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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell Fazio

End of Year Enrichment Projects

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

The AP exam is over, what do we do now?

Each year after the AP exam, students have anywhere from a few days to a few weeks of school left. This year, my seniors finish class just a week or so after the exam, but my juniors have almost five weeks of classes left.

To make the most of this time, I run the "EOY Enrichment Project" (EOY=end-of-year). The main goal of the project is for students to engage with physics in a way that they find fulfilling. My goals are to give my students autonomy to choose a project that requires them to extend or apply learning from year. This will be the fifth year that I've run this project, and each year I add new options and refine the old ones. This iteration of the assignment has 12 different project options!


Project Options

The 2019 version of the assignment that I will roll out to students in a few days has the following options. More detailed explanations are in the assignment document linked above. A few past projects are showcased below.

  • Teaching Video: Students can create an instructional video on a topic we studied in class. The video must include a real-life example, an example problem, and must an extension that goes beyond what was taught in class.

  • Literature Research with Presentation and Paper: Students investigate an area of interest and write about it, then teach the class about their topic. This could be an advanced topic in physics or an interesting engineering problem (like what it would take to colonize Mars). It could also be a historical look into the development of a field of physics or a biography of an important scientist.

  • Fiction Analysis: Students choose a film, video game, or book and analyze the feasibility of some aspect/s of it. Students need to make sensible assumptions based on the source material and then apply relevant physics to make claims about it. A personal favorite of mine was a group that calculated the power output of the death star.

  • Physics-Based Art Project: Students design and create an art piece/installation that embodies or exploits some physics concept in order to demonstrate the concept in an aesthetically satisfying manner. (Think Kinetic Sculptures for example.)

  • Physics-Influenced Art Project: This is different than the physics-based art project, because the product for this project doesn't require any engineering. These projects seek to take physics concepts and utilize them as inspiration for artwork that could be a painting, poetry, short fiction, or some type of sculpture.

  • Continuing Experimental Research with Paper and Presentation: For this assignments students must pose a research question and then develop and carry out experiments to investigate that question. Students must refine their question based on their initial results and then conduct follow-up experiments.

  • Engineering Design and Construction with Multiple Prototypes: Students carry out an engineering process and refine their design by carefully observing the problems with their first prototype.

  • Physics Modeling with Computer Programming: Students create a computer model of a physical system.

  • Aerospace Engineering with Kerbal Space Program: Students play the game Kerbal Space Program in Science Mode and develop a basic understanding of rocketry and orbital maneuvers. As a general requirement, students must advance to the point of successfully carrying out a Mun landing.

  • Thing Explainer Poster: Randall Munroe, former Nasa engineer and artist of the XKCD comic published a book a couple years ago entitled "Thing Explainer." In it, he takes complex systems and explains them using diagrams and only the "ten-hundred" most common words in the English language. Students have the option of choosing a system and creating a "thing-explainer" poster of the system in the style of the book. (Link to word checker).

  • Video Analysis Teaching Task: Students take video footage and design a teaching task that allows students to analyze the footage in Logger Pro to learn about or apply a physics concept.

  • Educational Outreach: Students choose a community, then design and implement a lesson to teach a a group in that community about a physics concept. Lesson must be tailored to the needs of the participants and pedagogical research should be incorporated into the lesson design.

In addition to these options, sometimes students end up combining these ideas or creating their own idea for a project. For assessing these projects I often cobble together new scoring guides by pulling rows from other projects that seem relevant or taking an existing scoring guide and modifying a row or two.



Progress Calendar and Shared Files via Google Drive: When students begin their project, I have them create a google drive folder and share it with me. I also create a doc with a calendar template. The calendar includes all of the days that we meet as a class as well as other important school events that should be on their radar. Students are required to make a copy of this template and fill it in, doing their best to outline where they should be on which days (although this will change as they progress).

Progress Tweets: This year, I'm intending to require students to post daily updates of their progress on Twitter using a unique hashtag for my class. This means that I will have a feed I can access showing their ongoing progress. I can come back to this when I assess them at the end, but I can also look at their work and leave comments. This provides accountability in the sense that I can see what they are doing, but they can also look at each other's work which means that, hopefully, we'll have a digital community of progress sharing where students can like and comment on what their peers are working on. Programs like padlet could work well for this too. Remember Twitter posts can be publicly viewed, so be conscious of student privacy.

In Their Final Assessment: In the assignment guide, a description of each project as well as general guidelines are available. Each project option also has a uniquely tailored scoring guide. To ensure accountability on an ongoing basis there is a section on all scoring guides titled "steady effort and collaboration." To earn full credit for this section, students must utilize class time productively. Additionally, they must also always come prepared with necessary materials and communicate effectively with each other and with me. Maybe philosophically, you're opposed to having behaviors count as part of the grade--that's fine--do what you need to do for the accountability piece.


Student Exemplars

Poems About Quantum Mechanics: (A Physics-Influenced Art Project)

Quantum mechanics (QM) is notorious for being misunderstood and misrepresented, so when my student Jisoo Hope Yoon chose this field as the subject for her EOY poetry project I was excited and a bit nervous. However after a few discussions with her, my fears dissolved. Hope was committed to gaining an accurate, if lay, understanding of concepts in QM. She didn't want to cut corners; she wanted poems to be right. "The research project took a significant portion of my time, probably more so than the actual drafting or editing of the pieces," she writes in her reflection. She did not want to fall into the trap of abusing or exaggerating weird concepts to make her poems cooler--no matter how compelling this might be. She was committed to honoring the artistic and scientific integrity of the endeavor and this is reflected in her final drafts.

