Monday, January 28, 2008

Horseshoe magnets recalled due to lead paint

Over 150,000 horseshoe magnets sold for use in science classrooms between 1995 and 2007 have been recalled. The red paint used to coat their bodies is unacceptably high in lead content.

The magnets were manufactured in India and imported by United Scientific, Inc. United Scientific is a supplier to independent distributors. No distributors are named in the recall notice from the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission.

See the CPSC notice for full details, including sizes and model numbers.

Please pass this notice on to your colleagues in elementary schools, where most of these magnets probably wound up.

And hey, these lead-coated magnets only been out in classrooms for 13 years. Am I out of line to say, "Way to go, CPSC!" and not be entirely sincere?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

PTSOS2 Afterlinks: Clickers, IP, and Keynote

Dan Burns gave a demo of the Renaissance clickers he uses at Los Gatos HS.

Paul Robinson has adopted Qwizdom clickers at San Mateo HS.

I have adopted iClickers at Rio Americano HS.

We also had an extensive demo of Interactive Physics by Paul Mitiguy. Because otherwise, we wouldn't have covered mechanics (again)!

Lastly, if you have a Mac and want to make appealing and engaging presentations that won't look like presentations students have to sit through in their other classes, I highly recommend the use of Apple's Keynote, part of the iWork productivity suite.

PTSOS2 Afterlinks: Waves

Here's a link to the Book of Phyz resources for sound and waves.

I also showed Pasco's WavePort at the PTSOS2 workshop. It generates sound waves that you (or students) can manipulate. A waveform appears on the screen and a corresponding sound comes out of the computer's speaker. Onscreen handles allow for the manipulation of the wave's amplitude and wavelength.

You can also use WavePort to generate multiple sound waves at once (think interference and beats).

WavePort also has an "oscilloscope" function for sampling sounds from the computer's microphone.

WavePort is Mac + PC. You can download a free demo of the software at Pasco's site

The physics simulators (also Mac + PC) from The University of Colorado's PhET group are free. They have nice simulators in the areas of sound and waves, as well as mechanics, heat, electromagnetism, light, and even chemistry!

PTSOS2 Afterlinks: Recruitment posters

Counter-intuitive events are to physics teachers what metaphors are to English teachers. Or something like that. And with our energies focused on pedagogy, teacher in general have little reason to understand the value of marketing.

But I ask that you indulge me as I sing the praises of advertising your physics course. At Rio Americano, we advertise our physics course each year when students are signing up for classes. The counter-intuitive part is this: papering the campus with mini-posters worked better than any other "marketing" technique I tried.

Here are the posters I use. You can make better ones yourself, but these can serve as inspiration.

PTSOS2 Afterlinks: Mac OS and YouTube downloads

Here's a nice way of grabbing video clips from YouTube on your Mac OS X computer.

It's called TubeTV. It's essentially a YouTube browser with a "save" button. Seems pretty slick, but I haven't put it through many paces yet.

You'll need Perian, a QuickTime plugin, to use TubeTV.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Book of Phyz updated: Advanced Circuits

Not so much an update as an addition. AP Physics B: Advanced Circuits. The previous Advanced Circuits page was merely a placeholder. Now there's actual content!

It took a while to work out which circuit labs belonged in Physics 1 and which belonged in AP Physics 2. Hence the delay. It's all worked out (at least for now), so I felt it was safe to post the content of the page.

As with the previous update, this one applies to our second-year, AP Physics B course.

I'm particularly happy with how the new TechLabs worked out. We revisit the classic Ohm's Law lab with digital sensors generating real-time graphs. The original lab (completed by students when they were in Physics 1) was done with analog meters! Somehow I managed to jump over digital multimeters.


Monday, January 21, 2008

It's second semester: where are you?

In our first-year physics course, we're done with mechanics. And heat!

For us, second semester is devoted to electricity, circuits, magnetism, induction, waves, sound, light, and optics. This material easily fills the semester, and I have plenty of material "left over" to cover in our second-year physics course (AP Physics B).

First semester was devoted to linear motion, Newton's laws, circular motion, gravity, momentum, energy, and heat. To make all that fit into the semester, some commonly covered elements are left out. Nothing that's mission-critical, and nothing that California needs its physics students to know. But things that might be considered by some to be part of the canon of high school physics.

The reality of the nascent Standards-and-Assessment Era of high school physics in California is that the canon has been redefined. And it now includes heat and thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, light and optics.

Personally I'm happy to be done with mechanics. It has its charms, to be sure. But second semester content so much groovier, from the hair-raising Van de Graaff generator to unraveling the mystery of why the sky is blue.

