Saturday, December 20, 2008

Power Pointlessness at the speed of light

The first experimenters who tried to measure the speed of light concluded that light speed was infinite. Their equipment was unequal to the task of measuring something so very fast. In v = d/t, the t was too small no matter how big they made the d.

Similarly if you were to take the ratio of effective presentations (PowerPoints) you've seen to the total number of presentations you've sen, you would be forgiven if you concluded that "effective PowerPoint" was an oxymoron. (The "effective" number too small and the "total" number total too large.)

Effective presentations do exist. Garr Reynolds hosts a weblog devoted to Presentation Zen. He offers fundamental principles for success that can be found here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thermal physics in slow motion

Here's a generous helping of new high-speed video from my trusty Casio EX-F1. We're into thermal physics right now, so it was time to record flame, steam, and the Leidenfrost Effect as Paul Robinson demonstrated at PTSOS.As always, these are QuickTime clips (for better playback control and ease of downloading).
Enjoy the clips here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Never so broke we can't pay the psychic

Oh the humanity! The week off has given me the chance to listen to daytime NPR. The woo seems to permeate the programming.

Here's one from today's Day to Day. Turns out the economic downturn is a bonanza for "psychics." This one tells us that her johns used to be primarily women asking about love, but are now men asking about business. She channels guides and angels from the other side to set her clients straight.

And out of consideration for the economy, she's dropped her fee from $155 to $125 per hour. How will she make ends meet? Makes you weepy, the altruism. Then again, I bet she's not sending any of her profits to the other side.

How could you, Madeleine Brand? Sure, there was a whiff of skepticism in the piece, but it was more of a straw man meant to be blown down. It amounted to a puff pice for woo.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scamming Granny using the first rule of cold reading

Listening to daytime NPR on my week off, and the woo jumps out of the radio.

Take this tale of woe from Talk of the Nation. Scam artist from Canada (Oh, Canada!) call numbers in the US. If the person picking up sounds elderly and female, they launch into their scam.

"Hi Grandma, it's me--your favorite grandson," they begin. They tell Granny that there in trouble up in Canada, please wire money ASAP. "And don't tell Mom and Dad; I'll be in so much trouble." Often enough, the money comes through.

You might wonder how the scammers can succeed in such cold calls without knowing so much as the name of the person they're impersonating. That's because you've never worked as a cold-reading "psychic." As is the case with Jonathan Edward and James Van Praagh, the scammers let their marks do their work for them.

"Hi Grandma, it's me--your favorite grandson!"
"I that you, Jimmy?"
"Yes Grandma; it's me, Jimmy..."

It's wrong to blame victims of crimes. But we're such easy marks. If we don't see cold-readers as scam artists, we'll be wiring that money to the Canucks in no time and with no questions asked.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

High-speed water balloons in zero-g

Thanks to Rick Pam at Stanford for pointing this out to me. Über-groovy!

D-oh! The embedding code failed, so you'll have to click the link.

Predictions in review

Ah, the predictions shows. Who doesn't enjoy knowing ahead of time what is to transpire in the following year. Slight downside to the yummy predictions made by the psychics: they're generally wrong. Witness these gems from Sylvia Brown.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NCNAAPT Foothills meeting photos are up

The Fall Meeting of the Northern California and Nevada Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers was held at Foothills College in Los Altos on Saturday, November 8. Here are the photos to prove it.

As is nearly always the case, the photographic conditions were less than ideal. The solution involves patience, and high ISO, noise-reduction software. To get anything worth keeping, it helps to have a zoom with significant reach.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A body at rest tends to remain at rest

The nice thing about physics is that it's all around us. We live it. Sometimes it leads to consequences we hadn't anticipated.

Submitted for your approval: an object lesson in Newton's first law of motion, the law of inertia.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

PTSOS1 Afterlinks 08

Here are some afterthoughts and links related to the first PTSOS New Teacher Workshop in Sacramento, held at Rio Americano High School Saturday, October 18. Most PTSOSers know about,, the PTSOS Yahoo Group, and, but we blasted through some other resources as well. We cover a lot of ground at PTSOS New Teacher Workshops, so here's a list of some of the specifics that might have sneaked past you.

Steve Keith demoed Vernier Software's student-friendly Logger Pro for physics data-plotting. Steve's also a fan of Arizona State University's Modeling Workshop. And he gets pretty good mileage out of Interactive Physics. I'm impressed with the potential of IP, but I'm disappointed that they no longer support the Macintosh platform.

I mentioned ripping video from YouTube on the Mac OS X platform. In the ever-changing world of Internet applications, sometimes it's best to simply use your Google-fu. I'm currently using TubeTV (with QuickTime plug-in, Perian, installed). But it looks like there are other things out there, such as YouTube Grabber and TubeSock. If you try them, let us know how it goes.

We looked at some video clips from Physics Cinema Classics. Specifically, the "Cannonball"-related clips. I haven't been able to relocate those on YouTube (they may have been removed per copyright issues), but here's a nice substitute (in keeping with Steve Keith's advice to work cars into the curriculum). With QuickTime (free for Macs and PCs), you can step through the video, frame by frame.

In addition to the Tumble Buggy (with Keith Industries' custom battery slug), Drilled Balls, rare dart guns, and Geyser Tubes included in your Goodie Bags, we saw ideas for using a Newton's Cradle, Visual Accelerometers (and the old-school liquid accelerometer), Introductory Dynamics System, Rotating Platform. Steve demoed Falling Rhythm.

We also talked about skepticism and critical thinking. I've got a page of mini-lessons in this area. Here's a nice resource on spoon bending. It includes video of the world record spoon bending from The Amazing Meeting 6 this past summer in Las Vegas. There's an excellent episode of Nova devoted to this topics as well: James Randi's Secrets of the Psychics.

The existence of Released Test Questions from California's Physics Content Standards Test was news to some. I'll print a set for PTSOS2 participants. By then, there should be 15 more questions in the set.

Oh, and we strongly recommend attending local NCNAAPT meetings and joining the American Association of Physics Teachers (The Physics Teacher, AAPT's journal, is worth the annual dues).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Letting go of Newtonian mechanics

I'm finishing my unit on uniform circular motion and gravity. We'll test on that this week and move on to momentum.

