Build a Mobile

My classes just wrapped up studying balance. Students built (metaphorical) models to describe their understanding of center-pivot balance as well as off-center and massed-beam balance.

The project I assigned them was to build a mobile with a group of three or four members that both reflects who they are as individuals and is centered on some theme that unites them. Here are a few of my favorite mobiles.


“Emoji” shown next to the mobile diagram submitted by one team member. This mobile used relatively light weights and intriguing balance points (often quite far off center) to create the most interesting looking product in class. Nice attention to detail, the end product is pleasing to the eye, and the students all could demonstrate why it balanced.



“Black and White” was a unique approach because instead of tying off masses, the team used clothes pins. The mobile was infinitely adjustable and pretty much was a rock-solid construction.


“Clay Figures” used a combination of materials, but especially clay, to share their interests. Fun fact about using clay to balance a mobile — as the clay dries, the balance can be thrown off as happened here. Two weeks later and most levels of the mobile are no longer balanced.


  • 1/4″ and 3/8″ wooden dowels
  • A variety of string/twine/small diameter rope
  • Lightweight materials that can become masses on the mobile — don’t exceed 2kg overall if you expect to hang the thing in your classroom

What order should I have done this in? I saw two options:

Math first, building second: students draw a mobile, decide on which masses and will go where. Confirm that it should balance theoretically. Then get out the materials and build.

Building first, math second: students create a balanced mobile by trial and error. Then, apply the model of balance they created earlier in the course to prove why it balances.

We did option 2 and I was partially satisfied with the results. Several students reflected afterwards that they’d have preferred option 1 because they would’ve had an easier time building (that’s debatable, I think).


How to Get Hired in an Independent School

untitled-drawing1This is part of a three part series about the hiring process in independent schools from several perspectives. This post tells my hiring story as a physics teaching candidate. John Burk shares two posts:

Advice for a physics job seeker from someone who just helped to hire three — gives John’s advice to teaching candidates as someone who evaluated applicants to for his physics openings last year.

Some thoughts on running a physics teacher search — how John conducted his search for physics teaching candidates last year.

I’ve taught in both public and independent schools over the past fourteen years. A surprising part of my experience has been how different the hiring processes are. This post will walk you through my own recent independent school job search. I share this in the interest of explaining the process should you ever be a teaching candidate at an independent school.

Let’s start where many stories do, at the beginning.

November: Resume & Outlining My Search

In November, I first considered moving out of state but only if the job opportunity was amazing. I loved the school I was in and didn’t need to go anywhere.

I updated my resume, lined up references, and contacted a search firm. I recommend having three references handy. It’s always tricky if you’re not ready to tell your current employer that you’re looking. If you’re heavily involved in #MTBoS or other online networks, consider a reference from that world.

Pro-tip: Keep your resume current. Better yet, post your resume on your personal website and review it annually.

Bonus pro-tip: Consider putting section at the top of your resume that says, “ask me about my favorite topics.” It’s a chance to list keywords that can start conversations. For instance, Twitter and blogging professionally are important to me and nearly every interviewer has asked me about these.

While I went with a search firm, you don’t need to. You can also search a variety of job postings in a relatively few number of spots. Here are some that I know of and like:

If you’re on Twitter, reach out to teachers in the region(s) you’re considering. Find out the names of the schools in the area and their reputations. See if you know anyone at these schools. Use your network!

From the outset though, I had to overcome some serious impostor syndrome. It’s weird, too, because on a day-to-day basis, I feel pretty good about my teaching. When I started looking around, several job postings seemed out of my league. Because I didn’t attend a prep school, it was easy to think working in one wasn’t for me. I’m here to tell you, independent schools want to hire physics teachers from a variety of backgrounds. In fact, “didn’t attend a school like ours” could be exactly what the school is looking for. For example, you stand to bring in fresh ideas, a diversity of viewpoints, and a chance to connect uniquely with students.

Generally, though, they’re looking for you to have a Bachelors in physics, engineering, or a related field. If you’ve been teaching awhile, they’d like you to hold a Masters, too. I haven’t encountered any resistance that my Masters is in teaching, not science. Government teaching credentials are pretty much never required in independent schools.

To recap, November was about getting my resume ready and figuring out what type of school I was looking for.

December: Job Postings & Phone Interviews

In December, I began to see postings that interested me. I narrowed my interests and started talking to schools in phone interviews.

The phone interview (sometimes a Skype interview) is typically about half an hour long and acts as an initial screener for the school. They’re looking to decide which finalists to bring to campus for a full interview.

As a candidate, my goal in the phone interview was to get a feel for the working environment. Sometimes the phone interview will be with an individual and other times with a search committee. Often, you’ll be speaking with someone in the science department.

