Saturday, December 19, 2009

Richard Wiseman's holiday party tricks

They're not necessarily holiday-themed, but let's face it: the December holidays are a mishmash of many things to many people.

Happy Newtonmas!

Monday, November 30, 2009

xkcd Experiment

I assign my AP Physics students a pack of six free-response questions over Thanksgiving break. They get some "sugar" for completing the assignment. But they were terribly eager for me to see today's xkcd. I think they might not have appreciated the opportunity to keep their physics motors oiled over the break.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dance of the water droplets

My buddy, Fred Bremmer, sent me a link to this groovy video. Who knew a drop of water could be this much fun?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nice high-speed video of lightning

The monochrome segment is especially instructive. The stepped leaders meander and split until--BLAMMO--contact is achieved.

Hat tip to Huffington Post.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Psychic Reading's

You might think that someone capable 0f seeing int0 the present would be capable of looking int0 a dictionary or ustage guide. But You Would Be Wrong 0n Both Count's.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

AP Physics B Redesign, part 2

The College Board has added information about impending changes to AP science exams to its general redesign website.

The website is called "AP in 2011-12 and Beyond: Developments in AP French, AP German, and AP World History." No doubt they'll eventually revise the title of the site to better reflect the content. The title is built into the title graphic, so it may be a while.

The page now includes a promising link to AP science course information. Unfortunately, the page at the other end of that link has no information about the AP Physics B redesign. Instead it's devoted exclusively to AP Biology.

But the rest of us do get something. The science course info page ends as follows:

"Additional information about the revisions to AP science courses and exams and the range of resources, including sample questions, that will be available to teachers to facilitate the integration of these changes into their courses will be announced in early 2010."

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Big Blog Theory

The fact that this post is nearly two months late indicates that I haven't figured out how to travel back in time and post it earlier.

I am an enthusiastic fan of The Big Bang Theory. Both of them, actually. For this post, I'm referring to the CBS sitcom. It is a sitcom for "my people." I'm a physics-type who's been known to enjoy a bit of the science fiction. And somehow I manage to go about my day without being mobbed by ladies pining for my attentions. Go figure.

So yes, I harbor special affection for TBBT.

Among its charms is the correctness of the science references that range in importance from tangential to pivotal in plot development. TBBT gets the science right. How refreshing is that?

The key person responsible for this accuracy is TBBT Science Consultant, David Saltzberg. Saltzberg is a real-life professor of physics at UCLA.

The Big Bang Theory is a commercial network situation comedy that must operate and succeed in that environment. It is not educational programming. I laugh out loud when I watch TBBT. When I watch NOVA? Not so much. TBBT and NOVA are different series with different purposes and goals. And NOVA is excellent in its own right.

But Saltzberg now takes the science on each episode of TBBT and expands on it in his weblog, The Big Blog Theory. Talk about value-added! Saltzberg's essays are accessible and easy to read. Much more conversational than you have any right to expect from a co-author of "Inclusive Search for Anomalous Production of High-pT Like Sign Lepton Pairs in Proton-Antiproton collisions at 1.8 TeV."

If you're a fan of the show, don't miss the blog. You'll be learning physics (and/or physics lore) without even knowing it. He's sneaky, that Saltzberg!

Oh, The Big Blog Theory is being translated into Spanish. If you habla the Español, check out the Spanish-language version!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Momentum treats with a few new tricks

The Book of Phyz section on momentum has been updated with new curriculum materials. And most of the old stuff has been refreshed.

Book of Phyz Momentum for High School Physics

I've been enjoying Keynote's animations and Findsound's sound effects. So don't miss the links to the zipped QuickTime presentations. I can't really post editable Keynote files or PowerPoint exports of the Keynote presos. The fonts never make it through, and animations and transitions are typically lost in translation. The interactive QuickTime presentations are the best I can do. But they don't seem to play well as web pages, so I zipped them. Download them, expand them, and play them. They're pretty engaging when used in conjunction with their corresponding paper documents in class.

Indeed, when I was out two days this week on jury duty, I left some interactive QuickTimes from this unit for the substitutes to advance through. It was the closest thing to a lesson presentation I could reasonably hope for.

Oh, and don't miss the link to the stream of Jearl Walker's Kinetic Karnival episode, "Forces and Collisions."


UPDATE: There were some typos on the PhyzJob: Conservation of Momentum Number Puzzles - Part 3: More Puzzles. They've been fixed!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Purity of Essence: The Rainbow Conspiracy

I fear this YouTuber is entirely sincere. The thought will haunt my dreams.

It's especially troubling that this woman claims to be a Northern Californian. And in fairness, she might have been heavily into drugs 20 years ago. Her recollection of sprinkler rainbows may have been clouded by hallucinogens. I speculate, grasping at straws in hopes of making sense of this science education epic fail.

So. Very. Troubling.

Hat tip to Skeptical Teacher, Matt Lowry.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The World Spins Madly On

I was a fan of Mad Magazine in my youth. I'm a fan of the Weepies now. I'm a fan of the Exploratorium and their clever optical delusions. And Halloween is coming.

With all that in mind, click this link if you dare. (And be patient. It will need several seconds to load. Don't worry: your money back if you're not satisfied!)

Fall harvest of new & improved UCM & Gravity stuff

I was deep in the midst of lab manual authoring this time last year. So this year, I got the chance to write new material or update old material for the Uniform Circular Motion and Gravity unit in Physics 1.

The full page of curriculum materials is here. The new or improved items have asterisks bracketing their numbers.

I'm happy with the way the "Forced to Go in Circles" presentation came out. Sight, sound, and motion! Use it with the Springboard and I think you'll agree it's worth the time to download.

The two new "Will It Go 'Round In Circles" demos make use of a rotating platform (Arbor and Pasco have 'em) and Pasco's Visual Accelerometer. And, oh yes, the mechanics use for the Skinny Fish Tank (Arbor's Laser Viewing System) is exploited.

The TechLab uses PhET's excellent My Solar System orbital mechanics simulator.

Jearl Walker's Kinetic Karnival

All six 30-minute episodes of Jearl Walker's classic television series, the Emmy-winning Kinetic Karnival, are available online at Walker's MySpace page. I recommend watching them before showing them in class, although I'm sure you'd do that anyway. There are a few brief moments that sensitive educators might find objectionable. Most of us find ways to work around such trivialities, but it's always best to be aware.

I developed video question sets for episodes 1, 2, 3, and 5. Students answer them while the video is in progress. They're up as PDFs in The Book of Phyz.

Here's a one-stop collection of Kinetic Karnival links for your convenience.