I'm happy to be jumping into it once again!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Obligatory Cloverfield blog entry

I tell friends and family back in Michigan that when you become a Californian, you must
1. Get a personalized license plate
2. Eat guacamole
3. Ski one day and sun yourself at the beach the next day.

What little I know about blogging tells me that if I am to consider myself a contributor, I must post an entry about Cloverfield. So before my license to blog is revoked, here goes.

1. Reiteration of the already-stated:
a. Evocative of 9/11. Blair Witch Project, and Godzilla. I was also reminded of the recent box office flop, The Mist. I liked The Mist, but it didn't fare well at the box office primarily because it lacked a happy ending. OK, it had an unhappy ending. I can't be the only one who's OK with that.
b. If you're prone to motion sickness, take some Dramamine or eat some ginger snaps before the show. And sit in the back row.

2. It's really just a simple love story with a bunch of distractions thrown in. Most reviewers are so gripped with the distractions they don't point out the overall genre of the narrative. So there you are: it's a love story. I imagine many guys dragging unwilling dates to this movie and the dates being surprised by how much they liked by the time the credits roll.

3. Things to watch and listen for
a. The last scene of the film. It's the last shot from the Coney Island date. Take your eyes off the lovely Beth and watch the sky behind her for... a clue?
b. Stay through the credits. Where you gotta be so fast? What's that last audio-only statement? Someone says something. Hard to hear/decode it.

4. Advice to producer J.J. Abrams: let it live as a one-off. Resist temptation, pressure, etc., to make Cloverfield 2. Leave it as is and concentrate on Star Trek (and Star Trek sequels).

Obligation to the blogosphere: met.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I'm still naked

Or at least "unCLAD." The ongoing saga of Crossculture, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) certification is beyond the scope of this blog. But I'll do what I can.

The operational definition goes something like this: CLAD is an add-on certification that school districts require for newly hired teachers. They have required it since the mid-1990s. When I earned my teaching credential from the state of California, the CLAD was not required by the state or by my district. The district contracted my services and I've provided those services for lo these many years.

I did have to jump through several hoops that my colleagues already in service did not need to bother with. One was a computer competency course, another was a health course, and yet another was a course on teaching the exceptional child. New teachers had to attain these add-ons; older teachers did not.

Years later, CLAD was added at the district (not state) level. As the years rolled on, more and more teachers had their CLAD. They had to have it to get hired. It was a requirement of their contract. It was never a requirement of my contract.

In Spring 2007, my district ordained that all teachers in its employ would possess their CLAD by summer of 2008. In essence, they altered the terms of my contract with them. The Teachers' Association I belong to is happy to extract about $1000/year from my paycheck but not so eager to stop this management action. Clearly "members" in my situation were not a significant constituency in the eyes of the Union. I just hope they got something nice in return for yielding to this retroactive alteration of many members' contract. Most likely they did not.

Facing dire consequences, I enrolled in a CLAD course (at personal expense). Forty-five hours of training, a seven-question essay exam, and a portfolio of research, exposition, and lesson plans. I attended each and every one of the 45 hours. I passed the essay exam. The portfolio? Not so much.

Over three months after submitting the portfolio, I finally received word that it was in need of revision. On multiple counts. All relating to my lesson plans.

I thought that I had submitted a pretty thorough and well-documented work. Apparently I was mistaken.

Back to the drawing board. I have no idea how many chances I'll get to read the minds of the evaluators, and I'm really not hoping to find out. But the nebulous nature of evaluation rubric is such that one could take several well-aimed shots at the project target and miss completely.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Book of Phyz updated: Advanced Electricity

The Book of Phyz Online has been updated. The updated unit is in the Advanced Placement section. The unit on Advanced Electricity has been polished and buffed. It holds new and updated content from top to bottom. Four Mechanical Universe video sheets have been added.

Still on the to-do list: Advanced Circuits, Advanced Electromagnetism and the rest of the AP second semester. I'm getting there.

As far as I know, all the links are correct and functional. I request that if you find it to be otherwise, please notify me that I might attend to repairs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No plusses or minuses: pointless chromatic variants

Students in my courses earn academic grades. They can earn an A, B, C, D, or F. I don't add the "chromatic variants" of + or -.

In my district, chromatic variants make no difference in the calculation of a students grade point average (GPA). A grade of B+ has the same value as a B-. So I don't bubble the chromatic variants. Many teachers throughout the district do.

I was never able to figure out why.

Jamie Felineman

Gotta be a Mythbusters fan to get it.

I am and I do.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Did Jessica jinx Tony?