In the rearview? Preliminaries, motion and inertia, force and interaction. That is, kinematics and Newton's laws. By week's end, I'll be done with the first of California's 9-12 Physics Standard Sets (Motion and Forces) and started on the second (Conservation of Energy and Momentum).

I say this as someone who will not make it through all California's Physics Standards by the time the Physics CST strikes in April.

And I say it as someone who imagines there are many California high school physics teachers out there not as far into the curriculum in mid-October. I know we all love our mechanics topics and could spend the entire year deeply immersed in them, but that typically requires sacrificing rainbows and blue skies.

It's worth mentioning The Hewitt Doctrine: "Don't Let Kinematics Become a Black Hole of Physics Instruction." Conceptual Physics author, Paul Hewitt worries that we'll spend half the year working with ticker-tape timers and increasingly trickier graphical and algebraic kinematics puzzles, only to run out of time before giving students even the most rudimentary exposure to electricity, magnetism, optics, or many other fascinating topics in introductory physics.

Conscientious physics teachers fear that without a thorough understanding of motion and forces, students will not be able to grasp subsequent topics in physics. This turns out to not be the case. Very little of the sky falls if you move on from mechanics before it's fully fermented.

The deep understanding of kinematics and Newton's laws that most physics teachers obtained on their way out of college should not be expected of high school students in their first exposure to the topics. They don't all really need it.

I recommend letting it go and moving on.

If anything, students need more time with electricity and magnetism. These topics are very abstract, so lab work and slow development of concepts is called for. Of course, the year is finite (180ish days). If you're going to have a chance at E&M, you're going to have to get out of mechanics earlier.

Just a thought. Double your money back if the advice doesn't work for you.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

61 Science Nobel Laureates endorse Obama

A group of 61 Nobel Laureates have gotten together to endorse Barack Obama for President. Their letter and the signatories are here. This is the largest number of Nobel Laureates to ever endorse a candidate for office.

Tip of the ballot to The Bad Astronomer.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book of Phyz updates: Force and Interaction

I've updated a couple of documents and presentations in The Book of Phyz unit on Force and Motion.

1. LabPrep: Carts and Tracks. An activity focused on learning the Pasco Introductory Dynamics System. The tracks and carts are nice, but students need to spend some time to get familiar with them. Since we do several IDS-based labs across our two-year sequence, it's time well spent. Document updated.

2. Lab: Going Through the Motions. This one is focused on understanding acceleration through Pasco's Visual Accelerometer and fan attachment with the IDS. Document and presentation updated.

3. Lab: Putting the Force Before the Cart. This activity develops Newton's second law using the IDS and Visual Accelerometer. Document and presentation updated.

All can be accessed here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

PTSOS-Now also in Sacramento!

The popular and successful PTSOS New Teacher Workshops have expanded to Sacramento. I will be hosting Workshop 1: Mechanics ("Overcoming Inertia") at Rio Americano High School on Saturday, October 18. More importantly Steve Keith, longtime physics teacher at Casa Roble High School and Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching recipient, will be presenting as co-leader.

The PTSOS workshops at San Mateo High School continue with Paul Robinson and Dan Burns presiding.

Stephanie Finander continues as Reach Out Coordinator.

For more information on PTSOS and the workshops (and much, much more), see our website at You'll find information there on how to register for an upcoming workshop.

Inertia at high speed

The chronicles of high speed video as seen through my Casio EX-F1 continue. The latest episode focuses (!) on our Inertia in Action PhyzLab.

Click here to go to the full Inertia Video page.

A brief explanation of each activity.
Card Trick: Put a coin on a card and put the card on a cup. Remove the card in one swift move (without changing its orientation).

Hoop Dreams: Balance a marker pen on an embroidery hoop atop an air-core solenoid. (Some prefer hex nuts and wine bottles.) Next, remove the hoop so that the pen drops into the coil. There's a bonus video from 2002 showing a student attempting the difficult triple Hoop Dream.

Tablecloth Trick: We use physics textbooks in lieu of fine china. Then we try loose sheets of paper. The paper is non-trivial.

Click here for the full high speed video page.

The Flying Circus of Physics

The Flying Circus of Physics is a wonderful book of physics questions. Not number puzzles. Not problems. Questions. Questions drawn from observable, real-world phenomena. It is the product of physics professor and popularizer extraordinaire, Jearl Walker. I discovered the book early in my teaching career and have regarded it as an essential volume for physics teachers (and the physics curious). I present several of Walker's questions to my students as homework throughout our two-year sequence.

As light-hearted as the title might sound, the book is serious physics. "Naked-eye physics," as Walker describes it. In the 1990s, Jearl Walker did a thorough overhaul of my favorite calculus-based physics textbook, Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday and Resnick.

In the better late than never department, I see that Walker updated his treasure-trove in 2006. As with the first edition, it's available in several languages. Walker has also established a robust web presence around the second edition. He's even got merchandise! My T-shirt is ordered an on the way.

Check out Jearl Walker's Flying Circus of Physics. If you teach physics or possess curiosity about the world around you, you should not be without this book.

UPDATE: Oily snorkels! Full episodes of Jearl Walker's Emmy Award-winning Kinetic Karnival can be accessed from a MySpace page posted and maintained by his students. Once on the MySpace page, click "View my ... Videos."

1. Inappropriate

2. Ordered!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Physics in the Fountain of Fizz

The Mentos geyser became an Internet/YouTube phenom some time ago. Theories abound on the chemistry of the phenomenon. It seems the surface roughness and gum arabic of the Mentos are the critical elements.

If you've been living off-world for the past couple of years, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the Mentos geyser.

In the meantime, I developed a demonstration narrative to examine the physics of the Mentos geyser. Not the chemistry. Just the physics.

To examine the physics, measure the mass of the geyser ingredients before and after the eruption. This will allow you to calculate the mass of the fizz ejected in the eruption.

Measure the maximum height of the eruption and the length of the interval during which the eruption occurred. Doing so will allow calculations of the mass flow rate, the speed of the fizz as it erupts, and ultimately the power developed in the eruption.

The error bars on these calculations are significant. Estimations and simplifications dominate. But the fundamentals are there.

Where does this demo fit into the physics curriculum? I'm planning on using it at the end of my unit on energy.