1. Forces and Collisions [impact time and contact area]
In this episode, Jearl proves his virility and masculinity by chopping concrete bricks with his bare hands and volunteering as the meat for a “nail sandwich.”
Video Stream - Question Set - Key

2. Rotation [circular motion and conservation of angular momentum]
I show this one in two distinct segments (one in my Physics 1 course, the other in AP Physics 2). The first third is devoted to circular motion. The second two-thirds is devoted to angular momentum. Do I dislike the blending of these distinct topics? Yes. Do I have the talent and ability to produce my own series? Not so much. In any case, this episode features Jearl in a swim suit!
Video Stream
Video Question Set 1 (UCM) - Clothoid Loop (short preso) - Key
Video Question Set 2 (Angular Momentum) - Key

3. Fluid Flow and Friction
In this episode, Jearl debunks the drain swirl myth from the bathtub, describes an early dating disaster, explains the tablecloth trick, and hangs a spoon from his nose.
Video Stream - Question Set - Key

4. Viscosity [non-newtonian fluids, quicksand, and corn starch]
Jearl enjoys tinkering with viscous and non-newtonian fluids. He gets stuck in quicksand and jumps feet-first into a pot of unflavored gravy.
Video Stream

5. The Leidenfrost Effect [heat transfer and phase change]
Arguably the best program of the series, though it does contain a "politically-incorrect/racially insensitive" moment. When Jearl complains about "the problem" with iron-cooked crepes, you might find the mute button on the remote control of your playback system. A few moments of mute will spare you an apologetic discussion afterward. Features the hand into molten lead, liquid nitrogen in the mouth, and firewalking.
Video Stream - Question Set - Key

6. The Science of Cooking
Jearl prepares a meal for a dinner date with a young lady. Along the way, he describes the physics and chemistry of a variety of dishes. And the date turns out as you might expect.
Video Stream

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wasn't that a mighty storm?

There's a great sequence in the Reese Witherspoon/Matthew Broderick comedy Election, showing Broderick's teacher character teaching the same thing year after year. His chalkboard diagram is the same year after year. Only his clothes change.

You teach at a school for 24 years and you might think you've seen it all. But you haven't.

I've become somewhat accustomed to the delicate fragility of our school's electrical system. It takes very little in the way of wether to shut our electricity down.

And so it was with our first-of-the-season storm today. We weren't too deep into our first two-hour class when out went the lights. Nothing new? Oh, but this time there was a twist. All the neighboring classrooms had lights. Just not mine. My outlets seemed to work, but my projector would not light.

My mistake: to try to keep teaching. Can you blame me, though? I am a teacher. And the thing about two-hour classes? You better have some variety planned. Some of that variety might include presentations and video clips. No dice when the power is out.

After 20 minutes or so, an announcement came through the PA to the effect that, "The electricity is out. We're on it. Keep teaching. Send a student for a flashlight if your classroom doesn't have one. And don't forget to take roll. If you can't take roll via the online system, do so by hand."

After some failed wrangling, I had to abandon Plan A and go to Plan B. But time was wasted. And some of the lessons I planned for the two-hour period went untaught.

The power continued to come on and go out stochastically throughout the rest of the day. It's up. It's down. Up. Down. No, back up. No, back down. Light. Dark. Repeat. If there is a content-based lesson that engages student under such circumstances, I am unaware of it.

When the power came back one time, an announcement was made to the effect that, "Teachers, please take roll; the online system is up."

You would be forgiven if you came away from the day thinking that the most important thing that happens at school is The Taking Of The Roll. The harsh reality is that you are correct. Just as television programs serve as vehicles to deliver commercials, instruction serves as a backdrop to space the intervals at which attendance is taken.

One thing I can always count on during power outages is our classroom set of laptop computers. They work like a charm. In my second two-hour class, we used them for a while. We could have done a full sensor-based computer lab if we needed to (the sensors draw power from the computers).

I remember much worse weather, but no power failures during my schooldays in Michigan. Sacramento in general and Rio in particular are simply very delicate flowers when rain falls and wind blows.

Oh well, tomorrow's another day. Maybe I'll be able to teach.

Going ballistic at one million frames per second

Megahigh-speed video.

You might want to turn the sound off for this one. Sound is not captured in high-speed video, so the videographers add something from their own library, which is certainly superfluous and might be annoying.

According to the commentary, there are 1,000,000 35-kilobyte jpgs per second, or 35 GB of information stored for each second. And if you ever had difficulty intuiting that bullets are bits of solid lead that melt upon impact, watch closely!

Hat tip: Huffington Post (includes links to more high-speed stuff).

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Post-PTSOS1 spotlight: Secrets of the Psychics

The episode of NOVA devoted to the work of James Randi, "Secrets of the Psychics," appears to have gone out of print. Resellers at with VHS tapes to sell are offering it for $999.99.

Thankfully, the episode has been posted to YouTube.

I wrote a question set to accompany presentation of the program.
NOVA: James Randi's Secrets of the Psychics

For the answer key, scroll to the bottom of Skepticism in the Classroom and download the Teacher PDF file.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What to do with this?

There is a lesson in there. And the physics would make Hewitt kiss the tips of his fingers. But... go ahead; watch for yourself.
Car bowling?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dear STAR ARP member...

A previous post mentioned the suspension of the CDE's Assessment Review Panels. These are groups of educators and industry professionals who review and assess items intended for inclusion on upcoming STAR tests. ARPs approve or disapprove items based on science content and alignment to content standards. I am a member of the Science ARP.

Suspension of the ARPs represents a discontinuation of a significant quality control component of the STAR tests. I can say that ARP sessions are lively and spirited. Disagreements are not always resolved to everyone's liking. But significant and quality work is done in these sessions.

Without ARP action, there exists the potential for a decline in the quality of items on future STAR tests.

Dear STAR Assessment Review Panel member:

We appreciate your commitment to the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, despite the challenges many of you are facing within your own districts. Thank you for the time and expertise you have contributed over the years to the review of the assessments that make up the STAR family of programs.

As you are aware, the state is facing serious fiscal challenges. The California Department of Education (CDE) was required to reduce planned expenditures for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The approved expenditure plan includes the elimination of “the external bias and sensitivity and content reviews” for the STAR Program. The CDE and ETS are committed to maintaining the current level of rigor across all STAR tests. We are exploring no or low-cost alternatives for holding a new-item review Assessment Review Panel (ARP) meeting. Should we be able to schedule such a meeting, we will notify you.

