Monday, December 17, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Newton's Third Law

In this screencast, Hewitt and wife Lil illustrate that one cannot touch without being touched — with supporting examples.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Newton's Third Law

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Physics in the Fountain of Fizz

Here's some video of this year's trials of The Fountain of Fizz: the Mentos-Diet Coke geyser.

The lesson we do at Rio Phyz does not involve nucleation sites or carbon dioxide. That's all good stuff, but it strikes me as the Chemistry in the Fountain of Fizz.

The Physics of the Fountain of Fizz involves measuring the mass ejected, the height attained by the geyser, and the time of the eruption.

With these quantities in hand, it's possible to make reasonable calculations of mass flow rate, muzzle speed, energy released, and power developed.

Physics in the Fountain of Fizz (PDF)

This lab is also included in my lab manuals for the following Pearson titles:
Conceptual Physics 11/e (College) [Hewitt/Baird lab manual]
Conceptual Physical Science 5/e
Conceptual Physical Science—Explorations 2/e
Conceptual Integrated Science 2/e [available early 2013]
Conceptual Integrated Science—Explorations

But if you're into carbon dioxide and nucleation, have at it!

Gangnam Style In Space!

NA, NA, NA, NA... NASA Johnson Style...

Special thanks to astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Mike Massimino and Clay Anderson
Special thanks to Mr. Mike Coats, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, and all supporting senior staff members

"NASA Johnson Style" Lyrics
NASA Johnson Style
Johnson Style

Welcome to NASA's Johnson Space Center
We are coming in hot so don't burn up as we enter
We do science everyday that affects your daily life
Throw them up for manned space flight

Science everywhere
As we engineer the marvels
That fly though the air
And take us way beyond earth's levels

Science everywhere
Because we engineer the marvels
That fly though the air
Flies us through the air

Control the mission out of Johnson
This is ground, hey!
And this is space, hey!
Tell me Houston what's the problem
It's okay!
It's okay!
Because there's flight controllers on the job today

Johnson STYLE! ...

Orbiting earth, international space station
Where we work and live in space with a crew from several nations
Got Japanese, and Russians, that European charm
Throw them up, like the Canada Arm

Kicking out research
29k cubic feet, revolves around the earth
Science microgravity, revolves around the earth
Columbus, JEM, and Destiny
Kicking out research
Kicking out research

Train the astronauts at Johnson
To go to space, hey!
To go to space, hey!
Cause the missions of tomorrow
Start today, hey!
Start today, hey!
As we engineer the future day by day

Johnson STYLE! ...

Orion or SLS, MPCV
We cannot feel the floor, cause the lack gravity
The destinations are an asteroid, Mars, or moon
We are blasting off start the countdown soon
[Sound clip: launch countdown]

... NASA Johnson Style

In case you're either of the people who haven't seen the original PSY video (viewed over 1,000,000,000 times), you're welcome.

Hat tip to Menlo School's Marc Allard.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Puzzler: ynapmoC & seldooN

Upon returning to my truck after enjoying a tasty repast at Noodles & Company, I noticed the restaurant's illuminated signage reflected in my side view mirror.

Wait a minute! The reflected message was not "reversed" in typical mirror fashion. I turned to see the signage as it appears on the building.

Once suitably ensconced in the driver's seat, all was again right with the world. The letters were reversed as they should be.

What is your explanation?

[A few years ago, I sent this optical oddity in to Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers (NPR's Car Talk personalities, Tom and Ray Magliozzi). But it was apparently too lousy for them to use, despite being quasi-automotive! Oh well.]

Hewitt-Drew-It! Skydiver Problem

In this screencast, Hewitt poses and solves a problem involving Suzie Skydiver, who dives and attains terminal velocity.

Hewitt-Drew-It! Skydiver Problem

Monday, December 03, 2012

Hewitt Drew-It! Newton's Second Law

In this screencast, a video of Hewitt in the classroom is followed up with a discussion of force, mass, and the acceleration of freely-falling rocks.

Hewitt Drew-It! Newton's Second Law

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ball and Ring Caper: did it fail or was it abused?

You make the call!

I tried the Shinco Ring and Ball set recently and found the product to be wanting. But did I push the product beyond reasonable use?

Here's a video of the product failing. It you don't have the Zen to watch all of this, skip ahead to 4:10 on the video's time code (3:30ish on the iPad display).

For comparison, check these snoozefests:

Old Model Win (10 minutes in the flame). This one was at the school when I arrived in 1986.

Late Model Win (10 minutes of abuse in the Bunsen burner flame). Ordered circa 2004, to the best of my recollection.

Shinco's ball and ring appear to be plated, which is worrisome to me. Why plate solid brass with... brass plating?

The good folks at Arbor Scientific were unable (so far) to reproduce my results with their supply. They heated the product using a micro burner. Their copy did not melt after 10 minutes of such heating. (Mine didn't last 4 minutes in the Bunsen burner flame.) They also cut into their ring and found it to be solid brass. I don't sense that mine is. I appreciate them taking the time to test things at their end, but I wonder if they're being kinder to Shinco than Shinco is being to them.

Here are a few more pics of the situation.

What do you think? Maybe Shinco sent a bad batch? Arbor's going to send me another set, and I'll put it to the test. I gave some of these out at last year's PTSOS2.

One PTSOSer reports reports his ring went out of round after heating, causing the ball to not fit through at any temperature. Also that the ball fell off its stem upon heating (the threads do appear more "delicate" than "robust".) Mind you, a fallen red-hot metal ball is capable of doing permanent damage to your classroom. Proceed with caution!

In 27 years of teaching high school physics, I've never had a ball or ring melt on me.

The melting point of brass is greater than the temperature of the gas flame. As a matter of classroom practice, both ball and ring need to be able to withstand extended periods of time in the flame. This is a demonstration, and the flow of the lesson requires that the instructor engages the class in discussion while the object is warmed in the flame. Discussions can be shorter or longer. I like to wait until there is a nice orange glow to either ball or ring before proceeding with the various tests involved in the demo.

By the way, here's a PDF of the demo lesson I do with this apparatus. As always, I try to maximize the value of the apparatus through a thoughtful set of questions.

Ball and Ring Student Worksheet

Here's the presentation I use in conjunction with the demo. It's an Interactive QuickTime file (originally designed in Apple's Keynote). QuickTime is free from Apple for Mac OS and Windows.

Ball and Ring Preso (Interactive QuickTime)

UPDATE: The replacement Arbor sent out survived 10 minutes in the flame (without melting), so a bad batch may have been the case.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I am done with Mechanics '12

Let this post serve as my annual notice of being done with Mechanics in Physics 1. California 9-12 Physics Standards in Motion & Forces and Conservation of Energy and Momentum are fully covered. We will cover Heat and Thermodynamics before the end of the semester.

