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Day 1 of Physics Teacher Camp: camp is so fun!

July 8, 2011

Do you remember back in high school when you went away to the camp–maybe it was space camp, math camp or the proverbial band camp–and you just felt like it was the coolest thing ever because everyone shared your interests, and was so interesting to talk to, and so interested to talk to you? I’m pleased to report that you can re-create that feeling. Here’s how you do it:

  • Use the internet to find a network of people who share your interests
  • Dive into that network and participate fully by listening and sharing
  • Bring that network together in real life

Over the past few years, each of those steps has seemed either ridiculous (why would I ever want to check another thing like twitter?), intimidating (but Rhett Allain is so awesome and good at physics—why would he ever care what I have to say?) or impossible and creepy (why would you ever try to bring a bunch of people who met on the internet together, and why would they want to join you?). But the gradual nature of strengthening bonds, growing acceptance of social media and technology’s ability to continually reduce friction makes the next step seem always a bit easier than the last.

Today, I had a blast working with 9 other physics teachers setting our own agenda of what things we’d like to work on to improve our teaching and help our students’ understanding. Even better, we were joined by at least half a dozen other teachers on twitter who were asking questions and offering feedback in the various google documents we shared. Here’s the rundown of what we did.

The Physics Problem Database (PPD)

Wouldn’t it be nice if somewhere in the cloud there were a big database of problems, written by physics teachers, tagged by topic and lots of other identifiers, that you could essentially “shop” at, and then check out problems to paste into your assessment in a word document, load into webassign or use however you like? We started the day by having a discussion of just how we might create such a system, and with about an hour were able to put together a first draft of a design document which was tremendously improved by the help of Andrew Morrison and Andy Rundquist. You can check out and contribute to the design here, which is a work in progress. My guess is that once we find a reasonable way of hosting this so that many people can have editing access to the database, we’re only a couple of hours away from having a working early prototype to play with. Late breaking update: Andy “Superfly” Rundquist and I just had a 30 minute chat on elluminate to work out the rest of the design and he’s hard at work coding (on his 40th birthday, no less) to put together a working prototype for tomorrow. I’ve definitely got to come up with some sort of badge to thank him for this.

One question that we did have, and no one had a good answer to was the issue of copyright and fair use, and I would love some feedback from you on. Suppose that someone were to “contribute” to the database simply by ripping off a fairly unique problem from a standard physics text. What sort of liability issues crop up in this circumstance? Is only the author responsible, or do the creators of the database also share liability? How does educational fair use affect this situation as well?

Standards Based Grading

We had some great discussions about standard based grading, particularly with Kelly O’Shea sharing some great new ideas she’s had about how to make SBG focus even more on making sure that students are understanding the bigger picture and seeing that grades reward effort that leads to learning. I can’t begin to summarize all of that here, but I hope that she’ll be posting some thoughts on her blog in the near future.

Harvey and Kelly also managed to squeeze in time to do a near complete redesign of their honors physics standards, which you should check out.

I’m also thinking that if people were interested, if we do have a formal chat in the next few days, it might be cool/fun to try to patch in a few participants via skype. Would anyone be interested?

Video Instruction/Tutorials

Fran and Mark had the idea that it would be great to put together a bunch of short instructional videos to explain how to do physics skills that you find yourself always having to explain over and over. Some examples we came up with are the right hand rule, how to copy vectors using a protractor, and “how to make a graph” skills in excel.

Fran is a total machine, and she cranked our these great videos on the right hand rule in less than an hour.

Mark also filmed a video on using the protractor that we’ll upload soon.

Rosalind and Brian started working on excel stuff, and along the way discovered tons of great tutorials that had already been created, mostly as text-based instructions. This coupled with the dozens of different ways to do graphing in all the various versions of excel for windows and mac led to a pretty interesting conversation about how we could create videos that emphasized the greater principles at play here, and avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae of all the differences between versions.

Which led Mark to remind us of the great program for graphing and analyzing data with uncertainty bars, LinReg (scroll halfway down the page). You’ve got to download and try this. Here’s a sample of a graph produced in LinReg and how simple it is to use:

Finally, we started to realize that we might eventually create so many videos that it would be useful to think of a way to organize them. Should we create a Physics Video Resources Page? A google doc? We’d love some input on the best way to organize these.

Video Analysis projects

We closed out the day working on video analysis projects. Rosalind showed us a great simulation she created of a traffic accident that she turned into a project for her students where they had to take on the role of accident investigators and figure out responsibility for the accident and bow many traffic points the violator deserved. Josh showed us some of the incredible WCYDWT videos he’s put together for his physics classes, and I’m going to cross my fingers and hope he will post them to his blog sometime soon. We put together a google document for brainstorming about this as well, tweeted it out and I was truly humbled when the god of video analysis himself, Rhett Allain stopped by to offer his ideas and suggestions.

We then talked about whether or not video analysis had to be limited to just videos where you could measure and learn something from position vs time data, and we came up with a few cases that don’t fit this mold:

  • Spectroscopy measurements: if you can photograph a spectrum from a prism or spectrometer, and put the photo into Tracker Video Analysis, you can then mark the frequency of the spectrum at two different locations and tracker can interpolate/extrapolate to find the frequency of different location son that spectrum. Check out the sample experiments Doug Brown has created if you’re interested.
  • Expanding the definition of analysis: we also thought that not every video needs to be analyzed in tracker for the kids to get something meaningful from them. A great case was a video Josh used to assess his students’ understanding of sound, which simply consisted of a student playing three notes on the violin that differed in loudness and pitch, and he then asked his students to draw sketches of graphs of the (1) frequency vs time and (2) pressure vs time of the 3 sounds. It seems to me that you could create a wide range of similar projects.

