This is an activity meant to get students back into the swing of science class, and I usually do it the very first day of school. I've found that students are either chatty and excited to see each other or depressed and wishing they were still on summer break. Regardless of how my students are feeling, this activity of data analysis reminds students of a few things:
1) AP Physics is not a joke! You must take this course seriously and understand its rigor.
2) It doesn't matter if you didn't do anything in your other courses today, we march to a different drummer in this room!
3) Collecting data and writing it down isn't good enough. On the AP test you'll need to justify, plot, and synthesize.
To start off the school year, I give a short introduction of who I am that includes my name and length of teaching time. I do try to avoid going over classroom expectations and resource guides since so many of their other classes will be doing this type of information sharing. Students are also allowed to choose where they sit in my classroom, so this avoids any complication with first day seating charts and procedures. However, once they get working on the activity I go around and take attendance to make sure that each student is accounted for and we don't have anyone in the wrong room.
After my brief introduction and getting the class to focus, I pass out the day's handout, called Analysis of an Experiment, so that everyone has a copy in front of them. Once each person has a copy, I explain that we are going to read the lab aloud as a class and ask students to put their hands up if we come across a word that they are not familiar with. For example, if a student doesn't understand the word "extrapolate" as we are reading, I take note of their hand going up during that word and put it on the front board (this is a great example to share with the students, too). Because it is the first day of class, I do not put anyone on the spot and simply take volunteers to read a small section of the handout. Each student, while continuing to sit at his or her desk, should follow along as we are reading. The goal of this reading aloud activity is to ensure everyone thoroughly reads the instructions, we can identify any issues with vocabulary, and to keep the students engaged. After we have read through the entire lab sheet, I then define any vocabulary words that ended up on the front board. As I'm explaining these words, I tell students that I expect them to write the definitions of the words directly onto the handout where the word is located.
AP Physics 1 has made a transition to assessing more than students' physics knowledge and it now includes an emphasis on science practices. The science practices ensure students can "use mathematics appropriately" and "perform data analysis and evaluation of evidence." This data analysis activity then becomes a good tool to introduce students to the idea that the AP Physics 1 test will ask students to create mathematical expressions, read detailed questions, and analyze results of an experiment.
Now that students have read through the Analysis of an Experiment directions, it is time for them to start working. Since it is the first day and I want students to really understand the intensity of the course, I have each student do his or her own work. There is an option to do this lab with no materials other than the handout, but not every student will have all of his or her supplies at this point so I keep a pile of graph paper at the front of the room. Students may come forward and take a sheet of graph paper as they need.
Once students understand that they are doing individual work there is often absolute silence, but I do encourage students to collaborate with the people sitting near them. My classroom isn't a prison, so students can turn to the people seated near them to share ideas, work through issues, and check solutions. Collaborative problem solving is important to build a sense of trust with their peers, and we use this method throughout the year to solve complex physics problems. I also am sure to walk around with the answer key to check solutions, offer assistance, and build rapport with the students. My goal is to be a secondary tool for the students, so I listen thoughtfully to their conversations and contribute only when asked an explicit question.
Ideally, students should complete the data analysis by the end of the class period. All students work at a different pace however, so I allow students to take home the assignment and complete it for homework. I've avoided telling students when the assignment is due until the end of their work time to encourage them to work as hard as possible for as long as possible. As their work time elapses I provide them little warnings to share how much time is left and approximately how much work should already be completed. As an example, I might say "you have about 10 minutes of work time left, so you should definitely be on the second page by now."
With about five minutes left of class, I ask the students to stop working and focus on me for a moment. I remind students that the purposes of today's activity were to get them back into a mode of science thinking, show them how wordy and detailed the AP Physics 1 test will be, and to understand that this class is going to require a lot of collaboration with their peers. As I'm talking, I give each student a small, blank notecard.
Once everyone has a notecard, I ask students to respond to an analogy prompt that is on the front board. I've put the prompt on the board while the students were working, and it's been hidden from their view so they aren't able to think too deeply about their responses. As I reveal the prompt to the students, they must write the prompt and their responses on the index card. For this particular activity, the prompt will say "This data analysis activity was like _________ because _______."
This is their "ticket out the door," meaning that they can't leave until they've handed me their card. To avoid anyone sneaking out of the room, I stand at the door and collect the cards on their way out. Once I've collected all of the cards, I read and use them to adjust my teaching practices. For example, if a student says "This data analysis activity was like a marathon because it was way too long." I might take a question off the activity before doing it again the following year. It's always fun to read some of their creative responses!