Math Teachers: Raid the Physics Supply Closet!

IMG_20170725_181145

Physics teachers are just math teachers with better toys.

I gave this talk at Twitter Math Camp 2017 in Atlanta.

Outline of this talk:

  1. OMG, data!
    • (Materials that) Generate Linear Data
    • Generate Quadratic Data
    • Generate Radical Data
    • Trig Ratios & Functions
  2. Physics resources
  3. The #PhTBoS & how they approach teaching

Generate Linear Data

Tumble Buggies

tumble-buggy.jpg

What this is: a toy car that runs at constant velocity. Pro-tip: With a fairly easy hack, you can slow them down so that you can have different constant velocities.

How it’s used in physics: Sample video. When we introduce the students to constant velocity motion, we use the buggies to get them thinking about motion in terms of position and time. We’ll create graphs, data tables, and compute velocities. In my class, I like to set two teams head-to-head to predict a collision location. I provide the starting points on a number line. Pro-tip: Lay down pennies to mark the location at one second intervals.

How it can be used in math: I love to have students plot the Tumble Buggy motion using Desmos — I doubt your physics teacher is using Desmos. Warning! It’s gonna be too easy to step on your physics teacher’s toes with these — if they have the buggies, they use them for the same stuff you would, too.  Pro-tip: get a metronome app for your phone so that you can easily mark equal time intervals for observing motion.

Knots on a Rope

(all the love to Steph Reilly, @reilly1041, for this idea)

What this is: a piece of rope at least 3 meters long.

How it’s used in physics: Tie an overhand knot in the rope and measure the new length. Collect data on number of knots in rope vs. length of rope. Plot length of rope vs. number of knots. Pay particular attention to the meaning of the y-intercept and slope.

How to use it in math: Please take this idea wholesale. It fits great in math class.

Motion Detectors

What this is: a sonic rangefinder that works by sending out high-pitched sound to locate the distance to an object. Sampling rates are pretty high, maybe 30 Hz, so you can track moving objects. Combined with software, the motion detector can produce graphs of position vs. time, velocity vs. time, and acceleration vs. time.

How it’s used in physics: Early in a course, students generally study how position, velocity, and acceleration are related. Students will sometimes perform graph matching labs where they’re given a graph and must move their own bodies in front of a motion detector to generate a matching graph. Sometimes, the motion detectors will come out again with carts that can roll down inclined planes and again with freely falling objects that fall down toward the detector.

How it could be used in math: The motion detector pairs nicely with Graphing Stories.

Inclined Plane

What it is: a track with grooves for carts to roll in (carts optional).

How it’s used in physics: all sorts of motion labs. This is quintessential physics equipment that nearly all labs will have in the closet. In a pinch, I’ve used wood molding purchased inexpensively at a home improvement store.

How you could use it in math: Get a marble or ball bearing. Release it from somewhere on the ramp and measure where it comes to rest. Repeat with a new starting point. Repeat.

Generate Quadratic Data

Motion Detectors

How it’s used in physics class: Be careful! Drop a ball so that it falls directly over the motion detector. We’ll put that data on a velocity vs. time graph. The slope of that graph acceleration (Δv/Δt). We’ll calculate the acceleration due to gravity. Some teachers might then switch to objects with significant air resistance but that’s rare.

How you could use it in math: Do the same experiment — drop a ball toward the detector. This time, though, look at the position vs. time graph. The object is accelerating. You’re gonna get a nice quadratic plot.

Video Analysis

What it is: software that pulls position and time data from videos. Tracker is free. Logger Pro is a Vernier product that costs money but your school may already have a license.

How it’s used in physics: Can do anything a motion detector can but without buying dedicated hardware. I like to have students film throwing a projectile.

How you could use it in math: Especially if your physics teacher isn’t using video analysis, this is a fun tool for generating position vs time graphs.

Generate Radical Data

Pendulums (Pendula?)

What it is: a string/rope with a weight at the end. Grab a chemistry ring stand, some string, and a mass from the physics lab.

How it’s used in physics: most notably, pendulums come out when we’re heading into learning about waves. We want students to understand the idea of a period (of time) for an oscillation. Fun fact: students never really believe that the mass on the end of a simple pendulum has no effect on the period. The period of a pendulum’s swing is a radical function that depends on the length of the string only.

How you could use it in math: Set up a pendulum and collect data on length of string and period. Plot it. Bam! Now, I love a good function transformation, so this might be fun to play with a function stretch.