Anyway, here's the sheet. Keep in mind this is version 1.0 of the sheet. I'm open to suggestions on how to improve it.

If you're looking for a slick way to get the Mentos into the soda without getting the soda onto you, check out the Geyser Tube from Steve Spangler Science.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yes, I do dress up

And if you'd like to see me in a suit, tie, and uncomfortable shoes, you'll simply need to
a. get married,
b. die (must...resist..."redundancy with 'a'" comment),
c. give me some kind of high-falutin' award.

At the AAPT national meeting in Edmonton this past summer, my physics-teaching colleagues went with 'c.'

They bestowed me with a Distinguished Service Award. When I looked at the list of national, high-power physics teachers on the past awardees list, I felt a bit out of place. Don't get me wrong. My Montana-sized ego needs constant feeding, and an AAPT DSC is good eatin' for a long time. But I know Dewey Dykstra (for example), and I'm no Dewey Dykstra. Dewey Dykstra (and several others on the list) are among the stars in the constellation by which I steer my ship of curriculum.

It's a great honor and I was certainly humbled enough to dress up for the occasion. I knew if I didn't wash up for the ceremony, Mama Adair would have taken a pound of flesh out of me.

When congratulated by colleagues at the Edmonton meeting, I assured them that you get a card punched every time you attend a national meeting and with the tenth punch, you get an award. The Awards Committee, chaired by Harvey Leff, came up with their own reasons, though. I'll give you the short version here:

"Dean co-authored several conceptual physical science lab manuals and contributed to Paul Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics. He has served on the AAPT High School Examinations Development Committee and developed and evaluated questions for use in AAPT’s Physics Bowl and the Physics Olympiad. Dean has an extensive website that contains, among many other things, his unique textbook, The Book of Phyz."

Thanks to Mary Holbrow for the incriminating photo from the AAPT Edmonton Awards Ceremony.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 STAR test results are up

Results for the California Standards Tests administered last spring have been tabulated and posted. You can find them at the STAR website.

Hints on how to work the page:
1. Leave the default CST selection in the "CST" popup menu. You'll get all the CSTs and Physics will be near or at the bottom of the subsequent report.
2. Tailor the report to your interest. If you want to see results from the whole state, don't narrow by county, etc. Simply click the "View Report" button.
3. If you wish to narrow the results to your county alone, select your county from the "County" popup menu.
4. To narrow the results to your district, select your district from the "District" popup menu.
5. To refine the search to your school, select your school from the "School" popup menu.

For a more useful report--one that will show how your students performed in specific content areas--consult your school or district administrators.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Galápagos: the adventure begins

Actually the adventure began in the spring of 2007, when the James Randi Educational Foundation announced The Amazing Adventure 3: The Galápagos. They had chartered a "cruise" through Darwin's archipelago. The ship is Celebrity's Xpedition and holds fewer than 100 guests, so it's not one of those superhotels that floats seven stories high above the water. But it's large for the waters of the Galápagos. I'm nowhere near being able to afford such a cruise, but I could not miss the chance to sail with Randi and dozens of skeptics through the islands that inspired The Origin of Species and the modern notion of natural selection. So I booked passage.

The Amazing Adventure 3 begins and ends in Quito, Ecuador. So flights to and from had to be booked. I did so in September of 2007. Today I was given notification that my flight itinerary had been changed. Usually this means a flight time has been changed by five minutes. But this one involved whole new flights. With a 10-minute layover between flights 2 and 3 of the journey from Sacramento to Quito.

So much for booking a $1000 flight nearly a year in advance. The apologies flowed freely when I called OrbitzTLC. Apologies don't get you from Sacramento to Quito on the day you booked. One helpful suggestion was to fly out of Los Angeles instead of Sacramento. It's all just California when viewed from Bangalore. I wonder how many Detroitians are asked to rebook with departures from NYC. Probably not so many.

After more failure from Orbitz, I suggested they book my flights starting a day in advance (to this point they had been keen to get me in a day late). So that's what I've got now. Though I had meticulously reserved shady window seats (window seats opposite the sun) for all flights, who knows how many middle seats I'll be dealt now?

Orbitz was willing to cut me loose and fend for myself with 5 days to go before a flight booked nearly a year ago. Gutsy operation they run. While on hold, I was able to see what Travelocity had to offer. One seat left on a couple of sweet $2300 fares.

Ultimately, this snafu is American's fault. They must have cancelled my DFW-MIA flight. Hey, now that the flights had to be rebooked, I'll probably get to pay the new baggage fee that I would have been spared if I didn't need to rebook. Excellent.

As it is, I now need to book a hotel for my newly-required overnight in Dallas. Always good to get a chance to pay more out-of-pocket for the privilege of additional inconveniences.

When they screw up the return flights, the result will be missing a second of the first two days of school.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rio AP Phyz CTF opportunity announced



Windows of Opportunity
1. 9am-12noon
2. 1pm-4pm
(While chores last*)

Credit Toward Final rate: 12 points per hour (1 point per 5 minutes)

Helpers are needed to help prepare Mr. Baird's room and make the Book of Phyz materials ready for the new year of PhyzAction.

*Opportunities will continue until all chores are completed. First come, first served. Supplies will be limited so come early!

CHECK BACK MONDAY 8/4 FOR ANY LAST-MINUTE CHANGES. I don't anticipate any, but better safe...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Las Vegas after dark

When TAM6 closed on Sunday, June 22, I promptly took a nap.

After that, I joined some JREF friends for dinner at The Peppermill. At midnight, I ventured out for a photoshoot. By then the temperature had dipped below the century mark, though the wind and the dry were in full force.

I loaded up my shooting vest, grabbed my travel tripod, and hit The Strip. I shot until about 3am and hardly made a dent in the huge tracts of land occupied by The Strip. But I caught a few keepers. And now have finally posted them on SmugMug.

Las Vegas Lights


Friday, July 25, 2008

What every air freshener wishes it could be

The posts regarding my roadtrip to the Edmonton AAPT meeting (via Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Glacier again, and the Grand Tetons) may appear to come at random. That's only because they are.

First up is the air at Glacier National Park. I drove long ways to get there (on the way up and on the way back down). So I arrived after dark both times. When I pulled into the parking lot at the Rising Sun Motor Inn in a hurry to register, I was stopped in my tracks (both times!) upon the first breath of Glacier air. The fragrance is a powerful blend of natural wildflowers. It grabs you and says, "Do you know where you are, buddy? Slow it down, take a breath, and appreciate."