PODH, you say? Here ya go: it happened!

I post this because I agree with Paul Hewitt's assessment that we physics teachers tend to linger in topics such as kinematics far too long. Then run out of time at the end of the year before getting to rainbows and why the sky is blue.

California's 9-12 Physics standards are often regarded as onerous and smothering. Some complain that there's too much stuff to cover in a year.

The "onerous and smothering" perception is due, in part, to the end of the era of The Physics Cowboy. The Physics Cowboy was the teacher who, alone, determined every aspect of the 180-day physics curriculum. Nobody told him what to teach, how to teach it, scope, or sequence. The Physics Cowboy ruled his domain, and it was good.

Standards and Assessment drove a dagger into The Physics Cowboy. An external body decided the content. An outrage!

Too much stuff? Perhaps. But I think it's more, "Too much stuff I don't want to teach and not enough of what I do want to teach." If you say there's too much to cover in a year but opt to teach projectiles (not included in the standards), there's a flaw in your logic.

Me? I create a pace that allows me to cover the standards within the school year. Do I cover the standards by the time of STAR test administration? No. STAR tests run about 6 weeks in advance of the end of the school year. And my pace allows for extensive work to be done in Electric and Magnetic Phenomena, the standard set which persists as a low-performance standout with students up and down the state.

To do all that and get to rainbows and blue skies, I must now leave Mechanics behind. We have three weeks of instruction (and one week of final exams) between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break. In that time we will cover the standards in Heat and Thermodynamics.

Second semester opens with Intro to Electricity. Then it's Circuits, followed by Magnetism. Then it's Waves, Light, and Wave Optics. Covering the grooviest topics at the end of the year maintains student engagement in spite of pressures toward "Senioritis" and "Sun's Out, Brains Off".

Those physics standards mini-posters can be found here:
Dean's California 9-12 Physics Standards Mini-Posters 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Mass/Weight

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt distinguishes between mass and weight in a video from his classroom, then breaks strings attached to a ball in ways that clarify the distinction.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Mass/Weight

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Tennis-Ball Problem

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt shows the solution to finding the maximum velocity of a horizontally-moving tennis ball that barely clears the net to remain in the court

Hewitt-Drew-it! Tennis-Ball Problem

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Physicists prefer gentlemen

Remember those exposés where identical applications are submitted to decision-makers, but one applicant is this while the other applicant is that? (The "this" and "that" might be different races: one applicant's name is "Dustin" while the other's is "DeShawn".) When the decision-makers show consistent, statistically significant preference for the "this" applicants (Caucasian) over the "that" applicants (African-American), such studies reveal bias.

Such a study was conducted among tenured scientists. And scientists prefer gentlemen. has the skinny:
Undertaken by psychologist Corinne Moss-Racusin and colleagues from Yale University, the study involved 127 tenured scientists across six universities in the US being asked to provide feedback on an excerpt from a job application for a graduate-level lab-technician post at another institution. The excerpt – developed by an academic panel – was designed to be as realistic as possible and was identical, except that 64 of the scientists were told the applicant's name was Jennifer, while the other 63 were told the applicant's name was John. The scientists were told that their feedback would help the applicant's career development, unaware that both the candidate and the post were fictitious. The candidate was painted as promising but not exceptional.
The study found not only that the scientists rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant, but also that the hirers would have given the male student a higher starting salary. "Male and female science-faculty members, including physicists, said they were more likely to hire the male student," says Moss-Racusin. "They also offered to pay him about $4000 more per year on average and were more likely to offer him career mentoring, relative to the identical female student."
In fairness, the bias was seen in chemistry and biology as well as physics.

Gender bias problems continue in physics. I wrote my master's thesis about gender equity in the physics classroom. Whenever I bring up the subject, colleagues tend to treat it as an attack and fend me off as the attacker. Which frustrates me, since it looks like folks prefer a heads-in-the-sand approach.

I don't have any answers beyond acknowledging the problem exists. The solutions proposed by classroom-bias researchers were essentially, "Engage in good teaching practices and refrain from bad teaching practices." Nothing gender-specific.

The one gender-specific finding I do recall is that boys do better when there are girls in the classroom while girls do better when there are no boys in the classroom. And that doesn't help. Short of compelling holography techniques, creating girl-only classes for girls and mixed-gender classes for boys isn't physics-ly possible.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Ball Toss

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt shows how the motion of a ball tossed by Phil Physiker can be carefully analyzed, with interesting distinctions.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Ball Toss

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Sideways Drop

Bullseye Bob drops a bullet while firing another horizontally, then analyzed in Paul Hewitt's televised classroom, followed up with vertical and horizontal motion independence.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Sideways Drop

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Tech penalty: Switching from Canvas to Keynote

I began writing curriculum materials in 1986, deciding early on to author in Silicon Beach Software's SuperPaint. SuperPaint was a groundbreaker in 1986 because it combined the bitmap capabilities of MacPaint to the vector graphics capabilities of MacDraw.

I could have gone with a word processor (Apple MacWrite, Microsoft Word, etc.), but I chose not to. I wanted more canvas than typing paper: an application in which graphics took priority to words. Desktop publishing software was on the rise, but Aldus PageMaker and Manhattan Graphics Ready Set Go! struck me as kludgey and unappealing. Besides, they didn't allow for creation of graphics, they were all about layout.

SuperPaint was my program for nearly everything. But as it went through upgrades, it got worse. Developers added more and more features, Silicon Beach sold it to Aldus. It got buggier and slower. And by 1992, I had to give it up. I switched to Deneba Canvas.

Canvas employed layers in a way that allowed me to write worksheets and labs in one layer, then add answer keys in a second layer. The layers were like sheets of glass: you could write and draw on them while still seeing the layers below. Two layers were all I ever needed: student worksheet and answer key. You could print a single layer or both at once. Brilliant! No need to have two separate documents, one student version and one teacher version.

From 1992-2012, Canvas was my workhorse. Nearly everything available as a PDF at was originally written on Canvas. Well over 1000 pages of schtuff. I found 1992's Canvas 3.5 to be great. I dutifully upgraded to Canvas 5 in 1996 and found that Deneba seemed to following in the disastrous steps of Aldus. Canvas 5 was feature-laden and slower on the draw (!). I skipped versions 6, 7, and 8. But I did upgrade at 9 and X. Canvas X worked in Apple's new UNIX-based Mac OS X.

