Tag Archives: physics

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!

Modeling Stories: Mark Schober

Today’s guest post is from Mark Schober, the new the president of the American Modeling Teachers’ Association. It is the third post in a series which shares the stories of teachers using Modeling Instruction.

From a childhood interest in dinosaurs and trains, my palentological affinity morphed into an interest in science and later into physics teaching — my fascination with trains has never wavered. I majored in mathematics, physics, and theater arts and then earned masters degrees in physics and in secondary education. Along the way, my undergraduate roommate (also a physics teacher) had ties to AAPT through his physics-teaching father, introducing me to the power of professional development communities, physics education research, and the breadth of innovations in physics instruction. In grad school, my advisor was testing early drafts of the University of Washington‘s Physics by Inquiry and Tutorials in Introductory Physics. In weekly meetings we would discuss the structure of the socratic questions and the conceptions the materials were designed to address, giving me a great insight into research-informed curricula that I implemented as his TA. However, when I began teaching high school physics in St. Louis, I quickly found that the University of Washington materials were so highly tailored to particular audiences (pre-service elementary education majors and first-year physics majors’ recitation sessions) that they were unusable in high school.

After my second year of physics teaching, I was encouraged to participate in a Modeling Workshop at UC Davis in 1998, led by Don Yost and Wayne Finkbeiner. Modeling established a pedagogical framework that transcended any particular set of curriculum materials, allowing me to use my prior skills and background in much more productively. In the followup workshop in 1999, I worked with other participants to develop modeling materials for teaching light. In 2000 and 2001,  Don Yost, Larry Dukerich, and I consolidated the light curriculum materials produced by all the workshops into the “standard” version. During this time, I also created an extensive website of the Modeling materials, though which I’ve met lots of other Modelers who have found it to be a useful resource. (www.modelingphysics.org)

I apprenticed with Rex and Debbie Rice in a modeling mechanics workshop in St. Louis in 2000, and in 2003 I co-led a St. Louis mechanics workshop with John Koski. In the summers from 2004-2007 I led workshops in light and E&M for Laird Kramer at Florida International University with co-leaders Matt Watson, David Kirkpatrick, and Russ Harcha. I’ve led a number of half-day workshops in conjunction with the St. Louis Area Physics Teachers and I worked closely with Rex Rice and Bill Brinkhorst to develop the amusement park physics curriculum for Six Flags St. Louis. In 2010 I led a mechanics workshop at the University of New Mexico for Jeff Saul and a Models of Light workshop at ASU.

After 14 years of teaching in St. Louis, my wife and I moved to New York City last summer. I got the chance to try 9th grade Modeling physics for the Regents in Harlem — a fantastic and humbling experience at the same time. However, the NYC DOE’s threatened layoffs of new hires sent me looking elsewhere, and this year I will be teaching chemistry and physics as well as taking on department head duties at Trinity School in Manhattan. To prepare for teaching chemistry, I took the Chemistry Modeling workshop this summer under the stellar leadership of Tammy Gwara. The coherence and development of the chemistry storyline has me very excited to teach it. Also, working with Fernand Brunschwig, Seth Guiñals-Kupperman, Nate Finney, and Andrew Stillman, we formed the Physics Teachers of New York City and have a full slate of monthly workshops for the upcoming school year.

Mark was recently interviewed for NSTA’s Lab Out Loud podcast. Listen to it here: Episode 68: Modeling Instruction in the Science Classroom.

Newton’s 3rd Law (or How to Make Effective Use of Video for Instruction)

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:
Download the high-quality video clips for each collision.


Why I’m a Modeler: Nick Cabot

Today’s guest post is from Nick Cabot. It is the second post in a series which shares the stories of teachers using Modeling Instruction.

My journey as a Modeler began 2 years after I completed my master’s in physics which was also how long I’d been teaching physics at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle.  I attended the first series of Modeling Leadership Workshops way back in 1995 through 1997 (yes, three summers), which were held at ASU and UI Chicago – I think I saw an ad for the Workshops in The Physics Teacher.  I was at the Chicago workshops, which were led by Gregg Swackhamer – a wonderful teacher – and it wasn’t five minutes into the first day when, like so many other teachers, I thought to myself, “Why hadn’t I been taught this way!?”  Despite my recent master’s degree, the Workshop really was the first time I’d seen Newtonian mechanics presented as a coherent whole, rather than as a series of, relatively speaking, disjointed formulas and problems.  I suppose the conceptual framework was always there, but it seemed to me that, not unlike mathematics instruction, we just turned the page and moved on.  As Larry Dukerich, another wonderful teacher and Workshop leader, is so fond of saying (and me of quoting him), “Textbooks maybe logical, but they are not psycho-logical,” by which he means that textbook authors and most teachers never consider for whom the textbooks or instruction are for.  Anyway, my whole conception of physics and physics teaching were completely overturned in favor of the Modeling paradigm.  On the strength of NSF support for the Workshop, I called in a political favor and got the school board to outfit my classroom with computers, ULIs, and probeware – and I was off and running.

