Thursday, December 26, 2013

Cosmos no longer streams

As recently as this past August, you could stream Carl Sagan's 1980 Cosmos via Netflix Instant or Hulu. Netflix was nice because the stream ran commercial-free.

But the Netflix stream ran dry in September.

And the Hulu stream now appears to be dry, too.

I can resort to showing episodes in my classroom, but it was so much nicer being able to assign Cosmos-watching as homework.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pushing Things Around—A new PhET Activity

Seems like I've been out for a bit. Reconfiguring the Physics curriculum in the transition to NGSS leads to occasional jags of spontaneous development. Not nearly as exciting as that makes it sound. But it keeps me off the blog nonetheless.

Here's something I developed for instruction after Newton's First Law/Inertia and before our full-on Newton's Second Law lab.

It's intended to scaffold some existing knowledge and suggest a = F/m. It uses PhET's "Forces and Motion Basics" sim (not to be confused with the "Forces and Motion" sim—that's a different sim).

Here's the sim:

Forces and Motion: Basics
Click to Run

Here's the sim's page at PhET.

And here's my lab: Pushing Things Around.

I hope to get it set into my own PhET Tech Labs page sometime soon. Patience!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dan Burns' awesome gravity demo goes viral

Watch this video before it the hit counter tops 1,000,000 views (if it hasn't already)! Apparently it's been topping Reddit (sorry; I'm not a Reddit aficionado) and it merited a Huffington Post.

Gravity Visualized

This is our own Dan Burns at a PTSOS session (PTSOS3, to be exact—hence the comment about returning to electricity and magnetism) from last year.

He's explaining the pedagogy and content of his spandex gravity model to new teachers. It's the kind of thing we've always done at PTSOS. And his little gem hit the Internet's viral funny bone (to mix metaphors). To which I say, "Huzzah!" And now I feel bad that I don't have a groupie shot with Dan.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A lesson to accompany Understanding Car Crashes

Understanding Car Crashes: It's Basic Physics was produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in 2000. They've done what they could to make sure no physics classroom is without the VHS or DVD. In 2010, they uploaded the 22-minute, Griff Jones-hosted video to YouTube.

I always liked it, but didn't know where to use it. This year I was able to carve out a few days between the last unit test of the first semester and final exams. My first semester is all mechanics, all the time. So it seemed like a good match.

Here's my student worksheet: YouTube Physics: Danger and Safety in Car Crashes @ TPT

And here's the video, itself.

Understanding Car Crashes: It's Basic Physics

My lesson continues after the video is over by inviting students to research vehicle safety ratings for two cars they might ride in at IIHS's website (

By the way, if you haven't seen my YouTube Physics page, check it out. You'll find even more engaging video lessons.

The Dark Side of the Earth - mini-lesson revision

If you haven't seen this 5-minute Vimeo gem, I first talked about it here. Go there and watch it.

I developed a mini-lesson to accompany the video so as to create what would now be called a flipped-classroom lesson. Of course, I shared!

But I wasn't happy with how that turned out. So I reworked it a little bit. The rework makes things the student work aspect more visual-spatial.

YouTube Geophysics: Amazing Views of Earth on Vimeo

A Car Talk Puzzler that Thinking Physics people can solve

Car Talk Puzzler for the week of 11/23/13: Two trains are on a collision course. The trains are heading toward each other with identical speeds. When they are a certain distance apart from each other, a bee flies from the front of one train toward the other at constant speed. When it reaches the front of the other train, the bee turns around and flies back to the first train. The process repeats until the trains collide and the bee is squished.

The question: How far does the bee fly in the process?

To answer, you'll need the particulars: the distance between the trains when the bee begins its journey, the speed of the trains, and the speed of the bee. For these particulars (and the means by which you can enter your correct answer for the chance to win a prize), proceed to

The Car Talk Puzzler.

(Lewis Carroll Epstein's Thinking Physics)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A wee set of photos from NCNAAPT FM13 Carondelet


These are the best of what I got at the Fall Meeting of the Northern California and Nevada section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. The event was Saturday, November 16 at Carondelet High School in Concord.

All captured on my little spy-cam of a Canon PowerShot S100. It's not a speedy auto focuser, but it's so small as to be fairly innocuous. And it's a digicam rather than a DSLR, so no shutter noise. Trade-offs.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Egg Toss 2013

Linsey Marr wins NIH New Innovator Award

While I realize that their brief time in high school gets smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror as years roll by, I reserve the right to take pride in the accomplishments of any of my 3500+ former students.

Linsey Marr (RAHS '92) set the river on fire while she was at Rio. Beyond being a top graduate, she earned gold on Rio's Science Olympiad team in its first trip to nationals (Auburn University in Alabama, 1992).

Of course, she left Rio over twenty years ago. She switched from MIT to neighboring Harvard and set the Charles on fire with her engineering awesomeness. She earned advanced degrees at UC Berkeley. These days, she professes Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech.

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) is now taking their turn at recognizing Marr's brilliance via their New Innovator Award. It's kind of a big deal. How big? North of $2,000,000 in research funding big. Linsey's been an unstoppable innovator and problem-solver since… forever. How delightful to see this prestigious honor awarded to her.

See Virginia Tech's coverage for full details.

Although we at Rio may not be entitled to take any credit for her professional accomplishments at this point, we are certainly entitled to offer our congratulations to someone who walked our wee campus years ago.

Congratulations, Linsey! We are so proud of you.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Carl Sagan Day - Neil deGrasse Tyson's new Cosmos

In case you haven't seen this yet. (It got past me somehow.)

Carl Sagan Day 2013 - Pale Blue Dot

This one never gets old.

Carl Sagan Day.

As ever, my Cosmos in the Classroom curriculum materials are available to all. I'm using them this year in Physics as I have in the past for AP Physics: one episode per unit, sometimes shown in class the day after a unit test, and sometimes assigned as homework.

Last year, Netflix streamed episodes of Cosmos. They don't anymore. Hulu's Cosmos page anticipates the Neil deGrasse Tyson "reboot". (They did, anyway; the title graphic had been Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, Tyson's title. Looks like they've now gone back to a "Cosmos: Carl Sagan" motif. The full title of Sagan's series was Cosmos: A Personal Journey.)

Sorry Miss Ping—you just got… Disillusioned!

Awesome precision stunt work artistry, yes?

That kind of thing takes "mad skillz" and years of practice.

Not with Ping Pong, knives, or pineapples. With video editing. But you need to do better than that if you don't want to get busted by Captain Disillusion!

Take it away, Capt. D!

Love the fake drop-in ads, the foot stab, the Star Trek and Portlandia references, and the super-cheesy crash-endo.

Visit Captain Disillusion's website for all things CD!

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Baloney Detection Kit: new video question set

I've been showing Michael Shermer's 15-minute Baloney Detection Kit video to students in my physics classes for years. It's a great little gem about the methods of science that's much, much better than the tired old, fabricated "Scientific Method" lessons and posters that still seem to proliferate in science classrooms at schools.

And I've developed video question sets for countless episodes of Mechanical Universe and the whole set of Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics Alive!

But inspiration for a question set for the Baloney Detection Kit video eluded me. Until now. The information is delivered at a pretty rapid pace: to rapid for students to contemplate and write much while the video is in progress.

