Saturday, September 26, 2020

RT;DL Blowout: A tour through the equations of motion

Near the close of the last century, I wrote an article for The Physics Teacher extolling the unadvertised virtues of Pasco's Lenz's Law Demonstration tube. 

Sure, you could use it to demonstrate Lenz's law, but that fine aluminum tube seemed pricey, so I was keen to justify the expense. You can tap it with a mallet (or on the ground) while holding it at various places to produce different notes. The Q of aluminum is great for this. You can stand it up on its end in your classroom to demonstrate unstable equilibrium. 

But for my notion of classroom theatrics, the best unintended use for the tube was as a blow gun. 

For this RT;DL I prepared a tour through the equations of motion with the blow gun acting as my vehicle. it is very much up to the task. I do this in my AP Physics 1 course only. Regular Physics students don't really need the exercise in number puzzles that the equations of motion afford.

In any case, I blow a marker pen through the tube and arrange two photogates near the muzzle to help determine the exit speed. It's over 60 mph!

Once the exit speed is determined, we figure out the acceleration of the marker while it was in the tube. Over 20 g's.

We also figure out how long it took the marker to exit the tube once its motion began. Then we investigate where the marker was when it was at the half way point (in time) along its journey through the tube.

The preso is enhanced with photos and high-speed videos. And an instructive(?) blooper at the end.

Google Doc: Demo - Blowout

HTML Preso: Demo - Blowout

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

RT;DL The Great Bullet Race

I run this demo in AP Physics 1. I don't run it in Physics. Why? Projectiles is not a topic I teach in Physics. We tend to spend more time in kinematics than kinematics is due. It wasn't a big topic in California Science Standards Physics (RIP). It's not that big a deal in AP Physics 1. It's virtually non-existent in NGSS Physics. If you are among the few, the happy few—the band of brothers and sisters—who teach a year-long AP Physics C-Mechanics, have at it!

But physics teachers of all stripes love, embrace, and perhaps cling to our kinematics. Maybe after a decade of NGSS Physics and a generation of retirements, kinematics' star will begin to fade. I have my doubts. Kinematophilia seems to have inordinate inertia. </soapbox>

In any case, we still regard this demo as a classic. [We don't seem to have a universally agreed-upon name for it. Or if we do, I don't know what it is.] So when it came up this year, I spent some time in my empty classroom trying to get some useable high-speed footage. 

Here's the student sheet and preso I cobbled together. (The Mythbusters segment is included.)

Google Doc: Demo - The Great Bullet Race

HTML Presentation: Demo - The Great Bullet Race

I found the embedded videos in this HTML export to be a bit cantankerous—practice before using in class. Arrow keys to advance. Clicking in a video activates a scrub bar at the bottom and allows you to scrub forward/backward in that video.

Maybe you can get some use out of these; maybe your district won't let you use it. Guns and bullets are discussed, modeled, and used.

[RT;DL is remote teaching; distance learning]

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

RT;DL Inertia in Action

[RT;DL is remote teaching; distance learning. Where we show our attempts to bring extant lessons into the COVID-19 era.]

In the old days of face-to-face, in-class teaching, we did a station lab activity involving inertia experiences. It was called "Inertia in Action."

I retooled it into a video-based demo in which small groups could view segments, discuss prompts, and record their ideas on a Google Doc. It may not be your cuppa. But it works for me, given the circumstances. 

The Google Doc is here: Demo - Inertia in Action.

The HTML export of my Keynote press is here: Demo - Inertia in Action. This is nice because to can advance it at your own pace. But it has trouble on phones and tables, so...

A video of the presentation is posted to YouTube: Demo - Inertia in Action. More compatible, but viewers must stop and start the video on their own.

Here's the video. It doesn't make much sense without the prompts.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Physics with Dianna

Learn physics from Physics Girl, Dianna Cowern. 

If you really want to lecture over Zoom this year, godspeed. If you'd rather do ... anything else with your synchronous time, let Dianna nail down the basics for you. Feel free to supplement to your heart's content. But I'm confident Dianna can handle intro exposition more effectively than I can. This is what she does.

Dianna's Intro Physics Class: Trailer - Physics 101, AP Physics 1 Review with Physics Girl

Never taken physics before? Want to learn the basics of physics? Need an AP Physics 1 review before the exam? This course is for you!
In this class we will cover these topics:
1D Motion
Free Fall
2D Motion
Newton’s Laws
Free Body Diagrams
Circular Motion
Gravity & Orbits
Energy & Work
Energy Conservation
Angular Momentum
Simple Harmonic Oscillations
Electric Charge
DC Circuits

Monday, September 07, 2020

The Lessons of Phyz September 2020 update

Google Docs, Freebies, and Inadvisable Discounts

When the pandemic closed the schools, I scrambled like most teachers. Our worlds had been thrown upside down and there was an expectation that we'd simply "throw our lessons online," hold classes on Zoom, create YouTube channels of our lessons, etc., and leverage the best among the countless sophisticated online platforms intended to allow our instructional visions to flourish while engage students completely.

More like an old desert-dweller suddenly cast into a roiling ocean while helicopters flew by and dropped materials that, when properly constructed, would make a nice boat. Or... we were expected to build the plane while it was in flight.

In any case, I found that the simple task of assigning a video for students to watch while answering questions was suddenly a challenge. Things worked better if the question sets were in Google Docs format. I could easily assign them and grade them (if need be) in Google Classroom. Many had been in PDF format: not edit-friendly for student work.

So I began the tedious task of transforming my video question sets from their PDF or Word formats to Google Docs. When I finished the ones I was in immediate need to use, I worked on all the others I had posted at The Lessons of Phyz, my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

So here's what's available—an available in Google Docs format, most sold separately or in bundles (at an inadvisable discount).

