Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jennifer Ouellette on "low-temperature physics"

We prefer to imagine that gender issues in the physics community are a thing of the past.

They are not.

TAM9 From Outer Space... and into my camera

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011: TAM9 From Outer Space. It was too big and there's too much to say for me to even attempt a summary post. I'm still tingly from all the skeptical goodness of the conference and the conferees.

The speakers are always wonderful and the attendees? You want to meet more of them than the space-time continuum allows.

One highlight was running into a former student who said he was there because of the skepticism lessons I sprinkled throughout the school year. Wow! As if I wasn't buzzed enough from the "teacher crack" that the story of Jessica Scheimer provided. It may be quite a while before I come down.

One thing I like to imagine I can do better than most at TAM is getting photos of the presenters in action. The photographic conditions are less than ideal, and I don't use flash. Anyway, I'll use this post to link to my Flickr TAM9 photo albums as I finish the post-processing on them. I tried using my "big-boy" gear for the first time at TAM this year: Canon 60D, 24-105mm lens, 100-400mm lens, ballhead and tripod. My trusty 32 GB SD card had enough capacity for each day's shoot. The camera battery didn't fail, but I always switched to the backup in the afternoon at a convenient moment to avoid an inopportune outage.

Active links are completed albums. Inactive links are "in progress."

TAM9 Thursday, July 14 Workshops I Attended

TAM9 Friday, July 15 Morning Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Friday, July 15 Afternoon Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Saturday, July 16 Morning Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Saturday, July 16 Afternoon Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Sunday, July 17 Presenters

Monday, July 11, 2011

PTSOSers show their mettle on Iron Science Teacher

NorCal physics teachers Bree Barnett and Ty Fredriks recently performed on the Exploratorium's Iron Science Teacher. What is Iron Science Teacher?

"Cheer on the competitors in this zany science cook-off, where teachers compete before a live audience at the Exploratorium for the sought-after title, "Iron Science Teacher." Parodying the cult Japanese TV program, "Iron Chef," the Exploratorium's Iron Science Teacher competition showcases science teachers as they devise classrom activities using a particular ingredient—an everyday item such as a plastic bag, a milk carton, or a nail."

Bree's "secret ingredient" was eggs. Take a look at Bree's Eggsalent Adventure.

Ty's "secret ingredient" was magnets. Take a look at "Tesla Ty" in action (at a distance).

Our colleagues did a great job; they demonstrated grace under pressure in addition to some great science. Well done, Bree and Ty!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Apple investigating "physics metaphors" for iOS interfacing

As multitouch gesturing matures on smartphones and tablets (well, iPhones and iPads anyway), computer manufacturers are running out of simple options. Click, drag, tap, double-tap, two-finger drag, expand, pinch, rotate... the low-hanging fruit is fairly well picked.

Apple is filing patents on gestures like flicking and pouring--gestures based on physics metaphors--as multitouch devices move forward.

Full details and diagrams at AppleInsider.

Magnet boy attracts skepticism

A new "magnet boy" is entertaining Brazilians. Previous "magnet boys" seem to have been concentrated in Serbia and Croatia. The story line rarely varies from a simple formula. The boy is preteen, obese, and things appear to stick to him. Staged video of things sticking to him is provided. Once the demonstrations are made, stories are added telling of radio reception issues and/or healing powers.

I'll include some video links here, but simply Google "magnet boy" for the latest or most popular variants. And don't worry, the narrative won't vary from the formula described above.

Show the videos in class, then move in with some inquiry.

1. The claim is that the boy is magnetic. What evidence was provided to support the claim.
2. In what ways--if any--was the evidence not compelling?
3. Is there an alternate explanation of this phenomenon?
4. How would you test the claim if the "magnet boy" were here in the classroom?

The TV-news items are always wholly credulous. Skepticism and critical thinking don't sell ad slots or keep viewers glued to screens.

Magnets rightly hold a level of fascination among everyone. They act at a distance. You can feel an invisible repulsion force when playing with magnets that you likely don't understand. Magic! Part of the common misunderstanding of magnets is that anything metal is magnetic. People are surprised to find out you can't pick up pennies (or any other US coins) with a magnet.

Many "magnet boy" stories do themselves in (from a purely scientific perspective) when they show copper, nickel, or other nonmagnetic alloy coins sticking to the boy. When plastics and ceramics stick to him, we are invited to question our understanding of what magnetism really is.

And though actual magnetism is little diminished through a thin layer of clothing, "magnet boy" magnetism requires direct contact with skin. A non-vertical surface of skin helps, too.

One might ponder the exploitative nature of such spectacles, or wonder about the health/diet of the obese boys. And given the nature of the demonstrations, it's easy to see why an outbreak of "magnet girl" media darlings is unlikely.

Media fluff like this can and should be mined for as deeply as possible for lessons in skepticism throughout the school year. When students see such fluff in the future, we'll have reason to hope they'll laugh out loud at the offending TV screen.

Hat tip to SkepChick, Rebecca Watson, for the lead.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Hall of fame and Phyz photo albums

Dean Baird's Phyz Home Page was designed in the late 1990's when I was taking my first baby steps into Hyper Text Markup Language. It was not intuitively obvious that a domain's home page needed to have a filename of "index.html."

The home page has not been changed much since those early days. Simple. Low bandwidth. Intended as a launch point to content. The day may come when a redesign is warranted. But that day is not today!

