Archive for May, 2009

Mysterious Floating Water Experiment

Steve Spangler just wrote a post about this mysterious floating water experiment. It’s so cool, you should check it out!

Shoutout: Science Rockz!

Just found these great resources for Physics teachers. Science Rockz is a blog with all sorts of resources and ideas for the physics classroom.

There’s also a Science Rockz Forum where you can ask questions and discuss issues within your classroom.

Shoutout: Dan Russell

Dr. Dan Russell is a professor of Physics at Kettering University. His website is a great resource!

He specializes in acoustics (he’s got a degree in piano performance!) and has many activities listed. In one section he discusses the acoustics of baseball bats, while in another part, he provides useful illustrations and demonstrations for teaching acoustics

I am very excited to have found a solid base of resources regarding acoustics and sound!

Book Review: The Scientists

I was browsing through a book store the other day when I found The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors by John Gribbon. I haven’t read the book, but it looks like a fabulous resource for teachers who want to know more about the scientists involved in the growth and development of science. I am really interested in using it to teach a science class chronologically – teaching content based on when it was discovered, rather than in the traditional format. The book would also be a great resource for students if they are doing projects or writing on individual scientists.

Publishers Weekly says, “As expansive (and as massive) as a textbook, this remarkably readable popular history explores the development of modern science through the individual stories of philosophers and scientists both renowned and overlooked. Prolific popular science writer Gribbin wants to use the lives of these thinkers to show how they “reflect the society in which they lived, and… the way the work of one specific scientist followed from that of another.” While he makes this case well, the real joy in the book can be found in the way Gribbin (who has made complex science understandable in such books as In Search of Schr”dinger’s Cat) revels not just in the development of science but also in the human details of his subjects’ lives. He writes, “Science is made from people, not people by science,” and the book weaves together countless stories of the people who made science, from the arrogance and political maneuverings of Tycho Brahe in the 16th century to Benjamin Thompson’s exploits during the American Revolution as a spy for the British and his later life as Count Rumford of Bavaria (in the realm of science, he studied convection and helped discredit the caloric theory of heat). Though the names and discoveries become more and more prolific as the book reaches the 19th century, Gribbin does an admirable job of organizing his narrative around coherent topics (e.g., “The Darwinian Revolution,” “Atoms and Molecules,” “The Realm of Life”), leaving the reader exhausted by the journey, but in awe of the personalities and the sheer scope of 500 years’ worth of scientific discovery.”

Gribbin has authored other notable books including In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. I’m excited to start to build a library of his work in the near future!

Book Review: The Last Book In The Universe

Awhile ago, I wrote a post expressing my desire to add a literacy component to my high school science classes. Books like A Wrinkle In Time, The Giver, Tuck Everlasting and other science-fiction and fantasy works sprang to mind. I want to find books that can be related to science, as well as students’ lives in order to instigate conversations about technology, progress, and scientific ethics.

Recently, I read The Last Book In The Universe by Rodman Philbrick and it was the exact type of book I was looking for!!

“Following the Big Shake, which destroyed most of civilization, a small group of individuals (the “proovs”) retreated to Eden, learned how to improve themselves genetically, and sealed their environment off from the sprawling ruins inhabited by the remaining normals. Plagued by genetic defects, a toxic environment, and illnesses, normals like Spaz live in the Urb at the mercy of latch-bosses and their gangs. Spaz knows that his survival depends on Billy Bizmo and the Bully Bangers, so when they send him to rob an old man, he obeys. Ryter willingly surrenders his few possessions except for the pages of the book he is writing-the first time Spaz has seen anything like this. And when the boy sets out to find Bean, his dying foster sister, Ryter insists on accompanying him. Along the way, they are joined by Lanaya, a proov, and Little Face, an orphan. Finding Bean is hard enough; helping her appears to be impossible, until Lanaya takes the motley group back to Eden and confronts the rulers with the truth about the outside world. This is science fiction, not a fairy tale, and everyone does not live happily ever after… Also, the science part of this sci-fi is vague. However, readers who don’t examine it too closely will be caught up in the novel. There is definitely room for a sequel…” (from

This book is ideal for discussing science ethics in the classroom for many reasons. It is a middle school reading level, which is perfect for the assignment, because I’m not concerned with challenging students’ reading skills, but giving them a book which they can read with confidence (I’m in an urban setting, so literacy is a huge issue). It only took me a day at the beach to read the entire book, which is fine with me because I’m mostly concerned with students’ reacting and processing their thoughts regarding the content of the book; the assignment would conclude with some sort of cumulating project, presentation, or class discussion. Below, I’ve listed some of the main issues addressed in Philbrick’s book.

There’s even an activity guide related to the book on the author’s website!

Topics worth discussion:

  • Genetic Engineering
  • Experiencing pleasure through “probing” and how it might relate to students’ lives
  • Racism
  • How to prevent allowing technological and scientific progress to get out of control
  • No more books and/or printed materials

Ways students can identify with the characters:

  • Gang involvement
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Lack of access to healthcare and other daily needs

Another Physics Teacher’s Blog!!

I just found this other Physics and Physical Science teaching blog written by Scott. Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers has all sorts of great ideas for your science class!

Check it out!!

Wolfram Alpha!

There is a great new resource out this week for science teachers. Wolfram|Alpha is a new website designed by the man who brought us Mathematica and Wolfram Demonstrations. It is similar in theory to Google and Wikipedia, but it is all about computational knowledge. Read the Daily Tech article here for more information.

