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

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I do.  They frustrate me a bit because there are just so many and I don’t know most of the speakers.  You can spend an evening jumping from one talk to the next.  I prefer recommendations, here are two I recommend.

The first talk is by Dan Meyer of the dy/dan blog.  His blog was the source I used to get started on Standards-Based Grading.  Plain and simple, this talk is an eye opener.

The second TED Talk is by Simon Sinek.  His talk was recommended by Frank Noschese at the AAPT meeting.  Excellent recommendation Frank.

If you have some favorite TED Talks, please share the link or the name of the speaker.


I’ve been a member of American Association of Physics Teachers for about 6 years now.  If you teach physics, please join!  The journals and posters alone are worth the tax deductable annual dues.  I attended my first AAPT meeting a couple of weeks back.  I learned one or two great new things, met some super people, but I was also a bit disappointed.

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way.

  • I’m used to NSTA, so maybe my reference is unfair.  AAPT was small, really small for a national conference.  I felt like everybody knew each other because it was the same people every year.  You could get through the entire exhibit areas in about an hour.
  • It also felt like the conference was aimed at college educators.  I know the organizers claim it’s not, but I’m giving my opinion here based on attending one day of a much longer conference.
  • I had hoped that the talk on video in the classroom would give lots of useful tips; how to integrate video, success at flipping the classroom, etc.  Most of the discussion was why video lectures won’t replace colleges.

Now the positives:

  • The first timer special and lunch was a great idea.  Lunch and the company was terrific, I’m glad I went.  The first timer $75 one-day special is a great way to try it out.
  • I got to meet some great people, some new, some who I had previously met online (Kathy, Frank).  Everybody was warm and there to interact and learn from each other.
  • I met local AAPT members who are trying to suck me in to local activities.  I am interest, but they always do them on a Friday night and Saturday.  I may submit, I do need local physics buddies but I love my weekends.
  • Andy Rundquist demonstrated a great use of Jing.  He has his students take a picture of their homework, then narrate the work on video.  The video is their homework submission.  Jing limits them to 5 minutes and when they talk, you can immediately tell if they know what they are talking about.  Andy has them do this for every homework, I’m going to use it sparingly.  Super idea.
  • There is free software out there called Tracker that does video analysis.  One cool use was to take a moving object, like a person jumping into the water, identify several points (hands, feet, head) through each frame, and let the software determine the center of gravity and plot  the motion.  Did I mention free?
  • I really like the sessions where there is a new presenter every 10 minutes.  Lots of great stuff, and if it isn’t, it’s only 10 minutes until the next one.

AAPT was worth my time, I wish I had done the entire week.  It was close enough to home that I was able to take public transportation.  Here’s the problem: if you can get your school to pay for you to travel to one national conference, which do you choose – AAPT or NSTA?

For me, it would be an easy choice.  NSTA has so much more to offer, so many more strands, talks, exhibitors, and people to interact with.  I would love to do both, I don’t see how.  I will get involved locally, AAPT is too good of an organization to ignore, they are worthy of our support.



I’m not one to reblog.  Once in a while I get an email asking me to post something.  I usually ignore the request or politely tell them, “No thanks.”

This is from one of those spamish emails I get.  I have searched the site and it links mostly to University of Phoenix.  Regardless, ignore the rest of the site if it bothers you, but the article is worth your time.  It’s called the “25 Female STEM Superheroes of Today”, here is the link: (”

I know if you asked me to list influential female scientists and engineers, I’d be very hard pressed to name five, let alone twenty-five.  It’s kind of a shame, but it’s nice to know someone is keeping score.

If you are not familiar with TED Talks, you need to come out of your cave.  I have a problem with these videos.  I can’t stop watching them.  Life got busy and I guess I forgot about filling my brain with a little bit of inspiration.  I was recently reminded of the TED Talks by Kaitlyn.  She sent me a link to her blog with 15 physics talks.  You can find her blog post here:
When you are there, make sure you take a look at this talk by Dean Kamen.  I’m showing it to my engineering and robotics students tomorrow.  My hope is they see the importance of what they are doing.


The first free app, and on the top of my list is DropBox.  DropBox is a website and an application.  You have a folder on your desktop on every device you own; your PC, Mac, iPhone/iTouch, and android phone.  Anything you place in your DropBox folder on one device is synced to all the other devices.  Phones can see the files but don’t sync or download it unless you open it.  You can also create shared folders.  I have one set up with my daughter in college.  If she wants some photos or a video, I just drop it in the box, it instantly appears in our shared folder.  She can leave it in the DropBox folder or move it to her machine and save our DropBox space.

Because of DropBox, I no longer have my lesson plans on a USB that I have to carry around.  The files reside in my DropBox folder, and more importantly, there is only one version of it and it is always the most updated copy.