In 2003, Deneba was bought by ACD Systems. On the eve of the introduction of Apple's iPhone in 2007, ACD decided that Macintosh was too niche. So although Canvas was born on the Mac OS, it would move forward as a Windows-only product. No amount of wailing or gnashing of teeth among Mac Canvas users would deter ACD. No amount of Apple becoming the dominant tech company worth more than the United States of America would compel them to reconsider.

I knew my days with a functional Canvas were numbered. I began searching for alternatives. Everything I looked at came up short. With Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple discontinued Rosetta, an otherwise invisible bit of operating system code that allowed older (Motorola CPU-era) apps to run on newer (Intel CPU) Macs. In a way, that numbered my days of usable Canvas to zero. Canvas will not open on my new MacBook Pro, meaning the bulk of my physics curriculum is inaccessible from my computer.

And that's simply not going to work for me.

One app that I've been using for nearly a decade is Apple's Keynote. It's Apple's answer to Microsoft PowerPoint (which, like Excel, was originally a Mac-only application). As it is in so much of the computing universe, the Apple approach is superior to the Microsoft approach. And it can be taken as evidence of my fanboism that I had no interest in creating/using presentations (presos) until Keynote offered an alternative to PowerPoint.

I've learned to bend Keynote to my will. So I pondered, "Can I convert my Canvas docs to Keynote and maintain their original functionality?" On the face of it, the question is ludicrous. Canvas was a graphics/DTP program and Keynote was designed to make Steve Jobs look cool when he pitched new products at MacWorld.

But the answer turned out to be, "Yes!" (At this point, I'm convinced I can do virtually anything in Keynote.)

The process is tedious, time-consuming, labor-intensive, and did I mention tedious? But it is possible. So I am going through the process, item by item, document by document, image by image, text box by text box. Each PhyzGuide, Springboard, Demo, Lab, Video Sheet, etc., that I finish can be opened on the new computer. Since each document has to be rebuilt in Keynote, some changes have been made to certain documents in certain places. And I've switched fonts on my headers in demos (Showboat's out, Ringmaster, Zebrawood, and Black Oak are in). I've had to buy/re-buy some fonts that didn't function properly in Keynote. Long is the tale of transition woe.

Dropbox has been key in this process. All Phyz curriculum files are in my Dropbox. I access the Canvas docs on my old MacBook Pro (2008, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard), port them to Keynote (each one takes about an hour of work), and save the Keynote version. Next time I open the new MBP, the Keynote doc is in the Dropbox and ready to go.

But there are miles to go before I sleep.

All of this to say that if you find me even more anti-social and withdrawn than usual (and honestly, how would you even know?), that's the reason.

Google Doodle: Neils Bohr

There's just no escape from that Rutherford model.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Reminder: PTSOS1 Sacramento is Saturday 10/13

The Central Valley version of the PTSOS Workshop 1: Overcoming Inertia is scheduled for Saturday, October 13 at Rio Americano High School.

From 8:30am to 4:30pm, it's a day of physics demos and discussions, food and fun. With awesome goodies and giveaways, and an engaging make-n-take.

If you're a new teacher or interested in honing your physics teaching craft, please contact PTSOS Outreach Coordinator, Stephanie Finander: She can register you for this and upcoming workshops in the Sacramento or Los Gatos series.

For ongoing information at any time, visit PTSOS at

Hewitt-Drew-it! Free Fall

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt investigates and develops free-fall equations as Phil Physiker drops a boulder, with a speedometer attached, from a high cliff.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Free Fall

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Newtonian Shot in high-speed

Two dart guns are fired straight downward at the same time. But the darts have been modified. One dart has a cork ball attached. The other has a steel ball attached. Which one hits first?

In class, we engage in a guided think-pair-share discussion. The guiding document can be found here:

The Newtonian Shot

I generally get good arguments for the light dart hitting first and for a tie. I'm lucky to have such engaged students!

Only after all arguments have been expressed and represented do I proceed with the demo. In class, I shoot the darts from guns suspended from a support bar structure attached to a ceiling I-beem.

For high-speed video goodness, I shot the pair outside in the blazing late afternoon light in sunny Sacramento.

Here's the 600-fps clip. Enjoy that cork ball bounce!

Here's the 1200-fps clip.

You might reasonable worry about finding the type of spring-loaded dart gun that works for this demo. You need a hard stick dart—Nerf darts or soft rubber darts simply won't do. They seemed to be available everywhere when I was a kid. But safety worries and lawsuits made them an endangered species. Fortunately Arbor Scientific is able to get them.

Arbor Scientific Dart Gun

Zero-g double/bubble lens

We've all heard of gravitational lensing. How about this for "anti-gravitational lensing?"

Copyright All rights reserved by André Kuipers
Copyright All rights reserved by André Kuipers
Copyright All rights reserved by André Kuipers
© All rights reserved by André Kuipers

From my friend, Phil Plait's, Bad Astronomy blog:

A light bending exercise... in space!

He does a nice job explaining the optics. This is a water blob floating in the zero-g environment of the International Space Station. But to spice things up, the blob was injected with air.

I'll pose a few more challenging questions for my physics-ly brawny readers.

1. Is a spherical water blob a converging or diverging lens?
2. Is an air bubble immersed in water a converging or diverging lens?
3. Ray diagrams?
4. Characterize both images: real or virtual?

But don't forget to take a moment to appreciate the grooviness!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rolling in the Higgs

Go ahead: click "Play." It's better than you think it's going to be. Better, in my humble opinion, than a certain well-received LHC Rap, though scholars may disagree.

Rolling in the Higgs
There's a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we've never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV

See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There's a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we've never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It's got me thinking

We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

Baby I have a theory to be told
The standard model used to discover our quantum world
SU(3), U(1), SU(2)'s our gauge
Make a transform and the equations shouldn't change

The particles then must all be massless
Cause mass terms vary under gauge transformation
The one solution is spontaneous
Symmetry breaking

Roll your vacuum to minimum potential
Break your SU(2) down to massless modes
Into mass terms of gauge bosons they go
Fermions sink in like skiers into snow

Lyrics and arrangement by Tim Blais and A Capella Science
Original music by Adele

See/hear Adele's original here.

Hat tip: Boo's FB feed.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Unit Conversion

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt, discusses unit conversion by means of cancellation, illustrated with a simple average-velocity problem featuring Fast Freda.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Unit Conversion

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-it! Bikes and Bee Problem

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt shows a simple solution to a classic problem involving the motion of a bee that flies to-and-fro between approaching bikes.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Bikes and Bee Problem

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Boiling without bubbles?

