Sunday, September 27, 2015

My "Information for Parents" folder, 09/2015 additions

I've created an Information for Parents folder in my Schoology "ecosystem" ("edusystem"?).

In it, I placed the information discussed in the post below. And links to

"Leaning Physics is Tough. Get Used to It" by Rhett Allain in WIRED

Yes, students learn physics by working on problems and by failing to solve problems. It’s the journey to the solution that’s important, not the solution itself. Using a video solution would be like using a golf cart to run 5 miles. Sure, you end up in the same place if you run or ride—but they do not produce the same results.


"Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges" by Peter Gray in Psychology Today

We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have. Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.

There may be a theme building here. And I may be overcome by the tide. But for now, I'm standing strong.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What I did for Back to School Night #30

We started the school year (with students) on August 13th this year. That's a record early start date. Who remembers when school didn't begin until after Labor Day. Such places still exist. Just not where I teach.

Our Back-to-School Night was September 9th. For the past many years, I eschewed any discussion of policies for the 10-minute talk to parents. Instead, I presented a shortened version of the presentation I give in my Physics, AP Physics 1, and AP Physics 2 courses: "Physics Begins With an M". It's good stuff. And it would often generate at least one spontaneous round of applause at the 10-minute mark.

This time around, I spoke to the parents about the content of the course, how grades are determined, and the importance of engagement. The talk was not devoid of humor, but it was certainly heavier than my previous presentation.

I also upped the page-count of the handout I give to parents at the session. The hope is that the handout I distribute to parents who come in tells them everything they could want to know. That takes the pressure off the 10-minute session we have together. That said, I never open the floor to parent questions. Time is short, and that tactic has a great potential for failure.

Here's the handout I provide.

Back to School Night Parent Information

I also give them this:

How Not to Get Stuck on Physics Homework / How to Succeed in Physics.

And yes, my very first Back to School Night was in September of 1986. Ronald Reagan was President and California Governor George Deukmejian had a daughter at my school. He was at that Back to School Night, too. So this edition of BTSN was my 30th.

Dipping a toe into Schoology

Back in the late 1990s, I was keen to establish a presence on the nascent World Wide Web. I created pages with Adobe's PageMill in hopes of creating in a WYSIWYG environment rather than get bogged down in the intricacies of HyperText Markup Language (HTML).

By 2000, I was creating and posting Portable Document Format (PDF) files of my curriculum materials. That process is intertwined with meeting and befriending Paul G. Hewitt. It was in the early 2000s that I registered the domain name. In 2006, I started The Blog of Phyz.

In the late 2000s, my school district began providing a website generation service (SchoolWorld). I already had a relative "palace" on the web. By comparison, the district's service allowed teachers to create quaint cottages. I wasn't interested.

The district has discontinued its relationship with SchoolWorld in favor of a new relationship with SchoolWires. It also has an enterprise account with Schoology.

I'm exploring the utility and capabilities of Schoology. I use it primarily as an organizational tool for the curriculum in my courses. It seems useful in that regard. But nothing's as useful as the palace I've built at

One bright spot is the fact that tests created with ExamView can be exported to Blackboard format. Tests in Blackboard format can be imported by Schoology at online tests. Schoology can be configured in terms of test administration and the results are posted in class roster lists. Pretty slick! (It would be nice if ExamView showed any signs of life since 2012.}

In a way, it appears the logistics of Schoology make it possible to violate copyright law without interference or consequence. Only students and parents of students enrolled in courses can see the Schoology pages (and links and materials) associated with the course. So the violations are small-scale, I suppose.

Anyway, we'll see how it all goes. 

We could be evolving from an era of world-wide curriculum sharing on the web to closing back in ourselves. We shall see.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Professional development: Is it effective?

Trigger warning: if you are at all allergic to snark, you are advised to avoid this post.

It's that time of year, colleagues. You're rested up from that "summer off". [Please note: "Summer" is defined as the eight weeks between mid-June and mid-August, and "off" means you weren't teaching your subject in your classroom.] What better time to suck the life out of you with school-wide (if not district-wide) professional development (PD)?

According to thorough research collected by physics teaching superstar and Einstein Fellow, Marc "Zeke" Kossover, it turns out your professional development training may, in fact, be effective. But chances are that it's not.
A study of 25 professional development programs for math and science teachers in 14 states showed positive student outcomes if three conditions were met.
1. The programs focused on content in mathematics and science.

Honestly, you can probably stop right there. Chances are that the the PD you're engaging in is not focused on math or science. But if it is, feel free to continue.

2. The programs included on-site follow up in classrooms.

3. The teacher contact time reached at least 50 hours.

If the PD you're beginning this week meets all those conditions, please post a comment! To me, such PD is a unicorn: I know what it's supposed to look like, but I've never seen one in person.

In other news, I am beginning my 30th year of teaching this week.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Canvas to Keynote: The End

This is the story, dating back to 2012.

This is a graphic history of the progress at various intervals.

The conversion is now complete. All extant curriculum documents are editable (by me, anyway) in Apple's Keynote 5. Of course, since this process began, Apple rebuilt Keynote "from the ground up". They defanged it so it could be a cross-platform (Mac OS X and iOS) app. For now, I'm avoiding Keynote 6 like the plague it is. We'll see how long I can do that.

For now, a weight has been lifted.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

FLIR ONE 2.0 "See the Heat" camera now available*

I'm a fan of photography and imaging. I do a bit of photography, myself. I am a fan of Harold Edgerton's high-speed photography and videography.

I jumped on Casio's EX-F1 when it came out in 2008, and recommended it to physics teachers. My friend and colleague, Dan Burns, got one and came up with a simple rule for what to record in high speed: "If it moves, shoot it!"