The Mechanical Universe (All 52 episodes)

The Mechanical Universe High School Adaptations (All 28 Episodes)

Conceptual Physics Alive! with Paul Hewitt (All 34 episodes)

YouTube Physics (quite a variety of topics covered)

Physics Modules (Mechanics, Heat & Temperature, Waves & Light, E&M, and Modern)

Skepticism (we need this so much right now)

Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed the World (All 6 episodes)

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (Carl Sagan's 1980 series, all 13 episodes)

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Neil deGrasse Tyson-hosted 2014 series, all 13 episodes)

One Strange Rock (Will Smith-hosts, great for NGSS "The Living World" biology, all 10 episodes)

Our Planet (Think Planet Earth, but with an edge, all 8 episodes)

How Earth Made Us / How the Earth Changed History (Excellent BBC series, all 5 episodes)

Earth Science (Mapping, Atmosphere, Water, Weather, Human Impact, Geology, Solar System, Galaxies)

Pandemic: How to Stop an Outbreak (2020 Netflix series, all 6 episodes)

Two dozen resources are free of charge. Bundles are often discounted so heavily that I get a warning from TPT that I've gone too far. If your school has licensed TPT School Access, then I suppose all the resources are free for you.

Not long into the pandemic, TPT created a method for converting PDFs into Google Docs. By the time it was available to sellers, I was already too deep into the pain-staking process of converting them myself by hand. Well, by computer, but you know what I mean. So I just plowed through into the summer until everything in my store was converted.

I hope you find something that can help you this year and beyond.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Kinetic Karnival now on YouTube

Here's a post from 2009. Updated as I've added the videos to my YouTube channel. I downloaded them from Jearl Walker's MySpace page, where they were originally posted.

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. [Update: I can't access them on MySpace anymore, even in Chrome.] 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 modern educators might find objectionable. Most of us find ways to work around such moments, 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. If you like question sets matched to science videos, The Lessons of Phyz is the place for you.

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.”

Kinetic Karnival - Forces and Collisions - 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!

Kinetic Karnival - Rotation
Video Question Set 1 (UCM) 
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.

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 [Sorry, I didn't grab it when I should have.]

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.

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 [Sorry, I didn't grab it when I should have.]

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Cosmos in the Classroom updated for Distance Learning

Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage spoke to many of us of a certain age who were interested in science. I remember watching every episode of the series with my family as it aired on PBS in 1980.

That series remains relevant in science classrooms, today. I began showing it in my Physics course a few years ago. We watch one episode after each unit, and there is a set of questions for students to answer while each episode plays. Eventually, I posted those question sets to a Cosmos in the Classroom web page that I added to the site.

In 2014, season 2 arrived. It was called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and featured Neil deGrasse Tyson as host. I developed a question set for each episode and integrated that series into my Conceptual Physics and AP Physics 2 courses. (AP Physics 1 gets no Cosmos. Shoehorning Kirchhoff in with All Things Mechanics means we have no time for any enriching tangents.)

When I entered the strange, new (to me) world of Teachers Pay Teachers, my Cosmos question sets were early product offerings. Originally available only as a complete season bundle, I have since made individual episodes available while offering the complete set at a discount. The first episode is free.

I purchased both series on optical discs (DVD and BD) so that I could easily show episodes in class. In the era of streaming, both series have gone through various iterations of streaming/not streaming on various services. Presently, episodes of Sagan's 1980 series stream on YouTube and episodes of Tyson's 2014 series can be purchased on YouTube. It may stream on a pay service, too. I can't always keep up.

Showing these episodes during Distance Learning presents a new challenge. Any series that streams on YouTube is easy and can be assigned as an asynchronous activity. Non-streaming episodes can also be shown. But only over Zoom, during synchronous sessions. 

But the question sets? In class, they'd be printed and given to students to write their answers on. Remember those days? 

Soon after the pandemic shutdown and the imposition of crisis teaching, I slogged through the task of turning video question sets into Google Docs format, so I could assign student-editable copies to all my students in Google Classroom, and they could turn in their digital copies when they completed the assignment. The task of converting each and every question set was not at all enjoyable.

I've worked out (through trial and error) how best to show episodes to my classes over Zoom. But as my EL student population grew, the language-intensive nature of this exercise worried me more and more. Such is the challenge of language instruction in high school: we want it to be challenging, but we cannot leave our EL students behind.

To mitigate what could be an overwhelming language load, I sought out and linked transcripts to each episode of both series. It's an open question as to whether or not transcript support is enough. But I'm grateful that the transcripts are available.

The Cosmos in the Classroom page, newly updated with transcript links, Teachers Pay Teachers links, and video search links, can be found here:

Cosmos in the Classroom 

I know that season 3, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, has been released. I hope to produce question sets for it someday. Perhaps a project for summer, 2021.

Friday, August 14, 2020

PASCO vs the Pandemic

I am sure everyone has a compelling narrative about how the COVID-19 pandemic upended their lives. This post is my story with an emphasis on how we responded at my company, PASCO scientific. One of our main responses was to create distance learning lab resources. They are described and linked to at the end of this post. Feel free to skip right to them. 

At the end of February my wife and I found ourselves at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel in Maui. We have been going there annually for the last 6 years for what used to be my ski week break. We used to go every few years and take our daughter and son. After they were out of high school their schedules didn't permit it. I remember telling them about our plans to go to Maui when they were in college. They replied, "but we don't get that week off anymore". We said "we know" with big smiles on our faces. We had a great week for what would be our last trip for many months. On our last day we went to nearby historic Lahaina. We went on a whale watch trip and walked up and down Front street. We were joined by hundreds of cruise ship passengers who were shuttled into town on small boats. We learned a week later that the name of the ship was the Grand Princess and it had passengers and crew infected with COVID-19. This was the ship that was stranded in San Francisco Bay for weeks as they tried to decide what to do with them.

