Tag Archives: problem solving

Projectile Motion Assessment Task

You are a game designer for Rovio Entertainment, the company that makes Angry Birds.  The human resources department wants your input. They are hiring several programmers to build the physics engine for Rovio’s newest game. Here are the demo videos from the top four applicants. Which applicant(s) would you recommend for hire?

Applicant A

Applicant B

Applicant C

Applicant D

Download the original video files for analysis in Logger Pro or Tracker.

These videos were not created by me. I found them online several years ago, but I can’t remember where. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can give the creator proper credit. Thanks!

My TEDxNYED Session: Learning Science by Doing Science

Many thanks to the TEDxNYED 2012 crew, especially True Life Media, Basil Kolani, Karen Blumberg, and Matthew Moran for an awesome event. Be sure to check out the rest of the TEDxNYED 2012 talks.

Learn more about Modeling Instruction in Science.

Physics of Angry Birds Lesson on CUNY-TV

Many thanks to Ernabel Demillo and the crew of Science and U!

You can read more about how we use Angry Birds in class here:
Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom

Physics Teaching 2.Uh-Oh

My first talk! Given at the STANYS 2011 Physics Breakfast on November 8th, 2011 in Rochester, New York

Links to resources mentioned in the talk:

A huge thank you to Gene Gordon for inviting me to speak at the breakfast. It was great to share my passions and meet my virtual colleagues face-to-face!

I’d love any feedback you have, positive and negative. Thanks!

Problem-solving Paralysis

Recently, I’ve been playing Refraction on my Android phone. The goal is to get the colored light beams from the triangles to the round targets by placing mirrors and prisms on the board to manipulate the light. It’s a neat little game that has both good and bad physics which would be great for analysis. But we can save that for another post.

Whoa. Where do I begin?

I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to solve an imposing puzzle:

  • I never “see” the full solution by simply looking at the puzzle.
  • I don’t wait to make my moves until I know the solution.
  • I take a few steps, and see where they lead.
  • Sometimes those steps don’t work out. So I backtrack and try again.
  • The forwards and backwards steps eventually add up to success.


I know my students take the same approach when solving puzzles, whether it’s video games, mobile games, crosswords, or sudoku. They dive right in and tinker. So why, when faced with a physics problem, do many students suddenly freeze-up if they can’t see the whole solution right from the outset? How do we show students it’s OK to dive right in, go down blind alleys, hit deadends, backtrack, and try again?

How do we eliminate problem-solving paralysis?

Khan vs. Karplus: Elevator Edition

Exhibit A: Sal Khan on elevators

Exhibit B: My students on elevators
Framed around the Karplus learning cycle (Exploration, Invention, and Application) my students construct the conceptual and mathematical models themselves.

1. Exploration Phase:

2. Invention Phase: 

  • Draw a motion diagram for the object attached to the scale when the scale is stationary, then being pulled up and then stops.
  • Draw a force diagram for the object attached to the scale when the scale is stationary, then being pulled up and then stops. Decide whether the force diagram is consistent with the motion diagram. How is the force diagram related ot the reading of the scale?
  • Use the force diagram and the idea under test to make a prediction of the relative readings of the scale.
  • Observe the experiment and reconcile the outcome with your prediction.

(Video and questions for this phase taken from Eugenia Etkina’s awesome site Physics Teaching Technology Resource which has many more video experiments.)

3. Application Phase:

Instead of showing our students a better lecture, let’s get them doing something better than lecture.

UPDATE: Welcome New York Times readers! Other recommended posts:

Increasing Engagement in Science

As part of a session on innovative practices in science at TeachMeet New Jersey 2011, I gave a presentation entitled “Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Increasing Engagement in Science”

I have posted that presentation, complete with speaker’s notes and plenty of links to further information, here: http://bit.ly/EngageSci

Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated! (e.g., is there a bigger theme I am missing, etc.) Thanks! J3BC3J3HSY8J