Within these walls

I’m moving right now.  I’ll have a classroom this year, after floating for two.  The room was filled to the brim with Chemistry and Biology lab equipment (a fascinating other-world to me; I do want to play), but I’ll be teaching four sections of Physics in there.  Thus, I am moving right now.  Bio & Chem gear out; Physics gear in.

I’m trying to keep good track of things for my colleagues.

As I’m packing and scrubbing and moving, I only hope to make some order* before I see students, but I’m dreaming about creating space.

My own delight in ephemera often leads me to Modern Mechanix, and I’ve found some applied Physics images I’d love to post — Ah!  (No, seriously, I just thought of this as I write. Gratitude for process.)  I will wall-paper an unsightly pipe with them, saving wallspace for student work.


As one of the choices in an assessment this year, I would like to have students create posters for the classroom — big, essential themes in Physics; thoughtful visual presentation.

I am blown away by the work students are doing at High Tech High.





I look forward to talking with my kids an seeing what they might be interested in doing.


* Of course, I wondered if there were any existing software/something that might be helpful for our science-department inventory — from managing chemical stocks with expiration dates to finding where the Magdeburg Spheres are, with pictures where wanted…  I’ll be looking into Quartzy.



Putting your Physics where your mouth is

Today, my kids were doing a Hewitt problem, which asked them to estimate the cost of keeping a porch light on all of the time. They were surprised at the insignificance of the expense (keep in mind that I work in a private school), and I said that I had one word for them. A five-syllable word. It starts with RE…  then FRIG…  then ER…

So naturally, this became the day’s homework. How much does it cost to run your refrigerator for a month? Continue reading

Frames of Reference — Clipmania


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It’s a topic that needn’t be dry as toast — and it is worthy of some additional attention, as some students do indeed benefit from more explicit exploration and discussion of reference frames.1

A collection of clips follow that take a serious and/or playful look at reference frames. After some laughs and some question-generating conversation, students interest and enthusiasm are up. Whether heading into Relative Velocity or Special Realtivity, I’ll follow these clips with a pencil and paper exercise from Lillian McDermott’s Tutorials in Physics, where student gain more familiarity with “frame switching” and in the end, work out the exciting (and reassuring) conclusion that all inertial reference frames will agree on a body’s acceleration.2

There is SO much genius on this page; of course, none of it is mine.

We must pay homage to the classic PSSC film with Dr. Donald Glenn Ivey & J. N. Patterson Hume, which can now be downloaded at archive.org.

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Goodnight, Irene



Several years ago, on a thick, grey winter’s day, a chilling mist hung in the New Hampshire air. Having changed for ski practice, I was walking to the dining hall at my old school, and I passed a group of students also in ski gear as one fiercely hissed, “Well, it had better not be raining at the mountain.” I was genuinely surprised at the intensity of his unspoken threat, and turned around to say with a warm, slightly bewildered smile, “Or else what?”

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Understanding Confusion


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Jonathan Rosen

More and more, I not only try to teach Physics, but I try to teach my students something about learning as well.  I want them to know that when they struggle, their experiences are normal.  They’re in the 9th grade.  They are just learning to think.

Learning to think necessarily drags one through…

And you know what?  This is a good thing.

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Happy Birds!



On using flipbooks in Physics

I love the idea of students making flipbooks to demonstrate physics concepts. Last year, one end-of-the-year-project option was to make a flipbook that showed projectile motion. Students were to incorporate 20 frames of hang-time in their books, and they worked out the position of the object in each frame (most all did this with a spreadsheet). It was a useful exercise in scaling, as well. For the animation itself, many used Flipbook! with a grid-printed transparency taped over the computer screen. Some drew traditional analog books; a beautiful objects to hold in your hand and then keep in a shoebox under the bed. Continue reading

Greatest Hits: Simple Circuits, The Foutan Board


I thought I would post a few labs or activities that have been big winners with my students in engagement and learning, whether or not I designed them. This one comes via Cornell’s Center for Nanoscale Systems Institute for Physics Teachers (CIPT). (Do a find for “foutan”* on the page.) There are parts lists, lab handouts, and teacher notes available there. Continue reading

How I became a Physics Teacher

I’ll likely be keeping this blog pretty straight Physics & Education with this exception, as the tweet pictured was my entrée into Twitter society.

For several years after high-school, I was working minimum-wage, hardscrabble jobs. Continue reading

MotoGP, part 2 — the Dani data

I rather like the idea of putting Dani Pedrosa’s clip from the last post in front of students and letting exploration be very open — open to estimation, as well.  What questions do students have about the clip?  What might be interesting to know?  What are the essential ideas here?  Why such an extreme angle?  How does the stickiness of the tires compare those on a car?

If one would then like to hone the numbers, here are some resources.

What does he ride?  
Honda RC212V

How big is he?
About Dani Pedrosa

How sharp is that turn?
Type “Sachsenring Germany” into Google Earth, and it will take you right there.   Continue reading

MotoGP: lean machine!


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Jorge Lorenzo, of Spain, left, rides his Yamaha in front of Nicky Hayden on his Ducati during the final warm-up session before the running of the Indianapolis MotoGP motorcycle race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

My husband turned me on to Moto GP this summer.  As a rider myself, I find what these riders do just so viscerally exhilarating, I can hardly bear to watch.  If you have not yet seen a motorcycle race, please know that these guys are dragging their knees on the turns, often with the rear end of the bike (or the whole thing!) sashaying in the limbo between static and kinetic friction.  (Here’s Casey Stoner drifting; watch as he comes out of the turn.)

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