The fact that you know what that headline refers to is disappointing. We'd think we live in an enlightened age of critical thinking, but belief in supernatural woo is higher per capita now than it was in The Dark Ages.

If you don't know what the headline is about, welcome back to Earth! Go ahead and read this and this. Google the headline for much, much more.

A brief reality check: Anyone can have a bad day for any number of reasons. I'm guessing this was not the first game Tony played with thoughts of Jessica somewhere in his mind. I'll go so far as to suggest that many NFL quarterbacks have played decent (or better) games while "romantically distracted." The longer you think about it, the sillier it gets.

The traction of stories like this reveal how much we want to "bleeve" in things for which there is no evidence.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Laughing with the LOLcats

If you're not already addicted to this site, you should be. Laughing is good, and you really should do more of it. I can has cheezburger can help. I added it (as LOLcats) to the blogroll to the right.

D&S Marketing's AP Physics prep book

High school teachers always have goodies awaiting them in their school mailboxes. Many of these treasures are commercial solicitations, and some of them are useful.

One solicitation I can count on year-in and year-out is for D&S Marketing's AP Physics Exam prep book. The book is essentially three practice multiple choice tests. So far, so good. There is a market for such a book, and I'm in it.

One problem D&S faces is copyright infringement. The sad reality of the school market is that teachers will buy a single copy of such a book and blast out "unregistered" copies using the school's photocopying technology. D&S maneuvers around this by selling their book in packs of 10 or more. If you want one copy, you'll have to buy ten. No quibbles there.

I do have quibbles elsewhere.

Probably the least of which is that I already have every product they've ever pitched to me. I have the first and second editions of their AP Physics prep books. I'm not likely to buy any more of the second edition, so the year-in, year-out marketing barrage is wasted on me.

I will probably also pass on future editions. The first edition was fairly good. The trick to these publications is to match the coverage, depth, and difficulty of the actual College Board Advanced Placement Exam in Physics. No mean feat. The first edition came close, though the item writer clearly had some favorite topics that strayed from those of the College Board's syllabus.

The second edition, however, was over the top. Each item was an exam in itself. Much harder than the actual AP Physics Exam. For me, the second edition was of no use. Your mileage may vary.

The best bet is to collect all the released items you can from The College Board/ETS. I've been able to collect released items from the 1984, 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2004 exams in my long and storied career. Those items will always be better than anything offered elsewhere.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cut the clutter and leave the tangents to me

I am getting old. No doubt about it. My school district is going through the adoption process for physics textbooks, and I can rattle off several titles I've adopted in years past. For this post, I'll stick to titles adopted for AP Physics.

In 1989 it was Physics by Arthur Beiser. Great book, well written, and it included sample multiple choice items as part of the end-of-chapter questions and problems.

In 1994 it was Physics by Eugene Hecht. The book was huge but stunning. I decided Hecht had to be among the most knowledgeable people to author a textbook. It was rich and colorful. Well beyond complete. When I showed a copy to a few of my AP students during the pre-adoption preview, they wanted to know how to buy a copy for themselves.

In 2001 it was College Physics by Serway and Faughn. The Hecht book was brilliant but too rich. I needed something more direct and to the point. Serway & Faughn fit the bill quite nicely. Compared to much of the competition, it's straight-ahead physics without an agenda: it's not aimed at pre-meds or engineers.

In 2008 my early favorite is Essentials of College Physics by Serway and Vuille. While other titles are tipping the scales at 1000+ pages and problem sets than number in the triple digits, Essentials slims the elephant.

Other titles seem dedicated to squeezing in everybody's favorite application and sidebar topic. And to do so, the type shrinks to well below 10-point, the paper thins, and still the books are big. Essentials bucks these trends. It's only in its first edition, but benefits from being based on Serway and Faughn's excellent College Physics (soon to be in its eighth edition).

Essentials cuts the clutter and leaves the tangents and applications to me. And that's just what I needed.

Keynote 08 first impressions (with requisite MS dig)

Yes I am late to the Keynote 08 party.

Keynote is Apple's presentation software, and it crushes Microsoft's PowerPoint in many ways. Of course, PowerPoint has infiltrated the lexicon so that all computer-based presentations are referred to as PowerPoints. So throw it in with Kleenex and Jello in that regard. Most people who know about the Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, would be surprised to learn that no PowerPoint presentations were used in the making of that film. The computer-based presentation was all Keynote.

Like many Microsoft products, PowerPoint was originally developed by another software company (Forethought). And like the similarly now-ubiquitous Excel, PowerPoint was originally a Macintosh-only product. (Why are spreadsheets still spreadsheets while presentations are now PowerPoints?)