To give you an idea of how powerful this search engine is — and to convince you to use it in your classroom(!) — I tried out a couple things. 

First I typed in “Columbia Teachers College” (my graduate school) and found a whole page of results with information ranging from the number of students attending to the number of academic programs and the geographical location.

Next, I entered “Physics” and was amazed with the outcome. The results page is a listing of all the applicable calculations and equations for physics. What is so incredible is the websites ability to compute for you! In the mechanics section you can compute mechanical work, rotational acceleration, and Keplers Law!

Lastly, I entered my birthday to see what would happen. I didn’t get much information in return (other than the conversion from years into days, months, and weeks), but there’s a space for holidays around the world as well as notable deaths and births. This surprised me because I know I share a birthday with Fidel Castro, Alfred Hitchcock, Danny Bonaduce, and Dan Fogelberg (what a combination!!).

I think this website is going to be a highly useful resource for student research as well as homework help or another bit of technology in the classroom!

Mystery Circuit Box

I found an article about mystery circuit boxes several years ago in The Physics Teacher. I’ve recently had the opportunity to actually use it in a lesson!

Martha Lietz (the author of the lesson I based mine off of) uses rewired bathroom beauty bar lighting in order to teach her students about series and parallel circuits in reverse. Basically, students are given a strip of lights and unscrew the light bulbs one at a time to deduce how the circuit is wired.

I decided to take it one step further and use mystery circuits to assess students’ knowledge of circuits using various wirings of circuits in the different beauty bars in order to evaluate how well students understand the differences and effects of series and parallel wirings. You can view my lesson plan here.

One of the greatest parts of this demonstration is that the materials are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. I found the beauty bar at Lowes (or Home Depot) for around $13. I also had to by a wire cutter/stripper and extra wire nuts. Plus, you can use them over and over again!! I recommend using 40 watt rated bulbs or less because they get hot rather quickly.

One of my mystery circuits was the one designed by Lietz, and I’ve included pictures here. Can you figure out how it’s wired?

Picture One: All bulbs are screwed in tightly. Bulb one is the brightest, bulbs two and three are the dimmest but shine to the same intensity, and bulb four has a brightness right in the middle of the others. NOTE: It is important to be sure that a bulb’s brightness is due to the power it receives from the circuit and not simply a reflection of light from the bulb next to it. This was the major point of confusion for students with regards to bulb two.

Mystery Circuit 1


Picture Two: Bulb one is unscrewed and all bulbs go out.

Mystery Circuit 2


Picture Three: Bulb two is unscrewed. Bulbs one and two are the brightest and bulb three goes out.

Mystery Circuit 3


Picture Four: Bulb three is unscrewed. Bulbs one and two are the brightest and bulb two goes out.

Mystery Circuit 4


Picture Five: Bulb four is unscrewed. Bulb one dims slightly. Bulbs one, two, and three all shine at the same intensity.

Mystery Circuit 5


Using the information and pictures provided above, can you figure out how the circuit is wired??

100th Post! Fun and Games…

I can’t believe I am at my 100th post already!! In honor of that, I’m sharing some really addicting, science related computer games I found lately.

Electric Box

ElectricBoxI found Electric Box at and I was so excited when I realized it was a game all about creating circuits. In each level, the goal is to use the power supply (green button in the picture to the left) to cause the atomic picture to spin. In the case of Level 9 pictured here, I was given a water turbine, electric kettle, steam detector, magnet, IPS battery, and refrigerator in order to connect the power supply to the atomic symbol. The game is a great teaching tool, because it combines electricity, magnetism, mechanical energy, lasers, mirrors/reflection, and thermodynamics into one succinct circuit-related Physics computer game! All 14 levels are addicting and YouTube has walkthroughs available.

Bridge Craft

BridgeCraftI found Bridge Craft on and it challenges the player to build bridges for the characters to cross using wood planks secured by steel and/or rope and confined by a budget. This would be a really neat game to use as a supplement to any sort of engineering, center of mass, or torque lectures. Some of the levels require extreme creativity since the challenges are not always simple and straightforward. The level pictured to the left was a bit troublesome for me because the ropes had to be just the right length, otherwise my bridge kept collapsing every time the little blue guy crossed! Walkthrough available on YouTube.


I hope you get a chance to play for a bit – happy 100th post!!!

Corks, Ears, and Eyes, Oh My!

I recently read this question, I’m curious to hear what you think!

Someone (maybe Helmholtz) suggested the following way of thinking about how our eyes and ears interpret light and sound. Imagine that you are standing at the edge of a lake. If you use your eyes, you can get an enormous amount of detailed information about the lake and its surroundings: trees on the shore, birds on the lake, cars and trucks traveling on a road nearby…. However, suppose you could only look at two corks floating side by side near you on the surface of the lake. How much could you deduce about the lake and surroundings by simply observing and interpreting the movements of the two corks? In fact, that is what your ears (and brain) do if you think of your eardrums as the corks!

Explain and evaluate the validity of the contrast between seeing and hearing described above. What characteristics and properties of light and sound does it depend upon? What is (or are) the key difference(s) between the behavior of light and sound, and between the operation of our eyes and ears, that give rise to the dramatic contrast between seeing and hearing described in the above paragraph.

Please leave your comments!