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New version of big picture of computational physics

August 14, 2011

Thanks to the incredible feedback left yesterday to my very rough draft, I was inspired to put in a lot of time revising my video, and learning Camtasia and Final Cut in order to add some special effects to make it more appealing. I think there’s a lesson here somewhere, namely that great feedback makes you want to revise. I’m going to try to keep this in mind this year when working with students and especially on capstones.

So here’s the second draft.


Some lessons learned:

  • Editing video is a huge time sink. I spent hours and could have easily spent days trying to tweak every detail.
  • I’m still not sure how effective this is going to be. It appeals to me, and I think it gives a nice summary of why we’re going to devote some serious time to computational modeling, but I’m not certain that this will fuel them through the inevitable obstacles we will face.
11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2011 2:33 am

    This is great stuff, and we need to talk. When do you start school?

    To your question, at 4:05 you start bringing in the equations. This is the moment you will lose your students in my opinion. When I introduce Computational Thinking I follow a similar story (e.g. weather, stock market, amazon recommendations) basically imbuing humans with the superhuman powers that Einstein referred to in the computer-human collaboration quote.

    I would recommend letting them create their own predictions of what one needs to do in order to do this over and over again. I tell my students to create instructions that a 5th grader could do (translation: specific discrete steps that are simple).

    I refer to this process in theory in here:

    and describe it in terms of a project here:

    If you can let your students try creating an algorithm from scratch (the VPython bouncing ball is a great one) they will independently discover the coolness/importance of this.

    As I said, lets set up a time to talk about this as I think we can help each other out a lot!

    • August 14, 2011 10:40 pm

      I’m super interested in chatting about this, and I would love to hear ideas for how I might be able to collaborate with you and your friends at the plex. I really like your suggestions and ideas for helping students to create the algorithm from scratch, but I’m not sure how workable it is in this case, since we’re introducing computational modeling very early, before students have even fully mastered the idea of velocity, and long before they understand acceleration or N2.

  2. Conor Buechler permalink
    August 14, 2011 2:36 am

    Great series of improvements. The section beginning around minute 5 was particularly improved, the arrows tracing things out worked well to keep my eyes as well as my ears engaged. Nice job.

    • August 14, 2011 8:09 pm

      Agreed – John made great improvements. Equation animations & colors helped clarify – the combination of auditory with engagement of my visual senses made the ideas much more accessible & memorable. Also, differentiating between details & the big idea was a great way to let the the students know they will be using VPython to do powerful calculations — something they could only dream of if they only used pencil or paper.

      • August 14, 2011 10:30 pm

        Thanks Marilyn,
        Your feedback was tremendously helpful in making these improvements.

  3. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist permalink
    August 14, 2011 8:39 am

    Much improved. I’ve been thinking about what Phil said about losing the students at the equations. What is the goal, here? I was thinking, at first, that it was to get them ready to program right away. If that’s right, then I think they do need the car.v stuff, etc. However, maybe 2 vids then: 1) big idea, 2) syntax vid for resource they can reuse.

    If, on the other hand, the goal is mostly the big idea and you’ll help them with the programming later, then maybe less equations and then do Phil’s suggestion of having them brainstorm how you’d get a computer to do things. I do that with my students, but, then again, they already know N2L etc.

    As for the time sink, I used to do Camtasia with editing etc (though I do like how it can guess where to put the focus) but I switched to Jing because I knew I’d be doing a bunch of them. When I go back to watch my old ones, I don’t really see that much difference in their ability to convey information.

    • August 14, 2011 10:38 pm

      You’re right—jing can do most everything, and I’m surprised by some of the limitations of Camtasia for mac. Since I’m introducing this so early (first week of school), before students know forces or acceleration, I’m thinking it would be a bit much to have them discover these ideas, but when we get back to these units, I will definitely bring this back up.

  4. August 14, 2011 9:25 am

    I really love this idea, and am thinking of ways to do something similar for my courses.

    What do you expect students to do while watching this video? Are they just watching to be inspired? Watching to get a course overview? Watching for learning? Are they taking notes? What information do you expect them to recall the next day? The video is too long for inspiration or an overview, and if your students are like mine (which I think they are), they’ll easily add another 10-20 minutes to viewing time by pausing to write every single equation down. My suggestions below are for “inspiration/overview” mode.

    I particularly like the beginning (and the hurricane example is >>> precipitation example, so nice change). After 3:14, as a non-physics person, you lost me a little bit. I would use a real world example (I imagine a baseball being hit by a bat, though there may be a more gender-neutral example I’m not thinking of), and verbally describe the process in that simple context (all students will understand that how far a ball travels will depend on how hard it is hit). Visually, you could show the baseball/bat pictures synchronously with the circle/arrow representation, and the mathematical representation. That way, students can see these other representations, while hearing and seeing it in a context that is relatable, and not get bogged down in the details unnecessarily. You can get down to the nitty gritty in a second screencast.

    Similarly, the VPython code can be displayed synchronously with the relevant equation. (new position & car.pos appear at the same time, then the next pair, etc).

    • August 14, 2011 10:37 pm

      If you’re thinking about computational modeling specifically, there are so many ways to bring this into chemistry. There are already some great programs out there that model gases and allow you to understand ideas of pressure in terms of collisions of atoms with the walls of the container. I think you could also use it to model reaction rates other problems where solving a differential equation would be too much, but the computer can help students arrive at the solution through iteration.

      The idea of this video is to be mostly simply overview, and to help them see the big picture. I’m going to talk to them in advance about how to watch the movie to try to get the big picture without writing down every equation.

      I also like your idea of the baseball and baseball bat, but that problem turns out to be harder to model computationally, since the force acts for such a small amount of time. But I’ll think about trying to do something like this in a later revision.

      And I really like your suggestion about displaying the equation and code simultaneously, but I’m too tired to go back and make this change. Next time. 🙂

  5. August 14, 2011 10:05 pm

    I think this is a great intro. Consider asking your students for feedback. Do they think it’s cool? Scary? What was unclear? You get the idea…

    • August 14, 2011 10:30 pm

      Great idea! Will definitely add this to the end of the webassign assignemnt.

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