Humpback whale spouts with the Grand Princess in the background

On our return we heard about the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States that was not due to travel. We were concerned because it was in nearby Sacramento. It also was troubling because the victim was not even given a test when they first went to the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. Still, this was just one case so we felt safe about our plans to attend the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play at the Curran theater in San Francisco. Our daughter is a big Harry Potter fan and this play was our birthday gift to her. We never considered not attending the play even after we learned that the cruise ship stranded in the Bay was the same one from Lahaina. We met our daughter, her boyfriend and two of her friends at the theater and had a great day. They were not concerned about COVID-19 but it did occupy a lot of our conversation. The coughing woman behind us caused some anxiety but no panic. The play is so long it is split into two parts with a long break in between. We had a nice dinner during the break at the San Francisco landmark, John's Grill. Little did we know that this would be our last large public gathering for many months.

One last large public gathering before the lock down, March 8 2020

Things happened fast at PASCO the next week. On March 9 all of our travel was cancelled. This included a trip to Qatar to conduct training and to Boston for NSTA. I was most disappointed about missing the Red Sox vs White Sox game at Fenway on April 4. That would be the first on a long list of disappointments that seem trivial compared to the hardship and suffering that would be inflicted on millions of others. On 3/11 my group, Curriculum and Professional Development, met to discuss how to respond to the developing crisis. Since preparing for Qatar and NSTA was on hold, we had time to do something for teachers who were quickly transitioning to remote teaching. We came up with a plan to create a distance learning page on our website. On it would be links to videos we would produce that would show us explaining and performing many labs that are typically done in a second semester physics, chemistry and biology class. We would post the data files and student handouts so students could perform the analysis. We also would post the teacher guide with sample analysis. We increased the trial period of PASCO Capstone and SPARKvue analysis software to 180 days. That extension continues so teachers wanting to use video analysis should check out PASCO Capstone. Additionally, we gave free access to our online textbooks, Essential Physics and Essential Chemistry. Now all we had to do was produce 21 physics, chemistry, and biology lab videos before PASCO had to shut its doors! That happened sooner than we thought. Placer County issued a shelter in place order effective on Friday, March 20. We succeeded with our goal, making and posting 21 distance learning labs with videos. We went into lock down knowing we had created something useful for teachers that were struggling to teach science online. The distance learning page is still active but the free access to Essential Physics and Essential Chemistry has ended. Here are the 10 physics labs that we posted. Make sure you log into your PASCO account to be able to access the teacher guide and data files.

We remained away from the PASCO office for a lot longer than the original 4/10 specified in the Placer County shelter in place order. We were instructed not to work but were paid our full salary until March 28. After that we could use paid time off or file for unemployment. I did the latter and found the online system worked pretty well. I never thought I would file for unemployment but since I had paid my taxes all those years, I went ahead and did it. My wife and I were thankful every day that we had recently moved from the Bay Area to a house on a lake near Auburn, California. The lake is like having a 240 acre back yard. I did a lot while in lock down, some of it even useful. Among my pandemic projects were a set of labs and videos experimenting with a chain on a pulley and a chain hitting the ground. I later used this work to create a talk for the virtual AAPT summer meeting. 

The view from our deck as mist rises from Lake of the Pines at sunrise

We remained in lock down until 5/4. At that point my group and a few other key personnel were allowed back into the office. I felt safe since there were few people there and we were spaced very far apart. We were scheduled to work a 4-day 32-hour week so no more unemployment. I was able to work at home but when you develop physics curriculum you need a lot of stuff and I missed my stuff! Over the next couple of weeks more people started coming in to the office with everyone back by 5/18. We also went back to a 40 hour week. Everyone wears a mask when away from their cubicle and meetings are on Zoom. Some employees are starting to work part-time at home to reduce the density at the office too. I still feel safe there.

I had a lot of things to work on but one was a collection of labs for two new products, the Physics Starter Lab Station and the Physics Extension Lab Station. These are bundled wireless sensors that come with a lab booklet, 10 labs for each station. There are chemistry lab stations , biology lab stations, elementary lab stations, middle school lab stations, and agricultural science lab stations too but I am going to focus on physics. We also committed to make a video for each of the labs in the Physics Starter Lab Station. This was an opportunity to make more distance learning labs. Originally we had wanted to make some for first semester topics but the lock down prevented that. Over the last couple of months I finished creating the labs and we made videos and posted data files for the labs listed below:

Position, Distance, and Displacement

Newton's Second Law

Designing and Testing Crash Cushions

Impulse and Change in Velocity

Change in Kinetic Energy

Rotational Collisions 

We plan to make more of these but they are on hold because of our new project called PASCO Academy. It was inspired by the popularity of the distance learning videos but motivated by the need to create something that will bring in revenue. Schools, teachers, and home schoolers that subscribe to PASCO Academy will get access to 15 weeks of a lab video program, access to our online textbooks, and unlimited license to SPARKvue software. The lab program will consist of a teacher preparation video, a lab overview and data collection video for students, and a follow up analysis and discussion video for students. The labs will all come from the Essential Physics or Essential Chemistry online textbooks that are targeted at a regular to honors level class. My colleague JJ Plank and I are in charge of the physics PASCO Academy. If you found the distance learning video labs useful I suggest you check it out.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Remote Learning Best Practices (Sort of)

I've been teaching high school physics for 22+ years, and for 18 of those years I've also been a professor at a nearby community college, where I teach every summer. Most of my colleagues think that I need to have my head examined for voluntarily teaching in the summertime, but - what can I say? - I'm hooked on this teaching gig.

This past summer I had the opportunity to teach a completely online class for my college, and it was a great experience! I’ll admit that at first I was concerned about delving into this brave, new world of remote teaching, but now that I’ve gone through an entire course, start-to-finish, I wanted to share with you my thoughts and advice for how to teach a class remotely in terms of what I have found to be best practices. Of course, not all of this advice will apply equally for all situations or classes, and I encourage you to experiment with what works best for you and your students.

1. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: having done asynchronous teaching last spring for my high school and synchronous teaching for my college this summer, I think it is far better to do live, synchronous teaching. It provides a regular structure for the students, and many are reassured to have regular "face-to-face” contact with their teacher. However, I plan to structure my classes with a strong asynchronous component as well – in the form of required, regular discussion board posts to keep students engaged and accountable even when they aren’t “in class”.