I gladly obeyed. Since I couldn't take in the scenery at the moment (sun being down and all), Iooked up and enjoyed the stunning night sky: an astronomer's paradise! I then slowly made my way to the registration desk five minutes before they closed.

But yeah, the air at Glacier is what every air freshener wishes it could be. Go to Glacier and smell it for yourself!

And while you're there, don't forget to at least drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stop for pics where you can. Turn it up a notch with a hike to Hidden Lake if the trail is passable. It was a bit too snow-covered for my liking when I had a moment to hike it last week. The loaded shooting vest makes snow-field crossings awkward.

Stay longer and hit some of the myriad trails throughout the park. But bring your bear bells. They aren't simply a cute novelty at Glacier. The glaciers may have retreated, but the bears have not.

If you really want to crank up your experience, you can be like my rockstar niece, Zoe, who's spending time this summer at Glacier doing the heavy lifting involved in clearing and maintaining the trails, among other things.

In any case, be sure to take a meal at the Park Cafe in St. Mary.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

AAPT Edmonton photo album is up!

I got some photos at the High School Share-a-thon and the Demo Show.

The "Tesla Shocks" and "Balloon Execution by Laser" sequences are particularly nice.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Roadtripping to Edmonton

The journey to the American Association of Physics Teachers Summer Meeting in Edmonton began today. The meeting doesn't begin until next Saturday, but I decided to make a roadtrip of the journey so as to have stops in some of my favorite spaces on the way out and back.

Day 1 is always the trip from Sacramento to Salt Lake City, so there wasn't much to shoot. I did take a circulation break at the Salt Flats rest stop to walk up and down the ramp to the "lookout."

The Roadtrip Album is beginning here. I'm about 1/5 up to speed on using Aperture, Apple's high-end photo software. So bear with me as I try to keep things updated!

UPDATE 1: Added images from Yellowstone Day 1 (of only 2): Gibbon Falls, Virginia Cascades, Fountain Paint Pots, Clepsydra Geyser, and the Terraces of Great Fountain Geyser. Thrown in for good measure: a log, some lupines, two runoff stream snags.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Amazing Spoon Bending video is up!

When Richard Wiseman came to TAM6, he brought spoons. A lot of spoons. Here's what he did with all those spoons in a room full of skeptics.

Curious as to what it's all about? Check out

Friday, June 20, 2008

TAM: it's good to be back!

The 18-month wait has ended and TAM6 has convened. This year's TAM is at The Flamingo Las Vegas. Registration and reception allowed for reconnecting with "skeptical friends" Phil Plait (The Bad Astronomer), Swoopy and Derek (Skepticality), Glenn (Hindmost), Karen Stollznow, Susan, The Petersons (Desktop Icon & Carol), and Angela (Articulett). And to connect with Luciana, Mattus Maximus, Normal Dude, Lee, and a few others whose names I will soon internalize.

With Articulett's help, I got a groupie shot with Neil deGrasse Tyson. And yes, he is that tall. We look up to him in more ways than one.

More pics in "preview" form can be found here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The leader of band has died

I found out today that my master teacher, Walt Scheider (on right), passed away last month. My thoughts are with his family.

Walt was an inspiration to me at a very formative time--the beginning of my career. He will always be among the brightest stars in the constellation by which I steer my ship of instruction.

It was my favorite teacher in the Michigan Physics Department, Lecturer Jean Krisch, who recommended that I work with Walt for classroom observations and student teaching. Her own daughter had been through his class. But Walt had never had a student teacher before. And when I approached him on the matter, it didn't seem he was terribly keen to take one on. All U of M physics teachers-in-training had always worked with the teacher at Ann Arbor's other public high school. Not with Scheider up at Huron. But I was tenacious and he eventually relented.

I remember being in awe of him most of the time I observed him. I was reading The Feynman Lectures in Physics at the time and thought someone should come out and document The Scheider Lessons in High School Physics for the benefit of teachers who did not share my good fortune of observing the master directly in class.

And I cannot describe how intimidated I felt when it was my turn to teach his students. Walt was very protective of his physics students. There were only so many minutes in the school year and each one of them was important to him. Time lost to a journeyman bumbler like me was to be kept to a minimum.

I felt bad about my performance knowing how much better he was. I was pretty sure his evaluation of me would include phrases like, "Ya know, there are a lot of career options available to people who know as much physics as you do." But instead he was quite generous and felt I held some measure of promise.

We kept in touch after I graduated and moved to California. The photo of Paul Hewitt, me, and Walt Scheider above was the result of a chance reunion in Rochester, New York, at the AAPT Meeting in summer, 2003. By then he was retired from teaching but well into his career as a book author. I recall Hewitt being impressed with Scheider's success in this regard,

I'm grateful for the relationship I had with Walt Scheider and will miss him. I hope that part of him lives on through me.

Here's a remembrance published in The Ann Arbor News.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cell phone crockery

Did you know you can cook popcorn (and eggs) with you cell phone? No? Oh, that's because you can't.

But the myth is good enough to inspire this badly-acted YouTube virus.

Great fun. But fake. (The orange juice is a nice touch, though. The Japanese version features tea and the French one features beer. Apparently this trick requires imbibing something.)


Wired Underwire. Warning: this link gets all "factual," and leans heavily on "science." Talk about a killjoy!


What's especially disheartening is to read the YouTube comments of the apologists for these hoaxes. Sigh.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Do teachers get smarter in the summer?

I ponder because our mostly Rio teacher Sac Brew trivia team, currently named "Wipe the Klingons Off Uranus. Please!", often does better during the summer. And I nailed today's NPR Sunday Puzzle Listener Challenge fairly quickly. I usually don't even try. I enjoy playing along with the on-air puzzle, but the listener challenges go right through me.

I know that when school is on, it consumes my focus to the exclusion of nearly anything else. And if you know me, that explains a lot of things (sadly). So when Alice Cooper's "School's Out" rips through campus on the last day of school, it's as if a burden has been lifted and I can finally slow down my curriculum-development activities to a civilized pace.

