Sunday, October 26, 2014

And that's the week that was...

a strong contender for the craziest week at school in my 29 years thus far. I cannot divulge all the details here, and there's even more going on than what I'll document in this post. But even what's out there is enough.

It began Friday, October 17th with an impromptu student protest that I began hearing about through the student chatter between classes. News vans were on campus, media was being collected for news pieces later that day.

There had been an incident involving a student and an administrator. A physical altercation had occurred in the vice principal's office that involved the VP physically restraining the student. The student bit the administrator through the flesh. The students were protesting in support of the administrator-biter.

KXTV News10's slideshow:
Rio Americano students tape mouths shut in protest

At an optional, information staff meeting after school, we were informed about details of the protest and how it was handled by the principal. We also learned that some graffiti left in a girls' bathroom threatened a school shooting on October 22. October 22 was also the date of the school district's disciplinary hearing regarding the biting incident.

San Juan Unified School District's Threat Assessment Team was called into action, investigating the threat with the Sacramento Sheriff's Department. Eventually, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Homeland Security were involved. Additional law enforcement personnel were brought on campus and teachers were asked to be out and about during prep periods.

By Tuesday, October 21, a note had been found suggesting the shooting had been bumped up to that day. There was apparently some absenteeism beyond what should be expected. The drumbeat of local news coverage served to amplify the drama.

Here's KCRA's contribution (Sadly, this reporter didn't really know where she was. "Rio Americana"? Really?): Rio Americano HS attendance drops after shooting threat"

And this from The Sacramento Bee: Rio Americano shooting threat leaves students, parents nervous

Not surprisingly, absenteeism was decidedly more pronounced on Wednesday, October 22. I went about my business as per usual. Teaching physics, as I do. With heightened awareness, but not with anything resembling a siege mentality.

Things were going smoothly until lunch. About ten minutes into lunch, the fire alarm klaxons and strobes began to fire. I presumed a student sympathetic to the biter was looking to make a splash on this day. Still though, the entire school population was mandated to proceed away from all shelter and out into the sniper-friendly open areas of campus on the day a school shooting was threatened.

The genesis of the alarm was not as I suspected. No, it was merely a colleague burning microwave popcorn during lunch on this—of all—days. One hopes he learned the importance of staying with the machine while the corn is popping. But I doubt it. His subsequent blog post is less an apologetic mea culpa and more a Nixonian, "You won't have me to kick around anymore"/"I'm taking my ball and going home" vibe.  This from someone fond of publicly referring to people of all walks as "idiots" and publicly calling others out for "incompetence". (I set off the school's fire alarm once, too. Here's my post on the matter.)

Clearing the alarm pushed lunch later, so our 6th period block period lost about 15 minutes of instructional time.

And on Thursday, some of the faculty officially played softball after school. [Rio's greatest video coming soon!]

On Friday, a local, tragic crime spree sent ripples throughout Sacramento and beyond. With police helicopters circling above, our principal came over the PA (for the third time this week) to announce that the overhead activity was not related to anything at Rio, but that we were now sheltering in place until further notice.

The shelter in place continued into lunch until 12:30pm. By then, I had volunteered to escort classes of students to-from the bathroom per shelter in place protocol. A group of parents had hoped to have a donut-filled celebration at lunch to mark the passing of the stressful week. With lunch being forestalled, donuts were shuttled to sheltering classrooms. The events that precipitated the shelter in place at dozens of schools made national news.

With nerves sufficiently rattled school-wide and many minutes lost—this time from the afternoon classes, I moved tests scheduled for the afternoon (AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2) to Monday. On-the-spot lesson-shuffling was implemented so that minimal instructional time was lost.

My take?

Through it all, the school's administration handled things with calm aplomb and laudable professionalism. This in the face of what appear to be the aberrant claims of a misbehaving student and her mother, a misguided student protest, vulturing local news media, and other obstacles. Based on what I know, I have no reason to suspect that the administrator involved will be found at fault of any misconduct whatsoever.

I hope none of my colleague's stayed away from school October 22. I was disappointed that so many students did. An abundance of law enforcement was brought to bear on the situation, and they did not find the threat to be credible. Keeping students away from school that day allowed the graffiti-author to have a disproportionate disrupting effect. Running in fear from every emotional outburst generated by teenagers in a high-school community gives undue power to individuals who clearly should not have it.