2. Student Interaction During Live Class: if you are doing a class live, then something that worked out very well for me was for students to disable their video and audio. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) It lessens the bandwidth that you need to use (which decreases lagging and/or dropped sessions), and 2) it lessens distraction on the students’ part since they have to watch you. In terms of having students interact live, the way that worked best for me is to have them post questions and answers in the online chat; of course, you have to keep an eye on that chat window while you’re doing a lecture, so you have to be on your game!

3. Make Use of Breakout Rooms: the breakout room feature is very helpful; whether it was having my class do group discussion, in-class problem solving, or remote lab work, I found that providing time for students to work directly with each other was critical to both their learning and positive social interaction. I recommend having some kind of breakout room session at least once per week, but make sure you “run laps” and drop in to keep those kiddos on task!

4. Record Your Live Class: for every live lecture/class I did at the college this summer, I recorded the sessions and uploaded the videos daily so that students who wished to go back through the lesson could do so. This is also very useful for students who, for whatever reason, were absent from class.

5. Outfit Your Teaching Space: make sure that you have your own teaching space or “classroom” at home, if you’re teaching remotely. This will help provide you with a degree of familiarity and comfort, and if you are comfortable it will help set your students more at ease.

6. Use Tech to Your Advantage: as a follow up to #5, if you are doing live teaching, there are a *lot* of options – you can use your computer’s webcam and set up a white board to lecture at; you can use a digital writing pad (I personally use a Gaomon, cost $70 on Amazon) in conjunction with the Paint program on your computer (Paint is easier to use and more versatile than the digital whiteboard on Zoom or Google Meet, in my view); you can also get a document camera to write on paper directly for display; on that last note, doc cams are rather expensive and can be quite finicky, but here’s a cheap teacher hack that I’ve used in a pinch J

Make your smartphone a webcam -

7. Regular Assessments: again, in order to provide structure and a degree of accountability for students, I recommend that you work regular assessments into your remote teaching. For example, something I did at both my high school last spring and the college this summer is require students to do a weekly quiz over that week’s material. Working properly with your institution's online CMS, you can set up such assessments to be timed (and adjusted accordingly for students with extended time) and draw questions from a question bank so that no two students’ quizzes look exactly the same, etc. There are lots of options, and if you play around with it you’ll find something that works for you.

8. Take Brief Breaks: my college class over the summer was 3-hours every morning, Monday through Thursday, and that is a *lot* of screen time! Both teachers and students this fall semester will be experiencing a lot of screen time as well, so try to work in regular, short (roughly 5-10 minute) breaks during any live classes to give your eyes a rest, go to the restroom, etc.

9. Check Email Regularly: some students won’t feel comfortable engaging you in class, so make sure to check your email a few times per day to see if they’ve sent you private questions. I’ve found that many students are quite appreciative of that “personal” touch.

10. Embrace the Insanity & Ask for Help: honestly, these past months I’ve felt more like a first-year teacher than any other time since I actually was a first-year teacher back in 1998! While it has been quite a challenge, I’ve taken the view that this situation is an opportunity to adjust and hone my skills as a teacher, and that positive outlook has definitely helped me during the rough patches. Also, DO NOT HESITATE to ask your colleagues for assistance when you need it. Due to the wonders of modern technology (such as this blog), we are not separate from each other, so maintain your connections with your colleagues and lift each other up. In short, we can view this challenge in the following manner…

Those are my thoughts and advice, such as they are; if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. Semper Gumby! J

Cheers – Matt Lowry

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Phone app Phyphox looks promising

Like many, I've been trying to get a handle on potential distance learning tools over Summer Nocation. It seems there is a vast library of resources and web tools for instruction in general and physics instruction. 

I use PhET already. I'm working with my district to gain access to Pivot Interactives. My district's LMS is Google Classroom, while our SIS is Q (Aequitas).

I have never used Flipgrid, Padlet (or Wakelet), EdPuzzle, Quizizz, Socrative, Screencastify or Screencast-o-matic, Loom, Zoom, Peardeck, Jamboard, Desmos, Edulastic, Flippity, or any other must-have tool that is explained in a video that features a noodling xylophone over a strummed ukulele while a narrator announces, "This ... is <ProductName>. The tool that lets you <do the thing you didn't even know was critical to your instruction program, but is—especially now in distance learning>". If a personal favorite of yours is in that list, you may be tempted to cast me as a luddite. 

There is no shortage of webinars of experts who have been using these tools for years, where importance of Bitmoji is made unambiguous, as is the value of carefully curating of your virtual Zoom background.

At the virtual AAPT Summer Meeting 2020, the phone app, Phyphox, caught my eye (thanks to Susan Johnston's presentation). Like Google's Science Journal app, it leverages a phone's many sensors.

In addition to the activities available from Phyphox, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has prepared a series of physics distance learning lessons. I already had the app on my phone, but I was compelled to open it and play around on my own.

As with so many things in the realm of Distance Learning, there is a question as to whether it's appropriate to assume our students have access to a smartphone. 

I'm not going to be able to construct a new and better version of the curriculum I've been honing for over 30 years in the snap of a finger. Or at all. If things work out, we'll be back to face-to-face instruction by ... 2022 is my prognostication. Maybe even Fall, 2021. For now, we're going to do our best with the situation we're in.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Getting up to speed on airborne virus transmission

It's natural for us to harbor pride in our former students as they accomplish feats in the world. Of late, Dr. Linsey Marr, professor of environmental engineering at Virginia Tech has been filling my mainstream and social media feeds. Her insights into aerosol virus transmission are sought out by agencies and reporters. She's even smarter now than she was when she burned through my AP Physics B course once upon a time. So I'm beaming already.

When I tuned into this recorded webinar, I went from beaming too bursting. Because now she's the teacher and is doing a great job if it. In reality, she's been an excellent teacher for many years, but I've never managed to sit in on one of her classes.

