Tuesday, June 11, 2019

AP Physics C new manual

The College Board has redesigned (or tweaked?) the AP Physics C Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism exams for the 2019-2020 school year. The instructors have access to the Course and Exam Description which has been expanded greatly. The 2014 version was 69 pages for both Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism. The new versions are 174 and 170 pages each, respectively. Going through them is part of my summer plans (exciting I know) and I wanted to share my first impressions, resources, etc.

First of all, the organization is way different. The old version had a few pages on lab and course suggestions (you need money for lab supplies, the class takes lots of time, etc.) and gave a breakdown of the percentage of the exam by topic. Then came several pages of an outline of objectives of the "Students show understand/be able to..." variety. I had retyped these for my students and passed them out at the beginning of each unit. I thought it was important for students to see exactly what could be asked of them on the exam and also what was outside the scope.

Here are the old versions if you're interested:
A. Kinematics
B. Newton's laws of motion
C. Work, Energy, Power
D. Momentum
E. Circular Motion and Rotation
F. Oscillations  & Gravitation

The new version has a lot more information about the logistics of teaching the course. There is suggested pacing, although the range for each unit is large because they recognize that AP Physics C can be taught as a one year or two year course. The course is organized into 7 units, essentially the same topic breakdown as above. Within each unit are subtopics listings with learning objectives under each. Each subtopic has a Enduring Understanding statement which is defined as "long-term takeaways related to the big ideas that leave a lasting impression on students." Each Enduring Understanding comes with Learning Objectives and Essential Knowledge statements. The Learning Objectives have the same purpose as the old ones, the Essential Knowledge is more like a summary or clarification statement. These list the equations that represent the relationships described in the Learning Objectives, some of which are on the equation sheet while some are not. Each unit has a different amount of Topics and Learning Objectives. Some concepts seem to have more emphasis than they used to, for example resistive (drag) forces Under Unit 2 Newton's Laws of motion.

The lab related objectives have also been updated to be Science Practices, a list of skills related to both physical lab skills and also critical thinking and problem solving. There is a whole table that outlines the 7 main practices and the skills required for each. I plan to make a copy of it for my students. The old lab objectives were not as detailed, as a comparison:

Old practices:
3. Analyze data - Students should understand how to analyze data, so they can:
a) Display data in graphical or tabular form.
b) Fit lines and curves to data points in graphs.
c) Perform calculations with data.

d) Make extrapolations and interpolations from data.

New practices:
Practice 4: Data Analysis
Analyze quantitative data represented in graphs.
4.A Identify and describe patterns and trends in data or a graph.
4.B Demonstrate consistency between different graphical representations of the same physical situation.
4.C Linearize data and/or determine a best fit line or curve.
4.D Select relevant features of a graph to describe a physical situation or solve problems.

4.E Explain how the data or graph illustrates a physics principle, process, concept or theory.

Across all 7 units are four "Big Ideas" that remind me of the Cross Cutting Concepts of NGSS. The Learning Objectives for each unit's subtopic fit under one of these Big Ideas. A handy table is included:

Unit 1: Kinematics
Unit 2: Newton's Laws of Motion
Unit 3: Work, energy, power
Unit 4: Systems of particles, linear momentum
Unit 5: Circular motion and rotation
Unit 6: Oscillations
Unit 7: Gravitation
Big Idea 1: Change (CHA)
Interactions produce changes in motion.


Big Idea 1: Force Interactions (INT) Forces characterize interactions between objects or systems.


Big Idea 3: Fields (FLD) Fields predict and describe interactions.

Big Idea 4: Conservation (CON) Conservation laws constrain interactions



Overall the unit outlines and supplemental materials looks well designed and flushed out. There are reminders everywhere to view the online materials available for teachers and students. Students will have access to online practice multiple choice and free response questions that are similar in style to the AP exam. It is suggested that you assign these practice problems for homework but specifically states that it should not be graded other than for participation points. There is a page of sample instructional activities, notes space and more. All like the ideal unit outlines we were supposed to learn to make after the credential program. 