Next we decided to some filming of video projects on our own and came up with the following four to start with:

  1. Mass on a spring bouncing around in 3 dimensions, and then comparing that motion to a simulation in vpython, and possibly also using a vernier wireless acceleration/force sensor to get some real-time data. Mark and Fran got some good video of this that we’ll be seeing soon.
  2. Projectile motion WCYDWT: Josh, Rosalind, Harvey and Kelly put together a bunch of WCYDWT videos on projectile motion where they did things like bounce a ball off the floor, have it move upward through the frame of the camera, and then fall back through the frame of the camera. If you stop the video after the ball leaves the frame on the way up, students could figure out the time it will take for the ball to come back into the frame. They also did a great video where they built a model of the Lincoln Memorial with blocks, and then threw a number of balls at it to try to smash it, and students would want to try to figure out whether the ball might destroy the model. Look for those to be posted soon.
  3. Helmholtz coils and electron beams:Brian and I put together the following series of videos that we need more editing, but I thought I’d share the dailies as we work.
  4. Our hope is to edit these into a nice WCYDWT style assessment.

I also have to say that one of the coolest features of this meeting was the incredible level support and collaboration we found from the awesome community of physics tweeters. Here’s the link to the search of our hashtag #physicsmtg. The one thing I think I wish for today is that I somehow had a clone to be able to tweet and keep up with email/RSS as I was working away in the lab—but I guess I’ll leave that to the Bio Teachers Camp.

So all in all I’d call it an incredibly productive day, and it makes me wonder why I never thought to do something like this sooner. It also makes me want to look for ways to try to create this spirit of “camp” in my collaboration with colleagues at my school, and with colleagues in our Metro Physics Teachers Meetings. More musings on that when I’ve had more rest.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist permalink
    July 8, 2011 1:02 am

    All in one day?! Unbelievable. I’m very jealous. I would imagine that sometimes you’re not even sure if you’re remembering everything.

    It was fun to talk with you, John, about the database tonight. It’s fun to be in on the ground level with this sort of planning.

    Looking forward to interacting some more with you guys on twitter tomorrow.


  2. July 8, 2011 9:38 am

    Awesome. Just awesome.

  3. Lori Ryba permalink
    July 8, 2011 9:45 am

    As a somewhat “newbie” to teaching full blown physics (after teaching physical science for years) I was connected with a resource, which led to another connection, and another and have since found this “underground” network of AMAZING teachers (who happen to teach physics). I’ve been in the background of a few GPD meetings and have subscribed to a couple of your blogs and feel so fortunate to be on the fringe observing the amazing work you do. Thank you for the inspiration and it reminds me of that often thrown around quote by Margaret Meade – “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    • July 8, 2011 11:43 pm

      Thanks so much for the very kind words, and I’m so glad you’ve found us. I’m looking forward to hearing from you on twitter and the blogosphere.

  4. July 9, 2011 11:38 am

    One question that we did have, and no one had a good answer to was the issue of copyright and fair use, and I would love some feedback from you on. Suppose that someone were to “contribute” to the database simply by ripping off a fairly unique problem from a standard physics text. What sort of liability issues crop up in this circumstance? Is only the author responsible, or do the creators of the database also share liability? How does educational fair use affect this situation as well?

    I may be able to help out with this one. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act works is that a studio can’t sue YouTube for something one of its users uploads. I don’t even know if it can sue the user. What it can do is request that YouTube take down what the user uploaded. YouTube can comply, in which case the system works, or YouTube can draft some kind of memo explaining why the clip constitutes Fair Use, in which case the two parties hash it out with a judge. YouTube almost always complies. And if YouTube continues to get take-down requests for the same user’s stuff, they’ll eventually deactivate the account.

    For your PPD, the same is true, but here’s the tricky thing. You have to have a particular form on hand with the government so that Universal Studios knows who runs this PPD site so they can send you the takedown notice for the infringing Jaws clip a user uploaded. That form is called the “interim designation of agent to receive notification of claimed infringement.” It’s super basic. It’ll cost you $105. But (I believe) it’s the magic pixie dust that’ll keep you out of trouble.

  5. July 9, 2011 11:58 am

    Just found this site which explains the matter really well. Pay close attention whenever the site talks about “limitations on liability” and “protection.” Those are both things you want.

  6. July 10, 2011 10:19 am

    Nice videos 🙂

    Here’s another visualization based tutorial page for projectile motion.

  7. July 11, 2011 8:31 am

    Very cool visualization. When do you first ask students whether changing only the mass of the object will change the path of the object, before, during or after viewing a few simulations?

    • July 11, 2011 5:35 pm

      I’m not sure which visualization you’re referring to—i didn’t see anything about this in this post. Can you be more specific which thing you are referring to?

  8. September 27, 2011 11:13 pm

    Way to go! A lot to unpack, but worth the journey. Working my way through it.


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