Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Big to Small or Small to Big (Rant? Thoughts? You decide.)

Posted on: June 25, 2008


Physics LectureHow do you present your material? How do you learn?

I seem to be in the minority of learners, I like to get a big picture, then the details make sense. Am I alone? I can’t understand the idea of studying all the little parts without first understanding what I’m trying to do with them.

I spent twenty years in technology sales. I used to sit through marketing presentations and I kept asking, “But what is the big picture?” They just kept giving me features and benefits. I don’t need a feature or benefit if I don’t know my goal.

Here’s a classroom example: a Biology teacher friend of mine started the students off with single celled creatures, moved to multicelled, to nematodes, etc. It seems to me that I would start with the big picture of a person and teach about the different systems; respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, etc. They can relate to people, not nematodes. Now that you are on system, look at how other creatures get their vital supplies. If it doesn’t relate to me, it’s hard to care.

I try to teach Physics from the big picture on down. I like to build a common understanding of say, momentum. They can’t solve these problems about how fast things are going unless they can see why this matters. I crash things together and show what happens when big hits small, when small hits big, when one is moving or both are moving. When a moving object hits nothing, nothing changes.  We try to get an understanding of the definition of momentum and what has a lot of momentum and what has a little.

While I’m on the subject of momentum, I always do a calculation of what happens to a person in a car and not wearing a safety belt. I let the students calculate how fast they will be traveling when they hit the windshield. Maybe I can at least save a kid’s life by having them wear seat belts.

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What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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