Trigonometric Ratios & Functions

Angle Indicator

What it is: a protractor and a plum bob, often designed to attach to a track, to measure the angle of tilt. Can easily be made with a straw and protractor. I also have used a phone app (iHypsoLite is one of several).

How it’s used in physics: to measure the angle of a track.

How you can use it in math: Go outside and measure the height of the flagpole, height of the school, or height of the football goalpost.

Force Table

What it is: a set of masses that can be hung over the edge of a table, marked off with angle measurements. These strings make visible force vectors.

How we use it in physics: In the study of two dimensional force-balancing, we haul these tables out and set up equilibrium scenarios. Lots of possibilities here but my favorite is “what force will bring this system into equilibrium?”

How you could use it in math: OMG, vector addition! Dudes, just use this the same way we do in physics. Have a chat with your physics teacher that you’re not stepping on their toes by borrowing the equipment, though.

Physics Resources We’ll Let You Use

We like to share as much as the #MTBoS does, so I asked the physics teachers if I could share these with you. They said yes:

  • Frank Noschese’s Physics Lab Modeling resources from NCTM15.
  • PhET simulations: Most of what you’ll want for algebra is under motion and for trigonometric functions is under waves. Ooh, there is a math section though I’ve never explored it.
  • Direct Measurement Videos: This guy (Peter Bohacek, @bohacekp) up in Minnesota put together a video library and activity guides for a host of physics concepts. The cool bit is that each contains on-screen tools for taking all necessary measurements.

The #PhTBoS

The physics teachers on Twitter may not be as large as the math teacher group, but we make up for it in enthusiasm. Seriously, here are some of the most helpful folks I know, regardless of content area. If you’re looking for a hands-on activity to do in math class but don’t know what lab equipment might already exist on campus, hit one of us up.

  • Steph Reilly (@reilly1041) — was at #TMC17. Steph has taught physics and math and helped me prep this talk. She’s done many physics-y things in her math classes.
  • John Burk (@occam98) — was at #TMC17 and is on Twitter 24/7, I suspect. John has taught math, so can understand where you’re coming from.
  • Frank Noschese (@fnoschese) — he pretty much invented the 180 blog and his archives will give you plenty of ideas. Probably the most helpful person on Twitter, too.

Generally, physics teachers on Twitter are left of center on their pedagogies:

  • We tend to eschew long labs heavy on procedures (“cookie-cutter labs”) for shorter, open-ended questions (“single-sentence labs“).
  • A good number of us teach via modeling. There’s a Modeling Physics course some have taken, which emphasizes multiple representations, student construction of knowledge, and scientific argumentation. The Modelers use #modphys on Twitter. (My take as someone who dabbles on the fringes of this group.)

Meanwhile, the majority physics teachers probably teach the way you learned physics. A few notes about these folks, so that you can make friends and borrow equipment:

  • Be careful that you’re not using the exact idea they tend to teach, especially if you’ll be stealing their thunder.
  • Ask if they have ideas for experiments that generate a certain type of data. We don’t really think of the content that way but can totally pull out a phenomena that will give you a nice rational function graph if you need it (I’m looking at you resistors in parallel).

Good luck raiding the physics supply closet! And if you find some equipment you can’t identify, Tweet it out to me and #iteachphysics — someone will be able to tell us what it’s for.

#ExamGram? Exam Review via Instagram

I offer up exam review and hints on my public Instagram account. A number of students have named this as my best teacher move of the year. I’ll take it — click through to see the student answers that started rolling in within an hour of posting on Sunday morning.

Perfect Teacher Move to Support LGBTQ Students

It’s usually the little things our kids notice. Ev, a genderqueer student, wore a suit to prom. And not to get all clickbaity on you, but you won’t believe what a teacher did in response:

A teacher who I had only seen passing in halls came over to the table where I was sitting during the dance and made a kind comment about my suit. That one comment may seem incredibly insignificant to other people, but it was incredibly important to me because it gave me an instant ally in the room.

Check it out: Ev’s story will take you about 5 minutes to read.

ev-norsworthy-glsen

Ev Norsworthy, Source: GLSEN

If you’ve ever wondered how you can support the LGBTQ students in your school, this is how. C’mon, even if you teach science like me and aren’t all in tune with feelings talk, you can do this!

hat tip to Becca M. for the story

 

Can We Build Hover Shoes?

Almost eight years ago, I was teaching a technology class to 6th graders — we dabbled in introductory programming, robotics, and debunking internet myths.

When the kids[1] saw the Household Hacker’s video “How to Build Hover Shoes“, they asked to give it a try. So I ordered the necessary materials and one kid donated a pair of shoes to the cause.