 So I went with a "matching" theme for the bulk of the content. A graphic interpretation for one, and a multi-correct for the third. I'm happy with how it turned out.

Baloney Detection Kit - student question set.
Baloney Detection Kit - teacher's answer key.

And, of course, the video: Baloney Detection Kit (Michael Shermer).

As with nearly all the video question sheets I produce for my own classroom use, the name-perdiod-date box appears as a strip of old-fashioned film (with sprocket holes). The video's YouTube video identification is also listed (hJmRbSX8Rqo). If you google that ID, the video is the first hit. And yes, I dressed up the title area to mimic a YouTube look and feel. If you've got substance, it's OK to flash a bit of style.

The point of all video question sets is to prevent the use of the video in the classroom from becoming a passive experience for students. Sometimes adults scoff at this notion and assume the children will sit quietly and reflect contemplatively—the way adults might—during a video presentation. I'm here to tell you that that is simply not the case.

For more quick, classroom-ready mini-lessons relating to skepticism, see my Skepticism in the Classroom page.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Why Apple's promise to throw Keynote users a bone doesn't give me hope

Apple recently killed it's once-great presentation software, Keynote, with the release of "New Keynote". They now promise to try to revive a few limbs of the cadaver in the coming months.

The mounting negative reviews of Apple's iWork are piling up at the Mac App Store. As of this writing, each has garnered many more 1-star reviews than 5-star reviews. Apple wants to put an end to the embarrassing barrage of scathingly accurate 1-star reviews, so they're waving a small white flag.

Apple's corporate confession and plea for patience from angry users

They don't promise to bring the cadaver completely back to life. We are supposed to feel esuaged by their promise to restore a few of the highly complained-about feature deletions.

Since I don't dare put my existing Keynote files at risk of contamination from Keynote 6, I have neither upgraded to Mac OS X Mavericks nor Keynote 6. So others will know better what, specifically, Apple has broken and is not even promising to fix. Among them,

• QuickTime's new inability to handle Interactive QuickTime files. For Keynote users, this means presos that have been exported to QuickTime with manual advance and hyperlink capabilities are newly broken. Turns out your colleagues running QuickTime on Windows machines still enjoy this feature, but neither you nor anyone else running Mavericks can. Want better performance with Apple's QuickTime? Get a PC.

• Keynote 6's tendency of breaking Keynote 5 files. You know, the ones you painstakingly perfected down to the pixel? Keynote 6 appears to randomly rearrange your well-crafted slides so you can get to know Keynote 6 better in the hours you'll spend repairing your presos, slide by slide.

• Alpha-channel transparency in video. I didn't use this, so boy, what a lucky break. I do use alpha transparency in still images and presume (with no proof) that that still works.

• All the extant transitions, builds, and animations. Legacy users who opted for early adoption of Keynote 6 are finding out item by item which old things no longer work in the new regime. Sure, Apple has promised to do some restoration work, but who knows what will be added back and what won't.

Apple has waved the white flag of "Hey, if you liked Keynote before October 22, go back and use the pre-October 22 version!" They promise that within half a year (isn) they'll have Keynote 6 (2013) up to something somewhat reminiscent of Keynote 5 (2009). Five years later and precious little in the way of actual improvements. (This principle of improving software in subsequent releases is a long-standing tradition that computer users have become accustomed to since, well since software has been developed. It applied to Keynote from version 1.0 through version 5.3.)

I want to believe there will be time when Apple builds Keynote into a more capable presentation program than it was in version 5.3, but even if they follow through on all their promises, 6 will remain a weak shell of what 5.3 was.

What's truly broken was not mentioned in Apple's memo. And that's Apple's vision for Keynote. They've killed the role it was born to play: the high-octane software Steve Jobs would use to create bad-ass, cinematic presos capable of emasculating an army of crouching PowerPoint users.

Rather than allowing you to be awesome on a Mac, the new Keynote aspires to let you be mediocre on multiple devices and across platforms.

There is some genius in Apple's "We promise to fix it in the future" memo. The corporation thereby grants license to each user to imagine that the stripped feature most dear to them will soon be restored. If not in the first update, then surely in the second. And if not in that one, surely by the next. Pretty soon, it's 2018 and you're crossed fingers have long ago gone numb.

My enthusiasm remains highly curbed.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Progress on the Hewitt Drew It! screencast index

I've updated my Hewitt Drew It! screencast index page. The following sections are fully connected (or as connected as they can be):


Here's the page:
Hewitt Drew It! Screencast Index

I still need to connect the HEAT pages to their screencasts. Screencasts for ATOMIC AND NUCLEAR PHYSICS and RELATIVITY are still in production, as are some of the screencasts for LIGHT. There are already more than 100 Hewitt Drew It! physics screencasts in the wind.

Stay tuned for more!

The NCNAAPT Fall 2013 Conference is November 15-16 in Concord

The Northern California and Nevada section of the American Association of Physics Teachers will be gathering for its Fall Conference in Concord, California on Friday and Saturday, November 15 and 16.

The main meeting is on Saturday at Carondelet High School. Friday's social activities center around the Joint Genome Institute in very nearby Walnut Creek.

For the locations map and full program, follow the link below.

NCNAAPT Fall 2013 Conference Details

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Apple kills off Keynote

I know there are bigger problems in the world. You can read all about them elsewhere. A problem just entered my world that stands to grow for the foreseeable future, and this is my blog, so…

Apple killed its decade-old presentation software, Keynote.

Keynote was Apple's response to Microsoft PowerPoint. It was originally coded solely for Steve Jobs' use. He wanted to be able to make presentations that didn't suck. He wanted cinematic builds and transitions that appeared three-dimensional rather than cheesy builds and transitions that looked appropriate for grade school. He wanted to leverage the Macintosh's processing power and graphics capabilities.

In 2001, Apple allowed Mac users to buy Steve Jobs' presentation software for $99. Over the years it was updated and upgraded. New transitions, new graphics, video, and animation capabilities. Better and more powerful with each release. PowerPoint consistently lagged behind.

I had grown fond of Keynote over the years and gradually learned how to make it do what I needed to do. Whenever a new version came out, I'd be sure to own it the day it dropped. The reflexive "wow's" I got from my otherwise jaded high school students never failed to amuse me.

But the last time a new version was released was early 2009. Before Obama was sworn in as President. The iPad had not yet been announced. Keynote 5 (iWorks '09) was fine, but was getting long in the tooth here in the second Obama administration. Microsoft's PowerPoint 2008 was upgraded in 2011 and was starting to look like a potential contender for pros designing high-octane presos.

So here it is 2013. iPads and iPhones are in the world in quantity. Google has designed and implemented Google Docs web applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc., allowing multiple-machine access via the Internet. There are iOS versions of the iWorks apps. And Steve Jobs is dead.

And in a decision that stings as much as it stuns, Apple has decided to adopt a "me too" approach to its iWork productivity suite. This past Tuesday, Apple pronounced that it had rebuilt—from the ground up—each application in the suite (Keynote, Pages, and Numbers).

