each company’s stock price individually over the past three days and combine this data into one graph as well.
  • Students will answer the following questions, using the graphs to explain and justify their answers:
    • Examine the individual graphs for each of the companies. Explain what each of these graphs mean.
    • Pretend your graph had a data point for each day of the past year rather than just three points. Explain how this information could be useful for an investor.
    • Examine the individual graphs and compare and contrast these graphs to the “combo” graph. What do you notice about the representation of the data? Why is this important?
    • If you were an investor, explain how an individual stock graph could help you make your financial decisions.
    • If you were an investor, explain how a “combo” stock graph could help you make your financial decisions.

30 Minutes: Price/Earnings Ratio

  • Students will answer the following questions after some brief direct instruction on how to calculate P/E ratio (But not what the P/E ratio “means” or what is considered a “good” ratio – save this discovery for the students as they complete the following questions).
    • Calculate the P:E (Price/Earnings) Ratio for a share of each company.
    • Which of the three companies has the “best” PE Ratio over this three day time span? Explain how you know that is the case.
    • When considering whether or not to purchase stock in a company, many people look at the PE ratio as a guide for investing. Explain how this information could be helpful for an investor.

Company Research (90 Minutes):

  • Students would be given time to complete the “Company Research” portion of the assignment/Excel spreadsheet. The teacher could show the students how to convert this information into a table in Excel so that it is easily sortable by field. Then, after the students complete their research, ask them to choose three companies (or however many you want) to invest in once the Stock Market Game actually begins. The students would have to explain how the research that they completed (various aspects, not just one item) helped them decide which stock to purchase.

Ideally, this structure will help prepare the students for The Stock Market Game, give them valuable practice with various mathematical skills, and help them learn various financial concepts (including P/E ratio) through first-hand discovery.

Any thoughts?


Mar 06

TuvaLabs – Datasets to Promote Critical Thinking

TuvaLabs Header

I stumbled across “TuvaLabs” this morning thanks to a link on Twitter and just spent several minutes exploring the site. This seems like a great resource for any math class, and could be used to encourage critical thinking and problem solving.

Clicking “Explore Datasets” at the top of the page brings up a variety of interesting data sets within several topics, including “Community,” “Development,” “Culture,” and “Sports.”

Explore Datasets

Once you’ve chosen a data set, you are provided with raw data for that topic and can choose various methods to display that data, including bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, and histograms. These visuals are completely customizable, allowing the user to create chart titles and determine the titles of the axes. Some datasets are even accompanied with instructional resources that include questions that students can explore using the provided data.

This is by far one of the best math resources I have seen this year. You could use this resource for a variety of math topics, including lessons on:

  • Graphing
  • Correlation and Causation
  • Linear Relationships
  • Statistics

One possible lesson/project idea that incorporates this resource:

  1. Allow students to pick a data set that is interesting to them.
  2. Based on the dataset, students can determine a “problem” or “question” that the data could help to solve or answer.
  3. Use the graphing features of the site and their mathematical skills and “solve” that particular problem.
  4. Present that solution to the class, incorporating visuals and their understanding of mathematical concepts/terminology.
  5. As an extension, students could even complete additional research on that particular problem or question and present that information to the class as well.

Have fun diving into the data! Let me know if you need some help incorporating this resource into a lesson!


Mar 05

Where To Go From Here?

Research tells us that critically reflecting on student work is one of the most beneficial professional development activities for teachers. This process is even more meaningful when completed in a collaborative environment. I think this is why one of my favorite parts about the Henrico 21 process is collecting student work after a lesson’s completion. I love looking at student work and discussing the following:

  • What were our instructional goals at the outset of this lesson? What evidence is there within the student work that shows whether or not these goals were met?
  • What are our students’ strengths? How can we capitalize on these strengths within future assignments?
  • What common mistakes are our students making? How can we help them to improve?
  • What instructional choices (pedagogy, resources, technology, specific activities) can we implement to improve similar student work in the future?

For Henrico 21, we often submit what we determine to be the “best” student work as a reflection of a lesson. This is a natural tendency, but it’s extremely important that we don’t neglect work at the other extreme (or in the middle of the pack), as this is often where we can learn the most about our students and our own teaching.

Meghan and I just finished this lesson with her 6th grade students. The students were asked to compare the US Constitution and the North Korean Constitution in a written format. One of the main instructional goals of this lesson was for the students to use specific evidence in order to support a written opinion. We’ve focused on this skill before with her 7th graders, but this was one of our more concerted efforts to focus on these skills with her 6th graders up to this point. In order to help the students practice this skill, we introduced the students to the Voyant tool.

For this particular lesson, we did not develop a rubric in advance for several reasons. The first is that we developed this lesson on the fly (it was actually a suggestion from her students) and did not have a ton of time before we implemented the lesson. Additionally, the students were engaged in several other graded assignments at the time of this lesson, and we did not want to overburden them. I think Meghan ultimately decided to count the assignment as a small classwork grade.

We finished the lesson last week, and after looking at the student work, I think there is a lot that we can learn. The following section contains several student examples and some initial thoughts on each of the responses (click the image to expand the response).

Sample 1:

Essay 1

  • I put this sample first because it’s one of the better responses that we received for this particular assignment. Finding the upper echelon of student work after an activity allows us to see what the students are capable of and provides an example of work that we can use with the class for future activities.
  • This student provided a solid analysis and most importantly used textual evidence (context of various words and phrases) to support his/her findings.
  • However, that said, the student’s inclusion of his/her exploration of the word “religion”  stands out as unnecessary. This information does not seem to strengthen the student’s argument or provide a counter-point to his/her argument, so its inclusion its just distracting.