There was a bit of a flurry of articles, notes, Facebook shares and the like this week surrounding a new application of the Leidenfrost effect. We loves us some Leidenfrost effect here at The Blog of Phyz, so a post is required.

When a very hot metal ball is placed in near-boiling water, an enveloping layer of water vapor surrounds the ball. This insulates the ball, preventing it from cooling down by conduction to the cooler water. The heat transfer is relatively slow. Bubbles peel off from the submerged ball (single file) while the ball cools. Eventually, the ball cools to a point at which it can no longer maintain its vapor "atmosphere."

The new research shows that if the metal ball is coated with nanoparticles, the bubble production from the submerged ball eventually drops to zero.

Here's the video from researchers at Northwestern.

Boiling Water Without Bubbles from Northwestern News on Vimeo.

Full articles are here:
Nature: Stabilization of Leidenfrost vapour layer by textured superhydrophobic surfaces

Scientific American: How to Boil Water without Bubbles

Northwestern: Boiling Water Without Bubbles

Popularizers did their best to popularize this mildly esoteric finding.
New Scientist: Water-repellent balls make liquid boil with no bubbles

Geekosystem seems to have taken things too far.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bitter blueberry beats butterfly and beetle

And that's how we alliterate here at The Blog of Phyz. But I digress.

The Blue Morpho butterfly and the scarab beetle derive iridescent color from the manner in which light interacts with their structure on a microscopic scale. The beetle even circularly polarizes reflected light.

But the Pollia condensata blueberry outshines them both. Literally. This poison fruit is so shiny it looks like it's made of metal.

The Smithsonian has a nice story about it.

As does NPR.

As does Huffington Post.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-It! Force Vectors on an Incline

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt analyzes forces acting on a block on an inclined plane, leading to forces on a block sliding on a curved surface.

Hewitt-Drew-It! Force Vectors on an Incline

Sunday, September 02, 2012

STAR 2012: The What Does This Mean? Edition

Can't resist a HungryBear9562 reference.

The results have been posted from the Spring 2012 administration of the battery of STAR tests. These included the End of Course California Standards Tests in the sciences, including Physics. Which is to say I've got something to talk about.

Statewide: Top-scoring Physics stalls, Biology catches up, and Chemistry sees its biggest jump

Physics has been on top for several years. But this year's 52% Advanced and Proficient rate matches last years best-in-class performance. Biology's steady gains continued this year, and they have matched Physics' 52% ADV+PRO mark. Objectively, Biology's feat is more impressive since there are so many more Biology test-takers. The tie for 1st leaves Chemistry in its long-held third place rank. But Chemistry saw its biggest single-year jump ever: from 38% to 43% ADV+PRO. Although Earth Science remains fourth of 4, it, too enjoyed a nice upward performance bump.

Rio Physics/Baird: My largest ADV+PRO army despite losses in every standard set
My Physics results are mixed, although this seems to be the norm.

1. Good news: 63 of my 96 students performed at the Advanced or Proficient level. 

The school has produced bigger Physics ADV+PRO armies in the past (when we had two physics teachers), but I've never contributed as many as 63 to that army.

2. Bad news: Rio's Physics ADV+PRO rate is down from last year. 

We dropped from 70% to 66%. District schools, Bella Vista and Mira Loma, both posted better rates. But Rio did beat the average district performance, as well we should.

3. Good news: I've never had so many students perform at the Advanced level. 

Thirty-nine is a Baird Phyz Record.Those thirty-nine now reside in my in-class Phyz Hall of Fame on my illustrious Wall of Ego. Unfortunately, 7 in BB represents new records, too.

4 Bad news: We lost ground in nearly every standard set, compared to last year. 

The scene brightens slightly if you compare the 2012 performance to 2010. But why would you do that?

Friday, August 31, 2012

BREAKING: They're up! STAR 2012

Statewide 2012 California STAR Test Results

See the STAR post below for information on how to generate various reports.

Here's the CDE's press release on the 2012 STAR results. The section devoted to science says,

"In 2012, the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level and above across all grade-level tests increased by 3 percentage points. Grade five showed an increase of 1 percentage point, grade eight showed an increase of 2 percentage points, and grade ten showed the highest one-year increase of 3 percentage points. Notable gains were also seen in all grade levels since the assessments were first administered.

From 2011 to 2012, all grade-level and nearly every end-of-course results showed an increase in the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level and above on the science CSTs with the exception of Physics and Integrated Science 1. The largest one-year increase was 6 percentage points in Integrated Science 2, increasing from 19 percent to 25 percent of students, followed by 5 percentage points in Chemistry, increasing from 38 percent to 43 percent of students. Earth Science and Biology each showed a one-year increase of 3 percent of students. Physics and Integrated Science 1 remained unchanged from the previous year.

The percentage of students achieving at the proficient level and above has increased on all end-of-course tests since 2003, with the greatest increase on the CST for Physics, at 23 percentage points during that time period. Gains for all of the end-of-course tests made between 2011 and 2012 were 3 percentage points, while those same tests showed gains of approximately 17 percentage points between 2003 and 2012.

In 2012, approximately 1.2 million students in grades nine through eleven took science end-of-course CSTs. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of students taking the CST for Biology increased by 3,763, and the number of students taking the CST for Chemistry increased by 9,974. Since 2003, the number of students taking the CST for Biology has increased by 222,672, the greatest increase among the science end-of-course CSTs. Though the number of test-takers is decreasing over the past three years, for Earth Science, there is an increase of 117,248 students taking that test since 2003. Within the same period, notably, the number of students taking the CST for Chemistry increased by 121,882."

For the most meaningful information (schoolwide student performance on specific standards), you'll have to wait for your district.

Statewide Physics Results (click to embiggen):

Monday, August 27, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Delayed STAR test results posted today???


UPDATE: Actually, the normal August 15 statewide release of STAR results has been delayed until August 31. Student scores were reported to school districts on August 22.

UPDATE 2: My district promised access to data via Data Director on August 24:
CST Prebuilt Report Update

The DataDirector team is currently working on updating the CST Prebuilt Reports for use with your 2011-2012 CST data. The following Prebuilt Reports will be available for use with 2011-2012 by the close of business on August 24th:
-CST Scaled Scores
-CST Cluster Scores
-Student Profile Report

I have been unable to access the promised data. Data Director is not the most user-friendly system, but I've navigated it enough to access useful data in the past. At this point, I can get all the 2010-11 data I want, but 2011-12 remains elusive.


The state delayed the results of the Spring 2012 administration of STAR tests. These tests include the end-of-course California Standards Test (CST) in 9-12 Physics. (Don't get too excited by the "9-12 Physics" designation: only students in grades 9-11 take STAR tests.)

