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.
But even before that, Fred Astaire amazed the movie-loving world by dancing on the ceiling:
The number begins at 1:30; the dance shortly thereafter. Any x-y orientation will do, but some are more convenient than others…
The gravitationally disturbed Penn and Teller:
More fun with Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood as Two Man Group:
1 Scherr, Rachel E. “An Investigation of Student Understanding of Basic Concepts in Special Relativity.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, 2006.
2 McDermott, Lillian C., Peter S. Schaffer, and the Physics Education Group. “Relative Motion.” Tutorials in Introductory Physics. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2002. 19-23.