They weren't kidding about "ground up". Apple decided that iPads are now content-creation devices, rather than media consumption devices. So rather than allowing Keynote to be a full-throttled computer app that leveraged the capabilities of the multi-core processors in Apple's MacBook line, it was decided that the productivity apps should be neutered and stripped down until the OS X version couldn't be used to assemble something the iOS version wasn't comfortable with.

Apple's VP presenters thought we should be delighted that iWorks apps could be used like Google Docs apps. They showed it off as if had never been seen before. In a preview at last summer's WWDC, they beamed with pride over the possibility that someone could design Keynote-y things on the web using a PC running Internet Explorer.

I feared that spelled doom. Now that fear is fully realized.

Keynote is dead. The program Steve Jobs made Apple's software engineers design so he could create bad-ass presos is no longer being developed or supported. Apple still has a product called Keynote. But Keynote 6 ('13) is related to Keynote 5 ('09) like a 1978 Ford Thunderbird is related to a 1961 T-bird. That is, not much at all.

For now, I recommend staying with Keynote 5.3 and not even upgrading to Mac OS X Mavericks. Apparently the QuickTime in Mavericks no longer supports Interactive QuickTimes, so you can no longer have a manually-advanced QuickTime export of a Keynote preso.

I don't foresee Apple reversing themselves on this or otherwise making things right. They've got multi-device, cross-platform fever. And they're giving away the apps (just like Google). But if you're someone who already has any Keynote presos created in 5.3 or earlier, the havoc that 6 will create for you will make that "free" update a downgrade you really cannot afford (in repair time and energy).

Apple will eventually make Keynote 5.3 inoperable in an as-yet unnamed surf beach OS X. I do not relish the day when I will need to export my Keynote presos as PowerPoint files to edit them in the only remaining high-octane preso editor.

Lest you think this is just me on a rant:

Medium: Apple’s iWork for Mac will only be as smart as his two dumb little brothers

Apple Support Discussion: Keynote's newly missing features

Having not switched to Mavericks and downloaded Keynote 6, I am unable to offer this review at the Mac App Store. I am, however, rating the usefulness of the posted reviews. I'm finding the 1-star reviews to be the most helpful and the 5-star reviews to be the least helpful.

Go check out Lincoln Physics

James Lincoln is a high-energy physics teacher from the southland here in California.

He's into sharing physics gems and physics teaching gems through videos and blogging.

Here's his video explanation of dog vision.

To keep up with what he's doing, bookmark his blog:
Lincoln Physics.

There, you can find out where the dog vision video was shown on Vrijdag, 25 Oktober.

Gender issues at West Point and beyond

Gender barriers have fallen (or are falling) in many areas of US society. But nationwide gender equity nirvana remains elusive. Physics and engineering appear to be areas in which progress is slow compared to other academic fields. And evidence shows that "scientists prefer gentlemen."

So does West Point. The Army academy admits men over women by a 6 to 1 ratio. Some insiders worry that this is intentional.

"I spoke to a number of faculty members who said that there's an explicit class composition goal at West Point that actually functions as a ceiling, and that women haven't risen above 16 percent because the academy only wants 16 percent."

Read and/or listen to the report here: West Point Women: A Natural Pattern Or A Camouflage Ceiling?

By dragging its heels on gender-blindness in admissions, West Point is placing the Army at a disadvantage in terms of attracting and preparing the best military leadership America has to offer.

There is a proud West Point graduate at my school. He authors a blog called Right on the Left Coast, and he is not bashful about expressing his opinions. Whether or not he, as a West Point grad, harbors any gender bias is not for me to say. To the best of my knowledge, he teaches his subject well and is well-regarded by students.

When a West Point classmate went public with her account of sexual harassment and rape at the academy, he quickly called her story into question.

When an obscure academic attempted to show—statistically—that males are superior to females in mathematical aptitude, he found room to promote this biased and misleading analysis on his blog. The study did not appear in learned (peer-reviewed) journals, but rather as a post on a Libertarian website.

Though I offered a counterpoint to that post as a comment, he elected not to publish it. And that is entirely his right as owner of that blog.

In any case, I look forward to the day when gender equity is the norm, and the incidents of sexual harassment and gender bias in the military seem as out of place as the now-unacceptable sexist behavior exhibited on AMC's Mad Men.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

In which I attempt to wrangle the Hewitt Drew It! screencasts

Paul Hewitt is on a screencasting rampage, and no topic in Conceptual Physics is safe!

He's been producing and releasing short video lessons for over a year, and he isn't finished yet. They're going up on YouTube, and I haven't been able to keep up with the proliferation.

By the way, he's currently working on one in which he hopes to show the cover of the original Conceptual Physics: The High School Physics Program textbook (Addison-Wesley, 1987), but doesn't have a copy on hand. Neither do I. If you do, please contact him at and let him know. I couldn't even find an image of the CP1 high school textbook cover using my image search Google-fu. Second edition? Third? Fourth? No problem. First? A bit of a problem.

Anyway, Paul Hewitt is loading YouTube up with these 5-10 minute physics lesson gems, but I was finding them difficult to incorporate in my curriculum. I'm not keen to show them during class, but I do want students to see them. And I want to be a bit more helpful than to say, "Watch that one Hewitt Drew It about Newton's Second Law."

What I needed was a convenient directory, like a table of contents, for the Hewitt screencasts. So I started to create one. I aligned it, to the best of my ability, to Conceptual Physics 11/e, but that's not a critical issue.

On one web page, I list all the topics covered in Conceptual Physics. Each topic listed is a link to a page that collects all the screencasts relating to that topic.

The work is very much "in progress". But I'm done with Part One: Mechanics. The topics include
Newton's First Law
Linear Motion
Newton's Second Law
Newton's Third Law
Rotational Motion
Projectile and Satellite Motion

This gets me through my entire first semester. I'm guessing it will do as much for you.

My next goals will be parts four, five, and six: sound, E&M, and light. I'm indicating which topics are "connected" by showing them in boldface type. Topics listed in regular (roman) type are, as yet, not yet finished.

Hewitt Drew-It! PHYSICS Screencast Directory

The end of The System makes front-page news

The System was my homework/classwork/general incentive policy for about 20 years. I developed it in the early 1990s and was very happy with what it did. But I abandoned it this year, and the abandonment led to a front-page (below the fold) article in the school newspaper with two photographs.

Baird Terminates System

Because few things are as exciting as my 20-year old homework policy. Winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching did not result in nearly this much Mirada ink. Ah, the whimsical and fickle world of The Press.

The System was my attempt to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. If you came to class on time, prepared to learn, and kept up with daily assignments, I'd grade you on a relaxed grading scale. Instead of the traditional grading scale, students who qualified for The System were graded as follows: 80%-100%: A, 60%-79%: B, 50%-59%: C, 40%-49%: D. In 20 years of The System, I could count on my fingers the number of students who qualified and earned a C or worse. My fingers on one hand.

My hope was that The System would make Physics an attractive course in that you could earn a pretty good grade (B) even if you routinely performed badly on tests, etc. (60%).

I gave out plenty of non-A or B grades. Many students elected to not partake in The System. With no immediate gratification ("Scoobie Snack") offered for homework completion, many students chose not to do it. Such a choice invariably leads to poor test performance, and sub-80% totals. But there was a lesson to be learned there, as well.

