Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Rio Phyz 08 photo album begins

The first Rio Phyz photos of the years have been posted. More to come...

Rio Phyz 2008 Photos

The Rio Phyz Photo archive is starting to show signs of depth.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We Are The Champions... Again!

We dropped a pop fly and let a ground ball go between our legs. We whiffed on a slider. And we caught a break from the ref on a call that could have gone either way. It went down to the wire with the two best teams knotted at 26. The tie-breaker did come into play. But in the end, "Teachers Do It With Class" (Kelly, Christy, Billy, Gary, James, and I) prevailed at TriviaBowl VII!

Monday, October 22, 2007

TriviaBowl VII

Our Rio Americano teacher group has been to Sacramento Brewing Company's TriviaBowls II, III, IV, V, and VI. And we're back for TriviaBowl VII, scheduled for Tuesday, October 23.

We've placed first in the quarterly point totals on our way to qualify for TriviaBowls V, VI, and VII. (Quarterly winning teams get a shiny Benjamin for their success.) Doing this requires we compete well every week. We rarely take first place in the weeklies, but we usually do place in the top three. Our team personnel drifts and shifts from time to time. And none of us study. Not even the topics that come up frequently!

Oh the damage we could do if only we applied ourselves!

(We won TriviaBowl V and came in second in TriviaBowl VI. I hope that doesn't preordain a third-place finish in TriviaBowl VII.)

Tales of textbook adoptions, part 1

The San Juan Unified School District here in suburban Sacramento is home to nine (yes nine) comprehensive high schools. This year we are piloting physics textbooks for adoption next year. Our last textbook adoption was for the 2001-2002 school year.*

Last time we adopted, I organized the physics teachers in a crusade of sorts. The district's goal was to have us adopt a single title for regular and honors physics, and one more title for AP. I wrote a thorough (some would call it lengthy) "manifesto" refuting every argument in favor of the district's "one-size-fits-all" directive. In the end, each school got the titles of its choosing. Pedagogical common sense prevailed over top down nonsense.

During the intervening years, my colleagues in biology and chemistry reported that they were forced into common, district-wide adoptions. I was disheartened, but could not gauge the voracity with which my fellow teachers rallied against the district instinct to micromanage. (Remember: if everyone does the same thing, there's only one thing to manage. Administrative nirvana.)

I kept my manifesto through the years. When the first physics adoption meeting was called together this year, I distributed copies to my physics-teaching colleagues. Most seem to support the principle of school site autonomy. We might have taken the district coordinator by surprise. We'll see if she is willing to support our position as the process moves forward.

So far, we're keen to pilot Conceptual Physics 4e (2009) and Holt Physics for regular physics and honors, and Giancoli and Serway & Faughn for AP. Those who had adopted Merrill's Physics: Problems and Principles (Zitzewitz) had less-than-complimentary reviews of it.

To be continued...

*Personal note: I had the good fortune of meeting Conceptual Physics author Paul Hewitt in 2000. He asked me to help him with the problem-solving appendix of the then-forthcoming revision of the third edition of Conceptual Physics for High School. As a result, I was listed as a contributor. Hewitt was kind enough to include me in the dedication as well. So for the past several years, my students have had the odd surprise of finding their teacher's name in the front matter of their textbook. I resisted the temptation of directing them to the dedication or contributor list, preferring that they find it (or not) on their own. When the district science coordinator (who has since moved on) saw the reference back in 2001, she asked me what kind of laser-printing trickery I employed to get my name in the book. In the grand scheme of Conceptual Physics, I play a small role. Still though, no man is a prophet in his own land!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A new orbital mechanics lab

Yes, we're making up for an extended absence here at The Blog of Phyz. Today's third post is a link to a newly developed lab involving circular motion and gravity.

I always hoped to do a lab during our Uniform Circular Motion and Gravity unit. But gravity labs are hard to orchestrate. Tough to create and unleash stars and planets in the classroom.

That's where simulators come to the rescue.

The good people at The University of Colorado's Physics Educational Technology (PhET) group create and distribute a library of high-quality, interactive physics simulators. You should get all the PhET Sims for yourself. They're free!

I wrote an activity for the "My Solar System" simulator.

Check out Worlds of Wonder.

New circular motion demonstrations

If you fortunate enough to amass a well-stocked physics lab, you sometimes stumble across a nice apparatus synergy. The other day, I thought to set a Pasco Visual Accelerometer atop a rotational platform. Lo and behold, it worked as expected, with the accelerometer assuring us that the acceleration was directed toward the center. I milked it further to have two accelerometers show that the acceleration was greater farther from the center. The cherry on top was spinning my skinny fish tank half-filled with colored water for the classic parabolic waterline.

I'm often compelled to write demos up so I'll remember to do them next year. And I sometimes draw from my music collection when in need of a demo title.

So check out Will It Go 'Round in Circles? A demonstration of centripetal acceleration.

For those who enjoy "number puzzles" (traditional physics problem-solving problems), I've got you covered, too. Here's the sequel I'll use in my AP Physics B class. You'll need a Newton's Cradle for this gem.

Check out Will It Go 'Round In Advanced Circles?


NCNAAPT Fall Meeting cancelled!

The meeting planned for November 2-3 up at South Tahoe High School has been cancelled. The venue is undergoing some unanticipated remodelling and an alternate site could not be located in time for plans to work out.

Intrepids souls who need their physics pedagogy fix can journey south and are welcome to "crash" the SCAAPT's Fall shindig.

Northern folk will reconvene in the spring at Heritage High School in Brentwood.

Stay informed at the NCNAAPT website.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Magnetic battery connectors are back!

I really like simple circuit labs that explore the basic concepts of what electric circuits do. I know a lot of teachers want students to get into groovy, sophisticated circuits, but I prefer to spend time on the basics. And I have yet to encounter many students who find my elementary labs to be without challenge. Electric circuits are non-intuitive; students don't know what it's like to be an electron compelled to move through a circuit. So I'm a strong advocate of keeping it simple.

There are many things I do to that end. One is to engage my students in a number of "batteries and bulbs" activities. I like C- and D-cells, miniature screw-base bulbs and sockets, and connecting wires with alligator clips. And I like magnetic battery connectors. These gems hold batteries in series or in parallel. And they're easy to connect and disconnect.

I bought a set years ago from a now-defunct catalog. You had to buy them in packs of ten for about $55. Not cheap. But so useful in the lab their cost was easy to justify.

We use them in Physics 1 for PhyzLabs Batteries and Bulbs, An Open and Short Case, and Electric Magnetism. In AP Physics 2, we use them in our RC circuit labs.

It bothered me that such a useful item was no longer available, so I always nagged scientific supply company reps at AAPT meetings.

Arbor Scientific's Peter Rea saw the value in the item. He asked me to send him one and he'd send me ten in return. It took a while, so he sent me twelve when he made the product available. Arbor calls them Magnetic Terminals and sells them for $1.25 each. I recommend four for each lab group.

Once you use them in your hands-on labs involving otherwise "loose" batteries, you won't want to be without them.