Because of incidents of item sharing (apparently, students photographed questions and shared them with classmates), the California Department of Education mounted an investigation. The investigation delayed the release of STAR test results. The results are usually published on or around August 15. The investigation pushed the release back to August 24 August 31. Here's the state's notice to schools on the matter.

There is a permanent link to CST results in the link column to the right. But here's a link, nonetheless.

STAR CST Results

From the main page, you'll want to click

2012 STAR Test Results

From there, click

"Search Test Results"

From there.

1. To see statewide results, select nothing from the alluring pop-up menus. Simply clicking "View Report."

What you get is the complete listing of STAR CST results statewide. Everything! Look at those huge-normous numbers. Scary!

2. To see county results, select a county, then "View Report."

3. To see district results, select a county, then select a school district within that county, then "View Report."

4. To see school results, select a county, then select a school district within that county, then select a school within that district, then "View Report."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-It! Nellie Hanging on Gym Ropes

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt shows two different ways of solving vector problems; resolution of vectors and the parallelogram method. He also shows a pulley problem.

Hewitt-Drew-It! Nellie Hanging on Gym Ropes

Saturday, August 18, 2012

All the color of the rainbow

And no, I don't mean "all the colors of the rainbow."

Some Saturday morning serendipity started with a Phil Plait tweet about a stunning image of clouds lit from beneath by a sinking sun and ended at an image of a red rainbow.

I had never seen a monochromatic rainbow, and the idea of it seems oxymoronic on its face. But it makes good enough sense if you understand the optics of the rainbow.

Normally a rainbow consists of dispersed full-spectrum sunlight. Sunlight includes all the colors of the...uhm...rainbow (***circumlocution alert***).

But what if the sunlight that makes it to the raindrops has already undergone significant Rayleigh scattering by passing through a great thickness of atmosphere typical of a sunset or sunrise? WIth the shorter wavelengths scattered, only the redder colors get through. And if red is the only color to hit the raindrops, red is the only color that will show up in the rainbow.

Still, I had never seen an image of a red rainbow until today. Once again, I need to get out more.

Earth Science Picture of the Day: Monsoon Sunset and Red Rainbow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

AAPT Philadelphia High School Sharathon Pics

My collection of photographs from the High School Sharathon are now online at Flickr

2012 07 AAPT Philadelphia



Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Rio Phyz Work Day extra credit opportunity!

OK Rio Phyz students paying attention—especially you, AP Phyz students: the Work Day CTF opportunity is hereby announced.

On Wednesday, August 15, there will be two windows of CTF opportunity. One will be 10am-12n, the other will be 2pm-4pm.

Come into Rio and help me get the room (B-8) set up, and you'll be rewarded with highly-coveted Credit Toward Final (CTF) points. The rate is 12 points per hour. It's always great to go into the school year with some CTF in your pocket.

So set a reminder on your smartphone or tie a string around your finger. Hope to see you Wednesday!

Monday, August 06, 2012

AAPT Summer Meeting 2012 post-mortem

The American Association of Physics Teachers Summer Meeting 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was held from July 28 through August 1.

Here are links to what remains of the meeting.

Amateur video of the important addresses

GoogleDoc of session-related website resources

AAPT's SM12 Philadelphia Conference Page

The Twitter hashtag used for meeting-related tweets was #aaptsm12.

If someone knows of other AAPTSM12 residue, let me know in the comments.

Hewitt-Drew-it! Nellie's Rope Tensions

In this screencast, Paul Hewitt explains how vectors are used to figure out forces and equilibrium. Paul uses a parallelogram rule to find resultant tensions.

Hewitt-Drew-It! Nellie's Rope Tensions

Friday, August 03, 2012

Radiolab: Colors

This is a great hour of radio. An entertaining exploration of color done in audio (challenge handled nicely). It is, of course, not without its flaws (I'll save those for comments).

Radiolab: Colors

Monday, July 30, 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

AAPT Summer Meeting 2012

I'm settled in at The Inn at Penn and readying for AAPTSM12, the Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers. This year, the host is The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

I'll be involved in the following sessions:

Workshop W19: Skepticism in the Classroom.
Saturday, July 28, 1:00pm-5:00pm David Rittenhouse Lab 3C2.
Matt Lowry and I will tag-team our way through many engaging mini-lessons in skepticism and critical thinking that can be easily plugged into the physics curriculum. Laughs are guaranteed, and a good time will be had by all.

Commercial Workshop CW04: Paul Hewitt and Conceptual Physics. 
Monday, July 30, 12:15pm-1:15pm Inn at Penn Regents/St. Marks.
Author Paul Hewitt discusses the latest developments in Pearson's Conceptual Physics, Conceptual Physical Science, Conceptual Integrated Science, and Mastering Physics. (I'll be appearing in a cameo role!)

Crackerbarrel CRKBRL-05: YouTube Share-a-thon.
Tuesday, July 31, 12:00n-1:30pm Sheraton Ben Franklin V.
Many of us have found pedagogical gems on YouTube. We aren't we sharing these at AAPT Meetings? I have no idea! So let's start sharing our YouTube physics lessons! I've got plenty, but so do you, so I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours!

I'll probably come up with something for the High School Share-a-thon (Sunday, July 29, 6:00pm-8:00pm Amado Recital Room).

It's always a delight to catch up with my physics-teaching colleagues from hither and yon. In the spirit of the season, I'll say, "Let the games begin."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hewitt-Drew-It! Equilibrium Problems

The Hewitt Drew It! screencast series continues with Equilibrium Problems. Hewitt works out a few number puzzles relating to the scaffold scenario discussed in the previous episode.

Hewitt-Drew-It! Equilibrium Problems

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Buying the confidence to burn your feet

Fire walking is a dangerous stunt. I've never done it and I might never do it. There are tricky variables and too many ways it can go wrong. And remember, this concern is coming from someone who jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. On purpose!

We understand how it works when it works out well. Burned-down wood may be quite hot, but it's a poor conductor. No one—neither physics educators nor "mind-over-matter" spiritualists—ever walks across glowing metal ingots. The difference is that the physics-types know why doing so would be a bad idea.

So-called "self-help gurus" long ago stole this stunt, rebranding it as a demonstration of self-confidence. The get their marks to pay big bucks to sit in a hotel conference room all day, listening to personal empowerment clap-trap.

To "prove" that this nonsense has changed them (in ways other than diminishing their bank account balances), said gurus arrange for a fire walk at the end of the day. The pitch is that with their new sense of empowerment, they will be able to do things that would have scared them just hours ago.

