Creating versus Solving

My school just got back from Spring Break and I planned a lesson to review some of the practices from before break while also starting to push forward so that students can begin their house wiring project.  I honestly didn’t think this lesson was that spectacular.  It was mostly students analyzing circuits and then creating their own circuits with specific objectives.  I think I have a worry about just doing worksheets that whenever they spend too much time solving something on paper I feel like I might not be doing enough or I am missing a chance to be more innovative.  The experience today helped me see that not all worksheets are the same and they can be solving something on paper for a large portion of the class and still be productive and engaged. 

I first started them off with a review type page.  I handed them a paper with 2 circuits on it and they followed their practice of highlighting the wire with max voltage (the total voltage of the battery/source) in one color and zero voltage in another color.  In some circuits, there are wires that aren’t highlighted because they aren’t at max voltage or zero (the wire between lights in series).  I was happy that they didn’t forget too much over the break and were able to easily solve this problem.  After working for a bit I had two people come up to the board to solve them and selected students either agreed with their solution or proposed a change.

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“Do Now” circuit. Lights connected by wires.

After this we moved to a worksheet that had four rooms with lights wired along the walls.  This was the first time we looked at wires inside rooms so I wanted to slowly introduce the idea.  The circuits were no different from ones we did in the past, except that they were “fitted” along a square.  As I introduced this worksheet, I mentioned that we don’t see the wires in this room.  The wires are all hidden inside the walls and we are able to access them through outlets.  While the circuits do not behave differently, they have a very different look to them.  In the future, I think I will make the walls dashed lines so that it is easier to tell the difference between walls and wire.  Students once again highlighted max voltage and zero voltage.  They also had to label each light bulb as bright or dim.  Since we will be using a different type of light bulb for this project, I changed the design of the light bulb on paper to match and make the transition easier.  It took a bit of work for students to transition to this style of circuit drawing but they soon figured it out.

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One of four rooms. Lights and wires are organized along the walls.

The final task was to draw four rooms and draw the battery, wires, and light bulbs for each room.  They had specific guidelines for the rooms: one room had 2 bright lights, one room had 2 dim lights, one room have 1 bright light and 2 dim lights, and one room had 3 lights and a short circuit (to practice noticing what that looks like so that it doesn’t happen on their projects). 

This was a difficult task for many students.  I realized that no matter how crazy I make a problem, they can analyze it and work through a solution.  Even if they get it wrong or make a mistake, they have a method for attacking the problem and can try it.  It is much more difficult to design and create something.  Even just copying a basic design and changing it slightly to match the new guidelines can be very difficult.  Thinking back on this year, I realize I’ve done a lot more tasks that involve students creating something rather than just solving a problem.  I’ve been requiring my students to find ways to apply their knowledge to new ideas and new tasks where they turn a blank page into something.  Last year, almost all of my work was solving an existing problem.  While it is more difficult, I think it is incredibly valuable.  Instead of doing a specific problem that may have one right answer, students find a single answer from many options that satisfies the problem.  There is a greater chance for creativity and they can just follow steps.

I’m looking forward to the final house projects.  Students will all have different floor plans and can come up with creative solutions to make the types of lights that I require.  They can help each other, but since each house is different, they can just copy.  We came up with useful wire templates, but it will be up to them to make it work for their houses.

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