Definitely prepare questions for the phone interview. My phone interview questions included:

  • How do teachers collaborate on planning?
  • Does your school have a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance)?
  • What does life look like for a transgender student at your school?
  • What is the duty structure? (I was interviewing exclusively at boarding schools where duties are a significant part of the job.)
  • What is the teaching load?
  • Tell me about the pedagogy of the “average” teacher in your department. What do the extremes look like? (As a left-of-center teacher, I want to know that my approach to teaching will both be welcomed and that I won’t be the most extreme in the department.)

After I got off of my phone interviews, I realized that even the fanciest schools in the country still saw value in me — a public school educated kid from the middle class. This is a great moment to suggest to others from a similar background this: many prep schools are looking to hire a diverse faculty. If you’re wondering why a fancy school unlike anything you ever attended would even be interested in you, consider that could be exactly why they’re interested you.

January: The On-Campus Interview

I was invited to campus to interview in mid-January. If your trip requires travel, the school will pick up the tab.


Fact: Every great interview outfit involves a bowtie.

Chances are, you’ll have at least six different appointments around campus plus be asked to teach a sample lesson. It’s not uncommon to meet with the head of school, dean of students, director of diversity, athletics director, human resources and a group of teachers in the department where you’re interviewing.

Dress code pro-tip: Look up photos from the school on social media. Seek out the faculty in these photos to see how they dress.

When you get your schedule, research the people you’re interviewing with. Find something about them or their office on the school’s website. For instance, I prepped for my conversation with the director of inclusion by learning what affinity groups are offered and come in ready to ask specific questions about their GSA. Some folks will have social media presences and it’s a huge compliment to say “Tell me more about what you said on your blog last week.”

Some interview questions I was asked stand out in my memory:

  • What’s the last thing you read?
  • What three words would your students/colleagues use to describe you?
  • Why are you leaving your current situation?
  • Why are you interested in our school? (Do your homework on the school so you can give a detailed answer — what are they known for? what is their mission statement? what extracurricular programs do they have that you’re into? what technology is available?)
  • What questions do you have? (y’all, this is probably the most important — be ready with some. I like to ask about how collaborative the department is and how the school as a whole supports LGBT students)

Also, it’s vital to come with your own interview questions. Here are a few to start you off:

  • What caused this position to open up?
  • Tell me about the teaching philosophy in this department.
  • What are the extracurricular expectations here?

The on-campus interview is exhausting and repetitive.

Interview pro-tip: Have elevator pitches ready so that you can tell similar stories all day. When the group comes together to discuss you, hopefully they’ll have some common experiences. For example, I talked about how I was looking to move because I’ve been in Atlanta all my adult life and am ready to see a new region of the country.

The Sample Lesson

Many schools ask prospective teachers to present a sample lesson to a group of students or other teachers. You will likely be given a topic.

Sample lesson pro-tip: Ask if they can give you a recent homework assignment so that you can make sure you hit the right difficulty level.

Choose a lesson that highlights who you are as a teacher. My thing is hands-on, experiential education — students make things in my classes. So when choosing sample lessons, I choose small projects to build. My sample lessons include the battery/bulb/wire challenge and building a timing circuit using a 555 timer chip and capacitors. (What is it with me and getting electricity sample lessons?)

The benefit of my hands-on sample lessons is that they put the spotlight on how I interact with students over how I lecture. Even with kids I’ve just met, I’m better at relating than I am at lecturing on any topic.

What’s your thing?

My interview committees have generally appreciated seeing how I relate to students over my academic chops. Something to keep in mind.

Thank You

Show appreciation. I take cards with me and write thank you’s on the plane ride home. Send an email thank you immediately and send the card when you arrive home.

The Hiring Timeline

The interview process will vary school to school but know that the independent schools generally lock in their new hires earlier than the public schools. Other points of note:

  • Hiring season is approximately January through March.
  • Boarding schools like to fill their open positions early in the season and all independent schools usually like to go on spring break having made most of their job offers.
  • Public schools, on the other hand, generally hire later in the year — usually interviewing February through May.

Use Your Network

My network was a huge help in this process. Big shout outs specifically to three people who were huge helps in my job search. Seriously, guys, thank you.

Reach out to your network, both local, and online. We’re here to help you find the job that’s right for you.

Good luck. You got this.

By the way, my search ultimately led me to small-town New England, where I couldn’t be happier. Where will your search take you?


I was seriously asked last week if I had a coat because “winter is coming.” I don’t think the asker was a Game of Thrones fan, either, just concerned for my ability to survive a New England winter.

Math Teachers: Raid the Physics Supply Closet!


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


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.

Visualize Quadratic Foci with Mirrors

Edit, added March 7, 2018

Shout out to Rachael Gorsuch for showing her math students exploring the focus of a parabola using a parabolic mirror.

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, 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

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.

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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.


  • 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?

The Challenge Wall


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.