Waterfall Trivia Howto

We love playing trivia in my math classes.

I hope you’ll steal my trivia format because it’s proven a great balance between fun and problem solving that lasts the whole period. The format is loosely modeled on Team Trivia, which you may have played at a local eatery. While I’ve designed time pressure, it’s not about answering the question first (which removes incentive for everyone else).

The trickiest part to Waterfall Trivia was developing a sense of problem-solving urgency. My solution was an auto-scrolling series of questions that come at the students in rounds of three to five questions. I explain below how to generate an auto-scrolling set of Waterfall Trivia questions.

Where’s the Teaching?

I use time between rounds to review especially tricky problems (often those that more than half the students get wrong). In addition, I keep the answer slips to identify groups of students who need remediation (and on what kinds of problems they need the work).

What Do the Winners Win?

In my games, the winning team usually wins candy, pencils, or a couple bonus points on the upcoming test. A broad spectrum of students will compete hardest for the bonus points.

Musical Stylings

I usually play music from Pandora.com during the rounds. If you can stand it, the Classic Hip Hop station is quite entertaining.

Setting Up Waterfall Trivia

  1. Set up your questions in a Powerpoint file (a sample is here).
  2. Export the Powerpoint file to a PDF file.
  3. Open the PDF in Adobe Reader.
  4. From the View menu, choose Reading Mode to eliminate clutter.
  5. From the View menu, choose Automatically Scroll.
  6. Adjust scrolling speed with up and down arrow keys.

Voila! A trivia game that paces itself. Sit back, collect answer slips, tally scores, and explain solutions.

[Update: Fall 2012] Collected Waterfall Trivia Sets

My Class Lineup

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the classes I have this fall. The lineup is incredibly exciting. My only gripe is that I’ve been assigned first period planning. Several seasoned teachers have given me the upshots to the early planning period, so I’m going in with an open mind.

Here are my class descriptions:

  • Technology and Civilization: A project-based course that follows the theories put forth in Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. We’ll examine the role farming, animal domestication, germs, and so on had in setting up civilization as we know it today.
  • Publishing Technology: We have just one job in this class — publish the school yearbook. And what a job that is! Along the way, students study printing procedures, page design, typography, writing, and photography.
  • Algebra 1: For mostly middle school students. We’re using a blog and a wiki to enhance the curriculum.
  • Systems Administration: These students are studying for Microsoft certification in Windows XP Professional.
  • Middle School Technology: A survey class for students in grades 4-8. In the past, we’ve learned touch typing, how to use email effectively, and studied engineering.

The really fun part of this planning? I wrote every syllabus in Google Docs; made all of my lesson plans in Google calendar; started one blog; outlined a wiki; and all of it has been tied together with RSS feeds.

Travel Webquest

I wrote a cute little webquest about traveling to another place and writing home about sights seen. It started merely as a project to demonstrate that students can use email effectively. I think, though, that the webquest could also be used in a social studies classroom (maybe with some minor modifications) or even a language arts classroom.

A screenshot is below. All of the webquests I’ve ever seen are static web pages. I opted to write this one on the school wiki because I didn’t want to take the time to write a full set of web pages. I’m not certain that I like having a webquest published on a wiki — but am getting interested in having students write their webquest responses on a wiki. Something to think about.

Go to the Travel Webquest.

Will it Float? a Physics Experiment

My physics students learned about buoyancy last week with a boat-building experiment. On day 1, we designed and built boats out of clay. I gave the kids no information about buoyancy other than to say we would be studying it in this chapter. They were told to build a boat that could hold as much weight in cargo as possible. I gave them a rubric (see the link above).

On day 2, we tested our boats. Several sank right off the bat. Others held quite a bit of weight. I will refer back to these boats throughout our buoyancy studies.

Click on the photo below to see the album of photos I took:

Will it Float?

I’ve never done a lab before studying a chapter but in this case it is working really well. The kids had enough of a frame of reference to build a reasonable boat.

Put the lab before the lecture — this may just be a new model for me in physics.