Anyway, here's the challenge. Submit your answer via the link above.
A calculator displays a five-digit number. The first four digits are 8735. These digits form a logical sequence. What is the fifth number in the series?

UPDATE: Car Talk's Puzzler for the week of June 9 didn't fare any better against my "First Sunday of Summer" mental agility.

And if you didn't click that Alice Cooper link, you're seriously missing out.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

High Speed Video Clips Page 1.0

In my continued study of (or, erm... playing with) the Casio EX-F1, I sometimes catch a video clip worth keeping. And sharing! Instead of posting them to YouTube (not that there's anything wrong with that), I'm posting them to my dotMac web space. You can access them via

High Speed Video Clips.

The clips are all in QuickTime format, so get the free player if you don't already have it.

And be patient for the downloads. There are probably ways to optimize the files for rapid download and quick starts. I hope to learn and apply those tricks someday. For now, I was interested in creating the page and linking the files.

Thanks to commenter Marc "Zeke" Kossover for the suggestion of using a colorless soda on the Mentos geyser. For artistic effect, I also shot that clip into the sun (backlit).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sixty questions from Paul Hewitt

As final exam season rolls around, you may have multiple choice questions on your mind. Some people think such questions are inherently ineffective or downright evil. I disagree. Similar to my assessment of PowerPoint presentations, it's really a matter of quality.

When PowerPoint was an emerging educational technology, I thought such presentations were ineffective and evil. Ineffective because I had never seen one that I thought was effective. Evil because it was a Microsoft product. Then Apple came out with Keynote and people starting thinking about how presentations should be made, and I've since found a place for presentations in my curriculum.

We see so many lousy multiple choice questions over our careers that we can be forgiven if we deem them useless by nature. But effective multiple choice exam questions do exist.

Despite some listserv discussions devoted to the contrary opinion, I think some of the questions used on the STAR Test in Physics (CST) are pretty good.

I think Paul Hewitt's Basic Physics Content questions are pretty good, too. The author of Conceptual Physics offers his favorite multiple choice questions at Read his preface and download the folder. The folder contains the questions in Word format, questions and answers in Word format, and questions with answers in ExamView format.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tuning forks at 1200 fps

More fun with the Casio EX-F1. This time we're slowing down a tuning fork. It's a 125-Hz tuning fork, and the camera was set to capture at 1200 frames per second.

Click the images to access the QuickTime clips. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Wizard exposed and fired from Florida schools

Hats off to the principal of Rushe Middle School in the doomed state of Florida. A practioner of the Black Arts was given access to schoolchildren, disguised as a substitute teacher.

The wizard conjured the aid of the spirits by performing the "disappearing toothpick" trick in front of the innocents!

The principal caught wind of this Dark Magic and had the wizard fired.

Sleep soundly, Floridians. Your middle school principals are on the job, exposing and firing wizards, and I presume warlocks and witches working in the schools. Your children are safe.


Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for blogcasting this news gem.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spring showers of new music

My iTunes overfloweth. It starts with new music from Asia (yes, that "Heat of the Moment" Asia). Phoenix is just the third album from the four original members. And it's a nice update to their 1982 form. Much better than I thought it would be.

It continues with My Someday, the long-awaited full-length album from Blondfire (formerly Astaire). The Brazillian-midwestern, brother-sister duo got under my skin three years when I saw them open for Ivy at Slim's in San Francisco. Only after buying their EP at the show did I learn they were from my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And there are new albums from my ancestral homeland of Scotland. The Proclaimers (yes, those "I Would Walk 500 Miles" Proclaimers) have crafted a new set of winning tracks replete with catchy hooks and brotherly harmonies. Life With You is their best work since 2001's Persevere. And celtic supergroup, Capercaillie has delivered a well-produced, groove-intensive disc: Roses and Tears. Karen Matheson's voice never gets old.

But the flood continues with the overdue release of The Weepies' Hideaway. This folk-duo's voices were made to go together, and their guitar work is dreamy. Despite their band name, the new album debuted at #31 on Billboard and was #4 in digital downloads.

Then that NPR scoundrel, Scott Simon, has to go interview one Marié Digby on the release of her debut, Unfold. Apparently she's some sort of "controversial" phenomenon on YouTube. Whatever. But her music was captivating. I went to her corner of the iTunes Music Store and couldn't keep my ears off her.

Tonight I'll see the Cowboy Junkies up in Chico. Monday it's Asia in San Francisco. The week after next it's The Proclaimers and Crowded House in San Francisco. Talk about trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup!

Andy Fraknoi to speak on "Fiction Science" May 16

Thanks to Dan Burns for this heads-up!

The Center for Inquiry, San Francisco presents:

"The White House Astrologer, the Roswell UFO, the "Face" on Mars, and a Young Universe: A Skeptical Look at Fiction Science"

a nontechnical talk by astronomer Andrew Fraknoi

Friday 16 May 2008

World Affairs Council Auditorium
312 Sutter St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco

Doors open at 6:00 pm; Presentation starts at 6:30 pm

Thanks to the popular media, an enormous amount of attention has been given to some pretty amazing claims on the fringes of astronomy. These include the idea that your life path and romantic destiny are determined by the position of objects in the sky at the moment of your birth; that extraterrestrial space-craft have regularly landed on our planet (and kidnapped innocent citizens without being noticed); that an ancient race left us a message on the planet Mars in the shape of a human face; and that the entire cosmos is less than 10,000 years old.

In this illustrated talk, astronomer and popular lecturer Andrew Fraknoi will discuss the most famous "fiction science" claims related to astronomy, and provide the background and analysis needed to appreciate them properly. He will unveil some recent detective work about these cases, and show how there is often a lot LESS to them than initially meets the eye. And he will demonstrate how a few skeptical questions and a bit of careful investigation can often help bring these extra-ordinary cosmic claims down to Earth.

Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College and Senior Educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He served as the Society's Executive Director for 14 years, and has organized over 20 national workshops on teaching astronomy. Fraknoi is the lead author of "Voyages Through the Universe," which has become one of the leading astronomy textbooks in the country and recently wrote a book for children, "Disney's Wonderful World of Space." He appears regularly on local and national radio explaining scientific developments in everyday language. In 2007, he was selected as the California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education and won the Gemant Prize of the American Institute of Physics for a lifetime of contributions to combining physics and culture. The International Astronomical Union has named asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi in recognition of his contributions to the public understanding of astronomy.

