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Very rough first cut of the big picture of physics

August 13, 2011

Tonight, I put together this very rough cut of the big idea of mechanics lesson which I wrote about a few posts back. I am trying to capture the big idea of mechanics and prepare students to invest the work they need to understand VPython. The audio is pretty terrible and there are a bunch of gaps and pauses, but I would appreciate any feedback that you may have. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to screen this—I really appreciate it.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2011 8:55 am

    I would say — slow way down — it sounds like you are reading from cards and rushing through.

    If something is elegant or beautiful — show & say why it is beautiful to you — I know it is not the main purpose of your presentation but you can really draw in a student in when they see why you are so inspired by something.

    Direct their eyes to the visual presentation more often — either through a pointer on the slide or some other movement on the slide, or with your words by saying something like “if you look at the visual on the screen you can see that…” or “if you look right here…”

    If possible, use more animation to show demo of motion of objects or give sense of mass… especially for the equations presented. Simple, unambiguous animation to show how equations work might help with intuition.

    Use a arrows or something to create motion on the slide to show where you are in your discussion with your words.

    Pausing in the right places is good — for example — giving students time to absorb a particular thought — after making a particularly salient point you can say “I want you to take a moment to think about this because it is so amazing (repeat the idea and give a second to absorb)” — if you were teaching a student one/one, you would pause to look at their face for understanding and then move on. Think about where in your presentation you’ve just presented something that might be a challenge to their current cognitive set — those are the moments that need more reinforcement — additional animation, pauses, emphasis, repeat in a different way.

    Sell it! Do the students know why you’re bothering to give them a view of the Big Picture? Do they realize the reason is because you are selling them on VPython? Did you tell them that they will become wizards if they master VPython? Do they buy into the notion that it is worth their time — either because it is so darn diverting or because it will be useful someday? A convincing sales pitch at the beginning and the end of the presentation (or even a couple of reminders in between “this is just the kind of thing you can do with VPython” or “this type of weather prediction model is made possible through calculations like the ones you can do in VPython”) might help sell the need or purpose for VPython & also why you are presenting the Big Picture in the first place.

    Have fun!

  2. August 13, 2011 9:01 am

    Really cool, John. I think you are going to have to cut back on a few things to keep the message focused, but overall I’m very impressed. In my mind, there are either (1) too many different things or (2) too much detail in some of those things. Maybe some of the details of programming and Newton’s laws could go? I do like the “here are the four things a computer needs to know”, but after that it might be getting a bit much. Even, I felt overwhelmed.

    The way I see it, there are several big ideas in those details:

    We can predict things in the future if we know enough about how things are currently are–for predicting motion enough means position, velocity, mass, and forces.

    It is easier to make predictions in the not-very-far future than far into the future, but we can string together a series of near-future predictions and still do reasonably well.

    Computers allow us to string together many “very-near-future” predictions in order to end up with a “far-into-the-future” prediction quickly and accurately.

    As far as the early parts go, my take-away messages are these:

    The internet (computers) uses physics to do a lot of cool stuff, like predict the weather.

    Predicting the future would have seemed like voodoo a 100 years ago.

    Anyway, this is more of me just trying to parrot back what I see, rather than give you specific recommendations. Hope this is helpful.

  3. August 13, 2011 10:11 am

    I took grade 11 physics in the late 1960’s so watched with the eyes of a potential student. I was also a teacher for 35 years (no — not physics!!!) so watched with the eyes of an educator. First — this is an inspiring effort. You got me interested enough to want to take your course as you come across as a teacher who can show me how physics can help me understand how things in the real world work (in this case computer modeling). That’s what I loved about physics as a girl.

    Your students will be so excited when you show them this on day one instead of starting with ‘read the course outline’ and ‘start on chapter 1 page 1 of the text’. I’d love to be in that class and hear the discussion and questions that follow. This could become an opportunity to gather feedback about what the students know and hope to learn more about. You’re also showing other educators a way to use their passion for their disciplines to dial up their students’ excitement and get them ready to dig into the course work.(On a technical note, unlike a lot of videos on the internet, I could actually see most of what you were doing when I switched to full screen. Great work there!!!!)