In any case, it seems we all need to have a fundamental understanding of airborne virus transmission as we contemplate returning to classroom amid the pandemic. As always, knowledge is power. This is knowledge I had never hoped to be conversant in. But here we are.

This is not a brief lesson, but it is worth your time if you're a classroom teacher in the era of COVID-19.

SARS CoV 2 in Indoor Air: Principles and Scenarios

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Virtual Lab Reports

As we all embark on an uncertain journey of virtual learning, many science teachers are wondering what labs may look like in this virtual space. Most of us are familiar with PhET simulations and other resources to do a virtual lab, but how do students communicate their thinking? I was inspired by Lyndsay Schobel's tweet to write up a few quick thoughts. I'm no expert, but I thought I'd share things that I've tried.

Some Digital Lab Report Templates

Link to my template

In the past, I've used the template linked above with varying levels of success. I like that it prompts students what to do and gives examples of what is expected. This template is for a model development lab, where students are developing the mathematical model of a physical situation. This template is easily adapted to most model development labs, and it's easy to explicitly prompt linearization when that scaffold is needed.

By the way, the particular lab that is presented in that template is one designed by Marta Stoeckel. She wrote about it in her The Physics Teacher article Defining Electric Potential Difference by Moving a Multimeter’s Ground Probe. Which leads me to my next point.

Marta's lab template is better, and you can find it at the link below.

Link to Marta's lab template

It is designed for in-person instruction, but I think that it could be adapted pretty easily to virtual learning. It is more involved, but it also provides more scaffolding. I'll probably look at adapting it for my own curriculum this year.

Digital Graphs Tools

I have two tools I recommend: Desmos and Vernier's Graphical Analysis, and both are free! Tutorials on how to use them for graphing can be found here for Desmos and here for Graphical Analysis. A review of each follows.

Desmos wins as the the most intuitive math software that's ever been made. It also has the benefit of being a more universal tool, and your students will likely be familiar with it from math class. That sort of cross-curricular software support is great. It also runs in-browser, so you don't need to download anything. It's biggest drawback is that it is a math software first and a data analysis software second. As a result, sometimes data analysis things can slip through the cracks (like remembering to label your axes).

Graphical Analysis is made with graphing data in mind, which is its biggest benefit. It explicitly prompts students for axis labels and units. It also has linearization tools (tutorial here) built in as a feature. If your school has Vernier Equipment like ours does, you are also getting the students familiar with software with which their equipment can interface. The drawbacks are that Graphical Analysis requires a download (sometimes a pain for Chromebooks) and that it isn't a more widely used tool like Desmos.

Since Graphical Analysis is software and not a cloud-based solution, students also need to save their work as they are working. I've found that this is not common practice among many of my students who have grown up in the Google Suite age, so they need to be reminded of that.

If your students have access to a Windows or Mac computer and you want them to consider uncertainty, Kelly O'Shea has recommended LinReg in the past.

Where students need direct instruction

The biggest place students need direct instruction is in turning their graph into a readable image. Both Desmos and Graphical Analysis have options to export graphs as image files, but many students do not choose this option. Instead, they'll take screenshots of their work and then upload the screenshot. This often leads to a graph image with illegible axes.

Students also create graphs with a lot of white space instead of making their data fit the graph window. Again, this is not hard to fix, but you need to provide students with instruction on how to fix it.

I'd recommend just having students resubmit graphs without penalty until they get it right. If you're annoying enough, they'll only make the mistake once. This is one of the benefits of Google Doc based lab reports--they can always be updated!

Thursday, July 09, 2020

My Flexible Hybrid Learning Plan

Welcome to my debut Blog of Phyz post! I was encouraged by Dean Baird to write a bit about my current flexible hybrid learning plan for the 2020-2021 school year that I posted on Twitter. Great idea! I hope that it can be helpful to others as they try to plan in the face of uncertainty.

The Plan

Let's cut to the chase. Here is the outline for my plan. The rationale follows.

It is currently based on my typical pre-COVID schedule, where I teach a class two 105 minute blocks and one 50 minute class per week. It's likely that I will have to change the times, but I think the philosophy behind it is solid and adaptable.

Guiding Principles

There were three guiding principles in making this schedule: simplicity, consistency, and flexibility.

Simplicity. This structure allows me to make good use of many of the high-quality resources that already exist, such as TIPERS, Ranking Tasks, Flipping Physics videos, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, and so on.

Consistency. The students will see the same general structure each week, and they will know what to expect if they have to miss class. There should never be any surprises. Hopefully this reduces the "Hey, Mr. Milliano! Did I miss anything? What did I miss?" type questions. They'll know to check the recorded videos and their independent module for the week.

Flexibility. Much of this plan is structured around helping students to self-study and manage their own time. Even if we start the school year in-person, I have a suspicion that we will be online at some point. Students will need to know how to self-study, so we should explicitly prepare them for that while we're together. The teacher-led parts of the plan are things that I'd likely be able to do over video or Zoom, allowing them to work for in-person or online classes.

Independent Modules

Each module would be one week long, starting on Wednesday and ending the following Tuesday.

A module would consist of seven 30-minute tasks, three to be completed in class and four to be completed at home. This could be adjusted to five 30-minute tasks and one 60-minute task, or so on.

These modules would each include at least one of each of the following.
  • An information transfer task. This will often be a student-choice between reading the textbook or watching Flipping Physics videos. For accountability, I will likely have students post pictures of their notes and respond to discussion board prompts in our LMS.
  • A virtual lab or activity. These will come from the usual suspects: PhET, The Physics Classroom, Pivot Interactives, etc.
  • Sense-making tasks. These will include traditional problems, non-traditional problems, making Flipgrid videos explaining a simulation, Google Meets with classmates to collaborate and discuss ideas, posting on discussion boards, writing activities, and more.
Students will be asked to plan their own schedule, with guidance from me and the help of a graphic organizer that I'll make. As an incentive to stick to the plan and as an accountability measure, I'll check in with each student during their independent work time and see if they've stuck to their plan. If so, I'll give them a stamp or a sticker. (I'll never cease to be amazed at how motivating stamps and stickers are to 15-18 year-old students.)


