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Exploring the physics of cold on a snow day

January 11, 2011

I just found out that we’re getting a 3rd snow day. While a five day holiday is awesome and all, I’m starting to miss school. Thinking on a whim that maybe, just maybe, one or two of my students are getting a bit stir crazy in the house and might want to get together for some sort of online gathering, I put together the email below.

This will be a totally new experience for me. I’ve never tried anything like this. It will be fun to see how a backchannel works for following along a video where people might not be watching it perfectly in sync. It will also be a great experiment to test how my kids are moving along the spectrum from bored teenager to romantic scholars, passionate about ideas and unwilling to let a few inches of ice impede their learning.

I’m very curious to see how this will turn out, so I will be sure to report back.

Hi All,
So it looks like we’re getting another snow day! Great—but if you’re like me, you might also be getting a bit stir crazy, and wanting to go back to school (crazy, I know). Or, you might just wonder a bit about all the ice around us, how cold it is, and how could it really could be.

Here are some questions that got me thinking:

  • Did you know that there used to be a thriving trade in ice? We would send ships to cold parts of the world to collect ice, bring it back to our cities and sell it for a premium price.
  • How do refrigerators work? What did they have to do with the growth of railroads?
  • How cold can it get, anyway? How can you make things really, really cold?
  • And why is making something cold key to making a great clock?

If you’re curious about any of these things, I’d like to invite you to try what will be a completely new experiment for me.

Tomorrow, at 11am, I’d like to try a version of online education. Here’s what we’d do:

  1. Get online and watch the amazing Nova Special: Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold. We’ll all start watching at 11am. The first part is 1 hour long. I promise that this is one of the most interesting science videos I’ve seen.
  2. While watching, we’ll start up a backchannel for conversation on Today’s Meet. This will be a place to chat online—ask questions and think more about what you’re seeing.
  3. We’ll break for lunch between 12-1pm
  4. We’ll resume and start watching part 2 (which lasts another hour) from 1-2pm, using the same backchannel to chat.
    (Important note: you don’t need to watch the first part to understand the second part).

    <If there's interest, we can keep the conversation going after the program.

    This is TOTALLY optional. I'm offering this because I'm excited to try it, I think these topics are very fun, and I think you might be interested. And the more people who participate, the more fun this will be.

    PLEASE EMAIL ME if you are interested in trying this experiment out. I need make plans to set everything up to get this working.

    If you want to participate, but these times aren’t ideal for you, let me know, and maybe we can schedule it slightly differently.

    In the meantime, please stay safe and warm.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 9:34 pm

    how did it go??? or do we wait for tomorrow’s post?

  2. pbr56 permalink
    January 13, 2011 3:00 pm

    I have to try this on the next snow day.
    Thanks so much.
    I have used several of your ideas. Thanks for sharing.
    Gets me out of the box faster.

  3. May 23, 2011 11:58 am

    I am interested in finding the answers to many of these questions. I understand I am not a part of your class, or any class really. I am just a curious human. I will be watching the science video you suggested to your class in the next few minutes. I really was hoping you and your class had left a conversation of comments for me to read through, and help guide me. Are you still there? Probley not since it has been a few months. Thank you anyways!

    • May 23, 2011 6:50 pm

      Sadly, I think todaysmeet deletes the conversation a week or so after it takes place. If you have any questions that are still lingering, feel free to post them here and I’ll see what I can do to answer them.


  1. Report on our “conquest of cold” experiment « Quantum Progress

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