The fire pit is set up and sometime after dusk, participants shed their shoes. They walk across dewey grass en route to their walk across the burned-down embers. (The dew-wetted feet benefit from a bit of Leidenfrost Effect protection in addition to the previously mentioned low conductivity factor.)

Often, everything goes well and the ruse succeeds. Participants are none the wiser in physics but leave with the confidence they can do anything they desire; anything would be easier than walking on fire,

But it doesn't always work out.

A recent Tony Robbins workshop ended with 21 burn victims incuding at least 3 sent to San Jose hospitals.

There's a nice fire walking debunk by Richard Wiseman on my Web Video for the Classroom page.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Announcing the "Hewitt Drew It!" screencast series

Conceptual Physics author, Paul Hewitt, has posted the first in a series of new screencasts. Each screencast is devoted to a specific topic. And each was written, animated, and narrated by Paul Hewitt, so the physics is correct and the content is accessible to virtually everyone.

These are all-new screencasts produced in a style familiar to those who have seen the popular Khan Academy videos.

The first Hewitt Drew It! screencast is about The Equilibrium Rule and tells the story of how Hewitt got "roped" into physics in the first place.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

"The good ole days weren't always good...

And tomorrow's not as bad as it seems."
Billy Joel
"Keeping the Faith"

Here's an interesting eye-opener from Slate:
Five Misconceptions About Teaching Math and Science

In brief, the myths are
1. American schools have been in decline over the past 30-40 years.
2. Low-performing students simply lack math/science aptitude.
3. Curriculum reform is the key to higher achievement.
4. We need massive recruiting efforts to attract college students to the profession.
5. Only top math/science students should be allowed to teach these subjects.

Refutation of the last one hits it out of the park. But the whole piece is well argued.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rio Alum Kevin Ferguson in Olympic Trials

Kevin Ferguson graduated from Rio Americano in 2008. He took Physics 1 in 2005-06. He ended the year as a recipient of the highly-coveted PhyzMaster Award.

Turns out, he's got a bit of a thing for swimming. He was on my radio this morning via Capital Public Radio's Insight with Beth Ruyack. The following link will go live sometime after the program has aired. (Kevin's segment is the second of the program, following the discussion of Supreme Court issues).

Capital Public Radio's Insight for June 25, 2012

Kevin's UCSB story

It was great fun listening to him; he sounds so serious and grown up now. Anyway, well done, Kevin. Your fans at Rio are cheering you on!

Here's one from the PhyzPhoto archives:

UPDATE: CapRadio's Insight July 2 follow-up.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The White House and the National Science Foundation named me as a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

I've created a separate blog to tell the story.

The Excellent Adventure of Phyz

Monday, June 04, 2012 redirect redirected

Due to Apple's everchanging implementation of web-based services, all homepage.mac addresses will expire at the end of the month.

I've moved my website to RageSW's server. It was every bit as much fun as it sounds like.

Today I reconfigured my domain name's forwarding service so that when you type "" in as a URL, you'll be gently escorted to "" It took about ten seconds to make that switch.

But my Google-ownership of "phyz" will likely suffer. I'll do my best to buck up and be strong through it all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eclipse portraiture

The results are trickling in. I'll post my pics to a Flickr album.

My eclipse self-portraits and Rio Americano Campus shots at Flickr.
Submitted student eclipse portraits.
My iPhone eclipse pics (coming soon).

Here's my side-by-side before and during.

Where are yours?

UPDATE: Changed the first link to the geotagged set (including GPS info from EXIF files).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eclipse sunball portraiture: Do it!

Better yet, have your students do it!

An annular eclipse will be passing through Northern California this Sunday. The more populated areas will get a partial eclipse, but that's fun, too.

And a nice opportunity to get photos like this one from Hewitt's Conceptual Physics 11th edition.

So I made it an extra credit opportunity for students who can pull off the photographic feat.

Details on the extra credit opportunity here. That's the student handout I'll give to my students.

UPDATE: Having scoped out potential locations, it struck me that the best places for the tree shadows/sunballs to hit might be a vertical surface (wall) rather than the ground (as depicted in the Hewitt shots). The eclipse peaks late in the afternoon. Shadows are long; the sunballs/crescents may be very distorted on the ground. Just a thought.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Domino Chain Reaction

The usual caveats apply: I miss more than I see, and this one's been around for a spell.

Good, clean, unstable equilibrium, amplification fun nonetheless.

Hat tip: Fred Bremmer (one of the few people I literally look up to in the world).

Next Generation Science Standards (phase 3 of 9)

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have now been drafted, reviewed by states, and revised.

The current draft can be accessed via the NGSS website.

There may be a review session hosted at your local county office of education or Science Project. CSTA has some listed here.

The window for feedback is, as might be expected, brief. May 11-June 1.

After June 1, further revisions will be made, reviewed by states, revised, and presented for public comment. Thereafter, the standards will again be revised and reviewed by states. After that, the final NGSS will be published.

My own take based on some exposure to the new standards is that they are complex. If California's science standards were checkers, the NGSS is tri-dimensional chess. California's standards were content-centric. The NGSS are much more process-centric.

It's too early for me to say whether this is good or bad. There are many details to be ironed out between this draft and final implementation.

Since these are national standards, I wonder things like... how Creationist/ID-friendly these standards will allow Bible-belt states to be. If the focus becomes too process-oriented, content loses relevance. So the content could be evolution or intelligent design, so long as it plugs into certain process activities. And I'll be nervous if we shift from physics, biology, chemistry, and earth science to 10th-grade science, 11th-grade science, and 12th-grade science.

So far, I haven't seen much in terms of accountability assessment. This seems to be the nature of high-minded, all-encompassing standards-writing projects. A blue-ribbon commission decides on an impressively robust-seeming standards set. The set is fiddled with and fussed over by lesser bodies (teachers, the public). Slightly modified standards are eventually adopted and heralded as the savior of science education.

The blue-ribbon commission is disbanded, and lesser bodies (contractors and review panels) are left to implement assessment and accountability. But the blue-ribbon standards don't always lend themselves to simple assessments. And the lesser bodies have little or no budget for assessments. But the public and politicians demand accountability.

The Devil can always find a comfortable residence in The Details. But I digress.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

How much would you pay... for the Universe?

Neil deGrasse Tyson asks a fair question.

If you were sentient in the 1960s, you'll want to wipe your tears so they won't drip onto your keyboard.

Sign the petition! (Better slacktivism than nactivism.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Senioritis haiku

We had our unit test on mechanical waves and sound today. A student inquired as to whether or not polarization would be covered.

