Day 4 of Physics Teacher Camp: Avengers Assemble!
The title of this post is a shout-out to Brian Carpenter, who really helped me to think a bit more deeply the art form that is the comic book and also figure out the comic book alter egos of some of the participants of the conference. I’ll spare you (and us) from most of the comparisons, but I had to share just one:
The resemblance is also more than cosmetic; just as Charles Xaiver uses Cerebro to locate and connect mutants to save the world, Frank uses the internet to bring physics teachers (who some might view as mutants) to save the world. I also think there’s one more resemblance that I should point out:
One last comic book story I’ll share from the education I got from Brian last night. When you look at the comic book superheros, in many ways, they are our modern myths. Look at the DC comic book heros, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman—many of these characters are almost direct copies of Roman gods (flash=Apollo, Auqman=Neptune, etc) they are also perfect in such a way to be inapproachable. Batman as a ultra rich, ripped, gadget freak who fights crime, or Superman as an all powerful alien, who can relate to these characters? This sort of puts the whole premise of the title Waiting for Superman in a whole new light for me. If we really are waiting for Superman to come and fix the school system, and solve the problems we cannot solve, this seems to be a misguided strategy—a point nicely made in the blog post, Why Superman would Suck as a Teacher.
Contrast this with the Marvel superheros—flawed humans who are constantly wrestling with their flaws to become better people. Hulk who is always battling to control and use his anger, Spiderman suffering from girl problems and social isolation, Thor who hubris and war-like nature gets him cast out of Asgard. These are superheros with human emotions that we share, who must overcome their limitations to save the world. And when they unite in the Avengers, they can save the world. This is certainly how I’d like to see myself—as a flawed teacher, who can overcome these flaws by uniting with other teachers around the world, and ultimately change the world together.
The last bit of physics teacher camp definitely took on a bit of this Avengers atmosphere, with us picking up on the educational reform thread from the the night before, and brainstorming ideas for a letter to Carl Weiman, a nobel laureate and advocate of science education reform to inform him about modeling instruction and ask for his support. The big takeaway was that we need to share more stories of students who are transformed by this method of science teaching, and foster stronger connections between teachers through sharing.
Of course, this is just the beginning. Matt showed us mock-ups of the AMTA site redesign—which promises to allow teachers to connect with one another, share and revise materials, and discuss teaching. This promises to be an incredible resource for teachers everywhere, and if you haven’t joined AMTA yet, you definitely should—it’s the best $25 you could possibly spend to help make this vision a possibility.
- Here’s a great little explanation of functions that would make a wonderful poster on a wall:
- If the change is constant it’s linear.
- If the change in the change is constant, it’s quadratic.
- If the change is proportional to the thing itself, it’s exponential.
- If the change in the change is proportional to the thing itself, then it’s sinusoidal.
- We talked about standardization—should students be told to do all their measurements in SI units, or in cm instead of meters? Should we tell students which thing to plot along the axis? Matt made a powerful argument that we want students to discover the reason for standardization, and there’s no better way to help students to see this than to let them go off and make measurements in whatever unit and graph quantities on whatever axis they choose, and then ask them to compare their results, which will force them to instantly look for an example. In the buggy lab, for instance, when they have graphs of x vs t and tvs x, in all sorts of different units, just ask “which buggy is fastest?” and watch as students scramble to compare their results and develop a standard.
- We had a very interesting discussion on scaffolding that I’ll probably turn into a longer blog post, but my main takeaway was that if you want students to learn to work without scaffolding, the gradual removal of the scaffold doesn’t work too well—the gradual changes are too subtle and students can’t recognize them. Better to do things like giving students 3 problems in a single day, one broken down into parts, the next with a simple checklist (model this completely by: drawing appropriate diagrams, deciding which model applies, etc) , and finally one with no question at all—a true goalless problem, and have students work on all three on the same day.
- Matt Greenwolfe showed off this awesome vpython program for visualizing the surface charge on a wire. Here’s a quick demonstration:
- Kelly shared an awesome project she does with her regular class build a scale model of a roller coaster using 1 m of wire. Students must create a roller coaster with certain parameters, and show that it the acceleration doesn’t exceed certain values. As is my habit, I’ll give her a shout out in hopes she posts this great project and some photos to her blog.
- Brian had this great idea for a project—have students study cartoons and write out 5 laws of physics for a particular cartoon world (eg. The gravitational force doesn’t act on you until you look down. Then write a program in vpyhton on scratch to model this world).
- We also had a further discussion of the LOL diagram and system schema, and one particular subtlety. For the case where you have an system where the separation distance between an object and the earth is changing, it really doesn’t make sense not to include the earth in the system. Here’s why: if the earth is in the system, then the object and the earth interaction stores gravitational potential energy, and this is fine. But if only the object is in the system, you might be tempted to say that the earth is doing work on the system consisting only of the object. This would also imply that the earth is transferring energy to/from the ball, and this doesn’t make sense. If the ball is falling, the energy transfer taking place is from the gravitational potential energy of the earth ball system to the kinetic energy of the ball. This shows that the typical LOL diagram isn’t really equipped to correctly describe what is going on for these types of systems, which I found to be a great example of a sort of model-breaking, and thought it might be cool to help students recognize some inherent limitations in the tools they use to describe the world around them.
- And finally, an couple of great lines for posters from Mark and Kelly:
- Fail often to succeed sooner.
- Frustration is your mind constructing understanding.
Once I get permission from Matt, I’ll post the code here as well.