Soon after, we got to work — laying out the magnets, plugging in the soldering iron, locating a battery, a glue gun, and all. It didn’t take long before we were playing the sad trombone *wah, wah, wah*.

“Why Megan[2]? Did the internet lie to us?” they wanted to know. Looks like the Internet had given me the biggest teachable moment of my career!

The result was this charming video the kids wrote and produced themselves.

So, to Ryan, Peter, and Stephanos — I’m proud of y’all and I hope you’ve stayed curious.

[1] The school was tiny, and so was this class — just three kids.

[2] And it was also the kind of school where kids call teachers by their first names.

The Physics of the Challenge Course

This is the story of how I worked with other faculty to develop a project rich in physics, service learning, and experiential education. My colleague, also named Meghan, asked if I’d like to design a project with her that met these goals:

  • build empathy through addressing diversity in physical ability
  • learn the physics of forces through examples at the challenge course
  • design, analyze, and present building plans for new accessible elements
4524

How would you re-present Islands so that someone in a wheelchair could participate?

On the first day of the project, we took the entire class out to the challenge course where we have four elements up for study. The objectives were twofold: 1) experience the element and 2) consider ways that those various physical limitations might not be able to participate in the element as implemented.

For homework, I had students read about types of forces and draw a force diagram of some interesting part of their Challenge Course experience.

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 7.24.08 AM.png

Here’s a student’s first stab at identifying the types of forces at play in her Nitro Swing experience.

And finally, I’ll adapt my lessons and examples about types of forces to include the challenge course examples. So, for instance, I’ll be sure to explain torque so that the students working on the Whale Watch (teeter totter looking thing below) and others on Islands can see how the physics works.

Finding balance in physics.

A post shared by Megan Hayes-Golding (@megtheteach) on


Student Version of the Project

The big questions: How does the challenge course work, according to physics? How can the elements be universally designed so those with a range of physical abilities may be full participants.

The learning goal: Understand and apply knowledge of forces through the study of the on-campus challenge course. You’ll work on a team to redesign an element that’s accessible by those with physical handicaps.

Tull Hall Challenge Course

I’m sharing videos of the challenge element being facilitated from start to finish. I find it useful to watch for how other groups go about solving the challenge as well as looking for spots where a physical impairment would make participation impossible.

  • Islands: move your team to the other side of the element by building bridges from provided boards that are too short at first glance.
  • Nitro: move your team to the other side of the element using a rope swing that’s just out of your reach.
  • Whale Watch: balance your team on the element in various challenges.
  • Challenge Wall: get everyone on your team up and over a wall that’s over 12 feet tall.

Deliverables

  • The Video: Your team will submit one video. One team member will be designated team lead on this part of the project and is presumed to have done the bulk of the video work, though everyone is expected to contribute.
  • The Proposal: Your team will submit a written proposal. One to two team members will be designated team leads on this part of the project and are presumed to have done most of the proposal work.
  • The Presentation: Your team will make a presentation to the Discovery Faculty in which you summarize your video and written proposal. One team member will be designated team lead for this part of the project and is presumed to have done most of the work on it.

Submissions Should Include

Your video and proposal must address all of these questions. Your presentation should address only those you feel are most important.

  1. Introduction
    1. Element name (include alternate names if applicable) and several photos of it.
    2. What’s the team-building point of your element? In other words, what is it supposed to teach a team? Be specific.
    3. What’s the trick to solving your element? In other words, what’s a team got to realize to succeed?
    4. Show us the element in action. Definitely show people working toward a solution on it, and people failing at it in all the common ways folks will do.
  2. What’s the solution for your element? Is there more than one?
  3. Fully describe the applicable physics behind your team’s element. You’ll be working with either Islands, Nitro, the Challenge Wall, or Whale Watch.
    1. Explain via free body (aka, force) diagrams
    2. Good challenge course elements have high perceived risk and low actual risk.
      1. What are the actual risks we must protect against? What sort of injuries could occur if we don’t?
      2. What is the perceived risk in this element? How can we heighten this sense of doing a risky thing so the challenge is more authentic and thrilling?
  4. How will you adapt your element so those with physical handicaps can participate?
    1. What mobility issues will you adapt for?
    2. How does the physics change? How does it stay the same?
    3. Is there anything else in the challenge course area that could be a potential challenge/hazard for the client you are designing for? What suggestions would you make to the Discovery team/Westminster do to address these challenges/hazards?
IMG_20170227_120933.jpg

The Challenge Wall

Resources

Some of the best we could find but by no means complete:

Conflict Resolution / Equitable Work Expectation

Group work can be a challenge to participate in. When a team member doesn’t contribute, it can leave the remaining folks resentful at having to do the slacker’s job. Then the slacker gets credit without earning it. It’s not fair so I expect everyone to pull their weight in the project.