Homework was checked randomly and at random intervals. Different assignments were checked in different periods. Other elements folded easily into The System (tardiness, on-task behavior, excessive use of the bathroom pass, etc.).

Doing the right things earned you System Points. Angelic, perfect students could end up with 20 System Points at the end of each semester. To qualify, all you needed was 10. Ten out of twenty. Plenty of room for lapses of any sort. Great flexibility. But not unlimited.

Every semester would end with some students having 9 of the 20. They missed more than they earned. They naturally saw unfairness. If it were only for that one thing that one time. But it was never one thing one time. Their bargain with me was that they would behave in a manner so as to earn all the System Points.

Every student of Intro to Psychology is taught to despise B. F. Skinner, but Skinner works surprisingly well while "higher-minded" psychological schemes do not. Still we harbor a visceral hatred of what Skinner tells us: that we often operate so as to maximize extrinsic rewards and minimize extrinsic punishment. To oversimplify: psychologists despise Skinner; economists swear by him.

Over time students figured out ways to game The System. The Holy Grail in this pursuit was to qualify for the relaxed grading scale while not completing daily assignments. Assignments were copied, word for word, mistake for mistake, among students. Students with older siblings who took my class would turn in the older sibling's work as their own.

I could catch some of them by changing the numbers in my numerical problems. Cheaters would blissfully turn in homework with all the wrong numbers. No such cheater ever confessed to their transgression. But oh, the stories they would spin.

Changing the numericals for this purpose was a giant hassle; changing word questions was essentially impossible. All of it wasted time and energy spent to beat the cheats.

And as the years went by, students became less and less apologetic about copying homework. They were too busy with other things to be bothered with homework. Consider this student sentiment expressed by a Rio student, "Work is for school. I go to school to learn, but I go home to have fun. I don’t think homework helps. It really just ruins my day. It ruins my day 100% of the time."

Many parents take the position that there's too much homework. They're forever hoping for a school wide homework restriction policy.

Some teachers are in on this, too. A language teaching colleague complained that so much homework is tantamount to child abuse.

Another colleague invited us—his fellow teachers—to examine our homework practices. He invited his faculty piers to ponder these questions.

"How long will it take students (slowest AND fastest) to complete?
If all of a student's teachers assigned the same amount, how many hours would that take?
How much time is left for sleep, family and other interests that make up a full life?
Is the assignment absolutely necessary for the curriculum, or is it homework for homework's sake?"

When parents and teachers give comfort to the notion that there's too much homework, students feel entitled and licensed to subvert the homework load by any means necessary. "Of course I copied my homework, everyone knows the homework load is too ridiculous around here. My parents support me in this, and so do the cool teachers."

Since offering any extrinsic incentive ("sugar") for homework completion was resulting in more and more homework subversion, I had to pull the plug.

Front-page news.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Twenty-eight years at Rio

Rio Americano is 50 years old this year. We're trying to celebrate it. So there is cause for thoughts of nostalgia. Faculty and staff get a portrait taken every year. Sometimes, those portraits get included in the school's yearbook.

As far as I know, I never missed a portrait and I've never thrown the resulting photos out. But 28 years is a long time, and it turns out I was only able to lay hands on images from half the years of my tenure.
The rest were cobbled together from the yearbook, for the most part.

In any case, here it is: portrait shots (mostly official) or yearbook shots from each year, 1986-2013. Nostalgia? Narcissism? Entropy? Vanity? Garfunkelization? Decide for yourself. Traveling downward along a column, each photo moves you seven years forward. Click to embiggen... if you dare.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Capella Science: Bohemian Gravity

Last time we saw Tim Blais, he was "Rolling in the Higgs", repurposing Adele's smash hit "Rolling in the Deep" with particle physics-based lyrics and a one-man, a capella orchestra. At the very end of that video, he teased "Bohemian Gravity".

It's now a year later, and Blais is back with the fully-realized version.

Blais' "Bohemian Gravity" repurposes Queen's iconic "Bohemian Rhapsody" with String Theory-based lyrics. The content is unapologetically high-level. Blais was in the midst of writing his master's thesis while developing this track, so the video shows us where his mind was during the process.

And he got a haircut. No doubt his parents will be pleased.

If you haven't seen his work, stop punishing yourself and watch. Do it now!

When the lyrics make sense to you, you will be ready for your MS in physics, too.

As I post this, the video has fewer than 100,000 views. That won't last.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Extra Credit: Voyager in the news - September 12, 2013

I offered this assignment to students so inclined last week.

CTT.1 (Credit Toward Unit Tests)
Voyager in the News: September 12, 2013 +
A news item on NPR (National Public Radio) mentioned that NASA’s Voyager spacecraft is now 17 light-hours from Earth.
Page 1: Questions
1. What is NASA’s Voyager?
2. Why was Voyager in the news on this day?
3. What did Voyager do sometime during the year prior to this news item?
Page 2: Problems (Work must be shown; use ERSA where appropriate)
1. How far is 17 light-hours a. in meters? b. in miles?
2. As of the news date, what was Voyager’s average speed since being launched
a. in m/s? b. in mph?
Page 3: Evidence of Research
Cite at least five serious references: “Article Title”, Information Source, Date, URL
Submit as an electronic document to no later than 11:59pm 9/22/13.
Preferred format: Presentation (Google Presentation, Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote)
Acceptable formats: Google Document, Microsoft Word
Reward: 15-30 points CTT (Meets criteria: 15 pts. Meets criteria and is awesome: 30 pts.)
No awesome response would fail to mention the blockbuster movie that Voyager had a starring role in.

Monday, September 09, 2013

A Cracked compilation of publicly documented psychic failures

It appears there is no such thing as a "real psychic". James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge continues to go unclaimed.

Cracked has a nice compilation of publicly documented psychic failures.

Brace for cringe-worthy crashing and burning. And be thankful for science.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sports bracelets: They're not dead yet!

When I present the "Skepticism in the Classroom" workshop at AAPT meetings, physics instructors often dismiss the silliness. "No one believes that stuff," they say. That's when I share with them the reported annual sales figures for Power Balance, and the fact that for too many months, they owned the naming rights to Sacramento's premier sports and entertainment complex. (What had been ARCO Arena became Power Balance Pavilion.)

I also discuss the continued success of similar products such as the Phiten Titanium-infused necklace, especially popular among baseball players at all levels. These products do very well.

And while Power Balance and their closest knock-off, Power Force, may have fallen by the wayside, Trion:Z remains.

Since The University of Michigan Wolverines handled the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame so nicely last night in The Big House, I thought it would be good time for a progress report on officially licensed goofy body wear.

So we now have the Michigan "twist titanium" neckless.

The Michigan site is careful to couch this as a simple show of spirit. But the richest purveyor of this "idiot noose" (my term), Phiten, pitches a different story. They post a page purporting to describe their "technology" which lists health and fitness platitudes, but is careful to make no claims. But it also links to "Research ... conducted by the Society for Aqua Metal Research". I am reminded of the fraudulent Tobacco Institute, the research arm of the tobacco industry charged with casting doubt on the medical science of smoking.

We also have the Trion:Z bracelet. When I say then name out loud, I feel an urge to try on the bracelet. Not sure why that is.

