Classdome December 2014
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From the Classdome

December 2014

A New School Year

Even though the school year started several months ago, I feel it is important to mention a few things that have happened this year. 

This year is a rebuilding one for my curriculum, meaning I have been going through every presentation, clip, and video vignette with the goal of re-rendering improved versions of everything. This is also the year I got to rebuild my render farm from the ground up because of a computer program issue. Which, as you may predict, really slowed the re-rendering, to the point I am only about 5% done. 

I really wanted to focus on fine tuning my lessons and activities to match my instructional goals. I know they are in alignment, but there are times that I have made notes of possible changes to activities after completing the lesson. 

This is not something new and visionary; master teachers have been doing this for centuries. The hard part is finding the time to implement the changes (other than 20 minutes before you do the lesson). 

I worked with my principal to get some time once a week to spend 45 minutes evaluating my curriculum. So far this has worked quite nicely, and I am seeing a change in how my students and visitors are engaged in the lesson.

Sequencing Activity

Classdome Fig. 1 sequencingI observed from the students they had some very odd misconceptions about sequence of events in the life cycle of a star. I had a couple of presentations that I thought addressed this problem, but it evidently wasn't enough. 
As a result, I went down the hall and talked with my physical education teacher, who has students use descriptive writing to prepare a plan for how to do different athletic activities. Personally, I was very impressed with some of the students’ steps for how to do a basketball free throw.

She suggested that I use a “Before-Then-After-Later-End” format. I kind of gave her a dazed expression, thinking she just said a bunch of random words. Then it got me thinking about the script writing workshop from WAC 2014, “The Power of 3: Framing Science Stories for the Dome” by Toshi Komatsu, and there were enough parallels to make this work.

The format of the organizer is pretty simple. Each of the five terms is the topic of a square or area the students can write in. I tried to make it cute by making the writing areas “thought bubbles” off the word, but the students were more likely to make a mistake and not understand the sequencing. It is just a little easier to keep it simple with just squares with one word in them. 
Below is a sample of one sequence from when we were talking about the birth of a star. Students, at times, will get the grand idea but miss parts of the process and I found this worked quite well for bring it in focus.

This chain idea was useful for understanding stellar evolution, but I think it would useful also for teaching the change of potential and kinetic energy and chemical reactions.


Perceived color
Print out the Color Code Worksheet: PDF Version and/or Word .doc Version

This is an activity that uses the planetarium's cove lighting (I have East Coast Control's Pleiades LED cove lighting) to manipulate the color of the room. I printed enough of worksheets so that I have one per row (or one for a group of four students), then laminated them so I can use them over and over again. This is where you get to show off how well you know the floor plan of your planetarium. 

You will have to turn off as much light as possible, because you want students not to be able to cheat and see the colors.Each row is given a worksheet and wet-erase marker. The table below shows the 8 rounds that I used for the students to check the perceived colors. I wrote a script file for my cove to follow with manual cues to trigger the next round. 

Round Dome Color 
1 Red
2 Orange
3 Yellow
4 Green
5 Cyan
6 Blue
7 Violet/Magenta

You might notice that Round 7 is violet or magenta, because my dome's violet is rather dim. With a small group it is fine, but with a larger group it seemed to work better with magenta. 

When you trigger the first round, the dome will turn red and the students who have the color coding chart will record the color they see for each of the color swatches. 

Most of the kids are willing to advise each other, but I wanted to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to try and see the colors, so with each round the paper is passed one person to the left. When it reaches the end of the row it is passed back to the start. 

The first few times I ran this presentation I found it went too slowly and ate up a lot of time. A teacher I work with suggested that I have an interval timer at the console that gave the students 45-55 seconds to check out the colors and 10 seconds to pass the paper. I used and ran it on a computer plugged into the planetarium's sound system so it would keep going even if I was working with a student.

Generally, by round 4 the students have guessed the colors and the rest of the rounds are the students predicting the color that the “red” might become. During one of my test groups we experimented with taking the cove back to off between each color, but found that it would cause the students to think we were going to take a break from the activity and do some more stars. 

After the third time they were denied stars the kids got a little cranky. It is just easier to do a 5-second transition between each color. I have also experimented with the students using anaglyph glasses and seeing the dome cycle through a series of colors, but most of the students complained that the original part of the lab were they did the writing and passing of the color paper was better, so I don't think I will add that into the lesson. 


When was the last time you cleaned house on your activities and presentation materials? It may seem like a great deal of work, but it is worth it. I find it very powerful that I now know my tried and true activities are now better focused on the instructional goals.

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