When I heard that the heat imaging experts at FLIR were developing a consumer-level product, I looked it up. They were selling FLIR ONE, a camera/case combination for the iPhone 5/5S. I had an iPhone 4S, so I didn't bite. When I upgraded to an iPhone 6, the FLIR ONE was still not an option.

At CES 2015, FLIR announced the next version of FLIR ONE. It wasn't a case, but rather an attachment that connected to the iPhone via the Lightning connector.

As I was beginning my journey to wilds of Alaska, FLIR announced that the new ONE was shipping. By the time I got back to order one, the wait time was up to about six weeks.

Poke around FLIR ONE page.

Check out the marketing video; it's stronger on the funny than it is on the informative.

Or this one. A bit more informative…

Flir One Review

*I don't know how back-ordered they are now, but the sooner you buy, the sooner you'll get.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A quick dose of physics fun with Captain Disillusion

CD's laser vision sees through all!

Quick D: Where Did the Ball Go?

If it seems I've been away from The Blog of Phyz, it's because I have been. In other news, The Treks of Phyz has been getting new posts and is due for more. Alaska was beautiful!

And I've been finishing the manuscript for the Conceptual Physical Science 6th edition lab manual.

And last night, I even watched History of the Eagles (Part 1). "How come?" you might ask.

I Can't Tell You Why.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Samsung's "Transparent" Safety Truck

They finally did it: a truck with an index of refraction n = 1.0. Well, no. But still, this uses readily available technology to do something very groovy.

This seems like a great idea. It should be mandated for any large vehicle (trucks, RVs) on two-lane roads.

Samsung Safety Truck (Versión en Español)

Samsung Safety Truck (Versión en Español)

Fragile floating rainbow whales

These ephemal bubble clouds flourish where the breezes are gentle and humidity is high. Small children delight in seeing them, but are also all to eager to destroy them. Still though, these amoeba-like examples of fluid dynamics, surface tension, and thin film interference are mesmerizing.

Giant Stinson Beach Bubbles

I especially love the longitudinal shot from behind the bubble master. The disintegration is magical.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Down Periscope!

Using the loosest form of the word, I am the advisor of our high school's AVBotz Robotics Team. These students are self- or peer-taught and exceed the electronics knowledge I can bestow on them in a regular Physics classroom. They have built an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and compete in the International RoboSub competition every summer against universities such as CalTech, Cornell, Penn State, ASU, etc. (Notice I said universities!)

When the sub is being water tested some students are on the deck editing code on their computers at a safe distance from the pool while others are in the water to manipulate the sub and task props. At a recent water test we frequently asked the swimmers what the sub was doing since we couldn't see it in detail from above the water. The poor swimmers had to duck underwater then return up to say "It's heading straight," duck down and up again to say, "Now its dropped a foot," etc. as the sub was going through maneuvers.

It is probably the first time in my life I thought, "I need a periscope."

Although it wasn't the first time I had thought of building one. The Exploratorium's "Square Wheels" book of demonstrations by Don Rathjen and Paul Doherty has a project called "Periscope With A Twist." The instructions explain how to make a PVC periscope you can twist and see how the orientation of the image changes. I knew I would have to modify the design because I wanted to have part of it underwater. As light moves from air to water it refracts or bends because light waves travel more slowly in water. If I had used the original design the mirror I was looking into would give me a view of the water level within the tube but would not allow me to see underwater. I needed to seal the mirror with something transparent at least on the end that would go into the water. I decided sealing both sides would be best so I wouldn't ever accidentally dip the unsealed end in the water.

So I was off to TAP Plastics and got two of my favorite planar mirrors for a few dollars each. I was planning on cutting some transparent scrap to seal off my ends when I found pre-cut circles 4 inches in diameter. It required me to up my PVC pipe size but I found 4 inch solid PVC drainage pipe and two 90 degree elbows to fit. The pipe only came in 10 foot lengths so for awhile I awkwardly maneuvered my son in a shopping cart through Home Depot while holding the pipe vertically. (FYI the fine-toothed hack saw in the molding aisle is the best cutting option if you didn't bring a truck.) The TAP Plastics bill was $10; the pipe was $10 but I have enough for two more periscopes at least and the two elbow joints were less than $7. That makes the total cost of the raw materials to be about $20 per periscope.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that because I had increased the pipe size I did not have to cut the elbow joints to hold the mirrors as in the original plans. The mirrors fit nicely into the pipe and I was able to hot glue them in place (A). The hot glue job is not pretty; it was difficult to glue a rounded corner of a planar mirror to the inside a PVC pipe on a curve when I wedged all four corners in at once (B). But they seem secure! The 4 inch circles fit nicely into the elbows and a bit of hot glue secured them (C). There was not enough hot glue for me to feel that they were waterproof though. I used window caulking around the circles and the ends seem water proof (D). I used PVC glue between the elbows and the straight piece. I added some more window caulking along the straight pipe and elbow seam even though it was glued (E).

I had a periscope! Of course I had to test it out in a pool and my daughter was happy enough to help me out. As I expected the periscope is very buoyant, it is almost 4 feet of air filled tube after all. If you hold one end in water only one elbow will be submerged; it takes some force to hold more of the periscope under water if you would like to view objects deeper. If I had not been holding the periscope for my daughter it would have risen up too high for her to look through.

I do plan to make another periscope that is not sealed and not glued in place so that I can use it as the original project plans intended. There may also have to be a third one built for my kids; they don't like watching me make toys for school that they don't get to keep. Explaining this periscope alongside an unsealed one will bring up refraction, planar mirrors, image orientation, buoyancy and more!