Posts Tagged ‘physics education’

First Year Teacher Series Week 3

Wow, the third week of school already; the week flew by so quickly I can barely remember what happened!

In Physics, the kids are finishing up linear motion and getting ready for their first test. They have been working very hard to catch up with the math they are behind on (most are just taking Algebra 2) and are starting to think like Physicists! We are having so much fun. My biggest goal for them is to learn to work harder – they all tend to be extremely lazy and refuse to believe that they will learn and grow if they practice. I am pretty confident the source of this attitude is from growing up with teachers with low expectations.

The other struggle we’ve had is understanding the concept of “units”. We spent almost an entire class period working out the difference between quantity (the thing being measured), unit (the type of measurement), and the relevant equations. I think they’re starting to get it.

My freshman course is pretty funny. They are not as much of a handful as I had anticipated, just young and immature. We have been discussing renewable and non-renewable energy sources and essential materials for survival. It’s a spiralling curriculum, so all of the content we’ll cover is related to sustainability. It will also prepare them for the state science proficiency exam they will take in 11th grade. I like that the class can be more of a seminar and less lecture. My goal for these students is to teach them to be more responsible – they see homework as an optional extracurricular activity. We’ll get there!

I saw this video on a blog I read the other day and it made me laugh because it is exactly how I feel keeping a class of thirty-something 9th graders on task:

In other news, my background check finally cleared, so I can get put on payroll this week!! A million thanks to my principal for getting that pushed through :)

Teaching Philosophy

Ah…the teaching philosophy. One of those hoops all teachers have to jump through. And I’m not sure anyone really enjoys writing it.

At the end, though, we’re all thankful for the pedagogical exercise that forces us to look at ourselves as a person and as a pedagogue and describe how the two intertwine and determine our goals and expectations for our classroom. Ultimately, we draw conclusions as to how we aim to effect our students.

Even though every teacher’s teaching philosophy is different, I always enjoy reading my colleagues’ intimate thoughts about the roles and responsibilities of teachers.

In that spirit, I’m sharing mine with you.

“My teachers treated me as a diamond in the rough, someone who needed smoothing.”

– Mother Jones, early 20th Century coal mining union supporter

More than anything, I believe my role as a teacher is to give students infinite opportunities to discover what they love to do, which ways they are gifted, and where they dream their life is heading. Every student has the potential to develop the skills to achieve their desires. It is important to provide students with a safe and structured community for learning; I want to create a classroom environment that is conducive to community. My classroom should be a place where students who are struggling to understand whether or not they belong within the science community have the confidence to desire to learn science regardless of the cultural groups they belong to outside of school. Students who enter the community of my classroom will never feel the pressure to perform in science in order to belong.

As a teacher, I believe it is my duty to guide students towards an understanding of the content. I do not want my classroom to be a place where students expect me simply to dispense knowledge, but instead, a place where they come to explore the world and develop their abilities to think critically and communicate clearly. In this way, I will assume the role of student advocate. My responsibilities include helping students to develop a deeper understanding of science, encouraging students to form opinions and play an active role in their community, providing students with opportunities to be excited about science, and protecting the classroom from ideas and misconceptions that might prohibit participation in science. I believe the result of these actions will be an increased student interest in the scientific world. These goals are realistic, but will be challenging within the context of Physics, which has traditionally been an exclusive community. Physics should be the most approachable science for students since it is the most applicable to their everyday lives.

Creativity will be the theme that flows through each unit and discussion. I want to take advantage of every aspect of science that overlaps with other disciplines. For example, I would love to teach a Physics course focused specifically on the Physics of the Arts: kinematics and mechanics for actors and dancers, electricity and magnetism for technical theater aficionados, color and optics for visual artists, and sound for musicians. I dream of a classroom where science is merely the lens through which my class and I explore our surroundings.

I have a vision for a classroom where students are constantly exploring new ways of thinking and communicating. Tools I plan to use to accomplish this include: a class blogging project, a wall of pictures of science in our daily lives and around the world, regular science journaling, leading community-wide science fairs, and reading and discussing science fiction novels. Giving students the opportunity to learn through inquiry is essential in training them to be lifelong learners in the classroom and beyond. It is a teacher’s prerogative to encourage students to be aware and involved in a larger community. Whether globally or locally, students should take responsibility for affecting change. I want to teach my students to be aware of what is occurring in the world and how they can make a difference.

I would not be so proud as to say education is the most important institution of civilization, just one of the most important tools; a person can have decades of education, but it is not until he or she decides to implement what she has learned that she can be truly effective. As penned by Elbert Hubbard, “The object of teaching a child is to enable them to get along without their teacher.” I want to equip my students to pursue the world with confidence.

– Becky McCoy

Shoutout: Mrs. Carder’s Physics Classes

Just a head’s up that I’ve added a new link to the blogroll. There’s all sorts of Physics syllabi and course work there – quite a resource!

Climate Change in Physics Class?