Well, to make a long story somewhat shorter, based, in part, on my modest successes as Modeler, in 2001 I was awarded an Einstein Fellowship to the NSF where I had the opportunity to work in the Division of Undergraduate Education with the folks who manage their science teacher preparation portfolio.  I very much enjoyed the perspective afforded me by seeing the initiatives and proposals universities all over the country were submitting to reform undergraduate education and teacher preparation so as to take into account the years of research in science teaching and learning – finally!  Building off that experience I decided to get a Ph.D. and in 2008 (I continued to teach full time except for one year), I successfully defended my dissertation on the impact of Modeling Instruction on physics teachers.  Since then I’ve been at UNC Chapel Hill as a clinical assistant professor mostly teaching math and science methods and math content classes to pre-service, graduate, and post-baccalaureate elementary and secondary teachers.  And by virtue of being clinical faculty (as opposed to tenure-track, trapped in the publish-or-perish grind), I’ve also been able to work with math and science teachers and teacher educators in Thailand, China, and the Galapagos Islands.  I attribute it all to the broadening of my horizons that occurred because I showed up at a Modeling Workshop in Chicago one hot day in June, 1995.

So, why did I join the AMTA?  Mostly because I want to do whatever I can to help keep the dream alive and growing.  Modeling is a better science pedagogy because, more than any other with which I’m familiar (and I’m familiar with most of them), it brings sharp instructional focus to the two most important aspects of teaching science: models and classroom discourse.  Humans are natural modelers – it’s how we explain phenomena to ourselves.  Even though many of our models of the physical world are non-Newtonian (mostly because we can’t see frictional forces), they work pretty well (else we’d be dead!).  And because they are, in fact, generally “adequate,” trying to teach over the top of them is like speaking a foreign language – just so much gibberish that doesn’t jibe with everyday experience.  Modeling acknowledges students’ prior experience and provides opportunities for them to confront and challenge their everyday models.  Classroom discourse is a vital part of this experience because it gives students real-time feedback.  We’re expecting our students to undergo conceptual change from their everyday models to more scientifically aligned models – well, this takes mental energy (our brains are “lazy”) and guidance.  For the vast majority of students, the necessary prodding and guidance is available only in a classroom setting with a teacher who recognizes these incontrovertible facts about learning, that is, a Modeling teacher.  Modeling is our best chance to tap the reservoir of initiative and creativity in our students that historically has been ignored by those science teachers who couldn’t understand why their students didn’t understand.  How could I not help?

Nick Cabot is on the board of the American Modeling Teachers’ Association.

Why I’m a Modeler

This is the first in a series of posts sharing the stories of teachers using Modeling Instruction.

My name is Frank Noschese and I’m on the American Modeling Teachers’ Association Board of Directors as Member-at-Large. Here’s my modeling story:

I had heard about modeling instruction on various physics teaching email lists when I began teaching in 1998. “Awesome,” “life-changing,” and “the best professional development I ever had” were phases my virtual colleagues frequently used when describing modeling and the intensive summer workshops.

After my first few years of teaching, when I was finally able to keep my head above water, I investigated the Modeling Instruction program and poked around the ASU modeling website. I found the mechanics worksheets. I had struck gold! I was excited to transform my classroom into the hands-on, minds-on, discussion-based physics course I had been longing to teach. I opened up the first document file like it was my 6th birthday all over again.

I’ll be honest: At first glance, I was not impressed. The worksheets seemed very pedestrian and had problems just like any other textbook. Additional representations like motion maps and energy pie graphs seemed juvenile.

But the praise kept pouring in on the email lists. And there was this nagging voice that wouldn’t go away. It kept saying, “Maybe there is more to this modeling thing.” So I enrolled in a 2.5 week workshop called “PHY 620: Powerful Ideas And Quantitative Modeling: Mechanics” run by Buffalo State College’s Physics Education Department. The workshop leaders were Dewayne Beery, Dan MacIsaac, Marie Plumb, Chris Filkins, Joe Zawicki, and Kathleen Falconer.

In the workshop, the power of modeling became clear. It wasn’t about the worksheets. It wasn’t about the labs. It was about the discussion and discourse and the questioning and the arguing and the failing and the guiding and the succeeding that happened as we worked through the material. The multiple representations aspect was exceptionally helpful and powerful, not juvenile. I was hooked. I returned to school in September feeling more excited (and nervous) than before.

That first year went really well, I thought. As did successive years. Though I feel my discussion/questioning skills have been getting a little rusty and I’m longing to take a second workshop in E&M or Waves.

The Modeling Listserv has always been an invaluable resources for sharing ideas and asking questions. As have other email lists. But I slowly started noticing other teachers (particularly younger teachers and math teachers) reaching out for help and offering advice by blogging and tweeting. They weren’t connected to the email lists and weren’t going to hear about Modeling Instruction the same way I had. Upon first hearing the word “modeling,” they might incorrectly think it means “I do, We do, You do”-type teaching. I wanted to reach out to these other teachers and showcase modeling and other physics education related pedagogies. So in the summer of 2010, I joined Twitter and started this blog. The word is getting out, even if it means shouting over the voices of less effective pedagogies which have been getting the lion’s share of the money and media attention.

