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

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I saw this video on Popular Science today and I had to share it .  It seems to be a teacher in-service day showing how to demonstrate relativity and gravity.  I almost didn’t play it because it runs close to 10 minutes.  Really excellent and worth your time.

Book-Sale-620x354Some of you may have noticed I haven’t posted anything new in a while.  I retired from teaching at the end of last year and went back into the engineering field selling industrial automation.  I hope to be able to continue teaching at the community college, but I’m traveling a bit and that doesn’t fit well with 14 week courses.

In the mean time, I have tons of great books on math, physics, physics labs, and general education.  I’d like to offer them to my followers here at a very reasonable price before I put them up for sale on eBay.  I’m guessing, but I probably have at least 8 different Calculus textbooks, 12 Physics textbooks, 20 or 30 books on hand’s on activities and labs, some movies, and … well, I have a lot of stuff.  Some have answer keys, student resources, yes, it’s endless.

I’m going to compile a list, if you are interested, use the contact me link.  I’ll email you the spreadsheet as soon as it’s done.  Also let me know if you are looking for something in particular.  I’m thinking I’ll list prices for each book but if you want to bundle a bunch, make me an offer.  Choose what you like, pay for the books and the actual shipping cost.  I’m not looking to get rich, I’m interested in putting these into the hands of people who can use them.  What I don’t sell after a couple of weeks will go on eBay.  Please don’t be shy.



inclined planeI had been wanting to add a lab where the students determine friction on an inclined plane.  Students seem to struggle with the complexity of the problem and I thought a good lab would help.  I wasn’t really happy with any of the labs I found on the internet, but I also wasn’t really up for creating one of my own.  (Having four preps really sucks the life out of your creativity.)  What I decided to do was to put the kids into groups, give each group a variable inclined plane (exactly the one in the picture), a couple of blocks, and lab weights.  On the board I drew the force diagram of the block on a plane being pulled upward along with the appropriate formulas.  The goal of the lab is for the students to be able to calculate the coefficient of friction between the incline and the block.

I gave the class the following instructions:

“You are creating a lab for next year’s students.  You are going to need to decide on the lab procedure, required data and graphs, and the analysis questions.  You need to write up the procedure and the lab results, but I only want one per group.  I am going to take the best parts of each of your labs and use it next year.”

I asked them to start with only a single block, but they could add another if they think it will improve the lab.  We discussed setting the incline from 0 to 40 degrees in 10 degree increments.  They are using their phone to take pictures to include in their instructions and write-ups.  They have one more day and then the paperwork is all due at the end of the week.  I’m hoping for work that is a step above their usual lab write-ups.

I’m thinking maybe I lied to them.  I originally did want the students to create a lab for next years’ students, but I might just give next years’ students the same assignment.

Am I the only one that really looks forward to getting back to the routine and yet has a huge pile of stress and anxiety over the workload?

I got hit with so much new stuff this year that I’m overwhelmed before even beginning.  We have a couple new science teachers, my Conceptual Physics class is being shifted to a new teacher.  I’m not sad about that, although I love teaching the “adapted” class, they are the kids that work the hardest and generally love the hands-on work I do.  I will miss that group.  I have three sections of Physics, and for the first time, juniors will be allowed to double up on science and take my class.  This means I can possibly have a second year physics course next year.  I think I’m going to ask my administrator to change the name of the course to Physics I, thus hinting at a Physics II.  Progress, definitely.

I also got asked to teach Calculus.  This will be the first time our school has the course, and I will have the best 14 math/science students in the senior class.  Like many of you, I haven’t touched the subject since college (specifically 1982 – my sophomore year).  Yes, I’m certified in math and physics, but Calculus is not Algebra.  These are great kids and I don’t want to let them down.

I also have a new elective this year; Robotics & Astronomy.  We are starting the year with the robots since I’ve also taken over the boy’s varsity soccer coaching position.  I’m hoping the workload for this class won’t be too bad, I have at least an idea of what we are doing with the robots.

I can’t even imagine what it is like coming back to no new courses or challenges?  It must be boring.

There seems to be a pent up demand for my unqualified opinion on this matter, so I guess I’ll speak up.  There are certainly teaching opportunities here.  Students can learn about new developments in battery technology, how systems have changed from mechanical designs to drive by wire technology,  electric motors, torque, gasoline electric generators, the impact of electric cars on our environment, including how power is generated at power plants today.  Students can investigate how an electric car changes the cost of ownership over a period of years.  A car like the Volt opens up the science dialog, I like that.

