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02 March 2017

Woodberry Forest Conceptual Physics Tournament -- want to be an "examiner"?

My school has for years given three sets of exams, one each trimester.  This year, though, we're limited to two written exams.  For the last trimester, we're encouraged to create a cumulative project of some sort in lieu of an exam.  Yay.

Thus, we are creating the Woodberry Forest Conceptual Physics Tournament.  This competition for our 9th graders, to be held at 1:00 on Sunday May 21 2017, replaces their final exam.*

*No, to be clear to all, we're not giving an A to the winner and an F to the person in last place.  That's silly.  We're just having a fun, competitive tournament, to determine a winner.  Judges aren't awarding grades.

How does this tournament work?

On May 2, I will reveal a slate of three problems to the 73 participants.  These problems will be old AP Physics 1 "paragraph response" questions.  Except, rather than just answer in a paragraph, the students will spend the month of May setting up experiments to provide evidence for their answers.  By tournament time, each student will be expected to be prepared to discuss the solution to two of the three problems, with both theoretical and experimental support.

At the tournament, each student will participate in two "physics fights."  Think of these physics fights like a miniature version of a graduate thesis defense.  Students will have a strict limit of three minutes to present their solution to the examiner.  An examiner then will engage each student in conversation about the problem for five minutes.  The students are judged by the examiner not only on the quality of their solution, but also on their ability to discuss the solution, to confidently hold a conversation with the examiner.

How do the students prepare?

Starting on May 2, all conceptual physics classes the rest of the year will be devoted to tournament preparation.  They'll set up experiments in class, they'll be assigned to write up their solution as homework, they'll practice presenting.  

Most importantly, my AP physics classes will spend their final weeks of the school year serving as mentors to the conceptual students.  I will assign each AP student to lead groups of three or four 9th graders.  The AP student will dive into the problems with the freshmen, helping to create and analyze experiments, helping the freshmen to understand the details of their presentations, and serving as mock-examiners in practice sessions.  This mentoring serves as the final project in lieu of the exam in the AP classes.

We need examiners.

The key, I think, to any class project is external assessment.  I and the other conceptual physics teachers will play the role of coach and advocate, always encouraging and helping the students to deepen their understanding of the problems and to improve their presentations.  Our relationship will be purely supportive, enthusiastic, positive.  

We can't then turn around and grill these same students as examiners!  That'd be like our football team's coaching staff refereeing the state finals.  Even -- especially -- if their officiating were fair, the coach-student relationship, both in practice and after the game, would be irrevocably compromised.

So we need examiners.  We can pay.

Would you like to come to Woodberry on May 21 to be an examiner?  My guess is we'd ask you to arrive at lunch time, like 12:00.  We would have a meeting of all examiners in our beautiful dining hall over lunch.  

Then we'd ask you to be the examiner for a couple of hours' worth of physics fights -- depending on how many examiners we get, you'd probably be asked to run 8-12 rounds.  Then, we will gather everyone into our auditorium for the top two participants to engage in a final physics fight for the championship.

In any case, my goal is to be done by 3:30, or possibly (it's our first time running this) 4:00 if there are logistical issues.  No later -- our students will be attending the final seated meal with their advisors that night followed by study hall, so we can't run late.

We will pay you $100 plus lunch (and even dinner, if you'd like to stick around) for your time.  (If you're coming from more than a few hours away, we can put you up on campus on Saturday or Sunday night.) I think you'd find that the camaraderie among the examiners and the engagement with the students will make the trip worthwhile.

Who's eligible as an examiner?

Certainly any physics teacher, or anyone with a physics / math / engineering background.  I'm inviting alumni whom I've taught in an AP or AP-equivalent course to come back to judge.  I'd also welcome any alumni of your advanced physics class, even if they're still seniors in high school.  As long as you can engage in conversation about physics at the AP level, as long as you can recognize good and bad physics, we'd love to have you.  When I run the USIYPT, I find the mixture of undergraduate / graduate / professor / high school teacher / industrial physicist / retired physicist on the juror panel allows some amazing relationships to develop.  I'd love to create a similar vibe here.

How can I sign up?

Send me an email, or contact me via Twitter, or call me -- my contact information is on the Woodberry Forest School faculty page.  I'll send you more information, including the three problems, and our current draft of the judging rubric.

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