$10 General Admission

Free to 'Friends of the Center for Inquiry'

For more information, contact: Michael D Adkisson, Coordinator, Center For Inquiry | San Francisco

2215R Market St #418
San Francisco CA 94114

ON (old news): The new Nismo

There was a dearth of posts in March (and most of April). I'll try to catch up with some ON posts.

In late February, I replaced my trusty PhyzVan (1999 Toyota Sienna) with a truck. The Sienna had served me well over the years. And meticulously maintained for its first 150,000 miles, it had a very full life in front of it. I felt bad about trading it in so young.

But my needs changed over the years. My interest in landscape photography takes me to areas where the roads aren't fit for passenger vehicles. On recurring visits to the desert southwest, I could only look longingly at roads that stabbed deep into the red rock canyons.

I intended to get a 4x4 Toyota Tacoma with the requisite off-road package. But I felt an obligation to check out the other top-rated truck in this class: the Nissan Frontier. Thorough research and test-drives led me to decide in favor of the Nissan. The Tacoma is built for people smaller than me. And most people are smaller than me, so no worries for their business plan. The Frontier was more comfortable and was more tech-friendly.

The Frontier's 4x4 off-road package is called "Nismo." I suppose I could replace my "Phyz" plate with a "Phyzmo" plate at some point in the future.

The purchasing process left something to be desired, but at least it cured my of any desire to do business with Folsom Lake Nissan. Other than taking a $500 deposit and failing to come up with the promised vehicle (and stalling for days) and losing the key I gave them to test drive the Sienna, they were great. In fairness, they did give me the best deal: lowest price on the Nismo and highest value on the trade-in. I guess the dealer's way out of a deal that goes too well for the customer is to not deliver the car and walk away from the deal. They did offer to charge me an additional $100 to sell me the truck in a color I didn't want.

Hard to imagine why I didn't close the deal with them.

More importantly, I did get the vehicle (in the color of my choice) elsewhere. In time to roll it around town for a few weeks before motoring off for a 3000mi road trip in Utah with my buddy, Rick. The Nismo performed flawlessly on that trip. But that's a topic for another ON post. In the meantime, there's my Nismo posing near Utah's Fisher Towers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The day I burned my school down

The most poignant moment of whole the affair was when the alarm sounded and the lights flashed, and everyone in my classroom laughed because they knew why.

We're in the midst of our unit on light. We talk about why we can't see a laser beam between the laser and the dot of light it puts on a distant wall. Then I modify the air in the room so we can see the beam. In the old days, physics teachers used chalk dust as a scattering agent. But chalkboards have been relegated to museums. There was a time when certain physics teachers used cigarette smoke. But smoking was long-ago banned from school sites.

What's a physics teacher to do? Several years ago, I came across "professional haze"/"fog in a can" in the Arbor Science catalog. It was a wee bit pricey, and you needed to use quite a bit of it to get the desired effect, but it worked. So for the past several years, that's how we turned my classroom into a laser light show. Eight bright, green laser beams sweeping through a darkened room with "visible air" is a memorable scene.

Unbeknownst to me, a recent fire safety review of the school resulted in some changes on campus. The sensitivity of the smoke detectors was apparently increased. Significantly.

So as soon as I started fogging the room with my professional haze, blammo: klaxons and flashing xenon strobes! School wide. The students broke out in laughter and I had to follow along before sending them to join the rest of the student body out for the fire drill.

I thought I might make it through my entire career without causing a fire drill. I was wrong. Back in 1986--before my 22nd birthday--I actually had an unplanned fire in my classroom, but no detector detected and no alarm sounded. I was about three weeks into the profession (new school, new town, new state, first job) when a lighting ballast burst into flames. I knew where my nearest fire alarm was and I quickly pulled it. Nothing. The fire burned itself out, but it was startling to my very young self.

So many years later, when I set the alarm off unintentionally, all I could do was laugh.

AAPT PhysicsBowl answers are up!

Find the very robust PDF answer key here. It will make much more sense if you participated in the 2008 PhysicsBowl competition exam and have the questions for these answers.

Results of the PhysicsBowl competition will be posted May 9.

And the winner is...

The San Juan Unified School District Physics Adoption Committee met for the last time and rendered its decisions on the textbooks to be used for the next six or seven years.

Physics and Honors Physics. The wisdom in some aspects of San Juan's adoption process is quite finite. Case in point: the title adopted for Physics must also be used for Honors Physics. Every bit as counter-intuitive as many classic physics demonstrations. But we settled on the 2009 edition of Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics. I of course could not speak on behalf of this title. But I didn't need to. The book spoke for itself. The new edition has a dynamic range and flexibility that surprises teachers who give it a thorough evaluation.

One school dissented and would prefer to adopt Holt's Physics text. I hope the district will have the wisdom to allow them to.

Advanced Placement Physics. We went with Serway and Vuille's Essentials of College Physics. It's a slimmed down version of the classic College Physics by Serway and Faughn that retains that title's chapter sequence. But the book is attractively thin and light, shedding some of the applications, depth, and end-of-chapter questions of College Physics. For high-schoolers in AP Physics, the Essentials book is deep enough.

Some details remain: the selection of some supplemental workbooks and wading through all the ancillaries. But the adoption decisions are in. And both titles are the ones I would have chosen for my own program, so I'm happy with the outcome.

For more info on either textbook, click their cover.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NCNAAPT Brentwood pix (and another videoclip)

Pictures from the NCNAAPT Spring Meeting at Brentwood's Heritage High School can be found here. For meeting details, see the program.

I also took a quick high speed videoclip of a bouncing water balloon with the very groovy Casio EX-F1.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

NCNAAPT Spring Meeting afterlinks

The NCNAAPT Spring Meeting at Brentwood's new Heritage High (Go Patriots!) had more good talks than throngs of attendees. The new school is stunning--more of a community college than a high school!

We happy few physics teachers in attendance had a great time and saw the latest grooviness from Pasco and Vernier. But NorCal physics teachers need to think about what we want from these meetings lest they stop happening.

My wee talk concerned the contents of my Skepticism in the Classroom page and the motivations that led me to create it. The page features quick, ready-to-use lessons in critical thinking that can be dropped into your curriculum throughout the year.