In the meantime, all STAR ARP meetings have been suspended for the remainder of the 2009 cycle. We regret the short notice you are receiving on this matter.

On behalf of the State Board of Education, CDE, and ETS, thank you for your dedicated
service to the STAR Program.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Help the planet with ULSD NiMH

As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of not burning through single-use batteries. And we have plenty of need for batteries in the physics lab.

I've been using nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries for my AA needs for several years now. More recently, I switched to NiMH AAAs, too.

The trouble with NiMH batteries is that they discharge when not in use; they don't have much shelf life when charged. And the first thing you do with new NiMH batteries is to charge them.

Upon a recent visit to, I noticed something new. (New to me, anyway.) Ultra-Low Self-Discharge (ULSD) rechargeables. They're NiMH batteries that ship charged because they retain their charge when not in use. Rechargeables with shelf life. The compromise is that ULSD batteries have lower charge capacity: 2000 mAh rather than 2400-2700 mAh, the current state-of-the-art for high-capacity NiMH AAs.

With the assistance of our Rio Americano Science Boosters, I've been able to outfit my lab with AAs and AAAs. I also got a set of high-capacity NiMH C-cell batteries for our constant-velocity buggies and circuit labs.

As far as I know, my only need for single-use batteries is the occasional button battery or 9-V. Thank you, Science Boosters!

In other rechargeable battery news: nickel-zinc (NiZn) batteries are coming online. While NiMH batteries operate on a 1.2-volt reaction, the nickel-zinc reaction provides 1.6 volts. (Single-use alkaline cells yield 1.5 volts.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back-to-School Night #24

Back-to-School Night is tonight at Rio Americano. Parents get a chance to see what their son's/daughter's teacher look like as they enjoy a trip down memory lane, sitting in a variety of high school classrooms once again.

Though my classroom started out quite Spartan and plain, it is now rather visually noisy. The wall of ego is in full bloom, and my landscape shots are all about.

Each year, it seems, I tweak the handout I give to parents. We have but 10 minutes together, so I try to load the handout with things they might want to know and spend the 10 minutes going over what their child needs to do to be successful in my class. Of course I could just say, "do homework and study for tests," but people want details.

Here's this year's handout, such as it is.

Though I might not recall in vivid detail all 23 BTSNs that I've experienced over the years, I do remember the first one well enough. I was fairly terrified because it was my first BTSN. It didn't help that I had yet to see twenty-two candles on my birthday cake. I was enduring a mild case of "homesickness." During my first month of teaching, my only credit card was taken (and not returned) by an ATM and the lights in my classroom burst into flames. I was still "finding my voice" as a teacher, and my Ann Arbor pace and intensity was proving too much for my California students.

Back-to-School Nigh '86 went better than I'd hoped. The parents seemed delighted with me. I even joined my colleagues at a local watering hole after the event. I didn't stay long, since I don't drink and it was a school night. But while I was inside, someone broke into my car and stole my "transportable" Macintosh 512Ke. They tried to steal the '76 Buick Century, itself, but I guess I didn't give them enough time. September, 1986 was not the best month of my life.

But I digress. I'm sure BTSN09 will go swimmingly. I always hope for a high turnout, and sometimes I get it. I may not get to a watering hole, but I will get a good night's sleep afterward.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How science-smart are you?

Take this quiz. It's 12 questions, not all of them terribly difficult. Basic, "science and society" items.

Pew Research Science Quiz

My result is in the comments. Thanks to Skeptical Teacher, Matt Lowry, for spotlighting this gem.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shoot-the-Target: I fixed it!

I took down the monkey gun demo today and decided to open up the malfunctioning Target Dropper box.

As mentioned in a previous post, the magnet in the drop box had mysteriously weakened so that it could barely hold a short chain of paperclips.

Upon opening the box, I discovered a neodymium magnet attached to a random point on an inner wall. I pulled it out and set it on the back of the electromagnet. I reassembled the box and gave it a try.

It worked! Still a bit weak, but more like 80% than the 1% it had been.

So it appears that the supermagnet that's used to give the electromagnet some permanence had popped off. It appears to have been glued. If I need to repair it again, I'll probably use a new supermagnet and maybe add a bit of glue. For now, I'm happy I was able to effect a repair.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PTSOS Season Premiere

The 2009-2010 season of Physics Teacher SOS (PTSOS) gets underway this Saturday in San Mateo. Although San Mateo is "sold out," a few seats remain for the season opener in Sacramento, Saturday, October 3.

PTSOS is sponsored by the Northern California and Nevada Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and made possible by a grant from the Karl L. Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Workshop 1 is "Overcoming Inertia," and focuses on mechanics (kinematics, Newton's laws, gravity, energy, momentum, and rotation), as well as beginning of school issues and the many tangents we inevitably fly off on.

The goodies are always good at PTSOS Workshops. So if you're a new physics teacher or feel new to teaching physics, register with Stephanie Finander: It's FREE!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tagging the monkey worm

Upon setting up the "Monkey Hunter" demo in AP Physics 2 today, we discovered that the tree's electromagnet would no longer support the monkey. For some reason, the magnet lost its magnetism after about 10 yrs of once-per-year use. Bummer. So we hung a chain of paperclips ("worm") from the weak magnet and gave it a try. Mind you, the worm is about 1 cm wide. The monkey target is more than 10 times wider! The students demanded that we use the high speed camera to capture the result. You'll need to go full-screen to see anything.

QuickTime File - MP4 (Unannotated)

Credit to my AP Physics 2 students: they had more faith than I did that this would work. I made the mistake of hyping the demo in their schedule as "The Best Demo in Physics," and they weren't going to let a technical problem get in the way. Having dealt with cantankerous monkeys in the past, I didn't think we had a chance at hitting the skinny paperclip worm. They were right; I was wrong!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Assessment Review Panel on hold for now

Details have not yet been fully disclosed, but the California Department of Education's Assessment Review Panel appears to have been... dismantled? put on the back-burner? placed on hiatus?

The ARP reviews potential test items for the STAR program's CSTs. ARP members are appointed by the State Board of Education and serve as an advisory panel regarding California Standards Tests. I have served on the Science ARP for several years now and have done my best to see to it that only the best items get used on our state's tests, especially the CST for 9-12 Physics.

The panel convenes about four times each year to look at new items, review field-tested items, review the upcoming operational forms, and to help determine the next items to be published as Released Test Questions.

In September, the ARP typically reviews the upcoming operational form to make sure it's everything the CDE hopes it will be. In October, the ARP helps determine what will be in the next round of RTQs.