Trion:Z uses animations to describe how their negative-ion technology. Perhaps the most convincing graphic is at the bottom of the page: it appears to be digitally displayed numbers on a scientific-looking metal box. With buttons! And a model number (the EB-13). It's amusing to see Trion:Z calling out Phiten as ineffective.

Here's a challenge: see if you can buy yourself an Eco Holistic EB-13. And I'm no expert in generating negative ions, but if I had to, I'd look for a beta emitting radiation source.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

London skyscraper melts cars

The latest example of architecture that ignores geometric optics brings us to London. The so-called "Walkie-Talkie" building includes mirrored panels arranged on a concave surface.

No doubt the architect thought it looked so cool. But it burns so hot.

It was sure to stand out; no other building in the city has such bold curves. But there's a good reason for that. The building claimed its first victim of note recently.

The contractors blow this problem off, blaming the sun for its current position in the sky (how dare be up there so unexpectedly?) and suggesting the problem will be short-lived (a few weeks).

The US is not immune to such architectural oversight. Las Vegas is home to VDARA Death Ray:

I wondered if no one took physics anymore. But then I remembered that I have not taught geometric optics in my Physics 1 course since before California Academic Content Standards were adopted. Our "Grade A" Physics Standards dropped geometric optics.

But geometric optics do not return with Next Generation Science Standards. And with the AP Physics B redesign, geometric optics is relegated to the second year of AP Physics (AP Physics 2).

So expect to see more of these "death ray" buildings pop up in America and around the world. The increased sunshine from climate change will only add to the trouble.

Monday, September 02, 2013

HTML5 and the future of PhET

At NTSA/Boston in 2008, I made my first contact with a human being associated with PhET. I was a big fan even back then. I was beginning to include PhET sim-based lab activities in the lab manuals I was authoring for Paul Hewitt's conceptual science lab manuals.

Apple introduced the first iPad in 2010. When I ran into the PhET people at NSTA/Philadelphia in 2010, I prodded/goaded them a little bit that they would need to rewrite their Adobe Flash-based sims since Flash did not run on iPads. Flash was out, HTML5 was in, at least according to Apple's Jobs. In March 2010, the good people of PhET didn't want to hear this and derided me for the absurdity of my suggestion. They did not see a problem with Flash. They certainly weren't going to abandon Flash just because that oddball, Steve Jobs, didn't like it!

{Sitcom fast-forward to August 2013} PhET is pleased to announce their transition to HTML5, the Flash replacement that is iPad friendly. Shortly after Steve Jobs died, Adobe announced it was going to abandon Flash. And iPads have been selling at insanely unexpected rates. Especially to schools. So PhET didn't really have a choice if they were to remain relevant. And as a fan of PhET, I'm glad to see them remain relevant. And they've got a new logo. A logo that would look good on a T-shirt, I might say.

Anyway, check out PhET's blog post: "The Future of PhET".

There's even a nice movie:

Goofus and Gallant classroom poster 1.0

As teachers, we like to imagine we a modicum of control of our classroom environment. I have the relative luxury of "my own" classroom: I teach in one classroom and I have unfettered access to that room during my prep period. Not all teachers have this. I did not always have this.

When the school year starts up, you want to conveys some simple dos and don'ts. (Yep, I wrote "dos and don'ts". Because that's the correct way to write it.)

So I made a poster, borrowing from the old Highlights magazine cartoon, "Goofus and Gallant". I don't presume anyone gets the reference other than me. But one or two students might google it at some point, and that's good enough for me.

In any case, here's the first production of my poster. It's designed for print at 13" x 19".

Red is bad (Goofus); green is good (Gallant). Yellow lies somewhere between.

A nice physics bonus will emerge when we study colors and discover what red+green makes.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Challenge: A penetrating puzzle that could spin your mind

Apparently today's theme is "Shooting bullets into things... for science!"

Take a look at this mechanics puzzle, presented in a YouTube video. You'll need to render a prediction to see the outcome.

The solution? You're on your own for that.

Hat tip: Laurie Miller Tarr

20 kg of metal at Mach 1 meets 10 Mg of ice

And hilarity physics ensues.

The European Space Agency slammed a jet-pack accelerated, 20-kg "penetrator" into a 10-metric tone ice cube.

They had their reasons.

The impact decelerated the penetrator to the tune of 24,000 gs. Some folks pass out if exposed to 10 gs, and the human body loses structural integrity around 30 gs (300 m/s^2).

In addition to the obvious grooviness, I see introductory physics problems for homework and tests. You?

Hat tip: Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why are you spending so much time on kinematics? (The NGSS Edition)

There is a long-standing tradition, in high school physics, of spending the bulk of the first quarter on kinematics. Definitions are slowly pieced together, ticker-tapes are dotted with carbon, motion sensors click away, graphs are drawn, and algebraic expressions are rearranged.

As teachers, we like to assure ourselves of the foundational importance of a deep understanding of position, displacement, speed, velocity, acceleration, and time.

And when one-dimensional kinematics has given its all, we reward ourselves and our students with two-dimensional kinematics. Projectiles are launched, simultaneous equations are wrestled with. And the hunter shoots the monkey.

All this is possible without a hint of Newton's laws of motion. One fourth of the school year sneaks past us while we frolic in 16th-century applied mathematics.

At the end of the year, we lament all the topics that we, again, failed to get to. Darn you, state testing! And snow days! Rainbows? Diffraction? Why the sky is blue? Electricity? Magnetism? Optics? Maybe next year.

At least my kids can solve x = v0t + 1/2 at^2 for t, even when v0 ≠ 0. So... Victory!

Have you seen what the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) expect of us in terms of kinematics problem-solving?

Approximately nothing. The first thing NGSS wants us to worry about is Newton's Second Law.

So I pose the query of the post title. And I do so not pretending to be someone who will never go off-script in terms of NGSS. NGSS content is significantly narrower than California 9-12 Physics was.

Where we choose to go "off-roading" in physics content is a value judgment. And I will cover the basics of linear motion. The basics. Not the Complete Robust University Mastery Curriculum. I'll be in and out in two weeks tops. Not six.

And I'll cover other, groovier topics not mentioned in NGSS. Some people naysay forays beyond the realm of the FCI as curriculum that's a mile wide and an inch deep. I disagree.

If NGSS needs essentially nothing in terms of kinematics, how can you justify forfeiting up to 25% of your academic year to it? I honestly don't think you can. But I've been wrong before.

Bear in mind my inquiry regards plain old high school physics. Not AP or IB. But please don't be put off by my polemical tone. That's just how I am. If you think I don't know which way is up, feel free to slap me silly with the power of your arguments. I can take it!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Challenge: Crazy bell schedule shoot-out!

When I arrived at Rio Americano in 1986, the school had a bell schedule I didn't expect.

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays were traditional 6-period days, but Wednesdays and Thursdays were "block days": the bells rang at the same time, but students would attend—on Wednesdays—1st period for two hours, then 3rd period for two hours, then 5th period for two hours. On Thursdays, it was 2nd, 4th, and 6th periods for two hours. The passing period served as a optional break to be used or not at each teacher's discretion. There was also a 10-minute "nutrition" break added to the passing period between 2nd and 3rd period (and between the morning blocks).

