[Earlier this week, Tina asked me my blog’s name. Truth is, I never named it. Sure, I bought a domain but I never got around to branding the blog with the same name. So, what’s up with the domain name? Kalamity Kat was my grandfather’s WWII aircraft, a PBY-5A Catalina flying boat. He and his crew were shot down while rescuing downed fighter pilots out of Tokyo Bay.]

Physics class. The topic is forces and my kids were struggling to solve problems like this:

A student of mass 63.1 kg decides to test Newton’s laws of motion by standing on a bathroom scale placed on the floor of an elevator. Assume that the scale reads in newtons. Determine the scale reading when the elevator is accelerating upward at 0.7 m/s2.

or this:

A basketball with a mass of 0.4 kg is being pushed across a gym floor with a horizontal force of 2.2 Newtons. The coefficient of kinetic friction between the basketball and the floor is 0.2. What is the acceleration of the ball?

Struggling, that is, until I hit upon a way to organize their thinking with a “force table”.

Students fill in the table like it’s a Sudoku puzzle. I think the hardest part now is getting the free body diagram correct. Ooh, just to be sure they know what’s up, I’ve been stressing the importance of completing the last column with justifications.

I like to imagine that all the physics teachers out there trained in physics education went to grad school classes with titles like “How to Teach Kinematics” and “Methods for Helping Kids Who Suck at Math”. In these imaginary courses, y’all received the keys to helping kids past the hurdles of difficult math or “there’s no formula for this, it’s a problem-solving process”. Wait. What? You didn’t have these classes? Then how the heck do you help kids problem-solve? Please share your own organization routines, I’d like to learn from you.