Both of those meetings have been canceled "due to budget cuts," according to a spokesperson for Educational Testing Services. ETS currently holds the contract to develop the CSTs.

The ARP was one element on CST quality control. One is given to wonder what consequences might be visited upon CSTs and RTQs if the benefit of the ARP's counsel is removed from the process.

More details to come, or so I'm told.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cosmos in the Classroom--now with YouTube links!

December, 2006, there was a blog-a-thon to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan's death. For my part, I posted a set of curriculum materials to support his classic work, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Cosmos in the Classroom

The video series, itself, has since been posted to YouTube. So I connected links from the episode titles to the corresponding YouTube segments.

I plan to offer my AP students extra credit for watching the episodes and completing the corresponding assignments. (We refer to extra credit as "Credit Toward Final"--CTF).

Student instructions for Cosmos 101

I don't know if Cosmos is available through other web media outlets (Hulu, etc.). Someone will let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: Cosmos on Hulu is shiny. But it comes with "limited commercial interruption." Considering that the original broadcast was aired with no commercial interruption, watching Cosmos with commercials might be disturbing to some viewers.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Amazing Meeting 7 as reported in SF Weekly

There's a rather robust treatment of The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) and James Randi in this week's SF Weekly.

The Demystifying Adventures of the Amazing Randi

For some reason, this snippet resonated with me:
The Amazing Meeting attendees are mostly white males with glasses, facial hair, and a healthy appreciation of physics and Monty Python.
Hey, I attend American Association of Physics Teachers meetings. TAM's got no where near the ratio of said males compared to the AAPT.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Meet the new kilogram. Same as the old kilogram?

If you think academic standards are troublesome, take a look at this story about our favorite standard for mass:

The kilogram has a weight-loss problem

And settle down: I know there's physics foul in the headline, itself. It's good that you noticed, but go ahead and take in the substance of the story.

Units of measure continue to evolve. Once the province of royal body parts, then Earth and water, we seek now to establish units relative to universal constants.

And it is good.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

STAR results are up!

They didn't make the usual August 15 posting date. That was a Saturday, so you have to give them that. Then again Monday, August 17 came and went with nothing new.

But the 2009 results are up at the CDE's STAR website. So start your poring.

And remember that I keep a permanent link to generic STAR results over to the right. And remember that you have a bit of navigating to get from where you land to where your page is filled with data. So surf responsibly.

I'll get the ball rolling with this:

67,760 students received scores for their California Standards Test in Physics
22% of them were scored as Advanced
24% were scored as Proficient
32% Basic
12% Below Basic
10% Far Below Basic

That is, 46% of physics test-takers scored Advanced or Proficient. From 2003 to 2006, the statewide average was hovering around 30%. In 2007, it rose to 35%. In 2008, it jumped to 43%. California's physics students are moving up in the world, as far as CST performance goes.

While all science tests have shown improvement from 2003 to 2009, the 17-point jump for Physics is more than double the gains in any other science subject. As they say down on The Avenues, "Can I get a wut wut?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Night Before STAR Scores

'Twas the night before STAR scores, when all through the school
The IT guy was stirring, he’s nobody’s fool

The envelopes were placed in mail cubbies with care
In hopes Jack O’Connell soon would be there

The teachers were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of new students danced in their heads

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a web page replaced since the one from last year

The layout was simple, a bit of a bore
I knew right away it had all the new scores

As rapid as PDFs, the courses they came
The Vice Principals knew every last one by name

“Now English! now Sum. Math! now Physics! and History!
On Bio!, on Geom! on EarthSci! and Chemistry!”

The reports were, as always, to be put on a shelf
I laughed when I saw them, in spite of myself

Some scores were up while others were down
Not worth the effort to work up a frown

IT guy said nothing but went right to work
Filled all the envelopes then turned with a jerk

And I heard a VP as he came into sight
Say “Check all your data; next year get it right!”

UPDATE: My "old school" ways have once again lead me astray. Back in the old days (2008), STAR results from the Spring administration were posted on the CDE's website by August 15. I know that seems like a long time, but that's a story for another post. It appears that that "ides of August" deadline was beginning to fit too tight. So the CDE has loosened its belt by two weeks. Don't look for results on the CDE's site until September 2. That's the word on the 'net, anyway.

Anyway, that's why I changed the title of the post.

UPDATE 2: OK, I changed it back. The results were only a day late, not a fortnight late.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

WoPHY 09

The University of Nebraska - Lincoln is bringing together outstanding undergraduate women researchers in Physics for a three-day conference, from Friday, October 30th through Sunday, November 1st.

Seems like a good idea to me. A gender imbalance persists in physics. You can argue about the reasons for it. You can argue whether it's anyone's fault. But I don't think you can argue that it's a good thing that ought to be fortified in future years.

I've argued for a long time that we need all the sharp minds we can get working on the unsolved problems of physics. WoPHY 09 appears to be directed toward greater inclusion and support. I hope it's a good conference, is well attended, and generates energy for WoPHY 10.

Thanks to Phil at

UPDATE: It appears that USC has a similar conference, going into it's fifth year. Huzzah!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ørsted Google Doodle physics question

See the Google Doodle in the post below. Assume that current is flowing through the copper wire and that the painted (red) end of the compass needle seeks north.

What is the direction of conventional current in the wire?
A. from the G to the e
B. from the e to the G

Defend your answer.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Google: Ørsted

I got a charge out of today's Google logo mod.I have a colleague who takes some level of offense at what Google does or doesn't do with their logo modifications (Google Doodles). Such is his right. And I suppose it's my right to consider such ranting to be silly. He and I disagree on more things than we agree on, so it all works out.

Anyway, good for Google for throwing some props to good ol' Hans Christian on the occasion of his 232nd birthday. More details from The Guardian's Technology Blog.

If I might, I'd like to make a pitch to my physics-teaching colleagues: Can we go with "Ørsted" rather than "Oersted" when writing the man's name? Once upon a time, typesetting was limited and work-arounds had to be made. But the 1950s are over. Computers have replaced typewriters. Proportional fonts have replaced monospaced ones. Type one space (not two) after a period. And make use of that international character set when appropriate!


UPDATE: Apparently some searchers thought today's Google Doodle was a bomb. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Arizona 2009 Google Map

My first time tinkering with a customized Google Map. My advice? Zoom out (-) until you see the markers.
View Arizona 2009 Roadtrip in a larger map

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Arizona pics trickling in

So far: Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada), Zion (Utah, 1 pic), and Grand Canyon's North Rim. Click the pic to get there quick.

More to come...