I wanted the theories to be represented in the way the poems were written, not just what the poems were written about. - Jisoo Hope Yoon

Her poems are published on her own blog and I have, with her permission, provided links to them. Her writer's statement for the first poem "Behind The Curtain," is also included below to provide some insight into her process and the connections she seeks to make.

A Series of Poems about Quantum Mechanics

by Jisoo Hope Yoon




Writer's Statement for Behind the Curtain:

This poem used the concept of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, especially in the fourth and fifth stanzas, most explicitly in the questions "Where am I? Where am I going?" which could refer to a person's identity crisis or questions about one's place in the world but also is a direct reference to the information pair most commonly referred to in the principle, a particle's position and velocity.

I used this relatively brief piece to set the stage for the whole collection, by broadening the idea of the HUP to the limit of human knowledge in general. There's a Plato reference that seemed apt to me, considering the themes of ignorance and enlightenment. It then connects to the overarching idea of reality as we know it being "broken" once we learn about quantum physics.

I wrote that we are left in the dark "elegantly" because that's what I think-- it seems elegant to me that our limitations are written out and proven mathematically. Also, as I did my reading, HUP seemed to help make logical steps in a lot of the reasoning behind quantum mechanics concepts.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon


The Ballista (An Engineering Project)

Ballista Design by APP1 Students

In intro physics classes, trebuchets are usually the siege weapon of choice (and I've had few groups tackle these builds), but this group of students chose to branch out and create a ballista. In order to properly carry out this engineering project the students first performed significant background research on design. Because their design required pieces of wood to be specially cut outside of school with precision tools, they took the "measure twice, cut once" saying to heart.

The students incorporated elements from many different ballista designs that they found online. This made their final product original. I should also note that for a project like this, you can't simply scale up or scale down someone else's design. The optimal dimension ratios do not remain the same at different scales--something tricky that they attempted to account for. This means that once they decided on the size of their trebuchet a lot of research and planning went in to deciding the exact measurement specifications.

Unexpectedly, they struggled the most with getting the release mechanism to function properly. It was a real challenge to find that sweet spot between it being stuck and releasing too easily. This required careful shaping of the point of contact between the mechanism and the rope. One of the things I love most about engineering projects is that it's difficult to anticipate what the big obstacles will be, so students must use creative problem solving to design solutions.

Ballista Constructed by APP1 Students

From the Students’ Write-Up: The main mechanism of our device is torsion, which is the twisting of an object due to an applied torque. The arms of our ballista were placed between ropes, and four handles located on each end of the string allowed us to tighten the string and create more tension, and therefore make more restoring force. The handles were placed onto a carved wooden piece, shaped so that the handles (pipes) twisted only one way and locked into place. We also made a “shimmed hook trigger,” where we locked the string behind a wooden “hook,” and released the hook upwards by pushing down to let the restoring force fling the string and bolt forward. Our whole ballista relies heavily on that one concept of torsion, so we had to make various corrections to ensure that there was enough torsion, and that our frame and trigger would be able to sustain it.

A First Step into Aeronautics (A Continuing Experimental Research Project)

This project was conducted by an APP1 student who I also taught the following year in APP2 and who now actually attends an engineering program majoring in aerospace engineering. For this project, the student experimented with a glider and took a broad experimental approach to understand and model characteristics of its behavior. I include this project as an exemplar because it really shows the spirit of a continuing experimental research project. Remember, for these research projects students don't just conduct a single experiment and report out. They must continually refine their questions and devise new experiments based on previous parts of their investigation.

The student began by launching a glider with constant initial speeds, but at different angles with respect to the horizontal. He hypothesized that the behavior would be different from that of a projectile, but was unsure as to the nature of that difference. His graph of angle vs. horizontal displacement is shown below:

His results were surprising! A projectile, launched at ground level, achieves maximum displacement with a 45 degree launch angle, but the glider seemed to have maximum displacement for small angles. The student also found that the path of the glider was not parabolic, Instead it would travel in a somewhat straight path, but at a certain point it would slow down and then stall dropping to the ground. His illustration of these observations is given below.

Illustration showing trajectory of gliders launched at different angles, but with constant initial speed

The student took a particular interest in what factors cause the glider to stall. He conducted significant literature research to learn about the relevant factors and came away with a basic conceptual understanding of what causes this to occur.

Finally, the student attempted a video analysis of a glider flight to more precisely examine the stalling process. His intention was to use this data to create lift force and drag force vs. time graphs for the glider to explain the stalling behavior using Newton's laws. He attempted to do this by looking at vertical velocity vs time for the glider. In the end, his method was unsuccessful because the glider's constantly changing speed, direction of motion, and angle of attack were too many factors to account for.

Although this analysis proved unsuccessful, the student did an excellent job of articulating why these challenges were too tough to navigate based on his level of knowledge. He achieved this by clearly communicating the significance of these hard-to-account-for factors, incorporating relevant physics (like FBDs) in his explanation. A screenshot of his analysis from this portion is given below.

Video analysis for a glider

De-Orbiting an Asteroid in Kerbal Space Program

This student went above and beyond in KSP. Not only did he achieve a Mun landing, but he landed on some other, more distant, planets in the system as well. To top it all off, he even managed to de-orbit an asteroid and land it on the home planet of Kerbin. This required significant planning. His rocket was intentionally to achieve this purpose and his launch window carefully considered. Note that the orbital maneuvering and flight planning required for a mission like this is highly advanced.

He gave a mission report to the class about this process, explaining his flight plan and his rocket design. He also made a video showing the whole mission. Here it is!

De-orbiting an Asteroid in KSP


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