The grade will be almost entirely based on weekly quizzes, except for the occasional lab report. This means no long unit tests (to take or to grade)! I will use a version of the 10-8-6-5 flavor of Standards-Based Grading described by Kelly O'Shea on her blog.

The weekly quiz can assess any standard from throughout the whole year, and most standards will be assessed multiple times in class. The most recent standard grade will always replace an older one. Yes, even if it's worse. (Although that rarely happens.)

Student-initiated individual reassessment

Students will have the option to reassess any standard they want throughout the whole year, assuming they have put in the work to understand it better than they did previously. I will have several policies in place to make sure that these reassessments are (a) genuinely reflective for the student and (b) not an administrative nightmare for me.
  • Reassessments will be taken on Fridays in class during the typical self-study time. This gives me a specific time to focus on this reassessments, rather than try to do them in random spurts throughout the week.
  • The student must sign up to take a reassessment by the Tuesday of the week they want to reassess. This tells me that the student has put thought into what they want to reassess.
  • When signing up, the student must provide concrete evidence that they have done extra practice on that standard. This tells me that they have learned from their past mistakes and have put in the work to refine their thinking.
  • The student can only reassess two standards per week, and they must be from the same unit. This helps me write new assessments or find questions quickly and easily.
  • I will only write reassessments for two units and four standards per week. This means I'm not trying to write too many new assessments per week.
  • Only x number of students per class can reassess in a given week. I don't know what the optimal number for x is, but I know there needs to be a limit.
  • There is a definite final date to reassess. For me, that's Friday, December 4, 2020 for the first semester.

Why I like this plan

This plan provides flexibility. There is so much uncertainty surrounding school plans for next fall, and we all know anything could change at the drop of a hat. I believe that this structure could provide the flexibility needed to work fully in-person, fully online, or in a hybrid model. It also allows me to do both online and face-to-face with roughly the same lesson plan.

This plan is not complete. I teach in a St. Louis county school, and all county districts have agreed to release their plans together on July 20. So I don't really know what my schedule will look like yet. With this structure, though, I am confident that I can start working on building some independent study modules.

Some acknowledgements

This plan has been heavily influenced by several conversations that I've had recently with physics teachers on Twitter. I'd like to thank Wesley Morgan for encouraging me to keep things simple this year, Frank Noschese for talking about his plan to make one plan that works in any scenario, and Phillip Easton for sharing how his class has been structured in a similar way in the past.

Monday, July 06, 2020

My district's initial plan for 2020-21

My district plans to offer high school students three options as the 2020-21 academic year begins. 

1. On-site, face-to-face instruction (details TBD; may or may not involve physical distancing and a hybrid structure)
2. Distance Learning
3. Independent Study (K-8 students can also be homeschooled)

I sent this to my science department colleagues today:

As we consider returning to face-to-face, physically distanced instruction, let’s consider what has/hasn’t changed since the March 13 shutdown. Or things just worthy of consideration, period.

• There is no vaccine. The most optimistic estimates put vaccine implementation at late 2021. As in ... no vaccine throughout the entire 2020-21 school year. Seems cruel just to think about it, but not thinking about it may lead to poor decision-making.
• Predictions are difficult, especially when the future's involved. Experts seem to be convinced that a second wave will build in the fall. That presumes the first wave will subside prior to the fall. The first wave continues to escalate as of this writing.
• Therapeutics? Remdesivir (for those who can get it) may reduce hospitalization time by four days for those who pull through. That's not really much of a therapeutic. 
• We know transmission likelihood is increased when people congregate indoors.
• No school’s HVAC system was designed / can be easily modified to minimize virus transmission. Our HVAC doesn’t have HEPA filtration. I'd be surprised if we have any filtration at all. Some of us can endeavor to maintain a flow of fresh air by opening doors and window vents, but that’s case by case, and involves air temperatures that may not be conducive to learning, and it subject to day to day meteorological conditions. 
• What do we think about teenager discipline regarding mask-wearing and physical distancing? Every day they are on campus? Every period and during passing periods? Every student? 
• What do we think the consequences will be for students who violate safety protocols?
• The virus remains active in the region. People are infected with it every day. People die from it every day. Sacramento county is on the state’s watch list due its troubling C19 stats. We are in a viral hot spot.
• Parents are tired of providing daycare. They want their kids out of their house. They need day care to get back to their jobs. This factor seems to be trumping all other facts. 

Digging deeper into the ponderables and the realm of speculation ... and logistics that will eventually have concrete answers even if we don't know what they are now...

• Which students are most likely to be sent back to Face-to-Face schooling? And which ones will be kept away from school in Distance Learning? A purely academic / speculative question, but worth thinking about. 
• Will students in Distance Learning be able to maintain the course selections they made in the spring? I have a small AP Physics 2 class. What if half of them want F2F and half want DL? 
• If the DL requests reduce the F2F numbers on campus, will the district really maintain all the sections that were mapped out into the master schedule in the spring?
• Who has our best interests in mind is we navigate into the unknown: elected officials (or their health directors), the district, the union, who? I believe we are on our own here—even more than usual. And we know full well that policy-makers don't always make decisions based on science. 

The science seems clear on the virus: closing down suppresses infection rates and reopening leads to spikes. The virus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and aerosols emitted when doing things like speaking. Enclosed spaces are conducive to transmission.

But human nature compels us to think we can get away with reopening if we simply engage in what seems like common-sense, general public health precautions: hand-washing, temperature checks, ask people maintain distance, don masks, and dole out copious squirts of hand sanitizer. 

The first schools to open will be the canaries in the coal mine. SJSUD is intent on being an early-opening district in a viral hot spot. 

Who sees this going well? In such a way that we magically dodge the well-established realities of viral transmission? If anyone has a case study to point to, kindly send me a link. 