I made a couple changes to the site today. The Hall of Fame has been updated to reflect this year's new inductees. The Phyz Photo Album link now directs to the appropriate collection of my Flickr photo empire. I also added a link to Pearson's Conceptual Physics Lab Manual (Hewitt/Baird). And I added links to Arbor Scientific's Laser Beam Viewing Tank and Conceptual Physics Alive! Video Question Sets. Because if I can't flog my own stuff on my own home page, what's the point?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Jessica Scheimer is a rock star

She's better than a rock star: she's a new physics teacher and she's made of win. I was willing to keep quiet about her because you'd think I was breathlessly gushing about another one of my former students as I sometimes do. But the cat is out the bag and the beans are spilled. My license to gush? Granted!

The good news about Rio Americano physics prodigy-turned-high-school-teacher, Jessica Scheimer, hit the Davis Enterprise last week when I was out negotiating the tenuous lava cliffs of Ingólfshöfði in hopes of getting a shot of the elusive puffin. But I digress.

Jessica Scheimer is a Knowles Foundation Fellow. Most people don't know how big a deal that is. It's huge. But Jessica is all manner of worthy. She burned up my Physics 1 course. She was the first to register for AP Physics 2 when course selections opened for the next year. And she set the river of AP Physics 2 completely ablaze. She outshone her peers in a class that included some very bright students.

Jessica ate up everything the two-year sequence had to offer. Nothing slowed her down. And she wasn't just flexing academic muscle: she was clearly into it. She was up to the task no matter how tough the task was. She did much better in my class than I would have done when I was her age. (Any such match would have been stopped by officials enforcing a mercy rule.) And she continued to shine at UC Davis, where they laid out a red carpet to keep her for post-graduate teacher training.

The good people at Knowles, who must turn away some 90% of fellowship applicants, figured out Jessica's talent, industry, and the whole of her intangibles.

The fellowship they granted is valued at $150,000 in financial assistance, stipends, professional development, mentoring, leadership, and support. It's like a MacArthur genius grant for new teachers. And it was made for people like Jessica. I'm beside myself with joy that Jessica found Knowles and Knowles found Jessica. They've posted their own version of a Jessica Scheimer miniBio page.

Congratulations to neighborhood "rival," Jesuit, for snapping Jessica up before the bidding wars that should have broken out over who would get the privilege of signing her. I'm not going to lie: I'm terribly jealous.

I could sing the praises of Jessica Scheimer for days without end, but read Jeff Hudson's article. It's written by a professional. And it did reduce me to tears for a moment. If she had been your student, you'd get blubbery, too.

I get more than anyone's fair share of amazingly brilliant students. Goodwin Liu, Linsey Marr, Jason Kamras, Susan Crown, and many, many more. Most (if not all) are ten times smarter than I'll ever be. I'm very proud of all of them, and delighted when someone else recognizes them for their awesomeness.

But when of the best-ever chooses to teach physics, I can barely keep my limbs from bursting off in an overload of happiness. I know Jessica will harbor some misgivings about me raving about her like this. But as a public figure, she's just going to have to deal with it. As a consolation, I offer Jessica a giggle in the form of this post's timestamp.

Thanks to Rio legend, Al Manfredi, for passing the Enterprise article to me.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I'm a PAEMST state finalist!

I was in Iceland when this news broke, so once again I'm a little behind here at "The Blog of Phyz." In any case, I am one of three science teacher finalists nominated by the state of California for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

The news was admittedly known to me before the press release was posted and carried. I got a surprise phone call from Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, June 2nd. It was funny because I was picking up Paul and Lillian Hewitt from the train station when the call came in. They were in town for the visit described below. So I was trying to find a quiet space with cell reception at the Amtrak station. A nice mix of surrealism and comedy.

The Superintendent was generous with praise for my work and inquisitive regarding science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) education. His congratulations were warm and his interest was genuine.

I didn't know I would be speaking with Mr. Torlakson when the call came through--or that he was bearing news that I had been made a finalist. I was already pretty geeked to be picking up the Hewitts for their visit to my fair city. So I was happy to have kept all bodily functions in check.

The application process is rigorous and I have little doubt that the review process was anything but thorough. I am grateful to my mentor and physics teacher extraordinaire, Steve Keith, for persistently nominating me. And to my recommenders: Rio's Vanessa Adolphson, former student and soon-to-be Jesuit HS physics teacher, Jessica Scheimer, and guiding light, Paul Hewitt. And to my students, especially my 6th period class for being active participants (as they always were) even while being videotaped during the "Blue Sky" lesson. And to Amir Khazaieli for shooting the one-take and burning it to DVD.

I haven't said much about the PAEMST application or selection as a finalist up to this point. My students knew about it and were excited about it when I completed the application at the beginning of May. But some presumed I would win and wanted to know when I would be notified. The selection process and the existence of so many other highly-qualified candidates weren't part of their reality. I did my best to play things down to them.

The finalist selection was the California Department of Education's story to tell. I didn't want to jump the gun or spill too many beans prior to their press release. And I was in Iceland when the release came out.

State nominations go to the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. They will decide which of the states' finalists will be selected for this year's PAEMST class. I would not have applied for this recognition if I didn't hope to represent California among this year's winners. But I also know that California has no shortage of excellent science teachers. And I have already won so much in that I have a job I wake up wanting to do, and I get to share my enthusiasm with great students and great teachers.