So what is “Physics Modeling” anyway

One whiteboard with c over f

The bulk of my trip this summer is being spent in a training in the Modeling Instruction in Physics technique. The term Modeling comes from the perspective that physics is a set of models of the physical world. These models can be mathematic (equations), diagrams, and literal. More details from their web site:

The Modeling Method of High School Physics Instruction has been under development at Arizona State University since 1990… The program cultivates physics teachers as school experts on effective use of guided inquiry in science teaching… Program goals are fully aligned with National Science Education Standards. The Modeling Method corrects many weaknesses of the traditional lecture-demonstration method, including fragmentation of knowledge, student passivity, and persistence of naive beliefs about the physical world. Unlike the traditional approach, in which students wade through an endless stream of seemingly unrelated topics, the Modeling Method organizes the course around a small number of scientific models, thus making the course coherent.

I think I’m pretty good at integrating inquiry based student centered curriculum into my classroom, but I have not managed to infuse it throughout. I’ve been wanting to attend a Modeling workshop for years, and this year I finally opted to do it. Workshops are offered all over the country each summer, and the ones I could fit into my schedule were in NC or Arizona. Since I have more friends and family in NC than Arizona (Karen and Chris, I still love ya), I decided on NC.

The course I’m in has only six participants, which is a little disappointing, but not that many teachers are willing to put three weeks of their summers into a specific training program. The design of the training is that we (the teachers in the training) work most of the lab activities ourselves, reviewing them at the end to reflect on the goals of the activity. Our first activity today was to examine the nature of a ball bouncing. The basic design of the activity was:

  1. Teacher demonstrates a bouncing ball and ask what we observe.
  2. A list of observations are recorded (e.g. it doesn’t bounce back as it fell, it makes a noise when it hits the ground).
  3. The teacher leads the class in a discussion of which of these observations lead us to items we could measure.
  4. The class settles on comparing the height of the drop to the height of the bounce.
  5. Lab groups meet and develop their technique for a lab that will compare this (no specific instructions are given).
  6. Lab groups conduct their experiment.
  7. My first whitboardLab groups write a “white board” with their data, analysis, and conclusions (the white boards are about 2’x3′, see my partner’s and my whiteboard on the right — click on it for a larger version that you can actually read 🙂 ).
  8. One group presents their lab to the class (using the white board to show their “report”), with the teacher and students asking questions as needed.
  9. Other groups present their labs. As the new reports are made, the teacher helps to guide the discussion to similarities and differences in the reports (both results and design).
  10. After all the presentations are made, a class discussion is held where the nature of the relationship between the variables (drop and bounce heights) is examined.

Notice there’s no teacher telling students “this is how it works.” Research in education has demonstrated the importance of students examining their own beliefs about a subject before learning new material about the subject. When students have misconceptions about a topic that is not addressed before learning, the students tend to place the new material in their short term memory, then quickly revert to their previously held misconceptions about that topic. If, on the other hand, they address their beliefs before the topic is presented, they better integrate the new and old, notice the differences, and, when the new knowledge is integrated into their minds, they are better at dismissing their old misconceptions because they see how they are wrong.

Well, enough for today. The class was great, and the two instructors seem quite good at teaching the class. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of the three weeks.

Signing off from Charlotte,

Lee

Taxi rides and lost drivers

Last Friday I took a cab from the Wilmington airport to the car dealership to pick up my car. As the meter kept climbing over $20, I started to worry about how far this place really was (I hadn’t thought it was that far). We finally got on the road that dealership is on, and after a few minutes the drivers says “Is the number really 2362? We’re at 5000 and the numbers are getting bigger.” I checked and it was right, so then we pulled over and called the company. When she started to explain where they were in relation to where we were, I handed the driver the phone. The driver quickly figured out where he had gone wrong, and backwards we went. I noticed the meter when we turned around, and it was took about $4 to get back to the correct turn off (so we’re now $8 too high).

We then kept going north on the correct road for quite a while, all this being backtracking our initial southward direction, although on a parallel road. When we got there he had the nerve to quote to me the price on the meter. I asked “What about the time you were going in the wrong direction?” and he said he’d take off $6. Not being one to argue when I don’t really know what I’m talking about (and not wanting to bicker over $2), I paid the fare. I even gave him a decent tip.

We had been chatting earlier, and he had been a driver in NYC/NJ area (sorry, cousin Bob, not all NY cab drivers are as good as you were). I guess he just really needs to study the map of Wilmington more 🙁

32 MPG with the AC on !

Well, I filled the tank for the fist time (well, actually the second, but the first I can calculate MPG from) tonight. Turns out I’m getting about 32.3 MGP. This was pretty much highway, although some of it goes through towns (rural area, not many interstate type highways), so it’s not complete highway. This was in two sections, Wilmington to Fayetteville on Friday then Fayetteville to Charlotte today.

Since it’s hot and humid North Carolina, I did have the AC on, but Click and Clack claim that if you drive with the window open you lose as much aerodynamic smoothness that you get the same MPG as if you had the AC on. I suspect this may be a slight exaggeration, but I also believe there is some truth in it. See the following web sites for some online information:

So, I guess I did the right thing driving with the AC on. Now it’s about 10:30 pm, and I drove around the UNC campus neighborhood to find a nice vegetarian Indian restaurant, and free wifi at the Brueger’s Bagels store (right next door to the Starbucks where you have to pay). I’ve been driving with the windows down and the AC off, even though it’s still pretty hot and muggy.

