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

Posts Tagged ‘Podcast

Neil_deGrasse_Tyson_-_NAC_Nov_2005I was listening to my iPod this morning and I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson as a guest at a public symposium in Portland, Oregon.  It was published as part of the podcast “NOVA scienceNOW.”  I’m considering playing it for my class, it’s only 30 minutes long.

This sounds a lot like what goes on in my classroom on Fridays, only way more orderly and with microphones.  In my Conceptual Physics classes, my students have an assignment  on Wednesdays to print out a bit of science news, any area of science is fine.  They need to read the article and highlight key points.  I collect these and on Friday we have science news day, where we talk about anything science.  I use the articles as a starting point, and we quickly jump from topic to topic.  Nothing is off limits, they come up with a million questions.  Sometimes they go off and research something further from our discussions.

In addition to using this just to get them thinking about science, I use this to get across certain agenda items.  A couple of the news items were cut and pasted into word to make it easier to print.  I asked the kids to make sure they note the site it came from, I need the source so I can go back and read more.  We talked about good and bad sources.  Another student had an article on the 2012 predictions.  The first paragraph talked about some scientists needing facts, but the authors were going on “instincts.”  I did the pen and shoe drop, asking them about their predictions.  I emphasized that scientists guts can be a starting point, but facts are the only things we trust.

This week, an additional assignment is going to be to write a question about science that they have wanted to know the answer to.  I’ll may pick from those to get the conversation started or  I may put up a “great question” list and let them research a question and present the answer for extra credit.

I was going to imbed the podcast or attach the file for download, but WordPress wants me to upgrade from a free blog to do that.  Go to the iTunes store and search for NOVA ScienceNOW.  I tried the NOVA website, but they don’t make it any easier to link to the file.

Dr. Tyson has a couple of great responses.  One is about using his own children as an experiment in getting kids to be science literate.  It’s worth listening to for just that one.  There’s more, go listen.

After you listen to it, tell me if you would play it in the classroom.  I’m a little wary of audio only, kids tend to listen with their heads on the desks and it can be hard to get them back up.

Update – The kids enjoyed it.  At first, they were reluctant (no pictures), but I stopped it half way through and offered to switch to science news.  They asked in all three classes to continue the audio.  I know they like science news, so that was encouraging.  I think they honestly enjoyed the change of pace and learned a little something from someone else.


I’ve always been a lover of science and I’ve had my early bouts with pseudoscience.  I think if you talk to most science lovers, we all investigated several topics in pseudoscience.  Let’s face it, I would love for UFO’s to be space aliens.  And who wouldn’t want to have a superpower?  But they aren’t and we don’t.

As a teacher, I was originally amused by it.  Now I battle it head on.  Many people take a “what’s the harm” view of these topics.  I think that is dangerous.  We need to teach our students to use critical thinking skills.  My wife doesn’t get this.  She thinks the Eagles will lose if she is in the room where the TV has the game on.  I usually respond by telling her that the Eagles management called before the game started and they asked her to please not watch.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  If we believe in one form of hocus-pocus, we fall prey to the next one.

Check out the website  You will get a sense of what happens when we sit by and allow mysticism to rule instead of science.  The page comes off a bit militant, but the underlying facts should at least make you think.  Perhaps one of the more dangerous trends are the anti-vaccination groups.  They want us to think there is a mass conspiracy and vaccines are bad.  What they are doing is actually causing outbreaks of diseases by reducing the “herd immunity.”  The herd immunity, if I understand it correctly, essentially doesn’t give a disease enough places to gestate and grow.  When the population reaches a certain vaccination level, say 95%, then the entire population is basically protected from epidemics.  If the population gets under that threshold, we are opening ourselves up to serious problems.  Don’t trust me, do your own research.  In other words …

Be a skeptic.  I don’t like the word because most people don’t understand what it means.  They think a skeptic is a nay-sayer.  A skeptic simply insists on proof.  The more outrageous the claim, the more proof is required.  A skeptic changes their position if the facts lead them down a different path.  My skeptical radar goes off any time someone says, “they say….”  It’s as simple as someone telling me, “they say it’s going to snow 12 inches tonight.”  Rather than take the store clerk’s weather knowledge on faith, my response is to check the weather forecast when I got home.  Not an outrageous claim for January, so it doesn’t require much proof.  I just want the facts directly from the experts, not second, third, or fourth hand.

There are a number of outstanding skeptical podcasts that are highly entertaining, educational, and just plain fun to listen to.  You can find them on iTunes for free.  If you aren’t listening to podcasts, you are missing a world of excellent quality entertainment.

I highly recommend:

  • Skepticality
  • A Skeptics Guide to the Universe
  • Are We Alone?  SETI Science and Skepticism
  • Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American

These are a few of my favorites.  There are more, but these will get you started.  After listening to a few of these shows I realized I’ve been a skeptic my entire life.  I didn’t know there was a name for it, and more importantly, I didn’t know there was a whole community of people out there just like me.

You are not alone.

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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