The block period was generally popular with science and language teachers, and generally unpopular with math teachers. From time to time over the many years of my tenure, the faculty was asked to vote on whether or not to continue the block schedule. The block won every vote. As more votes were held, the block's margin of victory increased.

Then it was decided that all schools in the district would implement "faculty collaboration". Districtwide, all school's would release students early on Thursday; Thursday became the "short day".

So we had to move our blocks to Tuesday and Wednesday. (A vote to discontinue the block was held; again this push failed.)

Then it was discovered that due to the logistics of administering state-mandated tests that are not given to seniors, our schedule fell short of the state-mandated number of instructional minutes. So mid-block breaks were eliminated. That meant six fewer bell-rings on block days, but the other bells rang at the same time.

Next it was decided that if we increased periods by a minute and reduced our mid-morning break, already down to 8 minutes down to 5 minutes), we could legally allow seniors not to attend school during the administration of state-mandated tests they could not take. Otherwise we would need to warehouse them during those hours.

This brought a bit of "pain" to teachers and students every school day of the year, but eased the administrative burden to the school during April's test week. After trying that for a year, teachers voted to abandon it so as to restore the mid-morning break.

But instead of returning to the schedule we used two years ago, it has been decided that we need to do this:

1 7:50 - 8:49 7:50 - 9:53 - - - - - - - - 7:50 - 8:37 7:50 - 8:49
2 8:54 - 9:54 - - - - - - - - 7:50 - 9:53 8:42 - 9:30 8:54 - 9:54
3 10:06 - 11:06 10:07 - 12:11 - - - - - - - - 9:42 - 10:29 10:06 - 11:06
4 11:11 - 12:11 - - - - - - - - 10:07 - 12:11 10:34 - 11:21 11:11 - 12:11
5 12:46 - 1:46 12:48 - 2:50 - - - - - - - - 11:26 - 12:13 12:46 - 1:46
6 1:51 - 2:50 - - - - - - - - 12:48 - 2:50 12:48 - 1:35 1:51 - 2:50

While this is the craziest bell schedule I've encountered in my 27 years of teaching, it may not be the craziest bell schedule out there.

I challenge you to present a crazier, verifiable high school bell schedule.

My verification link: Rio Americano Bell Schedule. (Lest you think I was making this up.)

Friday, August 09, 2013

California Physics: Gem of the state-mandated science tests

The data is in for what appears to be the last round of end-of-course content standards tests.

And in science, Physics finishes on top!

Here are the 2013 Advanced and Proficient percentages:
Biology: 49%
Chemistry: 40%
Earth Science: 37%
Physics: 53%

While CSTs were first administered in 2001, the California Department of Education uses 2003 for its baseline data.

Here are the 2003 numbers for comparison:
Biology: 37%
Chemistry: 31%
Earth Science: 21%
Physics: 29%

Here are the year-by-year numbers with trendlines.

While the other science CSTs were going down, Physics managed to go up!

The award for highest proficiency rate goes to... Physics with 53% in 2013.

The award for most-improved goes to... Physics for posting a 24-point improvement from 2003 to 2013.

Are there other ways to analyze the data? Yes. Even to the point that Physics isn't the science winner? Yes. Am I going to elaborate on those? No.

Congratulations California public school physics teachers: you are—objectively—the best!

To access your school's 2013 STAR results, start at the 2013 STAR Test Results page. From there, select your county, district, and school. Then click the "View Report" button.

To see district, county, or state results, simply leave deeper fields unspecified.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Rio's 2013 Phyz students are best ever

Rio's 2006 Phyz students held the top spot for six years. They scored as 72% Advanced or Proficient in Physics. With the STAR program's End Of Course (EOC) California Standards Tests (CSTs) winding down, this year's classes rose to the challenge. They will go down as Rio's best physics students ever, as measured by the state of California.

The physics students of 2006 had edged out those from 2001 by  single percentage point.

The physics students of 2013 eclipsed 2006 with a stunning 77%!

Forty-one percent performed at the Advanced level; 36% came in as Proficient. Seventeen percent were rated Basic, 2% Below Basic, and 3% Far Below Basic. (Due to rounding, this does not add to 100%.)

I'll update this post with graphics and more analysis eventually. For now, I'm going to enjoy the buzz.

And congratulate Rio Phyz 2013 as our best physics students ever!

Click here to see if this takes you to schoolwide results.

UPDATE: As promised, here is a breakdown and some longitudinal context for the 2013 data.

We begin with the most detailed breakdown: the number of students at each performance level. Performance levels are Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic, and Far Below Basic.

Rio Americano/Baird Student Performance, 2008-2013

This analysis leaves something to be desired. There's too much data to see larger, more important trends. A more telling chart compares "good" to "bad". That is, the numbers of proficient (or better) students to the number of basic (or below) students. This chart captures the relative proportions and the overall sample sizes from year to year, and is therefor the most useful chart for analysis.

Rio Americano ADV+PRO vs. BAS+BB+FBB, 2008-2013

Boiling it down too far yields a simple "horse race" result: what percent of the school's test-takers were either advanced or proficient. You lose sample size data here, so things can be somewhat misleading.

Rio Americano %ADV+PRO, 2008-2013

If this chart makes it appear as if 2012 in an anomaly, that's because it was. Rio did not have AP Physics in 2012. We will not have it in 2014, either. But EOC CSTs appear to have run their course, so no worries.

Rio's Physics CST proficiency rate of 77% stands as the highest mark among all the EOC tests. No other CST administered at the school had better results.

Districtwide, our 77% rate places us third among our nine comprehensive high schools. My hat is (again) doffed to Bella Vista and Mira Loma for their physics awesomeness.

Can too much emphasis be placed on the proficiency rate? Absolutely. An arguably better metric is the proficiency number: how many students scored as proficient or better. Rio's biology proficiency rate is always at or near the top for the school. While the physics rate of 77% is better the biology rate of 63%,  biology's proficiency number (63% of 521, which is 328) far outshadows physics' proficiency number (77% of 87, which is 67).

Still though, as a school, we end the Physics CST era on the highest note we've ever played.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

AP Physics Hall of Fame updated

Today we welcome six new members to Rio's austere AP Physics Hall of Fame. They are

Ivan Cherkashin
Ramsey Karim
Patrick McClure
Scott McCuen
Aaron Prohofsky
Tyler Reeves

Congratulations! I'm not sure of the exact extent to which this feat distinguished them from the rest of humanity, but Physics is far from the most popular AP exam, and the air gets mighty thin at the altitude of AP Physics 5-ers. The accomplishment is noteworthy and praiseworthy.

The Rio Phyz Hall of Fame is posted at my Phyz site and stretches back to 1987, when the first of my students sat for the exam.

All Rio's AP Physics B candidates received passing scores of 3 or better this year. Again, this is not a simple matter. I am proud of all my 2013 AP Physics examinees!