I assured him that polarization would not be on this text. Nor the next unit test. But it would be on the unit test after that. A wave of panic swept the room. "We don't have time for two more units," the peanut gallery protested. I walked them through calendar to illustrate that yes, we would.

But the moment was now right for my Senioritis haiku. (And I use the term "haiku" loosely. Very loosely.) I repeat the telling of this haiku annually. Usually about this time of year.

Senioritis is the disease.
Physics is the cure.
And me? I'm the Doctor!

I go on to assure the students that they are secure in my skilled hands. I prefer to let a student quip, "So you're the PhyzIcian?"

You get the point.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Magic Circle

The Northern California and Nevada Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers held its Spring Conference at Lake Tahoe Community College Saturday, April 21. Beautiful campus; beautiful day.

In the back of the meeting room, officers had prepared a poster of "Mister Equipment" (Mystery Equipment). There were photos of strange-looking apparatus. New teachers often inherit apparatus whose purpose is not intuitively obvious. At meetings, there is a healthy mix of new teachers and veterans. The vets can often identify and describe the mystery apparatus. I hadn't seen the lonely poster until the end of the meeting, when an officer asked if any of the apparatus were—as yet—unclarified.

Even when I made a hasty scan of the assorted oddities, I passed an item at the top of the poster. It was titled "The Magic Circle." It wasn't really a piece of apparatus. It was a simple graphic image.

"That's mine!" I exclaimed. "The Magic Circle is my 'invention.'"

The Magic Circle is a kind of graphic mnemonic I designed in 1988 because Susie Klippi was just not getting graphical kinematics. She wanted to; she was trying. But it wasn't happening, and I wanted to help her. I did the best I could as a still very green one-year "veteran."

The context is the challenge of being able to translate between position and velocity graphs during uniform accelerated motion. The velocity graphs have diagonals, and the position graphs have curves. Physics learners have trouble with these things because it's really calculus that's going on here. The slope of the position graph indicates the value of the velocity graph, and all that jazz.

I spent too much time on kinematics back in those days, and gave it too much weight in the scheme of things. Still, it was my own "No Child Left Behind" that compelled my to design a mnemonic that would help struggling students get past this hurdle.

At the end of graphical kinematics units in subsequent years, I would reveal The Magic Circle. At that point, students had been slogging through the exercises, some with more joy than others. When I show the Magic Circle now, students' minds are ready for it, and a wave of happiness \ briefly sweeps through the classroom. But students soon complain: "Why didn't you show us this 'trick' in the first place?" Rather than engage them in the finer points of pedagogical philosophy, I simply tell them to add this to the growing list of ways I've managed to disappoint them.

I eventually prepared a manuscript for publication in The Physics Teacher, but it was rejected by then-editor, Cliff Schwartz. I still show the trick to my second-year AP students, where graphical kinematics still holds some importance. But they are less in need of the mnemonic. All in all, The Magic Circle © 1988 by Dean Baird has faded in significance for me.

But there it was on Saturday. I gave a quick, impromptu lesson in the oddly-configured meeting room. It was not my best presentation, and I don't think I sold The Magic Circle to any of the conferees still present at the end of the day.

Here's the unpublished manuscript if you're interested.

The Magic Circle: A Training Wheel for Graphical Kinematics

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rio Americano staff flash mob

My friend, Christy Thomas, is Rio's tireless Student Government advisor. Along with a secret cadre of students, she put in the hard labor to organize a staff flash mob for today's rally.

YouTube Link 1. I am mostly obscured by tall Max K in this one. Such good fortune! More videos of this historic event will likely emerge, though. So I'm not out of the woods just yet.

YouTube Link 2. From the Senior Section. Much better sound and I'm nearly invisible. Win win!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ExploratoRio 2012 Time Lapse FINAL

DEVELOPING: ExploratoRio time lapse sequences

ExploratoRio time lapse sequences. My Canon S3-IS has an intervalometer function which will take up to 100 exposires. I set it to take one shot per minute. Here's what I caught.



If I get any more time lapse footage tonight, I'll post appropriate embed links later.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Harmony and dissonance: More on the singing roads

When I developed the "Science is Fun!" activity discussed below, I should have known that Honda's Musical Road in Lancaster was not the only musical road in the world.

It turns out there at least four. And there's a web page devoted to the phenomenon. It's part of the Sound Tourism website. Want to drive them all? Pack your bags! Here's where they are:

1. Lancaster, California, USA, Musical Road - "William Tell Overture"
2. Melody Road, Japan - "Memories of Summer"
3. Anyang, Gyeonggi, South Korea - "Mary Had a Little Lamb"
4. Gylling, Denmark, Asphaltophone

There's a nice "video jukebox" on the page that allows visitors to see news clips relating to each of the roads.

If you listen to the Musical Road as depicted on the 2009 Honda Civic Musical Road ad, you hear one version of tarmac William Tell Overture.

If you listen to posted YouTube videos of "regular folk" driving the Musical Road in Lancaster, the tune is significantly different. And not for the better.

Did Honda autotune the road song for their ad?

According to the Musical Road page on Wikipedia, the Lancaster's tuneful tarmac was moved from one location to another due to complaints of local residents about the noise.

The timeline was as follows: in early September of 2008, Honda's Musical Road opened. In late September, it was paved over. In mid-October, the musical road was reconstructed in a location farther from residents. Perhaps the September road was better and the October road was worse.

The location shown in the Honda ad appears remote; the location in the YouTube videos appears remote. But the tune in the everyman videos is quite off.

The Wiki page review is less kind: "The rhythm is recognizable, but the pitches are so far off that the melody bears only a slight resemblance to the William Tell Overture. ... It is likely the designers made a systematic miscalculation which affected all the groove spacings."

And that was the review of the "good" version from the ad. My own take is more forgiving. Remember, it's not that the talking dog speaks well, it's that he speaks at all.

UPDATE: Sound files offered as evidence of Honda's auto-tuning.

User Finale (with a 20% speed increase to match Honda's higher-speed pitch)

UPDATE: This one appears to be in the new location. And the banter between our investigators is too cute not to include. It sounds that same as the "original" road, with the same off-off-notes, so I'm sticking to my theory that Honda auto-tuned certain notes in their TV ad.

Friday, March 30, 2012


I think I just saw a mistake in a video I've been showing since about 1990. If I haven't mentioned it before, I'm sometimes a bit slow on the uptake.

I'm not talking about the errant reference to 1655 as the year Newton worked out Universal Gravitation. Or the estimate of a firefighters weight as "90 kilograms," or the pronunciation of Georg Simon Ohm's first name as "George."

The Mechanical Universe episode to which I refer is "Waves." The error is in the episode's depiction of water waves.