Monday, July 27, 2009

My Big Bang Theory good fortune

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see Bill Prady at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 in Las Vegas. Ask me about Father Bruce's Fly Fishing Fashion Review sometime. Today, I was lucky enough to see David Saltzberg at The American Association of Physics Teachers Summer Meeting in Ann Arbor.

Bill Prady is an executive producer on The Big Bang Theory. David Saltzberg is the science consultant on The Big Bang Theory.

So I'm in Big Bang heaven! The show's audience has grown from 8 million to 10 million. The hope is to grow that to 13 million with a better time slot in season three.

Saltzberg related a story about a nice email exchange with a young lady enrolled high school physics regarding how far the Earth moved during an on-screen kiss. He also received a touching note from Isaac Asimov's granddaughter.

One thing I will put David Saltzberg on the spot for is his intent to have the show produce a teacher DVD with science-related clips perhaps after season three. He mentioned it, but it's not always easy for people in his position to see the true value of such a thing. During Q&A, I told Saltzberg how I use a Big Bang clip in my class. Surprisingly, he was aware of my blog post relating that lesson, and assured me that Bill Prady was aware of it, too. So much for my theory that only three people (including my mother) ever read this blog.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Amazing Meeting 7 in pictures (and one video)

The Amazing Meeting 7 was held July 9-12 at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas Nevada. The Big Bang Theory producer, Bill Prady, was the keynote speaker. He was joined by luminaries Penn & Teller, Mythbuster Adam Savage, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Jamy Ian Swiss, and many, many more. Events were many, opportunities for sleep were few.

Over the years, TAM attendance has grown from 150 at TAM1 to over 800 at TAM6. Between TAM6 and TAM7, however, the global economy tanked. And TAM travel, attendance, and lodging adds up. Nevertheless, TAM7 brought in well over 1000 attendees.

I wrangled a conference seat that turned out to be much better than I deserved. Front row center. It was a better seat than The Amazing Randi had. So I did my best to get nice pictures to share with those whose view was obstructed by heads. The result?

2009 07 JREF TAM7 Las Vegas

A professional photographer was also working the event. More talent, skill, responsibility than me, etc.

He got more than I did.

I serendipitously brought my Casio EX-F1, and my serendipity was rewarded. Fellow physics teacher, Matt Lowry from Chicago, performed the bed of nails demonstration at the first annual TAM Ham Talent Show. I caught this:

The video can be seen as a QuickTime video here.

The web should be reverberating with more and more reports of TAM7; I won't try to replicate the work of others. I'm getting ready to visit friends and family in Michigan before attending the American Association of Physics Teachers Summer Meeting in Ann Arbor.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Relive Apollo 11 - already in progress

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has prepared a robust, multi-media web experience for reliving the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission launched July 16, 1969 and reached the Moon on July 20.

Tune in to the mission transmissions on this 40th anniversary at

We Choose The Moon (

The site will plug you into the current state of the mission and has many tangents to keep you occupied during quiet times (especially the "loss of signal" intervals). Keep the site running in the background while you work away at the tasks of the day.

Forty years later, the Apollo missions to the Moon remain the greatest journey ever undertaken by mankind. In 2009, that milestone should be both celebrated and mourned.

When will we do better?

(Hat tip to Paul Robinson.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TAM7 Million Dollar Challenge - Connie Sonne

I have just returned from The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 (TAM7). Much to do in catching up. But first this.

As you may know, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has long administered the Million Dollar Challenge (MDC). In hopes of verifying objectively observable paranormal, supernatural, or psychic phenomena, James Randi offered $1,000,000.00 to anyone who prove such abilities.

Potential claimants of the million dollar prize complete an application and the application is processed by the JREF. In the application, the claimant states what they can do and the extent to which they can do it.

The JREF and the MDC claimant then design a test (protocol) that will allow the claimant to demonstrate their ability. The claimant must pass a preliminary test and a final test. The protocol is carefully designed to prevent fraud or trickery on the part of the claimant or the JREF. Both parties must sign their agreement to the protocol.

Claimants who make if as far as the preliminary test have so far failed. Without exception, as far as I know. Although they agree to the protocol before the test, their failure in the test compels them to find fault with the protocol. If it does nothing else for them, the actual test opens claimant's eyes to previously-hidden inadequacies in the protocol. Sadly, the test rarely drives claimants to the conclusion that their psychic abilities do not exist.

On Sunday, July 12, an MDC preliminary test was made of claimant Connie Sonne. Connie Sonne's claimed ability was dowsing. The test was made shortly after the close of TAM7 in the same conference room at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa.

TAM7 attendees were allowed to witness the test live in the room, provided they signed and swore an oath of audience silence. All cell phones off (not set to vibrate--off). No noise, no disturbance, and an assurance of swift removal for any violation. All this out of respect for the claimant and the administration of the protocol. Hundreds of TAM7 attendees watched live, more watched online via a live streaming on the web.

I was there, in person, about 40 feet from the Connie Sonne and JREF MDC administrator, Banachek.

The short version of the protocol is this: a single deck of cards was sorted by suit. The face cards were removed. Each card was placed in a small envelope. Each small envelope was placed in a slightly larger envelope, so that each card was secure in two envelopes. The cards of each suit (clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds) were then placed in a larger envelope. This part of the protocol was completed in advance of the test and the collection of envelopes remained in the hands of a private security company until the administration of the test.

Banachek opened, in succession, the large envelope for each of three suits. For each suit, Banachek laid out the 10 envelopes (cards 1-10, where 1 is represented by the ace) directly in front of Sonne. Banachek then rolled a 10-sided die. Sonne then doused to find the card that matched the roll of the die.

When the clubs were laid out, the result from the rolled die was 3. When the hearts were laid out, the result from the rolled die was 7. When the spades were laid out, the result from the rolled die was 1. Sonne dowsed for each card. She made her selections. Then came the moment of truth.

More in the comments.

UPDATE: Here's the official JREF report.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

If homeopathy were valid

Just imagine...

When the Iron Curtain fell, The Amazing Randi visited Russia. He found similar nonscientific nonsense being practiced as medicine. Who knows how much pointless suffering came as a result?

By the way, TAM7 opens today.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Prandtl-Glauert Singularity

I think most of us enjoy the visuals associated with shock waves. These things have made the rounds on teh innertoobs (Google Image and YouTube, et al). The hip, media-savvy teachers use them when teaching waves.

The deep explanation is, well, robust.