Sample 2:

Essay 2

  • The second sentence here is solid. The student provides some textual evidence to make his/her point, but maybe could provide more specific examples of how he/she knows the US Constitution is about rights and freedoms of the people.
  • That said, this student’s opening statement seems to contradict his/her point in the second sentence. Which is it?
  • The student provides a great explanation of the word “people.” The student uses the frequency and context of the word to explain his/her analysis, not just one or the other.

Sample 3:

Essay 3

  • Good ideas, but the support could be stronger. This student seemed to use the Voyant tool effectively, but does not reference exactly what he/she found in Voyant in order to make his/her points (What was the context of words like punish and force vs. opinion and share? How often were the words used?).

Sample 4:

Essay 4

  • The student makes a statement that is not sufficiently supported with evidence (The US Constitution provides more rights to the people).
  • Freedom and rights appear more often in the US Constitution, but what is their context in both documents? Does that support the student’s analysis?

Sample 5:

Essay 5

  • Re: “Rules” – Give me some examples! What rules do the North Koreans have that we don’t? The student mentions that North Korea has “more” rules, but provide no evidence of his/her claim.
  • The tidbit on “anti-Japanese” is interesting, but the idea lacks analysis. Why is the the student comparing Japan and England? What does that tell us about the two Constitutions?

As a side note, these same students explain their thinking here (2:07 into the video). This appears to be a great opportunity to use video to improve student work. Having the students compare their written thoughts to their verbal thoughts might be a good way to show the students what their writing was missing:

Constitutional Analysis – Classroom Action from HCPS Instructional Technology on Vimeo.

Overall Reflection:

Other than what I’ve mentioned so far, one thing that stands out to me is that the students’ writing could be stronger if it was organized more effectively. The students’ analyses often appear “hidden” at the end of their writing, and I believe that’s due to the way we structured the assignment:


In the future, instead of separating these two questions in this order, we could instead ask the students “What role does a country’s governing document play in establishing the culture and political system of the country? Use your comparison of the two documents in Voyant to provide evidence for your analysis.”

Where To Go From Here:

Here are some methods that we can take to correct the issues that we saw and improve on future student work:

  1. Have short individual meetings with each student (3-5 minutes) while the students are completing individual work. Ask students to compare their written work to an exemplary example. Ask the students to compare and contrast their analysis and use of evidence to the other essay.
  2. Activities on “evidence based terms.” (Sample resources)
  3. Since we didn’t have a rubric this time, we could use this activity as an example for students to create their own rubric for analysis and use of evidence. The students could read each others’ written analyses and vote on the best two or three examples (The Schoolspace voting function would be perfect for this). Have a short discussion with the students about what makes these the best examples. After that discussion, put the students in groups and have them create their own rubric for the next “historical evidence” activity. What should the teacher be looking for?
  4. With this rubric in hand next time, the students could share their historical support work with a partner.  Have the partner “pick it apart.” The partner should write down any questions they have about the other student’s writing and their thoughts on how to strengthen the argument.


Oftentimes, in our effort to keep with the pacing guide and make sure we “cover” all the appropriate content for our class, we grade our students’ work, but don’t believe we have the time to discuss, “Where do we go from here?” However, it is through analysis of student work and this type of reflection and preparation that teachers can often have the biggest impact.

For those of you in the History Blog Circle (and anyone else, of course!), what other resources or strategies would you suggest to help these students with “evidence based claims?”

And for those of you at Moody, please let me know if you ever want an outside observer to help you dissect student work. I would love to come to your team meetings and help you plan! Just let me know.

Feb 26

Discount and Sales Tax

I was talking to a math teacher the other day about how she wants her students to be able to see how sales tax and discount work in conjunction (that you still have to pay sales tax AFTER taking the discount into consideration, which students seem to forget frequently). After thinking about it for a few minutes, here’s one idea for a quick lesson. How would you improve this?

  • Overstock.com sells pretty much anything imaginable and has discounts on pretty much every item that are displayed in the following fashion:

overstock.com photo

  • The teacher could find a couple items like this (specifically items that students may get excited about) and could do some quick review of percentages/discount by whiting out or covering up the “Save” percentage on screen and having the students calculate that percentage.
  • The teacher could model for the students how when you add items to your shopping cart and go to the checkout, sales tax does not appear on screen. This would allow the teacher the opportunity to explain that since Overstock.com is an online store and is not located in the same state from which you are purchasing, you would not have to pay any sales tax on your purchase.
  • Give the students the following task:

“Your parents have decided to remodel your house and they have graciously given you $500 that you can spend at Overstock.com on improvements for your bedroom (or other areas of your house if you are feeling generous). Make a list of the items you want to purchase and the price for each of these items. Research all the sales taxes of the U.S. Assuming that you could find the same items in a physical store for the same discounted price as on Overstock.com, which state in the U.S. would be the cheapest to buy from? Which would be the most expensive? How expensive would purchasing these items in Virginia be? Show your work to prove your point.”

  • Possible reflection/discussion questions:
    • What did you learn about online shopping?
    • What did you learn about sales tax?
    • Could someone’s purchasing habits be adapted based on what you’ve learned? Explain.