Thursday, January 22, 2004

More Graphing....

Big time focus on graphs this week. Today and tomorrow, the kids are using spring scales to measure the mass and weight of density cubes (fun little blocks of the same volume made of different materials - some are super light, others super heavy). They convert the masses from grams to kilograms, then graph mass vs. weight (in Newtons). The problem is, the x-axis has to have a really tiny increment - like 0.005 kg, because none of the blocks has that much mass. We're doing the graphs together. I was very proud, though, of one sixth grade group that figured out the correct increment on their own! Based on that, I'm pushing the other groups to do the same.

When the sixth graders finally get to decimal arithmetic next month in math, they'll already be awesome at it!

The teacher next door to me (a Communication Arts teacher) looked at some of the graphs I'd handed back and told me "I've been looking at your obsessive-compulsive grading." It's true, sort of. I am a technocrat - I set up systems and follow them. Your graph better have a title (5 points), labels on the x- and y-axis (5 pts. each), units (2 pts. per axis), evenly-spaced numbers on the axes (5 pts. per axis), your heading (5 points), and be reasonably neat (2-5 points depending on your baseline level of neatness and how egregious the messiness). Anyone paying attention can see that even if you lose ALL these points, you've only lost 39 points, and it would be tough to lose all the points. Homework is meant to result in GOOD grades, as an incentive for doing it. Of course, there are also points taken off if you just blatantly put points in the wrong places, but few kids lose those. My colleague decided in the end that someone needs to hold them accountable for these things. The way I see it, you screw up this stuff, your graph is all but useless as a form of communication. So, I obsess. More important than the points, for me, is the opportunity to write little comments on the graphs, pointing out the good parts & the problems. I pray that they read them and learn.

But we keep practicing, just in case the comments don't do the trick!

For homework tonight, they are calculating their mass in kg, weight in N, and weight in N on other planets (different gravity = different weight). Cool, I think.

One boy wanted to know why, if more mass means greater gravitational pull, pens don't fly towards fat people.


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