Check out the new pic:

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor aircraft participating in Northern Edge 2009 executes a supersonic flyby over the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) while the ship is underway in the Gulf of Alaska on June 22, 2009. The visual effect is created by moisture trapped between crests in a sound wave at or near the moment a jet goes supersonic. Credit: DoD/Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald Dejarnett, U.S. Navy

"The Prandtl-Glauert Singularity"? Sounds like the title of an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Greetings from Oregon!

Traveled to Oregon for sights and scenes.

Preview album here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best. Color. Illusion. Ever?

There is no blue in the spiral pattern below. Truly.

The Bad Astronomer, Richard Wiseman, and Buzzhunt have all the details.

Go ahead and load it into Photoshop and check the values to see for yourself. The bright color in the blue spiral is identical to the bright color in the green spiral.

The Bad Astronomer (Phil Plait) and Richard Wiseman are regulars at TAM, by the way. They never fail to bring a heaping helping of groovy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

High-speed video in the national parks

Presented here without much comment: a small collection of high-speed video clips taken in the rarely-used "flying ninja mode" of the Casio EX-F1. Flying ninja mode allows you to switch between 30 and 300 frames per second. Thirty frames per second is standard video capture; 300 stretches 1 second into ten.

These clips were captured last year on a "flyby" through Yellowstone National Park. I was even greener with the camera then than I am now. And time was short. I don't promise great pedagogical value here; just good fun. Geysers, mudpots, springs, and a waterfall. I clearly need to go back and try some more captures with improved technique. (My favorite mudpots--Artist Paint Pots--were closed for the season!)

For now, enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Captain Disillusion!

In celebration of the last day to book rooms at the South Point Hotel, Resort & Spa at the group rate for The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 (July 9-12, Las Vegas), I present a video debunk of The Pantry Ghost. Fasten your seatbelts...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

At Last: The Road Runner Reality Show!

As my close personal friend, Melissa, would say: this made of win and joy.

Man vs. Cartoon

Thanks to Swoopy for pointing out this treasure.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Laptop glossy screens hazardous to your posture?

I knew it!!! I've always been a fan of the matte screens. I'm not keen to look at a mirror when trying to see my laptop screen. But I guess that's just me. (Not to mention the fingerprint magnets that glossies are.) I watched with incredulity as Apple followed the bad lead taken by PC laptops, going to glossy screens. Everyone seemed enamored of glossy. And Apple crept further and further into glossy hell. They still do. It's unlikely that this news item will alter the future enough so that I'll even be able to pay extra for a matte screen on my next laptop (c. 2013).

Mac laptop glossy screens hazardous to your posture?

I guess I'm not the only one who has no use for glossy Mac laptop screens.

Teachers, keep this video bookmarked

Most teachers find most students to be delightful. Even more so in physics than in most other subject areas, I suspect.

But there are exceptions.

So, teachers, take a look at this informative video clip. Be amazed by the relative sizes of the rare islands of matter that dot the universe. And see if you don't have occasional need for the important message at the end--the "moral of the story," if you will.

Go ahead; bookmark it now for use later.

And by all means, scope out Phil Plait's, from whence I lifted this gem.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's not Memorex

It's live! Flora Lichtman and the team at NPR's Science Friday present another excellent lesson. This time, it's a high school student who can shatter a wine glass using his voice. If they ever incorporate that into a Glee plotline, I'll buy the season on DVD.

You'll recall that Adam and Jamie at Mythbusters found a singer who could pull off this stunt a few years ago.

Isn't it nice to have some post-WWII video to show when discussing resonance? Don't get me wrong; I'll still be showing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, too. But it's always nice to have some material produced when the students were alive (or even from when I was alive).

Caturday Laws of Physics

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Drive to Discover: The EX-F1 and me on TV!

Not everyone believes me when I tell them I don't see much broadcast TV. I don't have cable, and telecasts that I see with my DTV converter box--connected to an amplified antenna--are something akin to water torture. Two words: un watchable.

But I digress. This post is about a report produced by Bay Area technology reporter, Richard Hart. The report shows how high-speed cameras are being used by the masses now that they're within the grasp of consumers. As fortune would have it, he interviewed me for his Drive to Discover piece.

He filed the report for ABC's KGO-7 in San Francisco over a month ago. So here's my cutting edge, up-to-the-second blog reporting, submitted for your approval.

Click that little bracketed box (lower right in the video frame) to go full-screen. Trust me, you want to see my mug in full screen. There is some debate as to whether the camera-angle-to-hair geometry is simply unflattering or downright fright-inducing.

Special thanks to my buddy, Chris Knopp. He told me a friend had seen the segment. You'd think with an ego the size of mine, I would have been on top of this thing weeks ago. But there was AP testing, finals, and the end of school. Sigh.

Monday, June 08, 2009

School's out and I'm off

Off for a quick change of scenery to Yosemite. Chased a little light. Snapped a few pics. Did a double-take at Glacier Point when I saw a guy hiking with a birdcage backpack. Maybe I don't get out enough.

I made it a full (whirlwind) YoMoBo tour (Yosemite, Mono Lake, and Bodie Ghost Town).

Click the birdcage to see a quick sample of images.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Water-filled dog bowl starts house fire?

You know it's possible to use ice to start a fire.

Here's a story of water starting a fire.

UPDATE 1: This space reserved for the first commenter with video showing that they used a bowl of water as a lens to start a fire. Get out there, Mythbusters! I will link to your video clip!

UPDATE 2: Our attempts with a large, hemispherical mixing bowl and black posterboard lead me to doubt the likelihood of this explanation. The dog bowl in the story is a frustrum of a right circular cone, so lensing effects don't seem plausible. One might retreat to a position that the rim of the bowl acted as a mirror. But reflections from a water-glass boundary? The intensity simply isn't there.

In my Mythbusting opinion, the "dog bowl as magnifying glass" explanation holds no water.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rushing Roulette

After giving my lesson on atmospheric refraction and mirages last week, I decided that the accompanying preso needed some Warner Brothers cartoon clips of hallucinations posing as mirages. It's a cartoon staple: character crawls through desert and becomes delirious with dehydration, then spots an oasis, makes a run for it and dives straight into... a pile of sand.

Since my web video-fu is such that I can reel in most video that I find useful, I set out to find a Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck desert mirage oasis dive. My initial attempts did not meet with success.

But I did come across a Road Runner cartoon called "Chaser on the Rocks" wherein Wile E. Coyote dives into a hallucination located directly above a slot canyon.

But it was from the Dark Ages of Warner Brothers cartoons: the mid-60s. Jack Warner closed down the animation studio in 1963, and the cartooning was essentially outsourced. Lower frame rates, canned music (rather than scored music), poor story-writing, poor directing, even poor openings and closings were the hallmarks of this disgraceful era.