Prop 30 budget cut fears wreaked havoc on this spring's final exam schedule. So I don't have a single AP Physics group shot. But here's one with many AP Physics students. More can be found in the 2013 Rio Phyz album at Flickr.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer 2013 California Oregon Montana Wyoming

This summer's road trip had the AAPT SM13 at its nucleus. I drove from Sacramento to Portland slowly, via Yreka, Bandon, and Astoria. The first draft of a photo album is at

2013 07b California Oregon

After AAPT SM13, it was off to Montana and Wyoming: Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and The Tetons. That album of previews is currently in progress at

2013 07d Montana Wyoming

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume sometime in August.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

AAPT SM13 Personal Jumblepost

This will be the reservoir for the union of the sets AAPT SM13 and Dean Baird. It will evolve a bit in the near term and will require a bit of patience while I get it all together (hence references with no links). And it may appear to be a wee bit random.

First and foremost: my groupie pic with my former student and current physics teaching "neighbor," Jessica Scheimer. We're showing off my bootleg AAPT SM13 T-shirt design. (Click to embiggen.)

W42 Skepticism in the Classroom went very well indeed, despite the absence of my co-conspirator, Matt Lowry. Dean Baird's SitC Page. Matt Lowry's SitC Page.

Evidence of the High School Share-a-Thon will go here once I am made aware of it.

Bruce Mason prepared a list from the Video Share-a-thon (CKRL05).

There's an App for that Crackerbarrel session info

Demo Show Ballet
Photographs I recorded from the second balcony. (Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ200)

High speed video of the dancers: Vid1 Vid2 Vid3

Other high speed vids from the show

Voodoo Doughnut

Sunday, July 14, 2013

One man's take on the current state of physics education

Scientific American guest blogger, Tony Rothman (author of a book called Firebird), has some strong feelings on the trends in university physics instruction. Some sparks fly into the realm of high school instruction as well.

Look East, Young Man

I'm here at AAPT SM 2013, so the topic is of immediate interest.

I'm trying to process the message he's aiming to convey. It comes across as "Kids these days—you all better shape up, or else!"

Hat tip: Right on the Left Coast.

Monday, July 08, 2013

AAPT Portland or Bust

I'm saddling up and getting ready to hit the trail for Portland State University and the 2013 AAPT Summer Meeting, July 13-17. I'm taking the scenic route and several days to get there. There will be stops in Yreka, Bandon, and Astoria along the way. Photographs may be taken; a zip line may be zipped.

At AAPT SM13 I'll be attending the W04 AP Physics 1 and 2 workshop led by Martha Lietz on Saturday and I'll be hosting the W42 Skepticism in the Classroom workshop on Sunday.

I've got my preliminary schedule of sessions and activities worked out, but I'm flexible enough to change plans at any time. (That's how I wound up at David Saltzberg's talk in Ann Arbor, and that turned out well.)

I look forward to the High School Share-a-thon and the Tuesday Night Demo Show: perennial favorites. I look forward to seeing PSU's giant barometer. And I very much look forward to reconnecting with friends I only get to see once a year (at these meetings). I'm a wee bit bummed that I'll be missing out on The Amazing Meeting which will be going on in Las Vegas July 11-14. This is the first time these two meetings have conflicted. I hope it's also the last.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Mould's Magic of Magenta

I don't know much about this Steve Mould character, but I feel like I should. He's responsible for showing off the bead chain curiosity posted below and now (via serendipitous clicking), I come across this.

This video relates color vision back to the optical biology involved. It compelled me to learn more about cones and rods than I knew.

For example, I didn't know there was a 20:1 between these two types of photoreceptors, but there is. I'll leave it to you to figure out which is preferred. (The population of the preferred one is 90 million, vs. 4.5 million of the other.) I didn't know about S, M, and L cone types, either. Why must I get dumber as I get older?

Anyway, check out this story of color vision as told by Steve Mould. At the risk of offending fans of My Little Pony, I'm going to say that friendship is simple; magenta is magic!

Colour Mixing: The Mystery of Magenta

But what about violet? It's a pure, unmixed color with a wavelength range all its own. If magenta is triggered by [spoiler alert] the red cones and blue cones getting tickled while the green cones are not, is violet the result of a weak tickling on the blue cones while the rods are reporting plenty of light?

My ignorance knows no bounds.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Cal Expo fireworks photo shoot

Fireworks are a tempting subject for anyone with a camera. Since I count photography as a serious hobby, I am subject to this temptation.

But shooting fireworks is non-trivial. What aperture? What shutter speed? What ISO? Modern cameras have been programmed to record nice images in a variety of settings. But not so much for fireworks. A fast shutter, suitable for handheld shooting, is nearly useless (except, perhaps, during the finale). If you google "fireworks photography," you will find no shortage of photography tips.

Here's a reasonably good one I just came across (7/5/13) from Sigma.

Additional challenges arise when you are unfamiliar with the venue. How big will the 'works be in your field of view? Which way is the wind blowing?

I use a tripod and a 24-70mm lens. I now use an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of "bulb". I use a cable release to open and close the shutter. For my shoot in Washington, DC last year, my shots were a bit wider than they needed to be as I was a significant distance from the show. At Cal Expo last night, I was right at the show; I felt like my 24mm lens was too narrow. The results didn't necessarily bear that out.

Another challenge is focus. Last year, I used autofocus for each shot. Many shots were spot on, but some were off. The real problem with AF is that it needs a subject to focus on. But if you wait for a burst, then half-press to activate AF, the fragments are well into their trajectory by the time you begin your exposure. Spinning the focus out to a hard infinity doesn't necessarily get you critical focus, either.

It's tough to get good test shots to chimp (examine) during the show. Things happen fast. So last night, my experiment was to use AF on an exposure, chimp it, then switch to manual focus and not touch the lens. The focus seems good, though maybe not perfect.

A couple of things I might have done better... I wasn't sure I was going to out to show, and left it to the last minute. The battery in the camera was on its last bar. The spare battery in the charger was completely dead. My monstrous DSLR defaults to long exposure noise reduction. This may very well be a good thing, but it makes you wait for an interval equal to the exposure time until you can shoot again. It slows you down. Next time, I'll turn it off and see how badly that goes.

Based on advice I had seen, I set the ISO to 200. Since overexposures seemed more likely than underexposures, I'll go with 100 next time. I leave white balance to auto. There may be a better white balance setting to use, but I'm unaware of it.

The real art in shooting is deciding when to open and close the shutter. I try to open when I see a rocket going up and close when the fragments have played out. But it's rarely that simple once the show is on.

A photographer prefers to have a nice foreground in fireworks shots. I managed that for my DC shoot with the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Potomac River. That option is not really available at Cal Expo. (Additional hazards at Cal Expo: Everyone doing their "safe & sane" fireworks in the parking lot. It's like driving through a war zone getting in and out. Getting out is non-trivial; patience is key. And the heavy metal tribute band that 98-Rock thought would be a good idea for pre-fireworks entertainment? Not so much. Next year, I gotta remember earplugs.)

The upside is that with only fireworks in the frame, one needs not show much (if any) restraint in post-processing. Amp up the contrast and saturation to your heart's content.

Here's what I got at Cal Expo last night. [Flickr album]

Here's what I got in Washington, DC last year. [Flickr album]

Thursday, July 04, 2013

NGSS Fact or Fiction with CSTA's new president

Facts & Myths Regarding Next Generation Science Standards in California

Fact or Myth?
• California adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in April 2013.

• California educators have been involved in reviewing the standards and providing feedback to the author team, the Department of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

• If adopted, NGSS for California represents the curriculum for science instruction in California.