There isn’t much of a downside to the app.  People don’t have to be members or download the app to be able to use your shared folder.  You start with 2.0 GB of space and earn 250 MB each time someone you invite installs the app on their computer, up to a total of 8GB.  People can access the folder without downloading the app, but if they don’t download the app, you don’t get the bump in storage.  You can also increase storage up to 50GB for $100 a year.  I’d probably consider subscribing if it was about half that, I just don’t need 50 GB right now.

If you want an account, do me a small favor and let me send you an invite.   Click on my Contact Me link.  Doing so will get you an extra 250MB, and do the same for me.  Then you can share it with your friends and coworkers if you love it.  I love it.

The second app on my list for today is called Evernote.  Evernote took some figuring out for me, but once I saw the light, I’m a convert.

Here’s how you use Evernote – you upload photos, pdf’s, and random stuff.  You write lists, send web pages, and scan business cards.  All that crap that you need but you don’t know what to do with it, it goes in there.  Here’s the golden nugget of Evernote – anything in there becomes searchable.  So that business card, just take a picture and upload.  Now you can search for that person or company or title.  Instead of keeping the instruction manual for all those electronics gizmos, upload the manual.  If you ever actually need it, you can search the manual through Evernote.

Just like DropBox, the app is on everything.  You can install an add-on to Firefox (and probably other browsers) to directly upload to Evernote.  Just highlight, right-click and at the bottom of the menu is “Add to Evernote.”  The limit here is you can upload only 60MB per month (each month), which I’m finding is an enormous amount of stuff.  I saw something at Home Depot that I wanted to remember, so I took a picture and sent it to Evernote and added notes later.  I’m sure there are other ways of using it, like they have tags you can attach to everything and notebooks for organizing, but I’m using it as a warehouse for manuals, business cards, recipes, and other things that just don’t fit anywhere else.

You can go premium with them for just $5 a month and they have educational discounts as well.  Most of the negative comments were about not being able to share the data.  I don’t want to share this stuff, it’s my junk drawer and attic all in one.


I do believe I spent more time searching for an appropriate image than I did actually writing this post.I’ve been following a fellow science & math teacher, Frank Noschese, and his writings on his blog “Action-Reaction.”  He has some great stuff that I am going to steal and use in my classroom.  One post in particular has really had me thinking, “My SGB Journey” (  He is talking about Standards Based Grading.  I knew nothing about this form of assessment, so I dug deeper.

I won’t lie, it took me several hours of reading to get the gist of it.  Frank refers to a post by Dan Meyers.  Follow that link and read through the comments.  Others readers had many of the same questions I had; reading the questions and Dan’s responses pulled it all together for me.

I haven’t got it all worked out just yet, but I plan on implementing this in my honors Calculus class.  My administration backs me on all of my adventures and didn’t bat an eye at it, “sure, go ahead.”  After all, this one isn’t going to cost them thousands of dollars (I’ll fill you in later). I’m going to steal everything I can from Frank while I work out the methodology and the glitches in a small and forgiving class, then move it to my physics class the following year.

Here is my understanding of the concept in a nutshell:  The course is broken down into approximately 40 key concepts.  Students are assessed on those concepts. Once they get two questions perfect on that concept, they no longer need to answer those questions on later quizzes because they have already mastered the concept.  They can keep retaking quizzes on the concept until they get two of them perfect.  In the mean time, class moves on.  (We hit the wall a few times in calculus last year where we didn’t move off a section for over a week because about half of the students didn’t master the concept.)  Students track their own successes and know what they need to practice and get tutoring on.  They can get a 100% in the class, but my guess is you still end up with a normal distribution curve because many of them will feel that a 60% or an 80% on some of the concepts is acceptable.  However, if they choose to work hard and improve their grade, they can keep relearning and quizzing on the material until they master it.

Frank and Dan both have their own grading system.  I would read their posts and decide what makes sense for you.  I’m just getting started on mine, but my guess is I’ll steal one of theirs and tinker later.

It’s going to be a bit more work the first time around and a lot more time tutoring and retesting after school, but my goal is for the students to master the material.  I want them to take the Calculus AP exam and knock it out of the park.  This seems like the right approach.  I’ve ordered the three books Frank has recommended, you can find them very reasonably priced on  I think I paid about $25 for all three including shipping.

I’d be really interested to know if any of you have used similar systems and how they have worked for you.  My gut tells me this is the right way to go.  I nervous at the increased workload (again).

teacher degreeI’d like to thank the academy, my family, my producer, my agent, Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci, Richard Feynman, and all the people out there that voted for me.

Okay, I’m done being silly.  I did really get this, although I only found out because I was on the site and saw I was one of the listed blogs.

So no, there was no cash award, no gold statue, not even an email telling me about it.  And as the new school year approaches, the hit count is heading towards half a million.  That just blows my mind.

Do click on the badge, there is a pile of great teacher blogs in the list.

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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