No cartoons of this era warranted inclusion in any of the six Golden Collection DVD sets released by WB.

Someone had uploaded what seemed to be the entirety of the Road Runner oeuvre to YouTube. Before it was yanked by Warner Brothers, I clicked through all the episodes I hadn't seen. No doubt my eyeballs turned into spinning spirals as I watched.

Most were forgettable. All the Road Runner cartoons from the Dark Age used the same "theme music," a tiresome, trite twinkle of a tune that's likely to be found in Dick Cheney's Abu Ghraib iPod playlist.

But Episode 28, "Rushing Roulette" had a some usable moments.

Here's a video embed which may not last long. Just remember: it's Road Runner 28 - Rushing Roulette.

And here are some notes for using various vignettes in a physics course. There are moments involving elastic, kinetic, and potential energy, friction and normal force, energy conservation, geometric optics, and lift (helicopter propulsion). A nice mix.

And don't forget Dan Burns' Road Runner Physics page.

Monday, May 11, 2009

PTSOS List: Who am I?

PTSOSer Bill Taylor's students came up with this gem. I drew it and we'll see who (among my students) wins the shiny new Ticonderoga.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Sargent Welch: where are you?

UPDATE 5/11/09: See comments for the detailed explanation from Sargent Welch. The short version: Technical difficulties--please stand by. (Whew!)
UPDATE: Lee T sends word that the site is back up. Gave me a palpitation for a moment there.

Can't tell / Don't know if this is a temporary outage or something worse.

But current attempts to connect to the Sargent Welch website are redirecting to a Network Solutions "domain-holder" page. (By the way, are such pages among the most annoying things you see on teh interwebs?)

Anyone know what's up at Sargent Welch?

Caturday gravity

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

AP Physics at Rio... We hardly knew ye

Or perhaps we knew ye all too well. Either way, with a scant 18 sign-ups in AP Physics for the 2009-10 academic year, the school has decided not to run the course. Registered seniors are being encouraged by their counselors to take an equivalent course at American River College, per administrative instructions.

Rio will entertain sign-ups for the 2010-11 school year. If the demand meets the school's student-to-teacher ratio staffing ratio needs, the course will be resurrected. From what I can tell, there would then be no attempt to register students for the 2011-12 academic year; the idea being that we should go with an every other year approach.

UPDATE: It appears Rio's AP Physics has been granted a reprieve. For now. Enrollment is 21-ish by my count.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Physics Bowl 2009 results

I'm a little late on this, but I've been busy! Check the page listed below for the solutions and competition results (as they come in) of

Physics Bowl 2009

If you don't know what Physics Bowl is, click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spot the physics

My buddy and fellow skeptical photographer, Scott Hurst, sent this along.

I see physics. And I see pain. But mostly... WOW! It's 5:38 of your life you can't get back. Trust me; you'll be OK with that by the end of the clip. Don't forget to breathe!

If the video embed above doesn't work for you, click here. I hope to see more from master Danny MacAskill.

UPDATE: No, I couldn't leave "well-enough" alone. You know how I am. Here's a worksheet you can use as a classroom lesson to accompany the video clip. Can you write a better one? Of course! If you teach physics, you'll be keen to generate some estimation-based calculations. So have at it. Think of my lesson as a mere introduction to the video.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

See me on The Dark Side of the Moon

Alec Hodgins and I go back to 1988, when he joined the faculty at Rio Americano. I was a 1.5-year veteran at Rio at the time. We've had the good fortune to be able to help each other on various projects and to bend elbows from time to time.

He recently took the initiative to get a mural painted on the large, blank wall outside his classroom. The process was non-trivial, but he navigated the administratium of it. There is a large, blank wall outside my classroom, too. He put only a wee flame to my fanny and I jumped. Right on to his mural-approval bandwagon.

Click the image to see the one-week photo album showing the construction of the mural. On Monday morning, the wall was blank. By Friday afternoon, the image was complete.

Alec is handy with tools and he overflows with drive for projects like this. I contributed a modicum of cleverness in the engineering and willingness to breathe spray-paint vapors. A number of Rio physics and French students provided invaluable assistance, making it possible to complete the project within the school week.

The end result speaks for itself.

Burning gum

My friend and fellow physics teacher, Dan Burns of Los Gatos High School, mentioned using a large Fresnel lens to burn gum off the pavement outside his room.

A few years ago, my school purchased new overhead projectors for the classrooms. I shuddered at the thought of all the old OHPs going to the landfill. I intercepted as many as I could and salvaged the optics from them.

The harvest was bountiful. It included the Fresnel lenses that formed the stages of the OHPs.

Hence the community service project outside my classroom last week.

Two lessons to take away? One: always be on your toes for potential harvests of otherwise unwanted or unused school equipment. (I similarly collected dozens of headphones when the school purchased classroom PCs.) Two: it's nice to have bright folks like Dan Burns to get clever ideas from.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Psychics can squeeze blood from turnips

...or at least from the throngs of bleevers who just fell from the turnip truck. Matt at The Skeptical Teacher shines a withering light on this psychic puff-piece masquerading as a human-interest time filler at CBS "News."

Bottom line: you can make a lot of money making up things to tell people. Check out Matt's note to see how hard it is to become a psychic.

And remember, there are no real psychics. If there were such things, where were they on 9-10?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

AP Physics B Redesign, part 1

Trouble looms on the horizon.

I attended a session at the 2008 AAPT Summer Meeting in Edmonton regarding the upcoming redesign of the College Board's AP Physics B program. The proposed changes will make Physics B a two-course program. Too many schools teach the current Physics B as a first-year course, despite the College Board's admonition that Physics B is intended to be a second-year course. For this and other reasons, the plan is to split the course into two courses: AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2.

As someone who moved his school away from AP Physics B as a first-year course, I applaud such an initiative.

The redesign is still in progress, and the College Board has not yet announced the course outlines for AP Physics 1 or AP Physics 2. Implementation of the redesign will not occur before 2013. But one proposal has been unveiled for teacher review and comment.

The proposed AP Physics 1 course would include
Linear motion in 1- and 2-dimensions
Gravitational, electrostatic, and contact forces
Gravitational fields
Newton's laws
Energy conservation
Fluid statics
Mechanical energy
Energy transfers as work and heat
Linear momentum conservation
Charge conservation and simple circuits
Mechanical waves

A few topics of interest in the AP Physics 2 course include
Electric and magnetic fields and forces
Electromagnetic induction
Interference and diffraction
Reflection and refraction

As proposed, AP Physics 1 will not be practicable in California. Too many of California's 9-12 Physics content standards are left out. AP Physics 1 is intended as first course. A first course in California physics must include a robust treatment of electricity and magnetism and waves (including wave optics).