Water waves are "combination waves." That is, they are neither purely longitudinal nor purely transverse. Particles on the surface of water do not move forward and backward, nor side to side relative to the direction of wave propagation.

Instead, these particles travel in ellipses or circles. My student teacher, Marissa Swanson, recently showed me a nice set of animations developed by David Russell at Pennsylvania State University. The page has animations for longitudinal waves, transverse waves, water waves, and Rayleigh waves.

Rayleigh waves (a form of seismic waves) are one result of an earthquake. They are combination waves, too. So a particle on the surface of the Earth travels in an ellipse or circle when a Rayleigh wave passes through it.

But here's the thing: water waves and Rayleigh waves are akin to chiral opposites.

When the crest of a water wave passes through, a particle of water moves forward (in the direction of propagation). When that particle "rides" the trough, it moves backward.

When the crest of a Rayleigh wave passes through, a particle of earth moves backward (opposite the direction of propagation). When that particle "rides" the trough, it moves forward.

1. Check the Penn State animations.

2. Check The Mechanical Universe "Waves" at timecode 19:00 in the discussion and animation of water waves. If my video capturing skills were greater than they are, I would have embedded this as an isolated video clip. Here's a link to a subtitled clip—proceed directly to 4:34.

The water waves are depicted as Rayleigh waves!

The narration announces the overall effect as "giving the familiar undulation of the watery surface." But it doesn't. The surface shows convex crests with pointed troughs. The Penn State animation shows the more correct concave troughs and pointed crests.

Don't get me wrong. I'm obviously a huge fan of The Mechanical Universe. And it wasn't until I had the Penn State animations in my head that I saw the disparity. I'll admit I'm excited to have stumbled across this because I hold The Mechanical Universe in such high regard.

Me? I never make mistakes in anything that I ever due! So if this is old news, don't tell me. I'm giddy with excitement only a true nerd could appreciate.

UPDATE 1: I now Google-own "mechanical universe mistake." Can't wait to tell my mom!

UPDATE 2: My friend, Dan Burns, reminded me that the most egregious error in The Mechanical Universe universe was the narration that accompanies the "Special Relativity" episode. Viewers will recall the sequence involving "Albert" (Einstein) and "Henry" (Poincaré, americanized). In the deepest depths of an animated illustration of the relativity of simultaneity, Henry is referred to as Galileo. Students have been known to jump through a window behind that blooper. That's not the kind of error that slips past anyone for 20+ years.

UPDATE 3: Upon further examination, it appears that the "Henry" of the Mechanical Universe simultaneity animations is actually Hendrik Lorentz.

Science is Fun—a vibration/sound demo suite

Science program funding can be a sad thing. But it can also be a funny thing. This year, I was lucky enough to have a $1000 budget for consumables. I don't always have such a luxury, but it can be something o a challenge to classify what I need and use as "consumable."

In physics, we ten to benefit from large, one-time capital outlays. These investments can endure through thousands of student contacts. But they don't qualify as consumables.

One item I did get with my consumable budget is a class set of Arbor Scientific's Talkie Tapes.

I allowed the potential for classroom use marinate in my mind up until our waves unit. Last Monday, I set about the task of writing a student handout o accompany the Talkie Tapes.

I decided the student activity would qualify as a demo rather than a lab. My initial write-up consisted of Talkie Tape use instructions, alone. The essential point was to connect vibrations to sound.

While doing the activity in class, my serendipitous mind stumbled onto extensions and enhancements.

By Wednesday, the activity also included my skeptical lesson involving "backmasking," And my disembodied musical box mechanism. And Honda's 2009 Musical Road commercial.

All these "tangents" we're items kicking around in my waves unit, but they didn't really have a home. Now they do.

We do the back asking activity first s that students understand audio pareidolia (constructing a pattern where no pattern really exists). So when they try to decipher the "tale of the tape" (audio embedded in the bumps of the Talkie Tape), they understand that it helps to have a hint. The title of the activity provides such a suggestion.

After hearing the Talkie Tape through air and bone conduction, students amplify the sound using Dixie cups. Great time to bring in the disembodied musical box mechanism and talk about the amplification it enjoys when connected to bigger air movers.

Then it's time to enjoy the large-scale version of the Talkie Tape: Honda's 2009 Musical Road project. We close by comparing the road to the tape and determining a groove spacing used to make a certain note on the roadway.

All in all, a very groovy activity. It was fun to originate and modify it so that it became a nicely laid out vessel for several related sound demos.

Science is Fun! Demonstration at The Book of Phyz
Jeff Milner's Backmasking Page (Paparazzi and Stairway are recommended; use Baby One More Time at your discretion)
Talkie Tapes
Music Box Mechanism
2009 Honda Civic Musical Road on YouTube

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Why I am not a Modeler" at Global Physics Department

We had a nice discussion on "Why I am not a Modeler" at Global Physics Department last night. Thanks toderator Andy Rundquist for helping me navigate the details of Elluminate Live. I was much less klutzy than I would have been otherwise.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Elluminate is a highly interactive, kinetic chat interface. Some people have the requisite skills to present their talk while monitoring the chat feed. I am not such a person. But Andy was kind enough to jump in when questions arose.

As might be expected, the more "face-to-face" live nature of the GPD meeting resulted in a less contentious discussion than the comment threads that followed my original blog posts. I say that without judgment for or against either medium.

In any case, here is the GPD page for the recording of the meeting in case you missed it and wanted to see/hear it.

Global Physics Department 3/21: Dean Baird: Why I am not a Modeler

(Andy's title of "modeling smackdown" is more a use of colorful language employed with good humor among colleagues than it is an accurate description of my actual talk.)

Go straight to the recording!

Next time, I'll learn to scale down my Keynote preso to correctly fit into Elluminate's whiteboard space.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two new activities for PhET's "Faraday's Electromagnetic Lab"

I've always liked the presentation of PhET's "Faraday's Electromagnetic Lab" sim, but could never figure out how best to leverage them in inquiry-based activities. And some might say that I have yet to overcome that challenge.

Nonetheless, I wrote two activities that—between them—allow for the exploration of the sim's capabilities. There's some good physics illustrated and animated in the sims.

Electricity and magnetism are difficult subjects for physics learners, so many hands-on lab activities are called for. No harm in adding a few virtual lab activities to the mix.

"Faraday's Electromagnetic Lab" sim.

"Faraday's Electromagnetic Lab I: Magnets and Electromagnets" activity and answer key.

"Faraday's Electromagnetic Lab II: Pickup Coil, Transformer, and Generator" activity and answer key.

These are "first-takes" and may benefit from further development at a later time.