If you're interested in skepticism/critical thinking, I strongly recommend attending The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas. TAM is a four-day conference focusing on science, pseudoscience, psychics, magic, debunking, and related topics, and is sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. This year's TAM6 will include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mythbuster Adam Savage, "B.S." hosts Penn & Teller, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, and many, many more.

I attended TAM2 in 2004 and haven't missed one since. It's hard to describe how good this conference is. But once you've been to one, you'll know. TAM6 is June 19-22 at The Flamingo. You get a special rate at The Flamingo if you book reservations by May 16.

I also showed a few clips from the new Casio EX-F1 digital camera. It's a still camera capable of recording high-speed video at 300, 600, and even 1200 frames per second.

Check out the complete water balloon execution video. It's a BIG QuickTime file; please be patient.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Conceptual Physics labs at Arbor Scientific

Paul Hewitt has posted a comprehensive set of Conceptual Physics labs at Arbor Scientific. The labs are aligned with the upcoming Conceptual Physics: The High School Physics Program (fourth edition/2009).

The labs are in Microsoft Word format. Just download and print for students. Feel free to edit them if you'd like to customize the apparatus list, instructions, or questions for your specific needs. Each lab includes instructor's notes and an answer key. There are also links at to the required supplies and equipment for each lab.

The Conceptual Physics labs at ArborSci are publication-quality activities, experiments, demonstrations, and TechLabs. Many are currently published in the lab manuals for Conceptual Physical Science, Conceptual Physical Science--Explorations, and Conceptual Integrated Science.

This lab set is also dynamic: New labs will be added as they are developed, and existing labs will be modified when improvements can be found.

Best of all, these labs are free! To start working with these labs, direct your web browser to

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My conflict of interest disenfranchises my students

For the first time in my 22 years of teaching physics in the San Juan Unified School District, I am to have no voice in the decision of which textbook we will adopt for physics.

At our first adoption committee meeting, I disclosed that I knew (and had worked with) the author of one of the titles under consideration. Two meetings later, the district coordinator in charge of the meetings pulled me aside and expressed her concern that I had a conflict of interest. She advised that I should not enter into deliberations over the adoption of the high school physics textbook.

Do I really have a conflict of interest? I did work with Paul Hewitt on Appendix F (Additional Problems) of the previous edition of Conceptual Physics: The High School Program. I was given a one-time, contributor payment. And I am an author on the lab manual for Conceptual Physical Science, Conceptual Physical Science Explorations, and Conceptual Integrated Science. None of those lab manuals are connected to any textbook under consideration for the physics adoption.

I assured the coordinator that if every high school in the country adopted Hewitt's text, my profit would be exactly... zero. And if no one in the country adopted Conceptual Physics, my financial loss we be the same: zero. (Well, for a loss I suppose it would to be negative zero.)

However, the San Juan Unified School District sets a low threshold for "Conflict of Interest." Since I do receive a royalty payment from Pearson Education and Pearson Education does have a title under consideration, I am deemed to have a conflict.

Is the bar set too low? I know a teacher who grades teacher exams for National Education Systems (NES). Prospective teachers seeking certification must pass an NES exam. The exam involves written responses, and those written responses must be scored by readers. My colleague is such a reader. The compensation he receives comes in the form of a check. The check comes from Pearson Education, who acquired NES in 2006.

By SJUSD Board Policy, my colleague would have a conflict of interest in textbook selection if Pearson Education (who owns Prentice Hall and Addison Wesley, among others) offered any titles for consideration. The policy declares conflict for those who are "employed by or receive compensation from any person, firm, organization or any of its subsidiaries or controlling entities submitting instructional materials to the district."

I'd be willing to bet a nickel that my colleague could, in fact, serve on an adoption committee and enjoy input in the process. Completely undetected. The district has no vetting process. (Not unlike the lack of vetting that's common to Homecoming Dance Cleanup Committees.) They would not know of his clear and present conflict. And he wouldn't imagine that he had any such conflict and would not imagine any reason to recuse himself.

Amusingly, I was allowed a voice in our 2001 deliberations. I first and foremost advocated that each teacher be allowed to choose the book of his or her preference. My choice was a book that was, erm, dedicated to me! (Yes, Hewitt's Conceptual Physics.) In my defense, I made full disclosure of that fact to the district science coordinator at the time. But in a case of "no man is a prophet in his own land," she thought that I had simply doctored the dedication page to include my name. LOL!

This adoption is the fourth one I've been involved with and affords me the opportunity to work with my fourth district science coordinator. Just an observation.

Other observation: too bad my physics students will have no voice in the physics adoption process, just because I author a lab manual for courses they will never take.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fooling our elders...

really isn't that hard to do. Nevertheless, the kids never seem to tire of it.

An email was forwarded to the staff of my school last week by a well-meaning colleague. She was amazed by a videoclip and corresponding story and thought it should be shared with the school's music and physics students. Here's the story and the clip.

Turn your sound on for this.

This is almost unbelievable. See how all of the balls wind up in catcher cones.

This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machines Components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft, Iowa, yes farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment, calibration, and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it was WELL worth the effort.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian. ENJOY

My colleague was so enthused, she added the claim that "this is not computer-generated" to her forwarding note.

But of course, I'm the jerk on your distribution list who assumes such thing are not what they are claimed to be. It turns out, sometimes things sent through "teh intertubes" are hoaxes. And this was, of course, one of them.

Having discovered the truth of the story and the clip with minimal google-fu, I copied and pasted the Snopes link into a "Reply to All," cringed a little bit, and sent it out.

Since I've done this before, the deluge of admonishing replies has abated somewhat. For the uninitiated, the way these episodes go is as follows: The person who sends the hoax is regarded as a happy-go-lucky victim with a positive outlook on life, but the person who responds with the truth is regarded as a curmudgeonly killjoy. It works like that every time. One respondent this time pleaded, "Please don't tell my children about the tooth fairy." (The only correct response to which is to feign total belief in the reality of the tooth fairy.)

I ran it by my AP students and they told me the clip's source just a few seconds into play. They dialed up the Snopes page in a few seconds more. To the eyes of those familiar with computer-generated images (CGI), the clip was clearly the work of microprocessors.