I spent about 20 minutes talking to their engineer Mel.  Mel is not a 50 year-old guy with a beer belly, she is a very well informed and impressive engineer.  I love that GM puts female engineers in the limelight.  There is still a serious lack of role models for women in science.  I need to get her into my classroom to open some eyes.  Anyway, Mel and I had a great discussion, and in an effort not to put words into her mouth, all of the following statements here are mine.

The Chevy Volt is a great step forward.  Toyota beat GM to the punch with the Prius, but the Volt is not a hybrid; it’s an electric car with a motor that is used to provide electricity when the batteries run down.  The Lithium Ion technology is a big step forward.  Previous electric cars use banks of lead-acid storage cells that weighed more than your mother-in-law and took a long time to charge.  I know the power tool industry was a little reluctant to use Li-Ion cells a while ago, but they seemed to have tamed the beast.

The real problem is that the current Li-Ion batteries aren’t really the answer, they are just a stepping stone.  Somebody, in some university or company somewhere, is going to invent a better battery that can deliver the energy storage needed for an electric car.  When that happens, he or she will be an overnight billionaire.  Right now, the car can go up to 40 miles on a charge.  That would work for me, I commute 16 miles each way.  The cost to plug in is only pennies compared to a tank of gas.  Sure the energy is coming from somewhere, and the power station may be using fossil fuels, but I’d like to believe they operate much more efficiently than my current car.  The range of the car is comparable to any gasoline powered car.  You will still get 300+ miles to a tank of gas and full battery.  But imagine only needing to fill up once a month or three because you mostly power up off the grid.

The Volt isn’t really a new design from the bottom up.  Instead, it’s a quick fix to get GM into the market.  The car needs to lose weight.  I think the use of an axle could be replaced with independent motors for each wheel.  An axle seems inefficient to me, adding both friction and weight.  Maybe motor technology isn’t where it needs to be, but that will improve quickly also.  Electric motors provide lots of torque, the issue is going to be keeping the weight down and making reliable control software.

Will it succeed?  Our high school seniors are going to be buying a new car in a few years, I’d ask them if they would buy it.  Of course the price and early reliability are going to be critical.  I’m pretty sure most of the 12,000 attendees at the conference would seriously consider purchasing an electric car.  It’s not going to be profitable for a couple of years, but if GM plays its cards right and doesn’t do something stupid, they could own the market before the competition gets the Amp or Ohm on the show floor.

It was in fact my first science teacher conference.  NSTA was overwhelming (1600 sessions to chose from) and outstanding all at the same time.  I met great people, learned so much from them, and came away with tons of ideas and demonstrations.  It was like visiting my home planet.

I was there for a lot of reasons; I need a senior level astronomy textbook, an advanced physics textbook, lab equipment to move into the AP world, a planetarium maybe (how awesome is that?), robotics course ideas, teaching demonstrations, and of course, a mental recharge. I got all of that and more.

Deb Carder was terrific, although she has way too much energy (her web site is on my Blogroll).  She did a wonderful session on demonstrations and activities.  I saw a similar talk by a NASA engineer, and PASCO’s outstanding Friday night demonstration spectacular.  So many teachers assume that if you are older and losing (or lost) most of your hair, you’ve been teaching forever.  I’ve only been teaching for 7 years, and I heard “you all know this one” about 8 times, only to be followed by something I’ve never seen before.

I’m going to be posting some gems, the best of which is how students can use robotic telescopes for free.  You’re just going to have to wait for me to write it up, that one alone was worth the price of admission.

The GM people had the Volt chassis there and an engineer that was just fascinating to talk to.  I’m going to be posting a GM entry along with some links, again, you’ll have to wait a couple of days.  I have some picture of that one.

Robotics is a large part of STEM, I had very useful conversation with the Office of Naval Research and LEGO.  There is so much going on that I didn’t know about.

From the show floor, all the government outreach means lots of free posters.  You can never have enough posters.  I just love NASA, they are the best, but a close second is USGS with their earthquake map.

And sadly, no takers on a reader meet up.  Did anyone else attend?

Anybody planning on attending the NSTA national conference in Philadelphia on March 18th?  If so, I’d love to meet up for lunch or drinks or something.  I plan on being there on Thursday and Friday, maybe Saturday as well.

And check out the hit counter, the blog has seen 150,000 hits as of today.  Damn.

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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