Tag Archives: Physics


I had seen the “broomball discussion” on physics packets before, but had never thought of making it like a relay, as this teacher did. Thanks, Brad, for sharing and getting me to think about a new, fun way for students to experience forces. Before, I had always had just 1 broom and 1 bowling ball, and had students take turns coming to the front and moving the ball around here and there, but making it like a relay is an awesome idea!

Okay, enough words, time for pictures and video!


The map/explanation of what we did.


The qualifying round. I was pretty harsh on penalties (+10 seconds per bad hit!)


The final four!



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My Physics Class on the Ropes Course

My school is fortunate enough to have a ropes course on campus. Not only had I never done it, but most of my students hadn’t done it before, and for Physics students that’s a tragedy. So I decided to do it, not as a physics lesson, but as a team-building activity. We’ll definitely look at the physics later on, but to start, I care more that they learn a few other lessons. Here are some pictures of one challenge, which is definitely Physics-heavy.

IMG_20140903_105018463 IMG_20140903_110020166 IMG_20140903_110813355_HDR IMG_20140903_110821607

BFPM, anyone? Here are the things I typed down that I wanted them to take away from today’s “lesson”.

  • You can learn so much by trial and error, but if you aren’t willing to make mistakes, you’ll never learn.
  • It is more rewarding, I think because you learn more, to learn without someone telling you how to do it.
  • I specifically asked not to do the course with you guys. What do you think would have happened if I had been working on it with you? What does that mean about the classroom?
  • Talking about opposing forces: be as specific as possible. Take time to analyze.
  • Use your partners/teammates. “A cord of three stands is not easily broken.”

We already did the Marshmallow Challenge. I hope these things are working to build the type of classroom culture that is best for learning physics using a Modelling curriculum.

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End of Year Physics Video

I promised my Physics students that I would create a video of their projects for them. This promise was made on the last day of class and I told them it’d be sometime in the middle of the summer that I’d be done. What does this do for them educationally if they’ve already graduated? Hopefully it’ll motivate them to get excited about science. Or maybe they’ll look a little more fondly on their physics class. At the very least, I’ll be able to use it to motivate future students and get them excited about physics.

Here’s the video for you:


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[3 Acts] The Coefficient of Friction of My Son

Last year in Physics, I used the PhET simulation Ramp: Forces and Motion to teach about calculating the coefficient of friction in the situation of an object on a ramp (in this case, a box).

This has worked well enough for me in the past. However, as I was travelling home with my son, I had an idea to create a 3 act lesson using my experiences.

Perhaps I talked too much in the video, so I might just show them the final part where I’m sitting up with Benji.

The idea really did just hit me as I was sitting there in the train, thankful that I didn’t have to keep my arm under him, propping him up. So often, ideas will come to me, but I’m just not in the right location to jot them down to save for later.

Another thing I thought of pertaining to this lesson is how it relates better to the girls in my class than most of the lessons. Sure, some girls like talking about drag racing or shooting a basketball, but this connects better to the majority of girls than those other lessons[1].

One downside to this activity is that on the train & plane, I’m not concerned about the coefficient of friction–I’m concerned about what angle I can sit up with him without him falling down. And that’s what we’re measuring at the start, so finding the coefficient of friction has become a superfluous academic exercise despite the “real-world-ness” of the problem.

And then there are the other things that I hope students will consider: things like my chest isn’t actually flat and we both have shirts on, so I guess we’re actually finding the coefficient of friction between his shirt and my shirt. But those are great things for students to consider on their own, so I don’t want to spoil it by pointing out all the inconsistencies in the video from the start.

[1] If you think I’m being sexist here, you should try walking down an airport terminal with a 3-week old. At least 10 times more women than men will stop you and say something.

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All My Lessons

(and assessments).

Yeah, it’s the end of my 2nd year of teaching Precalculus, Physics, and Chemistry, and I figure I should be able to post my lessons without too much shame.

Actually, I am embarrassed of some things, because I’d like to think I’m a better teacher than I have been, but I think I’m growing.

I’ll do one better than just posting all my lessons: I’ll link my Dropbox for the three classes, so they’ll update as I change them throughout the year.

I’ll also critique each class a little below so you know what’s coming (and so I can reflect, briefly, on where I want to go with my lesson planning).


All my files for Precalculus

Precal changed the most this year, thanks to the mathtwitterblogosphere.  I used to lecture way more, and now I’m actually doing activities where students are learning as they work.  I still hope to get to the level of Fawn Nguyen, but she’s way more creative than me (and more experienced, and just awesomer (<– is totally a word even though Chrome spell-check says “nope”)).

In the future, I hope to have more activities and I want to make the whole subject more cohesive.  Right now it is totally a fragmented mess where students learn isolated units.  Something for me to work on over the summer.


All my files for Chemistry

Chemistry changed the least, but I spent the most time on it my first year around.  Of course, that’s when I thought that lecturing was still the way to go, so it has plenty of good notes (for me, at least) and (now) many decent tiered assessments.

want to change Chemistry and make it more like a modeling class, where students discover properties on their own.  At our school, since math is leveled/tracked early on, it is probably therefore the hardest class that every student is required to take (their Jr. year).  I appreciate that I have students all over the map, but it does get hard in terms of the math sometimes, when you’ve got students in Precal and students in Geometry working together on the same algebra equations.  I think SBG will significantly change the way I teach this, hopefully for the better.


All my files for Physics

Physics was the one I taught worst last year (my 1st year teaching it, and I’m definitely under-qualified).  However, it still is a really fun class, and we get to do awesome projects that (if I have time) I’ll set to a music video.