Materials for the Will it Float? lab:

  • Clay: Go for the cheapest clay at the big box store. Air dry or kiln-fired are bad ideas. The first because air dry + water = big mess. And the second because it adds unnecessary time to your experiment schedule.
  • Tools: Scissors, plastic cutlery and rolling pins to work the clay.
  • Pennies: Cargo for your boats.
  • Plastic Tubs: to hold water. I used cat litter pans that held about 2 gallons each. You could also use a kiddie pool.

By the way, this experiment adapted really well to the high school level but it was “borrowed” from a first grade teacher! This thing can span all ages.

Sci-fi Movie Springboard

I showed the movie Gattaca today at school as a vehicle for a day of ethics conversations. The film was released in 1997 and tells the story of a man who masquerades as genetically modified in a society where it’s the only way to the best jobs — including that of navigating a space mission to Titan. I’ve included the movie’s preview below.

Our day was incredibly successful. Students debated the issue from 8am until 3pm. Here is the lesson plan I followed.

  1. Without explanation, give each student either a “Valid” or “In-Valid” sticker to wear. Leave a Valid sticker out in plain sight and in front of one In-Valid. Wink at or otherwise non-verbally encourage the In-Valid to become a “borrowed ladder”.
  2. Give a definition of ethics. Discuss what ethics means to an individual, a family, and a community. Especially: Are ethics absolute? (15-30 minutes)
  3. Watch the movie Gattaca. (105 minutes)
  4. Divide the Valids from the In-Valids. Send each group to separate rooms to answer questions. Allow both sides to hear your introductions. Give a positive spin to the Valids (hiring the best and the brightest, etc.) and a negative spin to the In-Valids. Ask that all students stay in character to answer the questions. 1) Are Gattaca Space Corporation’s hiring practices ethical? 2) Are they legal? And 3) How do you feel about it as a Valid or In-Valid? (20 minutes)
  5. Bring the groups back together and have each group’s spokesperson present their answers. In the process, encourage and allow intra-group pride. As is appropriate, expose the masquerading In-Valid. (20 minutes)
  6. Provide the group with several discussion questions to be answered in small groups. My questions were: 1) Name some well-known ethics of American society. 2) The society in Gattaca has been called a dystopia because the society looks like a utopia but is built on a fatal flaw. Explore the flaw. 3) Did Vincent compromise his own ethics by taking on Jerome’s identity? And 4) How does the look/style of the film comment on the ethical situation contained in it? (15 minutes)
  7. Bring the groups back together and have each group’s spokesperson present their answers. (20 minutes)

I had an entire day to devote to ethics because about half the high school is currently on a camping trip. With only about 30 high school students in attendance, the faculty and I decided to teach day-long units to all rather than go about the regular schedule with 2-3 students per class.
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Engineering Month in Tech Classes

I love February because it’s when I get to teach engineering to my tech students — culminating with National Engineers Week, February 18-24, 2007. My middle school tech classes will spend all of February learning about engineering disciplines and working engineering projects.Engineers Week Logo

In 2006, my students built bridges out of craft sticks, designed ping pong ball cannons, and created egg drop containers.

This year, we’re focusing on energy generation and conservation. My students will design an energy efficient home and tour a power generation plant.

But first, they learn about engineering as a general field of work/study. Call this mission work — my degree is in Materials Engineering but when I was 12, I had no clue what an engineer did. I like the way Theodore Von Karman, an aerospace engineer, put it: “Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was.”

The kids and I started with Discover Engineering, a website geared toward middle school ages. I had my students answer five questions about engineering then unleashed them on the site’s games. Here’s what I asked:

  1. Name three types of engineers.
  2. Name one thing each of these engineers might create.
  3. What is the average starting salary for engineers?
  4. What level of education do engineers need?
  5. Go to the “Cool Stuff” section and read about the water slide. What kind of engineer designed it?

By far, the most popular game at Discover Engineering was Destroy the Castle, where players design a trebuchet (the game is actually on a PBS NOVA page).