I think the idea of discussing climate change within the Physics class is worth exploring. At first glance, this environmental issue seems to have nothing to do with Physics, but after a bit of research, physicists play a huge role in dealing with climate change. Also, climate change is a significant scientific issue and should be given weight regardless of the science. Organizations such as the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics ( have formed partnerships with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis ( to research the current state of the Earth’s environment. Kavli Institute (KITP) has been calculating wind velocity and soil moisture as well as studying oceanic circulations, cloud physics, and astronomy related to climate change. It is simple to connect environmental issues to physics class by sharing some data from research such as that of KITP. There are even conferences regarding the physics of climate change, such as one at the Nordita Institute for Theoretical Physicists ( in Sweden. A whole portion of the conference webpage details the role of the physicist in studying climate issues:

Scientists working in the area of climate research often have a background in physics and mathematics. This is perhaps more so in the US and some countries in Europe than in the Nordic countries. This course is aimed at overcoming the apparent Nordic gap between students in basic physics and climate research. The school is intended primarily for physics graduate students with an interest in broad applications of physics methods. Prior knowledge of climate research is not required, but skill in physics is. (

Other academic institutions, such as Washington State University have even initiated Environmental Physics baccalaureate programs ( where students are required to major in Physics and minor in Environmental Studies and Mathematics. Even high profile physicists such as David MacKay of Cambridge is getting involved in the discussion of climate change ( Other scientists at Brown University are developing a set of equations that will be most influential in studying climate change ( When there is so much happening in the professional world of Physics regarding climate change, the physics classroom should model that. In addition, it will allow physics students to see what types of jobs are available in the physics industry, and hopefully encourage them to pursue physics in college.

There are many scientific connections to climate change for Physics students. A clear one is the greenhouse effect. Students of physics learn about refraction, radiation, and heat, so why not connect their classroom knowledge to a hot topic? While greenhouse gases may not play as much of a role in climate change as originally predicted, it is worth teaching and discussing since it is a valid scientific phenomena. Articles such as “A Tutorial On The Basic Physics of Climate Change” ( can provide insight and resources to help students connect the two. I think the most effective ways of connecting climate change to physics content are by making the most of units including topics such as heat, energy, optics (ray diagrams), effects of rising temperatures, and technology advances (including ways to prevent and control climate change). Scientists are extremely influential in the development of better fuel economy, less e-waste, and cleaner forms of energy; students should be allowed to be involved and influential as well.

I posed the question of involving climate change in the physics classroom to Morgan Scott a member of the GOLD program at ConEdison, and received this reply:

The Physics Classroom is not the first unlikely area the issue of climate change and energy efficiency have become talking points.  Many utilities, including Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. (Con Edison), have made climate change a focus point of everyday operations.  Being responsible stewards of the environment has become a central approach to all aspects of the industry.  Encouraging energy efficiency, while beneficial to the environment, is also advantageous for the company as it reduces load on a complicated distribution system.  Discussion of a Cap & Trade system to reduce CO2 emissions and the investigation into renewable energy sources such as the proposed wind farm off of Long Island are just the beginning of a complete industry change.

Who is it that will help to develop these new technologies?  It is teachers within the classroom, within any science classroom be it physics, chemistry, or environmental studies, who must inform their students of the importance of climate change and the ways in which their study of science can have an affect.  Encouraging students to be aware is the first step in getting them involved.  Con Edison has seen this need to educate students to be conscious and attentive of these issues.  The Environmental Committee of the GOLD Leadership program, Con Edison’s 18 month post-graduate program of challenging supervisory and project-based jobs, is currently in the process of creating a curriculum which they plan to take into the classroom to begin educating students early about the causes and consequences of climate change.  It is certainly the hope of the group that it will not only challenge students to begin taking immediate steps, but to consider the continuation of science study with the ultimate goal of participating in a field that will work on climate change issues and renewable energies.  The utility industry will change greatly in the coming years, but it will take bright scientists to help it achieve the changes it needs to fight climate change.  The classroom, and especially the physics classroom, is an important starting point.

It is clear that climate change is important to researchers and professionals in the scientific and technology industries. If we are to inspire students to be science lovers, or at least to pay attention in class, we should give attention to the most important topics, as well as the most important content. In the case of climate change, physics content has many overlaps. By making climate change an active discussion in class, we are teaching good content as well as helping to develop a socially aware and active generation.

Why Raindrops Don’t Kill Us…Part 2

In the original post about Why Raindrops Don’t Kill Us, I showed why raindrops falling from the sky do not kill us. Some clever reader wondered what would happen with hail — would that inflict more pain than just a drop of rain?

I’ve been thinking about it and have come to the conclusion that hail (which is simply frozen rain, or more dense water) will not cause more pain than just the drop of rain.

This is because terminal velocity is independent of mass. You might argue, saying that F = ma; the force is dependent on mass and acceleration. Try thinking about the force being connected with air resistance, rather than velocity. When a raindrop is falling, it is exerting force on the air around it. According to Newton’s 3rd law, the air will exert an equal and opposite force on the droplet. Therefore, force is negligible for this argument.

What we’re really concerned with is the equation v = v(0) + at, where v is the terminal velocity, v(o) is the initial velocity (in this case, it actually equals zero), a is acceleration (in free fall, a = 9.81m/s^2), and t is time. Rewriting the equation yields:

v = at

Ta da! The terminal velocity is only found by two variables: acceleration (a constant in free fall) and time. So, in theory, hail will not fall any faster than rain. It might hurt more, but that would be a result of the physical properties of the hail (frozen, dense water) and not  because of the speed it has falling from the sky.

Physics Teacher Website

The Physics Classroom (LINK) is a fabulous website for physics classrooms. I love it!!

Basically, it is an online physics tutorial which includes mini-lessons that check for understanding, media to illustrate physical phenomena, and miscellaneous help for specific concepts and skills.

For example, here’s a tutorial for Work, Energy, & Power.

An animation of the energy involved in a roller coaster can be found here.

In the miscellaneous section, there’s a special section for vector addition.

MORE Physics Games

There’s a whole website dedicated to Physics games online: