Archive for May, 2011
Prof. Allain has taken his Dot.Physics introductory blog posts and formed them into a fun and entertaining e-book covering the basic principles of mechanics. From his initial advice not to use the e-book as a table leg prop to his discussion of differential equations in chapter 15, Just Enough Physics provides students a light, simple, and concise explanation of algebra-based physics.
Further, Just Enough Physics actually includes directions on basic VPython programming for simple physics simulations… if you’re like me and have been reticent to dive into simulation and programming, this text provides several code snippets with clear explanations that entice you to see what you can do by way of numerical simulation and computer modeling.
As a high school physics teacher and engineering professor, I highly recommend this book for beginning physics students of any age.
Last week I gave an exam. With more than 100 students in classes, of course several were absent and had to make up the test. One student who missed the first makeup day came back to class on the day we were reviewing the exam… he walked in late as we were already into our exam review, with several of the answers on the board.
Trying my best not to interrupt the flow of the class, I quickly had the students analyzing an alternate solution to a problem while I ushered my absentee student out the door with a copy of the exam, an answer sheet, and directions to complete the exam in the library and then return to class. He protested that he wasn’t prepared (despite several days of review where he was present) and a policy that exams are made up upon a student’s return.
Not the most efficient or effective solution, and of course hindsight is 20/20, but I prefer to trust my students unless they prove themselves untrustworthy. This time, I got taken.
Upon grading the student’s exam later that night, not only did I find a tremendous increase in this student’s proficiency on the topic under study, he had also scored the highest grade in the class. In all my classes, as a matter of fact. An amazing feat for a student who hadn’t worked in class, had scored poorly on our review questions, and in-class quizzes and tests for understanding, and who had professed his unpreparedness for the exam. Or, perhaps it was just an ignominious feat.
I like to think the best of all my students, and I feel that for an overwhelming majority, they have earned my trust. But this single event unbalanced me. And I’m more disturbed because as I look back through the year, I’m quite certain this isn’t the first time… too many “shaky” coincidences that should have caught only my glancing attention have slipped by. And I’ve failed this student, as much or more than he’s failed me. Because I’ve allowed him to learn that he can succeed by cheating, even though he has yet to realize the person he’s cheated is himself.
Next time, of course, I know better solutions to the situation… give the student an alternate version of the exam, give the makeup exam in a controlled and supervised environment, or a combination of the two. Of course, that’s next time.
I like to think the best of my students, but I also need to realize that students make mistakes, and part of my job as a teacher is to assist them in recognizing those mistakes so that they don’t repeat them. We’ll be sitting down for a talk this afternoon, one that neither the student or I will likely enjoy, but that will hopefully foster growth in both of us. As a friend of mine advises, when you make a mistake, you should do three things: 1) admit the mistake; 2) learn from the mistake; and 3) don’t repeat it.
Faculty Speech from the 2011 Irondequoit High School NHS Induction Ceremony on May 17:
Congratulations Parents, Family, and Irondequoit High School 2011 National Honor Society inductees. I am truly honored you’ve asked me to speak to you this evening, and humbled to share the stage with such noble, talented, and inspired young men and women.
Given that this is an NHS induction, I’d like to talk for a few moments about the tenets of NHS membership: scholarship, leadership, service, and character, so I’d ask for your indulgence while I stand up on my soapbox and perhaps provide a slightly different perspective on what this night really means.
First, inductees, you are all here for a reason. You’ve worked hard, you’ve achieved, you’ve served, and you’ve led. Again, my sincere congratulations, and my even stronger congratulations to your families – for I think we all know that success in life is built upon a strong foundation of love, caring, discipline, and respect at home.
But what does it mean to be inducted into NHS? Something I hope you’ve reflected upon prior to this evening’s ceremony. I thought hard about what it meant to me when I was a student, and again a few weeks ago when I was asked to speak tonight. And I come to the same conclusion tonight as I did those many years ago – The award itself is nothing… It’s a piece of paper in hand, and nothing more.
Ralph Waldo Emerson explained “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
And if you spent those years of sweat, frustration, humility and growth for the piece of paper, I hate to tell you this, but it was all wasted. So then what is tonight about? It’s not about an award and it’s not the culmination of years of hard work, because nothing has culminated. This isn’t an ending, and it’s certainly not a high achievement – not for you. We’re expecting much more.
The true value has come in your journey to this point, and that’s hardly yet begun! The real award is the pride and confidence you’ve fostered in yourself, and the opportunities you’ve unlocked through your diligence and strife. We, your teachers, family and friends, come together tonight to show our support and respect for the path you’ve chosen.
You work hard, you get good grades, you take challenging classes, and you have a strong foundation of academics behind you.
Terrific, way to go, pat yourselves on the back, and take a deep breath, because here’s what we teachers haven’t told you – 90% of what you’ve learned in your school books you’ll never use again. And I think that’s probably being generous.
What you’ve REALLY learned are skills so much more valuable in today’s world. How to teach yourselves. How to think independently. How to question authority, and how to submit to it. How to get along with jackasses. And how to work productively in teams. These are the skills you’re going to truly need again and again in life. It only gets tougher from here, but so do you.
Lessons in leadership you can only truly learn by making mistakes. Thousands of books on leadership exist, because there are thousands of theories, and they’re all different. Why? Because leadership depends on the situation. Only your heart can can guide you. There’s no secret formula for success. What I can share with you, however, are a few of my thoughts from which perhaps you can gleam a nugget of gold.
- Find the value, potential, and passion in people. Recognize their value, support their growth, and find a way to kindle their passions.
- Admit your mistakes, learn from them, and don’t repeat them. Besides, people are always amazed when you find new and creative mistakes to make.
- Share your emotions. Sympathy, excitement, empathy, understanding, and caring are requirements for building trust, but there’s also nothing wrong with expressing dismay, disappointment, frustration, and righteous rage in the appropriate circumstances.
- A leader is honest. No ifs, ands, or buts. That’s it, honest.
- A leader walks his or her own path, modeling the vision they wish to instill in others by always doing their best. If you give your best to the endeavors you cherish and value, you cannot fail.
Service is so much more than counting hours as you pick up trash along the side of the highway or wash cars for a charity… service is finding a way to share your special gifts and talents with your fellow man. Finding your talents and a means of sharing them isn’t always easy or straightforward, but once you do find them, service becomes an enjoyable way of life, and not a chore or recurring obligation.
So I ask you to think about how you can make the world a better place, and start by finding one thing you can do each and every day of your life.
Character is, ultimately, the most important and perhaps sole criterion for membership. Character is a reflection of your own personal self-worth.
Thomas MacAuley said, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.”
If you have strong character, then scholarship, leadership, and service will take care of themselves.
As I was growing up, like most kids, I thought my parents were always wrong. As I got older, I realized they had an annoying habit of being right most of the time. Unfortunately, my realization occurred right about the time they started telling me I had to make my own decisions. Nevertheless, I’d like to leave you with a bit of advice my father gave me, that’s proven most worthwhile time and time again in my life, and I hope you find it of value as well.
He told me that when faced with a difficult decision, do what you think and feel in your heart is right, regardless of what your friends, family, peers, rules, and even society may tell you.
Even if it’s hard.
Even if you don’t want to.
Even if society disagrees.
If you live by this philosophy, you’ll never lie awake at night regretting your decisions.
It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but he was right. I ended up in the principal’s office a few times in high school for standing up for what was right… it was unsettling, but I could hold my head high.
At times I met a few more college administrators than I would have liked, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
I had the opportunity to enjoy a few less-than-comfortable discussions with my supervisors and employees over the years, but I did what was right.
And every single time, I came out the better for it… not on paper, perhaps, but inside, where it counts. And I’ve never lost a lick of sleep following this philosophy.
You have a long road ahead of you, and we congratulate you tonight not on the piece of paper you’re receiving, but for the young men and women you’ve become. We salute your courage, dedication, discipline, and honor as you continue your journey down whatever path you choose in life. Tonight, I ask of you only one thing, but a mighty request it is – I want you to promise yourselves, right here and right now, that you will live your life to the high expectations and standards of your own morals and beliefs.
Always with Integrity, and therefore without Regret.
Following several discussions with a number of science teachers, we’ve decided on a review strategy to prepare students for our cumulative standardized final exam in NY Regents Physics.
To begin the review sequence, students will be given standardized exam question printouts from previous years and will cut out the individual questions. Questions will be sorted into the main course topics and pasted on a blank sheet to create a worksheet consisting of single topics of questions from multiple years’ exams.
Each day, we’ll being the class with a 10-minute review video covering one of the key topics of the course. These have been created previously as part of the Physics In Action podcast, so this is very easy to implement.
- Scalars & Vectors
- Motion Graphs
- Kinematic Equations
- Uniform Circular Motion & Gravity
- Momentum & Impulse
- Work & Energy
- Electric Circuits
- Circuit Analysis
- Wave Basics
- Wave Behaviors
- Modern Physics
Students will then be given a previous year’s Regents Exam, and asked to complete the first half of the exam. This will be repeated the following day, with students completing the second half of the exam.
On the third day, the exams will be graded and reviewed as a class. Students will then break down their scores to provide a separate score for each key unit from the exam using a diagnostic guide provided by the teacher.
Corrective actions must then be taken by the student based on their score in each topic. For scores above 85% in any topic, no corrective actions are required. For scores above 75%, three of the four corrective actions must be taken (student’s choice). For scores below 75%, all four corrective actions must be taken.
The corrective actions for each unit are comprised of
- Determine correct answers to the problems you missed, showing all work including your initial formula, substitution with units, and answer with units.
- Textbook chapters covering unit in question OR
- Regents Physics Essentials Review Book chapter covering unit in question.
- View topic tutorial and associated pages on APlusPhysics.com. Take interactive quiz at end of section until you score 85% or higher.
- Complete practice worksheet on topic and check answers.
This sequence will be completed three times over three weeks leading up to a final in-class exam, followed by the formal state standardized exam. Students who have completed their practice exam and corrections for the week may be released from class early, while those who need more practice will benefit from more class time as well as a lower student-to-teacher ratio as the week progresses.
Of course, the monotony of review will be broken up by occasional activities and supplemental lessons such as the always-popular time dilation discussion, reading of “Icarus at the Edge of Time” by Brian Greene, and other end-of-year activities.