I tried to go modeling and got there partway.  I was learning a ton as I went, and yet, it still felt like I was putting this class on the back-burner, and for that I apologize to my students.  Everything was brand new this year, and definitely better, though it wasn’t that hard to get better from last year because (in my opinion) it was so awful.

All My Classes

So that’s that.  And I apologize if the links don’t work because I change some folder name further down the line.  If that happens, please shoot me an e-mail, comment below, or tweet @newmjh3.

Oh, and also let me know if you can edit those Dropbox files–I’d rather my assessments not change under me.  🙂

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Whiteboarding: Getting Students to “Read Your Mind”

Okay, so title is a lie.  I used to hate it when teachers ask those questions looking for a specific word, and then the crickets start cause of the silence of the classroom.  I hope I am quick to jump in and correct myself, usually once I realized I’ve asked that kind of question.  This activity had me feeling a little like that, but since I was flexible, I think it worked out okay in the end.

First, we defined “insulator” and “conductor”, so they had they words, but they were definitely lacking the ideas.  We then proceeded through three PhET Electricity & Magnetism Simulations.  At each simulation, I asked them to write down observations on large whiteboards.  I also told them that I had very specific observations that I was looking for, and when they got one of the observations, I would walk around and mark it with a star from a red marker.  Then, at the end of 5-10 minutes, the group with the most marked observations would win candy (no, I’m not above base motivation).  Students started to realize what I was and was not looking for (“The balloon is yellow”).  At the end of the 10 minutes everyone would read their marked comments and we’d wrap up the discussion with a few specific questions I wanted them to answer.

The activity was good.  Not great, just good.  I liked how it got them talking (this is that really, really quiet class), and they were engaged in the simulations, which was good.  Unfortunately it was less of a “present what you have seen” and more just “read what you found”.  Other students were engaged in their own simulations and had trouble listening to each other (even though at one point I had them close their laptop lids).  With a few modifications, I think this would be a good way to show students Physics ideas and concepts.

Here are the three simulations I used:

Balloons and Static Electricity

John Travoltage

Electric Hockey


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Augmented Reality, Used!

When I first discovered Augmented Reality, my mind was blown.  And yet, I couldn’t think of a good way to incorporate it into any of my 3 classes that couldn’t already be done with other materials.

The other week, however, I think I successfully used the Augment app for the iPad, and I’d like to show what I did.

First off, I saw this awesome video:

I asked my students to watch it for HW.  Of course I had 2 out of 13 watch it. *smacks forehead*

So I showed them all the way up until the guy pulls the feather off the balanced sticks and I ask “okay, so what happens?”

I then have them pull out the iPads and look at a model I created (didn’t take too long, but then again, I’ve been playing with Blender a lot) so they could visualize all of the sticks being balanced with the feather at the end.  If you have an iOS or Android device with a camera, download the Augment app and scan this QR code through the app:

If you don’t have an iPad and your browser, OS, & graphics card all support WebGL (My broswer, OS, & graphics card all supported WebGL, just not together (doh!).  So I had to reboot into Windows 7.  Yay for dual boot.) then click the link below (I’ve been trying to make it interactive?).

Balancing Sticks — Realistic (click to view in 3D)

Balancing Sticks -- Realistic

My students examined the model, went “ooh” and “ahh” as they moved their iPads around to see all the sides of it, and proceeded to look profoundly confused.  At that point, I hinted at things such as “center of mass” and “let’s draw force diagrams on these spots”, and I gave them the following, nearly identical 3D structure, except with red balls at points that I thought they should examine in more detail.  Yes, there are a lot of red balls.  Here’s the QR code and 3D image:

Balancing Sticks — Marked (click to view in 3D)

Balancing Sticks -- Marked

After this, my students drew force diagrams and were able to predict where each of the remaining sticks fell very accurately.  Reflecting on it, I suppose you don’t need a force diagram to figure that out, but the AR sure helped them visualize it, and it was good practice for them sketching force diagrams.

Furthermore, I had initially thought that this was a break from what we had been working on–momentum–but after some reflection, I realized that “Center of Mass” connected the two concepts, and we hadn’t yet talked about Center of Mass in our class!

This lesson turned out to be “eh”, but only because I didn’t spend enough time on what I wanted to be their “end result”.  That and I’m not entirely sure how to teach about center of mass when all we’ve talked about in class are point masses.  On day I’ll feel sufficient as a physics teacher.

I think the AR definitely augmented the lesson (sorry for the pun), but as you noticed, it wasn’t central to the lesson, nor should it have been.  If I required students to create their own, or somehow interact with the AR I created, the students would have missed the point of the lesson.  Instead, I was glad that I stumbled upon this video and then only after much of the lesson was thought out did I realize “hey, I could totally use AR here!”

I’m still going to be on the look-out for better ways to use AR, and hope, one day, to involve students in the creation of the 3D models!

I’d like to thank Jim Pai and Brian Kolins for their fellow nerdy enthusiasm over discovering Augmented Reality.

Notes about technology used:

1. I used this Augmented Reality app to allow students to view these models in “augmented 3D”.

2. I used Blender to create the models, which I then exported to wavefront (.obj) to be able to import into the Augment website in #1. (Actually, I now forget whether I used COLLADE (.dae) or wavefront (.obj) but either should do the trick.)

3. I used Sketchfab to import the 3D model and show it on the blog.  Unfortunately, it seems that wordpress.com does not allow “iframes” which is what is required for it to look like this (simply embedded in the post, rather than just a link).


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