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