All in all I like the addition of information. The layout and new terms will take some getting used to and I'm still deciding what to give my students. I typed up each unit's topic, Enduring Understanding, Learning Objectives and Essential Knowledge for Mechanics. That... took awhile. On one hand I like the Essential Knowledge as background information for my students but I also worry it is too much detail for them and they won't look at it. I typed up the Science Practices (lab skills) and also separated the Learning Objectives into a separate document. And since I typed it up, you won't have to! I'll get to E&M later and I'll be sure to post it here as well. 

All Learning Objects (pdf or Google doc)
Science Practices (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 1: Kinematics (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 2: Newton's Laws of Motion (pdf or Google doc) and Circular Motion (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 3:Work, Energy and Power (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 4: Systems of Particles [aka Center of Mass] (pdf or Google doc) and Linear Momentum (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 5: Rotation (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 6: Oscillations (pdf or Google doc)
Unit 7: Gravitation (pdf or Google doc)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Van de Graaff is the Coiffeur 2019

It was another hair-raising experience when we charged up the Van de Graaff generator this year.

The conditions were often less than ideal. But we charged ahead with our old 1960s-era Cenco Van de Graaff. That old thing can produce a nice charge.

Hair are the results.

2019 Van de Graaff Album
2019 Van de Graaff Rio Phyz

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Our Planet (Netflix series)

Sometimes I go somewhere for spring break. This year I went everywhere on our planet.

Our Planet | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

As described by the producers:
Our Planet is a groundbreaking, four-year collaboration between Netflix, Silverback Films and WWF. It explores the rich natural wonders, iconic species and wildlife spectacles that still remain, and reveals the key issues that urgently threaten their existence. Today, we have become the greatest threat to the health of our planet. 
Our joint mission is to inspire people over the world to understand our planet - and the challenges it faces. If we can truly understand why nature matters to us all, and what we can do to save it, then we can create a future where nature and people thrive. 
It is very BBC Planet Earth-esque in many ways: stunning wildlife photography accompanied by a David Attenborough narration. But in it's storytelling, it does describe human impact. There are times when that impact is beneficial, but more often it is detrimental. Appallingly detrimental.

But no part of the series is "pollution porn". No images of filth being pumped into waterways or oil-covered birds struggling amid the sludge.

By and large it is a celebration of nature as it remains and an assurance that, given the opportunity, the extent to which it can recover. And photography tools and techniques have advanced significantly since Planet Earth was made.

There are disturbing vignettes. The fungus that bursts forth from the corpse of an ant whose dying behavior it commandeered, the successful orca hunt of an outmatched penguin, and "the walrus scene". The walrus scene will likely stay with me for a very long time. It should be noted that the entire eight-episode series is rated TV-G.

I may never have need or cause to direct my own students to watch this series. But others might. It seems very much in line with the NGSS three-course model's "The Living Earth". But I know I'm unwilling to use expository video resources without an accompanying set of questions. For long-form videos such as each episode of Our Planet, a sequence of surface-level questions can keep students focused on the narrative.

So I spent a significant portion of spring break preparing video question sets that teachers could use with students while watching any or all episodes of the series. For me, that requires first screening the episode as a passive audience member. Next I go through the process of watching and listening and pausing while I allow the text of the narration to suggest possible questions.

Fill-in-the-blanks are simple and can be effective. Sometimes. But not when the key word or phrase is something like "Rub' al Khali" or name of any exotic place or organism. Multiple choice can be deployed here, but it's key to develop distractors of such quality that even a clever student would be attracted to a wrong answer if they were not paying attention.

There are occasions in which multi-select checklists are appropriate. Rarely, it is even possible to create a matching sequence.

In any case, I came up with Our Planet (Netflix) Video Question Sets and have posted them to The Lessons of Phyz at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Often the producers of such programs will develop deep and expansive curriculum through which an instructor could make a semester or yearlong course based on the documentary series. And the producers of Our Planet have produced a companion book for the series.

For now, my own classroom interests have never risen to that level of ambition. Not even for The Mechanical Universe. I prefer to incorporate the resources rather than to be incorporated by them.

If you know someone who might want to replace their use of Planet Earth with something a little more environmentally conscious, send them this post. Our planet is stunningly gorgeous, as is Our Planet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Let physics change your mind

I should probably ad a subject tag of "better late than never". Maybe later.

Somehow this article got past me last year. My absentminded/aloof game is apparently too strong sometimes. So I apologize if you already knew about this item from Neuroscience News ages ago, but...

New Parts of the Brain Become Active After Students Learn Physics
A neuroimaging study reveals brain areas not commonly associated with science learning become active when people complete physics problems.
It inspired a new Physics Ad. Too late for this year just means super early for next year.

Monday, April 01, 2019

It's a great day to be skeptical!

I've been developing "skepticism in the classroom" resources for quite a while. I've posted a bunch of them to The Lessons off Phyz at Teachers Pay Teachers. I drop them into my curriculum throughput the year, when the moment is right. Sometimes they are assigned as "YouTube Homework".

YouTube Skepticism: Baloney Detection Kit
This activity engages students as they watch a 14-minute video on a so-called "Baloney Detection Kit". It's a structured implementation of Carl Sagan's quote, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and acts as a filter when students are confronted with claims.

YouTube Skepticism: The First Moon Office
This activity compares the science of meteors and apparent weightlessness with how those phenomena are represented in a Federal Express television advertisement.

YouTube Skepticism: Power Balance
Power Balance bracelets burst onto the scene a few years ago and enjoyed explosive success. There were "knock-offs," fakes, and the company gathered so much cash it bough the naming rights to sports and entertainment complex in Sacramento: what had been ARCO Arena became Power Balance Pavilion. The activity brings students through the claims and the tests of those claims. Power Balance has since declared bankruptcy, but similar products (targeted toward baseball players) persist. There will always be such products, I hope my students do not buy them.

YouTube Skepticism: Magnet Boys
This activity allows students to consider several cases of so-called "magnet boys" that swarmed the Internet a few years ago. The cases pose interesting questions, and magician and skeptic, James Randi, has an idea of what might be going on.

YouTube Skepticism: Cell Phone Popcorn
This activity has students observe and investigate a set of viral videos that took YouTube by storm a few years ago: ordinary people were using their cell phones to pop popcorn. The videos leas students into a revealing investigation.

The Secrets of the Psychics
Nova's Secrets of the Psychics. Magician and skeptic, James "The Amazing" Randi, exposes so-called psychics at home and abroad. It's a serious topic, but there are a great many laughs to be had.

Merchants of Doubt
Question set and answer key to accompany Merchants of Doubt (Sony Classic Pictures). This documentary exposes the parallels of the tactics used by the tobacco industry and climate change deniers, among others.

Skepticism Bundle—The Whole Shebang!
All of the above.

More skepticism in the classroom resources can be found at

Skepticism in the Classroom (Dean Baird)

Skepticism in the Classroom (my buddy, Matt Lowry—physics instructor and skeptic extraordinaire)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Magnetoception: can it happen in humans?

When we study magnetism, we learn that certain animals have awareness of magnetic fields and can use it for navigation. Certain birds are known to have magnetite in their skulls. Here's a nice update of recent findings regarding magnetoception in birds.

Humans do not seem to have this capability. But that doesn't mean our brains are entirely oblivious to magnetic fields.

Veritasium's Derek Muller dons a sensor-laden shower cap of science to test his brain's awareness of the magnetic field it's immersed in. Could it be that the brain senses magnetic fields but doesn't share the information with our consciousness? Take a look.

Can Humans Sense Magnetic Fields?

Friday, March 22, 2019

Cheerios and thumbtacks: tribalism in a cereal bowl

What I always love about Jearl Walker's work is that it looks at the world, sees something peculiar, and says "why is that?" And proceeds to investigate.

We often hear, "Everything happens for a reason." What we should also hear is, "And that reason is physics."

So it is with The Cheerios Effect. Watch and learn.

The Cheerios Effect

There's a whole book filled with this kind of serendipity:

The Flying Circus of Physics by Jearl Walker

I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Waves and Sound Playlist of Phyz

Here's the latest Phyz playlist, an idea I got from fellow Phyz blogger, Dan Burns.

The topic this time is waves and sound.

Curiosities: An alphabetical listing is dominated by the Ws. A chronological listing is dominated by songs released in the past five years.

Left behind: The list would be longer if not for careful curation. Apple Music search results tagged with an E (explicit) are not included. We fire up the playlist (at an Office Space "reasonable volume") during lab activities. You do not want to fill your classroom with expletives, no matter how mellifluous the tones. Because that will be followed by a conversation with your principal that you really do not want to have.

In any case, on to the list. If I missed a gem, let me know in the comments. I like that the alpha list begins with "Catch a Wave" and ends with "Waving Goodbye".

The Waves and Sound Playlist of Phyz
Catch a WaveBeach Boys1963
Don't Make WavesBrand X1979
Every Breaking WaveU22014
I Like the Sound of ThatRascal Flatts2014
Salt Water SoundZero 72002
SoundDaniela Andrade2016
Sound & ColorAlabama Shakes2016
The SoundThe 19752015
The Sound of SilenceSimon & Garfunkel1966
Veering From the WaveJennifer Kimball1998
Walking on SunshineKatrina & the Waves1985
Warm SoundZero 72004
Wave (Instrumental)Antônio Carlos Jobim1967
Wave (English)Sinatra & Jobim1967
Wave (Portuguese)João Gilberto1977
WaveBrooke Butler2017
WaveJvck James2018
WaveThe Midnight2018
Wave (feat. Kali Uchis)Major Lazer2015
Wave (feat. Masego)Abir2016
WavelengthVan Morrison1978
WavesMr. Probz2014
WavesDean Lewis2016
WavingThe Bevis Frond2016
WavingThe Delilahs1995
WavingJami Lula2002
WavingRich Whiteley2009
WavingTiny Desserts2019
Waving GoodbyeSia2016

Click the "playlist" label below to see more Playlists of Phyz. As of this post, there are playlists up for Electricity and Magnetism. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

All in a Mouse's Night ... Vision

If your curriculum visits light and color, here's a nice tangent worth traveling. Not sharks with fricken lasers, but mice with night vision.
Scientists have figured out how to confer a superpower, like those wielded by the mythical X-Men, at least to mice. Using nanoparticles that convert infrared (IR) light to visible light, researchers have given mice the ability to see in the dark. If the same technique works in humans, it could offer soldiers night vision without the need for goggles and possibly counter ailments that cause patients to gradually lose their sight.
There are important details. Read about them in this article from Science:
Nanoparticles give mice night vision

As a veteran of titling blog posts and lab activities, and as a long-time fan of progressive-era Genesis, "All in a Mouse's Night" quickly came to mind. Trust me, this gift is as much a curse as it is a blessing.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

One tendril of Dan Burns' vast influence: Kari Byron

I'm just gonna leave this right here, for the benefit of both of you who aren't on the social media.

That's two people made of win right there!

Of course my Montana-sized ego compels me to at least attempt to sourgrapes this awesomeness. Not an easy lift, but here goes:

It's a good thing Kari Byron wasn't one of my students, because if she were, I'd be about 15 years into a forehead tattoo reading "I was Kari Byron's Physics Teacher!" If we're being honest, that would only serve to ostracize me from family, friends, students, and colleagues. And I don't think Ms. Byron would ever speak to me again. So... whew: dodged that bullet!

In any case, I hope Kari will keep us all laughing and thinking, and that Dan will continue to share his pearls wisdom with readers of this blog. The world could always use more people like these two.