From the desk of Ms. Roberts – Physics by Design

Freshman year of high school is a magical and exciting time for students.  For many students, high school is a new start, a chance to reinvent themselves and discover new interests.  For some, high school is a chance to make new friendships and strengthen the ones they have.  For others, high school is the next step on their way to a successful career.  For the students of Warhill’s Project Pathways, freshman year of high school would not only represent a new phase in their lives, but also a brand new curriculum, full of innovation and fresh ideas.

Part of Project Pathways involves a brand new Physics by Design course taught by Ms. Pickett and Ms. Roberts.  Ms. Roberts was kind enough to chronicle one of the projects that the students were working on and is guest writing for us today.  Here is her story.


“The room was abuzz with the typical nervous-yet-excited energy that comes with the first day for high school freshmen. Chatting students flocked toward familiar faces, staking their claim on seats as they entered the room. Little did they know they wouldn’t be in those seats much longer.

The goal for the semester was introduced: students would be creating an amusement park. Some of the park would be built using cardboard and other materials, some would simply be sketched out in detail, and the rest would have scale models constructed using 3D printing technology.

The class was then split; Ms. Roberts tasked one half of the students to create a pricing model for a pizza stand for their amusement park, while Ms. Pickett tasked the other half to determine the number of sheets of 8.5” x 11” printer paper it would take to fill the classroom. Both rooms were loud and full of vibrant discussion, students doing logistical research about costs associated with owning and running a pizza stand in one room and completing measurements and calculations around the other. This first day was spent embracing what it means to be a member of Physics by Design; students learn by discussing and doing.

For the next two weeks class time would be split between learning concepts and skills necessary for their success in this course and working in their project groups. Students from all mathematical backgrounds jumped into interpreting slopes and intercepts, calculating and interpreting statistics, measurements and unit conversions. All of this was building the knowledge base necessary for students to work on their first project: creating a carnival game. These games would be tested by Warhill students and then played at a football game by members of the community.

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The students completed their games and the day of the carnival arrived. A few Warhill students became the first to test the games out. This gave the students a chance to identify any final improvements that needed to be made as well as helped them practice giving directions and running their games. After getting feedback from fellow students, practicing running their games, and putting the finishing touches on their projects, they were ready to display their work at the football game. As students, parents, and teachers lined up to play their games, the students were still hard at work, recording all of the outcomes – ‘how many shots were made from each distance?’, ‘how many people tossed the Frisbee through each of the three slots?’, and ‘where did each of the balls land?’.

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The carnival was a success, but the work was far from over. Following the carnival, the students spent time during the next few days learning about Microsoft Word and other computer basics so that students could type up their first lab report of the year as well as creating PowerPoint presentations about their projects that each group would present.

The day of presentations came, and one by one all ten groups made their way to the front of the room to discuss their projects with the class. They gave an overview of their game, the data that they collected and analyzed, and discussed additional improvements that would need to be made before the game was included in the amusement park. During the presentations, students were actively reviewing their peers – ‘did each member of the group participate in the presentation?’, ‘how many filler words were used?’, ‘did the presentation include all necessary information?’ This helped the students understand exactly what would be expected in their next project and beyond.”

-Rose Roberts


Fast and exciting times at Warhill High School.  We look forward to hearing more!

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My research draws on sociocultural theories of mediated action (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1991) and social semiotic theories of multimodality (Jewitt & Kress, 2003) to investigate the increasingly multimodal nature of digital technologies, and the emerging social practices and activities that arise from these technologies. I am particularly interested in examining the kinds of instructional supports both teachers and adolescents need in order to comprehend and create complex multimodal texts.

Prior to pursuing my Ph.D. in Language and Literacy from The University of Georgia, I taught high school English in Boston Public Schools.

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