I became an AMTA member because I want Modeling to continue and thrive. And I wanted to be on the Board to help bring AMTA and Modeling into the view of educators beyond physics and show the world what effective science instruction looks like.

I hope you’ll join me.

Cross-class Collaboration Projects

Today’s post comes from Daryl Taylor, a high school physics and astronomy teacher in Connecticut. It was originally posted in response to this question on the NSTA Physics Listserv: “Has anyone had students collaborate with another class in a different locality for any class projects or assignments?”

I have, and love to, run collabs with various schools around the world just about any chance I can.

  1. We’ve recently run a parallax project (Astro-based) with a physics class in California; results weren’t great, but made the point.
  2. I run, based on a CIESE NJIT collab project, a “Circumference of Earth” collab any time I can get a school far away and at a very different latitude; results are always within a few %; unheard of accuracy in the Fizzix classroom.
  3. A few yrs ago, we ran a collab with a Forensics class in South Jersey. They were doing a “Who Done It” type of project and they (a teacher I used to work with) enlisted my Fizzix class help. They sent us images of blood spatter and foot and hand prints and the “crime” scene in general. My kids had to research and learn a little “blood spatter” physics, (including enlisting a guest expert from the local police dept!) and submitted their “FBI (Fizzix Blood Investigators) lab report” via PDF files and a Skype session. The Jersey Forensics class then went further and held a mock trial type thing with their Mock Trial Team and we watched as the audience and expert witnesses via Skype. Was great fun and kids (and I) learned the proverbial ton.
  4. Year-long project with another school to build a “self-sustaining human habitat in a locale considered non-habitable”. Kids decided to build a habitat under the Pacific Ocean (I thought the Moon or Mars, but NOOOOooo….) complete with alternate energy sources (including a ‘back-up’ nuclear plant…) and even a specific population hand-picked by the “planning committee”. Really cool. Did a lot of Distance Learning stuff and covered topics that absolutely amazed me.
  5. Also based on a CIESE project, The Boiling Point Project, I try to find a physics and/or chemistry class somewhere at a very high elevation, like Boulder or Denver or Mexico City, to run two collabs at once: boiling point of water and acceleration of gravity. If properly equipped and labs are run precisely, results on both are great. Email, text, and Skype are used to keep classes up to snuff with each other. In fact, each Lab group includes two of my kids and two of their kids so they HAVE to share and collab differently than a self-contained classroom situation.
  6. I’ve even just taken a basic high school lab like diffraction and ran a collab (Co-Lab, get it? I crack myself up….) with another school just to get twice the data and more worthy results. Also gets kids involved outside the “four walls”. It’s also quite cool to collab with a local or not-local college on regular class labs. They normally have fancy machines that go ‘ping’ while we don’t. Run the same lab and compare. Sometimes, the expensive machines that go ‘ping’ do no better than a meter stick and persistence. Sometimes the expensive machines that go ‘ping’ kick the meter stick’s butt.

Hope this helps. Anyone want to join some collabs this year?

Daryl L Taylor
Main website for teachers : DarylScience.com
Main website for students : DTFizzix.com
Teacher/Personal Blog: http://darylscience.blogspot.com/
Student Blog: http://dtfizzix.blogspot.com/

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:

Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom

I recently blogged that you can now play Angry Birds in your web browser. This opens up all sorts of video analysis possibilities for physics lessons and assessment. Students can easily make their own videos or you can pre-record your own. Videos can be recorded using Jing, Screencast-O-Matic, or Camtasia Studio. Analysis can be done in Logger Pro or Tracker.

Here are some possible investigations to carry out (shared by Michael Magnuson on the WNYPTA email list):

1. Make a reasonable estimate for the size of an angry bird, and determine the value of g in Angry Bird World. Why would the game designer want to have g be different than 9.8 m/s²?   Download Angry Birds video.

2. Does the blue angry bird conserve momentum during its split into three?  Download Red and Blue Birds video.

3. Does the white bird conserve momentum when it drops its bomb? Why would the game designer want the white bird to drop its bomb the way that it does?  Download White Bird video.

4. Describe in detail how the yellow bird changes velocity.  You will need to analyze more than one flight path to answer this question.  Download Yellow Birds video.

5. Shoot an angry bird so that it bounces off one of the blocks. Determine the coefficient of restitution and the mass of the angry bird.  Download Red Birds and Falling Block video.

You can download each video using the links above or get them all here.

Other posts with ideas about how to use Angry Birds in physics class:

How have you used (or will use) Angry Birds in the classroom?

UPDATE 12-28-2011: Our class has been featured on CUNY-TV’s “Science and U!” Jump to 10:25 in the video below:

Red, Blue, and Yellow Angry Birds

Download the original video files:

Angry Birds for Google Chrome

You can now play Angry Birds in Google Chrome! This makes getting footage for video analysis much easier. Here you go:

Download the video file for your own analysis. I used Camtasia Studio (free trial) to do the screen recording.