We had a little post-debunking discussion in which they agreed that the people who forward such messages have at least one thing in common. They are of a certain age. My students don't forward such things and don't get them from peers. They always come from an elder: an aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, etc.

There's a thesis in there somewhere for an aspiring Ph.D candidate. My take? Few people under 30 would be fooled by this hoax, but many people over 60 would be. Between 30 and 60, it's a toss-up. But I could be wrong.

The hoaxters laid it on thick with all the proper names in their email message. Other than The University of Iowa and The Smithsonian, all other institutions mentioned are non-existent. Google "The Sharon Wick School of Engineering" or any of the others and you'll be directed to some version of this hoax. And for the record, the Hawkeyes are not amused. No word on what the creators of Animusic think of it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Digital killed the Polaroid star

It's true: I'm posting this because I thought of a clever title. Clever to people who remember the first video ever broadcast on MTV, anyway.

But it's also true that Polaroid has ended production of instant film.

I grew up with film cameras in the 1970s. My father brought back a few Leica rangefinder bodies when he returned from his service in Europe during World War II. He taught me how to expose the film. He let me help with developing the film, and we printed the film in a plywood-walled darkroom he built in the basement of our home.

Oh, the chemicals (and likely carcinogens). But there was also the thrill of nursing an image to life, and the pride taken in the finished product.

So heck, I've looked down down my nose at Instamatics and Polaroids for most of my life!

Other priorities captured my energies in the 80s and 90s. I used a Weathermatic.

In 2000, I decided it was time I go digital. A once-in-a-career trip to Cornell prodded me along. After thorough research, I went with the Epson PhotoPC 3000z. And I was back into photography. Filters, add-on lenses, composition, technique, and digital post-processing--I was back in a game that had changed since I left it. And--what's this? Videoclips?

By 2003, I was ready to take the plunge into the nascent market of affordable digital SLRs. My mother had been shooting Canon and Nikon SLRs since the 70s, and had been producing great images for years. Also by 2003, digital SLRs had dropped in price from $30,000 to under $2000. The groundbreaking camera was the Canon EOS 10D.

The DSLR was more camera than I knew what to do with. I told people that I bought it because I wanted to be intimidated by my own camera. And I was. But the 10D was a forgiving teacher. And I worked at learning how to use it to capture nice images. Time, travel, the addition of lenses and filters, and learning a bit about Photoshop, and I've become a journeyman photographer.

Which brings me to the shiny new Canon EOS 40D that arrived this week. Bells, whistles, usability, and functionality all improved over the 10D. And the price dropped. New things to learn, more travels to trek, more images to record.

Oh and yeah, Polaroid instant film is no more. Hey, it's my blog and I can spin off on tangents if I want to!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Giving credit where it's not due

I'm originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a nice place to grow up... in many ways. But it was--and still is--a very Christian community. An example of what passes for multicultural education in the public schools is learning how Christmas is celebrated around the world. Lessons on how Rosh Hashanah or Ramadan are celebrated in Grand Rapids? Not so much. And there's absolutely no love for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. (My public high school biology course was taught by a man who proudly proclaimed--in class--that he believed the Biblical account of Creation.)

So I probably shouldn't be surprised when the local news broadcast credits prayer for helping to save a heart attack victim. For those who follow the evidence, the only evidence for the "power of prayer" is that there is none. Indeed, heart patients who were prayed for suffered a greater rate of complications. For what it's worth, evidence for the claim that prayer was helpful for in vitro fertilization was completely fraudulent.

In its defense, I will hasten to add that Michigan is in the midst of a debilitating recession. It is one of two states that lost population last year. These are not conditions that drive communities toward rational though and critical thinking.

We see so many of these credulous, feel-good stories in the mainstream media that we generally don't take much notice. To get a sense of how much it stands out to people like me, imagine stories like this on your evening news: "Quick actions, witchcraft, help referee who collapsed," or "Quick action, pact with Satan, help referee who collapsed."

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy for anyone who's found their path. And if that path includes prayer, no worries. But to proclaim that prayer has a power that is specifically contradicted by evidence? That's irresponsible. And it's on par with the claims of psychics and other proponents of woo.

The "quick actions" mentioned in the story, two athletic trainers and an RN administering CPR, did save the heart attack victim. The prayers were a kind and thoughtful gesture, but deserve no credit in saving the man's life. Think of it this way: suppose three people were to collapse in heart attacks. One got the "quick actions and prayer," one got "quick actions" only, and the third got prayer only. Two of the three would stand a good chance of survival.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The new STAR Physics RTQs are up!

Here they are!

As always, let me know if you find anything objectionable in the new set.

UPDATE: No points will be awarded for finding the typographical errors in item #10 or item #64. The error in #64 though... wow! Not to worry: those will be fixed "with all deliberate speed."

A skyhook and roundtuit will be awarded to the first commenter who correctly identifies the previously-released RTQ that has now been retired. The CDE is not completely deaf to item criticism from the field.

Monday, February 04, 2008

TAM6: Let the registration begin!

Registration is now open for The Amaz!ng Meeting 6, June 19-22 at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas. From the James Randi Educational Foundation:
You can't stop the Amaz!ng Randi, and he's at it again with his Amaz!ng Meeting. This time it's TAM 6 and just like in past TAMs he's lined up some heavy hitters for this one of a kind conference.

Don't miss this opportunity to meet some of the leaders in the Skeptic movement. Randi is bringing back such great speakers as Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer), Penn & Teller, Richard Saunders, Dr. Richard Wiseman, Dr. Michael Shermer, Adam Savage (from the Mythbusters), Christopher Hitchens and Paul Provenza. That's not even half of the speakers scheduled to attend.

I attended TAM2 in 2004 and I was hooked. I haven't missed one since.

Check the TAM6 webpage for further details.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Yellow Alert: Physics STAR released items soon!

Sharpen your pencils and loosen up your typing fingers, RTQ critics. A new batch of Physics CST items is just about ready for prime-time. Expect 15 more items mixed into the existing 60 for a total of 75 Released Test Questions.

If you find anything objectionable in the new items, let me know. I do serve on the panel that looks at items before they go onto the test, so I appreciate the feedback.

Oh, and if you'd like to use these items to prepare your students for this spring's STAR test in physics, that would be OK, too.

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.