Have I mentioned I teach high school? Oh yes, I have. This is the time of year when numerous people ask “how much longer?” I never count down days until June, but June is indeed very soon. We always end mid-to-late June, about the third week. Yes, I know colleges are out. No, we do not end unusually late. Our school year starts after Labor day and by law must include 180 student days. My own high school graduation was in the last week of June, much later than graduation at the school I currently teach in.
Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.
My AP class took their exam on Monday afternoon. That means we have time before the end of the year with no set curriculum. We have done all the topics we were supposed to do. So now what?
I always let my classes have some say in what happens post-exam. I offer the opportunities to learn about special and general relativity, or quantum mechanics, or more advanced electronics. I offer possible projects. Kids make suggestions. Last year one group made a trebuchet and the rest of the students added amplifiers to the construction-paper speakers we’d already built. We used LM-386 op-amps in the amplifier circuit, and enclosed the speakers in cardboard boxes, including an on/off switch, power-indicating LED, and an input jack for attaching a portable music player.
This year all 12 students agreed on making a Rube Goldberg machine. We watched the Peter Fischli and David Weiss movie Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Go) earlier this year. On Tuesday we looked at some videos on YouTube such as this one. Then we took over a rarely-used classroom and started rearranging the tables and planning a path for energy transfers to take place, eventually to result in stapling two papers together.
Among the supplies I have provided are ping-pong balls, plastic slinkies, 6-volt lantern batteries, old CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs, clothes hangers, wire, string, and a couple of boxes of pneumatic cylinders and connectors. And a moderate reel of flexible clear plastic tubing.
I am thrilled to be watching my students explore, create, and build. One student took over the pneumatic equipment, making intricate air-filled “circuits” that move pistons in complex ways. Some are planning trains and dominoes. Others have made a switch from an extending slinky and some aluminum foil, turning on a fan to blow a ball up a ramp and onto another electrical switch. Pulleys have been hung and at least two bowling balls will be involved. Yes, we are taking pictures, and there will be video.
My students are stretching their minds and learning, plus they are having a great time, I am having fun watching, and I don’t have to plan any more lessons for that class. The less guidance I give, the better! Well, except for the occasional “no, that is too dangerous” or “no, you may not damage the furniture or cabinetry.”