I find it hard to disagree with this opinion/analysis:

[Parent surveys reportedly include a considerable bloc of advocates for students attending five days/week with no physical distancing or mask requirements: pre-COVID practices.]

We have until July 10 to request a voluntary transfer to Distance Learning for 2020-21. The details would be a post of its own. Not all requests will be honored. 

UPDATE: Concerns about aerosol transmission is emerging. If you want to keep up with the aerosol/virus science, follow Dr. Linsey Marr, Professor of Environmental and Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech on Twitter. She's also a Rio Americano PhyzMaster (1991). I am as proud as can be when I think of the work she's doing and I might "squee!" a little bit when she pops up in news articles and media interviews. I am nothing but confident of her abilities, and she's handling the attention with characteristic aplomb. But I regret the circumstances that have thrust her into the spotlight.

So, what is your district doing and what is your thinking about it?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by.

When the pandemic closed schools in mid-March, one of the myriad question marks that loomed was if or how the Advance Placement Exams would proceed. As it became clear that schools would not reconvene for the remainder of the year, that question mark loomed larger. I teach AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2.

The College Board decided to proceed with the exams, albeit in a highly modified format. Exam content was pruned. College Board offered online lessons intended to prepare students for the content and format of the exams.

From what I gathered via Twitter, most instructors jumped on board on did what they could to coach their students for the exam via distance instruction. From what I could tell, there was considerable highly admirable and herculean distance learning being implemented in the AP Physics realm.

I chose a different path. It was never clear to me that many of my students were aiming to take the exam. At my school, students are free to enroll in AP courses without being required to purchase the exam. Survey results of whether students were going to take the exam in light of the pandemic, most of my students chose neither "yes" nor "no". They chose "maybe".

In AP Physics 1, I continued teaching the course content: Waves, Electricity, and Circuits.

It seemed wrong to allow AP Physics 1 students to be allowed to go out into the world not knowing what waves were.

So I puttered along with my non-onerous, asynchronous lessons delivered and collected via Google Classroom, making my way through waves, then electrostatics, and electric circuits.

What about my students who intended to take the exam? I instructed them to join the College Board's online course webinars. I unlocked the practice items available to them in AP Classroom.
The point is that all of us who teach the College Board's Advanced Placement had to make a choice of what to prioritize: exam preparation or course content.
I chose course content. From what I could glean, I was alone in this choice. That didn't bother me. I didn't blog about it then because I wasn't looking to win converts or initiate a spirited debate. I trusted everyone to make the choice best suited to their situation.

The presumption of the College Board was clearly that we would jump on board with exam prep in these challenging times. From what I could tell from their communications, The Exam wasn't everything, it was The Only Thing.

In a normal, face-to-face year, I would have completed those topics prior to the exam and would have ended the year (post-exam) with what I call "Light Desserts". That unit covers plane mirrors, prisms, rainbows, double rainbows across the sky, mirages, why the sky is blue, and polarization. Not this year.

In AP Physics 2, I had completed virtually all principal instruction. We were ready to go into exam prep mode, for the Exam That Was. I directed AP2 students intent on taking the exam to join the College Board's webinars, too. And assigned the others a few enrichment activities.

It is not clear that my choice "has made all the difference", but it was the choice that I made. And it still seems like it was the right choice for me and my students.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A summer of miracles has been scheduled

And then a miracle occurs.I'm posting this as a documentation of the moment we are in here in the depths of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

School districts have closed out the quarantine-crippled Spring 2020 semester and with it, an unprecedented school year.

Now comes decisions on what to do for the rapidly-approaching start of the 2020-2021 school year. Tax revenues have been decimated and school budgets stand to be slashed. But families are weary of quarantine and eager to get children back in schools. It turns out the economy of the nation cannot reopen unless children are back in schools.

But the pandemic continues, claiming over 1000 lives each day as of this writing. Packing bodies into close quarters on school campuses, where social distancing among school-age children is operationally impossible is a coronavirus's paradise.

Most district's are just now entering into deliberations on how to handle the beginning of the school year. My district hasn't announced the logistics, other than to confirm that the school year will start in accordance with the negotiated calendar date of August 13.

Full in-class face-to-face instruction lies at one extreme; full distance learning lies at the other. A hybrid model of physically-distanced small groups of students attending each class perhaps once a week is being considered, despite its minimal value as day-care.

Such a model would have the instructor deliver one in-class lesson per week while also providing four more days of distance learning, preferably asynchronous instruction. But what—exactly—to teach, and how? Across the entirety of a large, suburban unified school district?

That's what brings us to this. I see it as my district's call for miracle work to be done over the summer. Full disclosure: I do not work miracles, so I did not apply. I anticipate putting in many hours of uncompensated work over the summer to prepare curriculum on my own.

But if I were keen to collect $4000, all I would need to do is

• Attend 4-6 hours of pre-training
Develop 45 physics lessons to be utilized within the first four months of the school year that
· provide background information and introduce new content to prepare students for in class or synchronous learning.
build skills associated with the essential standards, allowing the teacher of record discretion on how to integrate the lessons with their distance learning environment.
· Also, these 45 lessons will include implementation recommendations, supplemental and supporting resources, formative and summative assessments.

For our nine high school district, there will be one physics practitioner responsible for the design of these 45 lessons. I wish that person well.


Summer 2020 Work to Prepare Lessons Aligned to Essential Standards 

In any typical year, we may face challenges of getting all students to reach mastery of all standards. Given this unprecedented time, we believe that it will be even more challenging to cover all of the standards in 2020-2021 as we would during a typical school year. In an attempt to reduce stress and address this reality, while still trusting professionals and believing in professional autonomy, we have recently convened joint teams of practitioners and administrators to draft guidelines for ‘Essential Standards’ for each grade level and core academic content area. Within this work, essential standards represent the minimum a student must learn to reach higher levels of learning. In order for a standard to be identified as “essential” it would either be a power standard or building block standard that is necessary for students to master in order to be:
❖ successful later in the year
❖ successful in the next grade or course level
❖ successful across other domains or content areas

● To utilize the expertise of San Juan practitioners and support their colleagues by creating, developing and providing a bank of lessons that are accessible online so that in-person or synchronous learning can focus on differentiation, relationship building, assessing learning, etc.
○ The bank of lessons will be available for practitioners to supplement and support their focus on the essential standards guidelines.
○ These lessons may be used to help practitioners use alternative methods of instruction (for example flipping the classroom).