• If adopted, you will need to implement NGSS for the 2013-2014 school year.

• California will need to write a Science Curriculum Framework based on NGSS for California (assuming the standards are adopted).

• The grade 6-8 standards represent three courses in earth, life and physical sciences, sort of like what we have now.

• The grade 9-12 standards represent the courses that will be offered in high schools.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bead chain dynamics

Fun stuff from Earth Unplugged via NPR's Science Friday's Facebook page.

Amazing bead chain experiment in slow motion - Slo Mo #19 - Earth Unplugged

I'm not sure what meaningful high school physics pedagogy is here. For now it's mainly "gee whiz" cool.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

UPDATE: Bead chain seems to be more commonly referred to as ball chain. If you look for it, it will be listed with a size. The sizing regimen is one of direct proportionalities (unlike wire gauge). Here's a handy guide page: Ball Chain Sizes. The chain in the video looks to be about size 10, but that's a mere guess on my part. And I'm not always the best guesser.

UPDATE 2: Further research shows my size guess was correct. More ball chain goodness can be found at The Kids Should See This. Empirical Zeal's robust analysis merits a link!

Soap bubble formula

When ExploratoRio rolls around, I worry about the bubble exhibits. The bubble formulas given in the original recipes were developed in the 1990s, before dishwashing detergents were concentrated and who knows what else.

At last year's High School Share-a-thon (AAPT's national meeting Show & Tell), Chicago-area physics teacher shared a link to a site that seems devoted with keeping up with the latest on soap bubble solutions.

Soap Bubble Wiki

What will be shared at this year's share-a-thon? We'll find out at the 2013 AAPT Summer Meeting in Portland. The share-a-thon is scheduled for Sunday, July 14, 6pm-8pm in the Hilton's Broadway III/IV.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Standing. Water. Waves.

My students, Andrew Stephens, Joey Cozza, and Jeric Rocamora are highly accomplished musicians. They were inspired to blend physics, music, waves, and optics by something they saw on the Internet.

Here's the video record of their inspired work.

Physics - Waves Water Experiment

Pretty groovy, right?

Of course, you don't see these structures when watching with the naked eye. You only see them when they are captured in frame-rate-specific video.

The iPhone app they were using is the free FreqGen.

Here is the video that inspired them.

Amazing Water & Sound Experiment #2

I think this one benefits from brighter ambient light. This allows a faster shutter speed. Filming at 24 fps doesn't mean the shutter is set to 1/24th of a second. And a faster shutter (1/500 s) allows for a sharper capture.

When I first saw this, it wasn't clear to me what was going on. And it's not unhealthy to assume anything that looks supernaturally groovy on YouTube is likely a fake. Captain Disillusion debunks video fakery all the time.

But what we're seeing in these videos is artfully captured stroboscopic effect. The classic example is the wagon-wheel effect. Here's a nice video of an "impossible helicopter." The wagon wheel effect is not the same thing as the rolling shutter artifact.

Here's a thorough explanation of the difference between the classic wagon wheel effect and the newer rolling shutter artifact.

I'm pretty sure I promised them a post on The Blog of Phyz. Consider yourselves famous, guys! You even scored the highly-coveted "groovy" tag.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Classroom Skepticism at AAPT Portland 2013

Despite the overlap of TAM2013 and AAPT SM2013, I will be conducting the Skepticism in the Classroom workshop in Portland.

W42: Skepticism in the Classroom - Sunday, July 14 - Portland State University - SRTC 247
(scrolling required)

There will be a variety of lessons, appropriate for the physics classroom, that focus on the skeptical and critical thinking nature of science. Some lessons involve obvious physics content; some bring in examples from the real world. Participants will leave with ready-to-use lessons and resources designed to bring healthy, scientific skepticism to their classrooms—lessons that slip into content-based instruction without disruption. Topics include fire walking, ghosts and angels, balance bracelets, pareidolia, back masking, media credulity, and more.

You'll laugh, you'll wince, and your jaw may fall a time or two. My initial take on NGSS is that there will be room for and demand for lessons like this in the physics (and other sciences) curriculum.

Monday, June 17, 2013

PhyzFlop: My errant T-shirt design

AAPT is holding a T-shirt design contest for the Summer Meeting in Portland. So I thought I'd give it a go. The simple requirements were that the design must include

1) Some thing related to physics (literal or abstract)
2) The words "2013 AAPT Summer Meeting July 13-17, 2013"
3) BONUS: Something Portland, Oregon-related

Fair enough. I came up with something I liked, then checked the detailed requirements. They included that the design include no more than three colors. Ouch. Disqualified!

But I kinda like what I came up with and decided I'd make one for myself at Zazzle. I also departed from the requirement to double-down on references to "2013".

I posted it to my Zazzle store and will give you $5 if you find me at AAPT Portland while wearing a shirt with this design that you bought from my store at Zazzle. And I will add your name to this post! Yeah, I'm pretty sure crispy Abes are safe and sound.

Update: D-oh! Zazzle won't let me offer the shirt at my Zazzle store. I've offended their sensibilities somehow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Baker Street: El Camino physics teacher honored by AMTA

My friend and fellow San Juan Unified physics teacher, Bob Baker, recently won an award for instructional innovation.

The American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA) recognized the El Camino High School teacher as winner of its April Apparatus competition.

El Camino teacher earns nod for innovative "street sled" lessons

Design and instructional details are posted at the AMTA's site.

Congratulations, Bob!

Groovy video tricks: Motion amplification

Exaggerating color changes at the pixel level reveals "microscopic" motion. It's all explained in the video! Hat tip to Laura Nickerson.

They say that some things once seen cannot be unseen. Now some things unseen can be seen.

Canvas to Keynote conversions: Year One

Among the cornucopia of benefits that flow from hosting a blog is the production of a post that is certain to mean nothing to anyone but you. You do it because the subject matter is so central to your life that you cannot fathom how devoid of meaning it is to everyone not currently wearing your underwear.

It is in that spirit that I offer an update on the progress I'm making in the process of converting my curriculum materials from Canvas documents to Keynote documents. The history of this issue was discussed in a previous post. In short, I'm converting the onerously voluminous collection of instructional pages from ACD Canvas to Apple Keynote. Each document requires considerable time and energy to convert. The work is painstaking and tedious. But it also keeps each document alive and editable.

I teach two courses: Physics and AP Physics. Each has 12 units. Each unit has three general components of instructional materials: Guides, Jobs, and Labs.

Two courses x 12 x 3 components = 72 folders of documents. Thirty-six for each course. Some folders hold more documents than others.

At the outset, I faced a sea of red. Red indicating a folder with more than three documents remaining to be converted.

After a year of converting documents whenever possible, I've made some headway. More in Physics than in AP Physics. But progress nonetheless.

In Physics 23 of 36 folders are converted: nearly 2/3rds. In AP, only eight of 36 (less than 1/4) folders are done. Completed folders are shown in green. (Orange is "close" and yellow is "really close".)

When it's nothing but green, my work here will be done. At this point, there are miles to go before I sleep.

UPDATE 6/22/13: Progress (Physics: 26/36 done)

UPDATE 7/4/13: The glacier advances (Physics 29/36 complete; first semester clear). Document count added for additional amusement.