I hope changes are made to the course outline before implementation. California's implementation of NCLB has all but banned Physics First from public instruction in California. I hope the College Board's implementation of the AP redesign doesn't likewise banish AP Physics from The Golden State.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big Bang Theory and The Doppler Effect

I like to include video clips in my lessons where appropriate. They add nicely to a well-balanced (and well-mixed) lesson.

Examples of scientific principles used in popular culture are always nice for critiquing. You show Roadrunner clips so students can reflect on where the physics is good, where it is bad, and "what should have happened?"

At some point, students might get jaded and assume every pop-culture clip you show will contain some misrepresentation of physics.

Then you show them this gem from The Big Bang Theory:

Sheldon's Doppler Effect Halloween Costume (I would have embedded, but embedding was disabled.)

The Big Bang Theory actually vets its scripts with a UC physicist. A physics-content misstep on TBBT is a rare event. And they drop in physics references like most sitcoms drop in toilet-humor references.

While discussing the Doppler Effect in class, I show the clip and ask students if Sheldon gives a correct definition. Some will knee-jerk a swift "no!" Wait time is important here. Others will eventually chime in with a "yes." I repeat the definition portion of the segment a few times without adding prejudice one way or the other. The tide sweeps through the room, and the "yeas" outweigh the "nays" soon enough.

I then assure them that they can watch TBBT with confidence that the physics will be correctly represented. Unfortunately this may simply ensure that TBBT will never be seen by any of my students. Sigh.

UPDATE: Did I mention I have a birthday coming up? I'm partial to 2XL.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Goldilocks analysis of the Physics RTQs

Each year since 2003, the California Department of Education has released 15 questions from the physics CST (California Standards Test). The growing collection is known as the Physics RTQs (Released Test Questions). One RTQ was removed from the set for bad behavior. It deserved it. So as of 2009, we have 89 physics RTQs.

There are 45 content standards in California's 9-12 Physics. How well do the RTQs cover the standards?

One might think that once the number of RTQs reached 45 (in 2006), all the content standards would have been covered. But the reality of selecting RTQs is not so simple. The process is necessarily complex. As a result, some standards were represented with multiple RTQs while others went uncovered. (Remember, too, that the Investigation and Experimentation Standard Set must also be represented in the RTQs.)

As of this year's RTQ set--including items from the 2008 test--all 45 physics content standards are covered.

One hopes that future RTQ releases will fortify weakly-represented standards and increase the variety of item types in the set.

There are many things one can do when not burdened with spouse or children. I will not burden this post with an exhaustive list. But one task that falls under the aegis is my thorough

Physics RTQ Distribution Analysis PDF XLS.

This gem is a spreadsheet listing all the RTQ items by year of release and (more importantly) by standard. The actual items are in the RTQ PDF from the CDE; the spreadsheet merely shows their distribution. Go ahead, click and open it. I dare ya! (PDF or Excel.)

This representation makes it easy to perform a Goldilocks analysis of the RTQs. That is, you can see which standards are over-represented, which ones are under-represented, and which ones are represented just right.

You really should open it and marvel at the OCD that was required to prepare it. And, of course, thank your lucky stars that you do not suffer such a level. But for the faint-of-anal-retention, I offer this:

2009 Executive Summary of the Physics RTQ Distribution
1. All Standard Sets are represented in proportion to the test blueprint.

2. Most individual standards are represented in balanced proportion.

3. The following individual standards are over-represented in the RTQs. Future RTQs sets should be selected in a manner that will exclude new items from Standards
1.A, 1.B, 1.G, 2.A, 3.C, 4.C, and 5.B.

4. The following individual standards are under-represented in the RTQs. Future RTQs sets should be selected in a manner that will include new items from these standards.
a. Primary needs lie in Standards 2.F, 4.F, 5.D, 5.E, 5.F.
b. Secondary needs lie in Standards 2.E, 3.B, 3.E, 4.A, 4.D, 4.E, 5.H.

For those who haven't memorized the standards by their alphanumerical designations, a truck will be around later to bring you to re-education camp. In the meantime, you can check the Blueprint. Spoiler alert: Set 1 is Motion and Forces, 2 is Conservation of Energy and Momentum, 3 is Heat and Thermodynamics, 4 is Waves, and 5 is Electric and Magnetic Phenomena. See the blueprint for the letters.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Milk carton storage box

Whether times are lean or not, this storage box is a good idea. Handy, simple, and sturdy; these boxes are answers waiting for your small-item storage questions.

For those who like instructions, here are the instructions!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Dart guns... They're back!

I recently added a version of my Newtonian Dart demo to the upcoming Conceptual Physical Science Explorations 2e Lab Manual.

The trouble is getting good dart guns for this demo. When those of us "of a certain age" were young, these toys were easy to find in drug stores, grocery stores, and--dare I say--the five and dime! You need the classic, hard-stick and suction cup, spring-loaded dart guns.

But somewhere, this type of dart gun was used in a manner inconsistent with its intent. So it was pulled and replaced with safer versions. Bendy, flexi-rubber darts or foam darts were flung by a mechanism that didn't allow for downward firing. And so they were useless for a great demo for showing Newton's second law.

Arbor Scientific has risen to the challenge and found a batch of these classics. I hope they can find a supply steady enough to keep me stocked when mine expire.

Southern California Physics Teachers Spring Meeting

SCAAPT Spring Meeting
Saturday, May 2
CSU Channel Islands

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bobbing for magnets, take 2

Here's my second attempt at a groovy electromagnetic interaction demonstration. It's based on a setup I saw Don Walters use at The Naval Postgraduate School at an NCNAAPT meeting. He did a quick take, and I thought it was an improvement on The Exploratorium's Magnetic Pendulums.

As I often do, I milked this demo (and many tangents to it) for all I thought they were worth. To summarize, this demo shows electromagnetic interaction and slowly and carefully constructs observational evidence for Lenz's law.

Find the PDF here: Bobbing for Magnets PDF.

Find the answer key PDF here: Bobbing for Magnets Key PDF.

Find the preso here: Bobbing for Magnets QT. My presentations are rarely simple, linear expositions of the corresponding worksheet. You've been warned.

UPDATE: Fixed the link to the PDF. (Thanks Alby and Stephanie.) AND, I added a QuickTime Presentation for your enjoyment.