Scope of work (Elementary):
The goal of each practitioner or team of practitioners is to curate content and create lessons to support the implementation of essential standards guidelines up to winter break.

Scope of work (Secondary):
The goal of each practitioner or team of practitioners is to curate content and create lessons to support the implementation of essential standards guidelines for the first semester.

Expected deliverables for essential standards include:
● A fully prepared unit of study ​which can be delivered in an asynchronous manner
○ Lesson plans housed in the San Juan Google drive (each practitioner/team will develop 45 lessons in total, by content and grade level, to be utilized within the first four months of the school year).
■ The focus of each lesson in a unit of study is to:
● provide background information, and introduce new
content to prepare students for in class or synchronous learning. (The in-class or synchronous learning is where the classroom teacher can differentiate for individual or small group practice, collaboration or extention of the concepts being taught.)
● build skills associated with the essential standards, allowing the teacher of record discretion on how to integrate the lessons with their distance learning environment.
○ Implementation recommendations
○ Supplemental and supporting resources
○ Formative and summative assessments

Practitioners selected will:
● participate in pre-training (4-6 hours in total, dates and times TBD)
○ Technology and platform integration
○ Review lesson exemplars/templates
○ Calibration of deliverables
● collaborate weekly with the district's professional learning support teams to ensure coordination of efforts and deliverables

Selection Assignments
Both parties value all subject matters that are taught in San Juan Unified and believe that a comprehensive education includes music, art, physical education, health, and electives. Unfortunately, during this crisis both funds and time are limited. The parties realize regrettably that the assignments below do not reflect all subject matter, courses and grade levels. These grades and subjects were identified because they align with the implementation of core content within the essential standards guidelines. As funding and time allows, other grade levels and content areas may be added in the future.

The parties agree that eighty-two (82) practitioners will be hired from the SJTA bargaining unit for the purpose of facilitating the implementation of Essential Standards Guidelines.

A. Elementary - Grade level and subject teams are set as follows:

i. English Language Arts ( 2 practitioners per grade level K-5)
ii. Math (2 practitioners per grade level K-5)
iii. ELA and Math (2 practitioners from TK :1 for ELA and 1 for math)
iv. Social studies (3 practitioners- 1 per grade for grades 3, 4 and 5)
v. Science (3 practitioners - 1 per grade for grades 3, 4 and 5)
vi. ELD (2 practitioners supporting K-2 and 3-5)
vii. Special Education Support (2 practitioners supporting K-2 and 3-5)
viii. Dual Immersion (4 practitioners covering K-8)

B. Middle School - Grade level and subject teams are set as follows:

a. Grades 6:
i. English Language Arts (1 Practitioner)
ii. Math (2 Practitioners)
iii. Social Studies / History (1 Practitioner)
iv. Science (1 Practitioner)

b. Grade 7:
i. English Language Arts (1 Practitioner)
ii. Math (2 Practitioners)
iii. Social Studies / History (1 Practitioner)
iv. Science (1 Practitioner)

c. Grade 8:
i. English Language Arts (1 Practitioner)
ii. Math (2 Practitioners)
iii. Social Studies / History (1 Practitioner)
iv. Science (1 Practitioner)

C. High School

a. English:
i. Grade 9 - ELA (2 Practitioners)
ii. Grade 10 - ELA (2 Practitioners)
iii. Grade 11 - ELA (2 Practitioners)

b. Math:
i. Integrated Math 1 (2 Practitioners)
ii. Integrated Math 2 (2 Practitioners)
iii. Integrated Math 3 (2 Practitioners)

c. Social Studies / History
i. World History (2 Practitioners)
ii. US History (2 Practitioners)
iii. US Government (1 Practitioner)
iv. Economics (1 Practitioner)

d. Science:
i. Biology (2 Practitioners)
ii. Chemistry (2 Practitioners)
iii. Physics (1 Practitioner)

e. World Language:
i. Spanish1 and 2 (2 Practitioners)
ii. French 1 and 2 (2 Practitioners)

Specific Responsibilities
Create and curate resources for essential standards guidelines for instructional staff:
● A fully prepared unit of study ​which can be delivered in an asynchronous manner
○ Lesson plans housed in the San Juan Google drive ○ Implementation recommendations
○ Supplemental and supporting resources
○ Formative and summative assessments

The term shall be June - July 2020.

The deliverables noted above are due based on the timeline below:
o Fully prepared units of study for August - September are due no later than July 22, 2020
o Fully prepared units of study for October - December are due no later than July 31, 2020

● Be a credentialed teacher with permanent status.
● Must have ‘met’ standards in two most recent evaluations.
● Understanding of unit and assessment design aligned to standards.
● Ability to collaborate with colleagues and work effectively in a team environment.
● Demonstrate exemplary teaching ability, as indicated by, among other things, effective
interpersonal communication skills, subject matter knowledge, and mastery of a range of
teaching strategies necessary to meet the needs of pupils in different contexts.
● Current school year assignment (2019-20) involves providing direct instruction to
students (​preferred, not required​).
A member interested in being considered for the Essential Standards Guidelines Summer 2020
work shall:
● Submit a completed letter of interest to ​​ by Friday June 12, 2020 which shall include:
o Relevant experience
o A list of references including at least one administrator and one colleague
o A sample distance learning lesson that has been taught sometime between March 13, 2020 and June 5, 2020.

● $4,000.00 stipend to be paid no later than September 30, 2020 
This SLA will sunset on July 31, 2020.