Ad infinita:
rio americano tumblr
Principal's Message 10/24/14

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Captain Disillusion - Viral Videos

Captain Disillusion gets his Cosmos (NdT version) on, with nice references to his previous Tumba debunk, outlawed magnetic Buckyballs, and magnet boys.

Captain Disillusion - Viral Comets Truck Saves Plane

"The Laws of Attraction" — A new PhET sim-based lab

This activity is a fairly deep exploration of the elements of Newton's Universal Gravitation. In the "Gravity Force Lab" sim, the force between two masses is displayed. Both masses can be changed, as can the distance between them. Mathematical patterns are developed and cobbled together until the full universal gravitation proportionality is constructed.

My lab activity, "The Laws of Attraction" can be found here.

PhET's "Gravity Force Lab" sim can be found here.

Here's the sim as it can be embedded:

Gravity Force Lab
Click to Run

Conceptual Physics PhET Tech Labs

The webpage that organizes my PhET sim-based labs had been updated significantly.

There are now 15 Conceptual Physics Tech Labs that employ PhET simulations. Check them out:

Phyz PhET Labs

The sim-based Tech Labs run the gamut from Mechanics through Atomic and Nuclear Physics.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Circuit Scribe

Sometimes something floats up through the Facebook feed that is fairly groovy, and I ponder, "Why didn't I already know about this?"

For example, Circuit Scribe. I've seen conductive-ink pens before, but it seems you needed special pepper. Circuit Scribe needs proprietary components, but still appears promising.

And it looks like they met their Kickstarter goal so I hope to see these things in the world sometime soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New AP Physics 2 resources on fluids in The Book of Phyz

The Book of Phyz page on fluids has been up for some time:

Book of Phyz: Fluids

Two new "phyzjobs" have been added: "Liquid Pressure" and "Buoyancy Overflow."

And there are fresh links to the full pages for two fluid PhET sims:



I've posted labs to those PhET pages.

Pool Cubes - Density and
Pool Cubes: Buoyancy 

The blogging may run light this year while I try to get AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 launched at Rio Americano. Apologies.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Book of Phyz online reorganization and upcoming changes

With NGSS, AP Physics 1, and AP Physics 2 coming online, our physics course offerings at Rio Americano are changing. The Book of Phyz is being reorganized to match Rio's courses.

If you're an instructor who's found The Book of Phyz materials to be helpful, they're all still there.

Please start at, then proceed to the curriculum materials via the "Physics," "AP Physics 1," or "AP Physics 2" links.

The documents are organized so that I can make them easily accessible to my currently-enrolled students. That was the point of posting them to in the first place.

I'm planning to phase out the posting of the lab handouts that have been published in Paul Hewitt/Pearson's various Conceptual Physics, Conceptual Physical Science, and Conceptual Integrated Science lab manuals.

The best collection of my labs is the newly published Conceptual Physics 12th edition Hewitt/Baird lab manual, discussed in this post. Hewitt's 12th edition of the college book is the best yet, and the lab manual aligns to it quite nicely. If we were adopting textbooks this year, I would adopt Hewitt's CP12 with the more durable high school (NASTA) binding.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How the Sun Sees You

I found this video to be totally captivating. The message is an important one. But the soundtrack is also nice. And then… how did they record this? See for yourself.

I love the "Oh My God!" moments. The appearance of the sunscreen didn't surprise me. We try to incorporate the opacity of sunscreen in our ExploratoRio Purple Haze exhibit. What I came away really wanting to know was… how can I set up a similar rig to capture live video in UV? Cameras with glass optics and glass filters and glass over their sensors are well protected against ultraviolet light.

The Exploratorium's Paul Doherty shared this informative Photonics article.

Ultraviolet Reflectance Imaging

The article mentions fused silica optics. Paul recalled grinding sodium chloride lenses for use in UV imaging. Fused silica and salt lenses? My ignorance is so vast, sometimes it hurts.

Here's a video tutorial on getting a DSLR modified and configured to shoot in the UV range. It's, well, a nontrivial affair.

Thursday, August 07, 2014