Keynote was originally the in-house presentation software designed for and used by Steve Jobs for his Apple-related presentations. Microsoft's PowerPoint wasn't good enough for him, either.

Keynote 1.0 was a fairly bare-bones program. Subsequent upgrades have added power and utility. Keynote 08 is really Keynote 4. It's the most mature member of Apple's iWork productivity suite, which also includes Pages for word-processing and Numbers for spreadsheets.

iWork 08 was introduced in August. Bad timing for my interests. I didn't want to try learning the new features during the ramp-up and launch of the new academic year. But with Winter Break looming, it was time to dive in.

The new build styles and transitions are always fun. Mostly eye-candy, but that's not always a bad thing. If you've already got substance, why not enjoy a little style?

I'm already putting the new object animations to use. Especially rotation. I dabbled with Flash a few years ago because I hoped to incorporate animation in my presentations. But Flash is, erm, "robust," and sports a non-trivial learning curve. I was ready to climb that curve, but lost much of my enthusiasm as I learned that all Flash animations had to have opaque backgrounds. No transparent backgrounds allowed! That cramped my style and I eventually lost touch with my interest in Flash.

Keynote's animation features will not put Flash out of business, but they will allow me to do most of what I need to do. And as ever, Apple figured out how to make powerful features easy for the end-user.

Microsoft is due to launch Office 2008 for Mac soon. I hope PowerPoint 2008 is catching up to where Keynote was a few years ago. More likely it will be an awkward clunker bending under the weight of still more features most people will never use.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

United? USAirways? Yeahhh...NO!

Gerald R. Ford International Airport in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan is the busiest airport in America... not served by a low-cost carrier. So when I fly to ol' GR, my options are limited. I usually fly Northwest, but when I tried to book a holiday-season flight back in October, their fares had jumped from the usual $500+ to a jaw-dropping $900+. And that "cheap" only if you were willing to fly on Newton's Birthday. I'm perfectly willing to "defy gravity" in honor of the great Sir Isaac, but I'm not keen to lay out nearly a grand for the privilege.

So I spun over to Orbitz (note continuation of Newton theme) who found a decent rate by booking United Airlines flights through USAirways. Picking the seats involved alchemy and faith, but it seemed to work.

Fast forward to the return flight. The flight is scheduled for the evening of January 2. At 7:00am of January 1, my cell phone mambos and shakes. I answer to a recorded message that one leg of the flight has been affected by a. Cancellation. Please call United to rebook." (Go back and linger on the thought of a 7am call on January 1.)

I call United to rebook. The kindly Bangalorean at the other end assures me that I need to call USAirways to rebook and promises me that USAirways will not force me to call United again in a mobius airline loop.

So I call USAirways. The Bangalorean "customer service" rep informs my that I was safely rebooked on a flight one half hour later than the original. By 8am on New Year's Day, I am back to sleep.

But when I check in at the United self-serve kiosk a day and a half later, I am told that the cancelled flight is still cancelled and I am not rebooked on anything traveling to Sacramento.

The counter staffer feigns helpfulness as he tries in vain to rebook me on another airline. I venture about how much easier and more effective this process would have been had it ensued the morning of the previous day. He assures me such speculation is fruitless. I tell him that he might try to get me on a Southwest flight to Sacramento (via Detroit). He refuses to try, because it would cost United some money.

He offers to plant me in San Francisco or Oakland. Hey, it's California! I remind him that California is a large state and no just a couple hundred of miles of surfing beach.

The best he can do is a set of flights the next day. The next day! Wow. Now that's service.

I call USAirways in hopes of an education. Clearly, I erred in my flight management process. I turned once again to Bangalor for assistance. What should I have done differently? Should I have known the information of my rebooking was a lie? What's the best way to know when an off-shore customer service rep is lying to me? I am but the student here; I seek instruction.

I got nothing. When given the chance to enlighten me as to why I should give USAirways or United another chance to disappoint me, "Christine" fell silent.

UPDATE: I called USAIrways "Customer Relations" department and had a lengthy discussion with an on-shore rep. He was dumbfounded as to why I would be calling since I had already been rebooked on a flight the next day. What could I possibly be upset about and what was he supposed to do about it? All I wanted from him were answers to two simple questions: What did I do wrong and why would I ever do business with them again? He had answers for neither, but opined that his employer was an excellent carrier. After awarding me the title of the calmest angry customer he'd ever dealt with, he granted my a $250 travel voucher that was longer on restrictions than it was on promises. All I have to do now is develop a travel plan in which I have a two-day window on both departure and return flights.

No doubt United and USAIr can blame each other for the snafus of this journey. If both airlines go out of business before I travel again, I will not shed a tear.