In an effort to allow a group to work as a team as well as keep everyone accountable, you’ll submit a project survey at the end where you’ll rate & rank your teammates’ contributions. Please attempt to resolve team conflicts among yourselves but know that you can bring your concerns to me.

Grades for the video, proposal, and presentation are group grades UNLESS significant team conflict is brought to my attention, in which case you’ll be graded on the portion of the project you led.

Rubricscreen-shot-2017-02-28-at-11-41-11-am

Making & DIY Culture: A JanTerm Course

This January, I’ll be co-teaching Making & DIY Culture, a JanTerm course at my school. Today I’m sharing the projects my teaching partner and I have chosen for 2017. The course is 18 days long, students take one course in that time, and we have several field trips planned in addition to these projects. I want to stress that pretty much every project here is something we found online. Links in the titles.

Wooden Crate

The project: Build a small crate using hand and power tools.

Why we chose it: This project serves a utilitarian purpose — students need a crate to hold parts while other builds are in progress and overnight. We also want to teach them to use the mitre saw, a hammer, and a drill.

woodBox_spring2015-04.jpg

Toy Take Apart

The project: Cut open and disassemble mechanical toys such as Tickle Me Elmo. Learn how they work. Reassemble working components into something else.

Why we chose it: We first learned of the Toy Take Apart from our lower school Design Thinking teachers but weren’t sure last year how the big kids we teach would respond. Yes, it was that popular. Kids hack apart mechanical toys to find motors, gears, speakers, and voice boxes. We challenge them to then reassemble those components into something totally new.

toytakeapart.jpg

Plush Monsters

The project: Use Arduino LilyPad platform and felt to stitch a working circuit inside of a small plush toy.

Why we chose it: These little guys are so precious, they speak to a different type of maker than the more famous electronics or woodworking projects, and we get to to teach kids to sew. Side note: the most challenging part of this project last year was teaching 15 year olds to thread a needle. Who knew?

Lily-Tiny-Monster-Tutorial-05.jpg

Glass Cutting & Etching

The project: Repurpose and personalize empty glass bottles into drinking glasses or candles.

Why we chose it: I’ve been dying to try this, so we added it. After a schoolwide wine bottle drive, we’re ready with over 100 empties (English teachers drink more than the rest of campus, combined, btw). My teaching partner and I have tested parts, but not all, of this project — which makes her nervous and me excited to finally get a personalized drinking glass.

glass_etching

PVC Trebuchet

The project: Build a working tabletop trebuchet out of PVC.

Why we chose it: We want kids to have some experience working with PVC and everyone loves a trebuchet project.

pvctrebuchet

Arduino 8×8 LED Matrix

The project: Solder up a working LED matrix that’s controlled from an Arduino.

Why we chose it: It’s Arduino, a platform I love. Sure, LED matrices are available pretty cheaply but it’s got just enough soldering and Arduino programming in it to be interesting.

Circuit-Specialists-beating-heart-matrix.gif.gif

Raspberry Pi Photo Booth

The project: Brighten up parties with a photo booth based on the Raspberry Pi platform.

Why we chose it: Because Raspberry Pi was missing from the course and it’s a popular platform for makers, the end product is usable by our school community, and it scales fairly well to a group of 4 students. We plan to split the group so 2 kids work on the RasPi and 2 work on the housing & props.

RaspPiPhotoBoothOpener-3.jpg

Thrift Store Lamp

The project: Design and build a lamp out of nontraditional materials. Given $10 in thrift store materials and a make-a-lamp kit, can our students make a whimsical and usable lamp? Fingers crossed.

Why we chose it: This is our final project and pulls together several skills we taught during the course. It’s also our first time giving the kids so much flexibility with the design process.

lampproject

Answer-Dependent WebAssign Questions

WebAssign is the most flexible question-writing engine I’ve ever seen. Today, I want to share how I whipped WebAssign into submission yet again.

I wanted to make a question where students self-report which type of musical instrument they built and the rest of the question asks them about that instrument. After looking up answer-dependent questions, I learned the documentation suggested they were for numerical values only. Writing my question took some wrangling but everything was documented (thanks, anonymous WebAssign tech writer!). Here’s the end result, an answer-dependent non-numerical question:

screen_shot_2016-11-25_at_2_10_19_pm

The question is shared on WebAssign under QID 3736476.