Preparing For An Oral Defense On Projectile Motion

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Students will summarize the factors that affect the projectile motion of an Angry Bird.

Big Idea

Graphic organizers help students prepare for an oral defense in Physics.


The goal of this lesson is to have students use graphic organizers to gather and summarize information that will help them prepare an adequate oral defense of their understanding of projectile motion. This lesson addresses the W.11-12.8 standard because it asks students to use graphic organizers to conduct research related to projectile motion. It aligns with the NGSS Practice of Constructing Explanations for Science (SP6) because students create summaries to explain factors that are related to a projectile's motion. This lesson also is aligned to the NGSS Cross-cutting Idea of Patterns because students must distinguish between the mathematical models of a projectile that is launched horizontally and a projectile that is launched at an angle. 

Within this lesson students begin constructing an explanation of projectile motion using a free write. Students then use a set of provided graphic organizers and our digital textbook to gather more information to strengthen their explanation of topics related to projectile motion. Finally, students create and share summaries with their peers to consider multiple viewpoints on the same topic. As part of this process, students revise their work, an essential skill for physics students to learn. 

In this lesson, time is of the essence: students need to begin constructing an explanation of projectile motion as we are fast approaching performance bases assessments and tasks which my school calls PBATs. In our school, a performance based assessment and task consists of:

  • An oral defense where individual student teaches a committee of two freshmen and two external evaluators (typically 1 science teacher and 1 mathematics teacher who do not currently teach the student presenter) key factors on a specific topic. The committee asks clarifying questions throughout the presentation to probe the level of student understanding.
  • A research paper that incorporates mathematical and graphical models of physics topics to detail the student's understanding of a topic.
  • A visual representation of a model (examples include graphic novels, mini-textbooks, digital magazines and scale models).
  • A novel task completed in real time (examples include challenge problems or lab practical).

Within this lesson I ask students to focus on communicating ideas based on information gathered from a credible source. Students also consider multiple viewpoints and learn how to avoid plagiarism. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins and also assess each student's work at the end of the school day.

Free Write

10 minutes

At the beginning of each lesson, I have a quick bell-ringer activity to help students focus on the tasks for today's lesson. This portion of the lesson follows a routine in which students write the lesson's main ideas in their notebook. This activity helps students focus on the goals of the lesson. Today's additional piece of information is a BIG IDEA which states that Graphic organizers help students prepare for an oral defense in Physics. The objective of the lesson is to give students a clear idea of the connection between today's lesson and their oral defense goals. In this lesson, I want students to get ready to use information gathered from note-taking to construct summaries based on credible information while learning how to reference authors of the original information.

Next, I ask students to write freely in their notebooks on the topic of projectile motion. I want students to focus on:

  • Identifying the key ideas.
  • Determining factors that affect a projectile's motion.
  • Understanding how scientists can use mathematical models to predict the motion . 

I project these bullet points on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room and ask students to communicate these ideas in whichever manner pops into their minds. Click here to see an example student response. 

Graphic Organizers for Notetaking

45 minutes

I want students to understand how important effective note-taking is to crafting well written communication within physics. One goal of this section of the lesson is to use the graphic organizers to take notes that will help students transform their free write into a summary that a 9th grade physical science student would understand. Another goal of this section of the lesson is for students to identify helpful information for their peers to use while assessing an oral defense of an upperclassman's understanding of projectile motion. 

Oral defenses are a common theme across curricula and grade level at our school. By the time students are in upper school physics they have completed 8-10 formal oral defenses or round table discussions. An Oral Defense asks students to take on a role of an authority on a particular topic. In order for a student to convince a committee that their understanding of a topic meets or exceeds the standard of proficiency, the student needs to gather credible information.

Graphic organizers are one way that student can gather information and use that information to extend and bolster their prior content knowledge. I do not have students all complete the same organizer as our class is governed by the idea that students learn best when they take ownership over their learning outcomes. I distribute two-sided graphic organizers so that students get a choice in the tools they will use to take notes and can develop a sense of authority over their learning path. I explain what each option entails ,whether it is a K-W-L Chart, a Definition Map, a SQ3R Organizer , or Three Column Notes. This quick explanation takes 5-7 minutes. 

After my brief explanation of how to use the graphic organizers, I distribute Chromebooks and give students a set of Note Taking Expectations that I project on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room for the next 40 minutes of this section of the lesson. Each student is given a Chromebook during this activity so he or she can read and summarize information at his or her own pace. One of the digital resources that students use is from the OpenStax textbook found here

While students are using the graphic organizers, I circulate to ensure that students are aware of what is expected of them. I let students know that not identifying their sources will result in point deductions. I remind students that they can discuss their research with their lab table mates. Some examples of student work can be found here.

Collaborative Summaries

20 minutes

The instructions for the collaborative summaries make students think beyond jotting down ideas and get them to ponder the importance, usefulness, and multifaceted quality of their information. The directions for collaborative summaries ask students to:

  • Choose a subtopic or subheading of the material students just read
  • Reread a single section at a time
  • Take notes that summarize the main ideas of that section
  • Be prepared to teach that subtopic to the rest of the class
  • Take notes as another student presents their subtopic to their neighbors

Students work in teams of two or four during the Collaborative Summary portion of this lesson. Each student spends 1-2 minutes summarizing a single subtopic. Then students take turns reading their summaries aloud to their group members. While a student is reading their summary aloud their group members write summaries on that student's subtopic on their sheet. Students repeat this process until their summary sheets are complete. Once students are done collecting information we transition into summarizing their findings. Students initially think that this will be an easy process, but then I ask them to think back to when they were in 9th grade and had to assess science PBAT students based on the oral defense. I ask them to write down ideas that they wish they knew when they were in 9th grade. These instructions, along with the fact that graduation PBATs are offered biannually, helps students focus on revising their summaries to communicate their ideas in a clear and concise manner. 

Students spend the last 10 minutes to use the information from their collaborative notes to transform their quick write into an introductory summary that 9th graders can read before they assess an upperclassman's oral defense of their projectile motion knowledge. Hearing the perspectives of peers can stretch a student's understanding of science through a series of questions and revisions. Students create the questions and make revisions throughout this portion of the lesson. For example, a student may ask a presenter to explain what is meant by a particular term or "Is that always true?" or "Does that relate to _______?" to get a better understanding of a subtopic from another student's perspective. Students work on a single topic and then share with another student of their choice until they have completed the collaborative summary organizer. Students may choose to work with their table mates or may work with any student of their choice to ensure that four distinct summaries are completed by the end of the lesson.  

I collect and grade the collaborative summary sheets and provide feedback at the end of the week. These summaries serve as a template for the oral defenses that are coming up. Students will use these summaries to practice presenting this information as though they are authorities on the topic of projectile motion to their peers. Click here for an example student summary.


5 minutes

During the collaborative summary section of the lesson groups are somewhat fluid. Students may choose to work with students from their lab stations or with other students from different stations. Lab stations are a set of blacktop tables that have space for up to four students. Each student is assigned to a station for the duration of the class as their default group for partner work. To wrap up this lesson I ask students to share their work with their lab station partners in a short round table discussion on the topic of projectile motion. During this share out, each students is sharing a summary that they did not author and discussing the key points with their lab station mates. I ask students to define projectile motion, identify three factors that affect a projectile's motion, and make connections between real world scenarios and the information from the lesson.

As students discuss projectile motion with their station mates, I circulate and take note of common student responses. Common student responses for real world scenarios include correctly throwing a pass to a wide receiver, using Pythagorean theorem to find the components of a projectile's velocity, and using kinematics equations to construct the trajectory of a projectile.