    You’ve asked for suggestions, so I’ve watched 3 more time and hope you’ll find this feedback constructive.
    1) I would punctuate what you’re saying with more real life slides. A 10 minute video is long for most kids to watch.There’s lots of story telling in your narration, so use more visuals to keep them watching with you as you talk. On TV, even though we aren’t aware of it, the shots change every 8-15 seconds so the visuals also convey the story. That’s pretty extreme for an instructional video, but you’re using this to help me see the big picture through your eyes to fuel my imagination, so give me more visuals (even an occasional funny one) to help me capture your vision. EG: from about minute 5-8 one equation sits on the screen; same from minute 8-9 and the Milky Way slide.
    2) When reading the equations, draw my attention to what part of the equation you’re looking at by pointing with a cursor or underlining (use a tablet)
    3) About 4 minutes (new vel = old vel), bring the second equation in when you first refer to it as you did with the previous example
    4) 4:40 — I wasn’t sure why you were suddenly making reference to the velocity of a car. Give me some context — who might use this technique?
    5) Blue slide around 2 minutes –fix the spelling of the word ‘velocity’ in line 3
    6) I’m not sure where you live, but many urban kids have never seen the Milky Way. Show them a slide of someone looking up at the sky on a starry night, turn this into a bit of a story of how physicists unwrap a mystery — let your own passion fuel your students’ imagination. This is a wonderful choice of how physics can help us past wondering and give them something to tell their children about when they are dads and mums. Again point to the center of the MW when you mention it, and perhaps put a dot to show Earth.
    7) You might want a bigger finish — possibly fast forward a bunch of visual illustrations of the myriad applications of this law. Again say something about how the course will reveal the invisible web of laws that underlie all forces, movements, and relationships of objects in the universe (or whatever the correct version of that statement might be LOL) and the work of physics is to understand these and make use of them to …….. ???????
    8) Keep your purpose in mind and let the math take the back seat if you have to make cuts to keep inside ten minutes. You can use any footage you decide to take out here to open the discussion of Newton’s 2nd law when you get to it.
    9) Think about assigning the development of this kind of video to the students as part of the course. Make a list of topics you might want videos for in future so they don’t all do the same one. Tell them the purpose will be to illustrate their understanding of the ‘big picture’ associated with that topic or law or concept in a way that would excite & enlighten the students who will follow them. (Hint: get their written permission to use these in future courses so you don’t have to make all these videos yourself). You’ll get fantastic results. Have a showcase on the last day.

    (BTW: Flickr Creative Commons [] is a great source of images made available for use without copyright. Choose from the collections that DON”T say “no derivatives” or “non commercial” and then figure out a way to give image credits.)

    I hope this is what you were looking for. I can be awfully long winded. You video gets 100 ‘likes’ from me. I don’t suppose you teach anywhere near Vancouver, BC. so I could sit at the back and enjoy the fun when you first show this to your students?

    Sue Hellman
    Surrey, BC, Canada

  4. August 13, 2011 10:16 am

    PS — sorry for the typos. I got an A in Bad Typing 101.

  5. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist permalink
    August 13, 2011 10:40 am

    Hi John,

    A few thoughts:

    1. Use your mouse to point nearly all the time. People will follow it and you can keep up the slides for a long time as long as you point to the parts you’re talking about.
    2. I don’t remember if you have a pen tablet, but if you do, drawing out the ball with vector slides might go over better as you can really indicate the direction of the vectors while drawing them. You can also make sure you talk about the parts of the figure as you draw them.
    3. It was, at times, too obvious you had a script. After doing this once, do you think you could do without the script?
    4. Why not break it up into two (or more?) scasts? At the end you turned the approach around with the black hole stuff. Why not make a different scast for that?

    I looked at this with an eye towards the type of scasts I make (no Sal, mind you, but easily in the upper hundreds). Mine are to be watched often and none are supposed to be that big of a deal. I think that’s a difference between mine and what you’re trying to accomplish here. I’m not sure how that would change my points above but maybe point 4 isn’t as important.


  6. August 13, 2011 11:15 am

    Dear Marylin, Brian, Sue and Andy,
    Holy Cannoli—I can’t tell you how awesome it is to go to bed after thowing out this very bad rough cut onto my blog and wake up with such incredible feedback from the four of you—your different perspectives and many insights have helped me to completely re conceptualize how I can present this. I, and ultimately, my students, can’t thank you enough.

  7. August 13, 2011 2:53 pm

    Great start to this. Here are a few thoughts from my first watch.

    First, I think you have a strong intro. Going right to the heart of why we use computational modeling is cool. I think you’ll hook a good number of students with that.

    As you started to discuss how this amazing feat is accomplished, I felt that the language became confusing as the importance began resting on the adjectives more than the nouns (i.e. “current position” vs. “new position”). I think that Andy’s rec about using a pointer of some kind will help alleviate potential confusion.

    When rewriting the equation as code, you have the same variable on both sides of the equation. That is going to blow some minds if they’ve never seen code before. I know you can’t get into a discussion of syntax, but maybe a small handwritten note that shows up next to the variable could clear it up. Say, you refer to it as the “new” velocity, so a little “new” tag appears next to it, but in writing rather than the same font. I hope that made sense.

    I’d leave off the black hole part at the end. I love that finding myself and the video is amazing, but you’ve already amazed them with the moon’s location and predicting the weather.

    Hope this helps.

  8. August 15, 2011 2:58 pm

    As I watch it, I’m sorry to say that you have mispelled velocity when you identify the 4 things you need to know to predict (just after the weather radar picture). My other thoughts have already been stated.

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