Just chillin’ with the Goldsmiths, and once a web designer, always a web designer

Karen's condo and carMy first social stop on my trip is with Karen Goldsmith in Fayetteville, NC. Turns out her folks are on their visit the kids in the US trip (they have lived in Israel for the past 13? years), so I get to visit with them as well. We’ve been hanging out today, and made it to a movie (Hot Fuzz, a horribly funny spoof of cop movies) — remember that when it’s hot and humid in the afternoon, movies are a popular attraction.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Karen has been running a chiropractic practice in Fayetteville, Atlas Chiropractic, for some years now. I got to see her busy office yesterday, then take a nap on the massage table in the back room (24 hours of travel will do that to you: I left home around 3:0o pm Friday via taxi and BART, then a three leg flight, then picking up my car and driving up to Fayetteville). Karen has won “Best of Fayetteville” in the local free weekly several times.

In talking to Karen about her business’ web site, I realized that I am to web design and small business like Karen is to chiropractic: I’m certain that there are many ways people can build a web site (her: take care of themselves) but that many people are lead down poor paths by folks who don’t know any better. I’m continually amazed at how poorly designed many web sites are at the structural level. Sometimes they even look pretty, but their organization and navigability is very bad. Anyone I build web sites for I stress the importance of using good structure for their site (e.g. tags in the code that says “this is important”, “this is the first section”) and how this makes the site more accessible to: people with vision disabilities, novice web users, and, if they don’t care about that, search engines. One client I built a web site who does bodywork and movement didn’t think accessibility issue was that important but went along with my recommendations. A while later, she gained a blind client who said she appreciated the accessibility of the site. For more on this, visit High Accessibility Is Effective Search Engine Optimization by Andy Hagans http://www.alistapart.com/articles/accessibilityseo.

Picked up my new car !!

Well, the taxi driver got lost on the way, but I made it to the car dealership and there was my nice shiny used car waiting for me. I’ve driven it about 100 miles (to Karen’s house), and it seems to be working well. The car has NO automatic anything, and it’s amazing to be back in the world of roll up windows and manually locked doors. Those remote controls are amazing. Now I just have to re-learn to remember to lock the back doors when before I close them. Those remotes sure are handy. I’ll fill up the tank for the fist time tomorrow and will learn what kind of gas mileage the thing is getting.

The car is a 1999 Saturn SW1 (their smaller wagon) with 94,444 miles on it. Got it for a nice $3,000 (single owner, clean Carfax, etc.). It’s driving nicely.

Hanging out in the Vegas airport

Hanging out in the airport corridors plugged into charge the laptop.Well,  I had an hour or so to kill in the Vegas airport, so what else to do but gamble. I only lost $14 in the quarter slot, cha-ching. Then it was off to my gate to hang out and wait. Now I find that my flight has been delayed an hour. That gives me 16 minutes to get to my connecting flight to Wilmington. Wish me luck!

The image on the right shows (barely) what happens these days in airports. The corridors are lined with people at the plugs charging their laptops and phones. You can see a bigger picture here. There’s not many outlets in the seating areas of Oakland and Las Vegas airports. I think I’ve seen them more in other airports. Maybe they’ll put them in with the next remodels 🙂

Fun at the Oakland airport

Well, first off, fly Oakland whenever you can. No wait at the ticket counter, no wait for the security check point. Just keep walking through 🙂

I got here about four hours early (I finally got all packed), so I had lots of time to kill. I found the Castlemont High School Knight’s Cafe in the airport, it’s run by students from Castlemont High. I got a decaf soy mocha (of course) and sat down to drink it. I got to talking with a woman there who asked if I had just attended my high school 20th reunion (I have on my BHS 20th reunion t-shirt). Turns out she’s writing a book about parents and kids (she’s a counselor in elementary schools in Portland), and asked if I would mind answering some questions for her book. I, being the shy and introverted person I am, of course said yes. She had some interesting questions, but I wouldn’t answer her questions about what I’d ask myself if sitting next to us was me at 80 back from the future.  I guess I just don’t want to know what the future has in plan: I’ll just wait and see what it will bring. I’ve had a good enough life that I am not worried about what the future brings (and, of course, there’s the whole can you really change the future if you know what it is, ’cause if so, do you really know what the future is?)

After talking with her, I proceeded to my gate, still a couple hours ahead. Then they announced that all people flying to Philadelphia or Charlotte (me) should return to the ticket window (at the front, outside security, this is important later) because they had arranged a shuttle to SFO where they had non-stop flights in store for us. I headed out to the ticket window, only to find that this was for the flight scheduled for a couple hours before my flight, going through Phoenix, which was running late. Guess they figured no one would be there two hours early and think they were talking about my 8:20 flight.

So, it’s back through security (love Oakland’s: no lines!) and back to my gate. Now I’ve only got an hour to wait for my flight, so figured it’s time to add to the blog.

Suddenly next to me I hear a kid’s voice “Grandma, it’s me, pick up the phone.” What a great ringtone. Guess I’ll have to get Bijou to record a similar tone for me soon 🙂

Well, time to sit and enjoy another hour in the airport. Life really is much more pleasant when you’re not in a rush…

Last minute packing for North Carolina and more

Oh my, it's after midnight and I'm still not packed.Well, tomorrow I take a plane to North Carolina to get a car, for a physics teaching workshop, and a great road trip back. I’ll be posting here throughout the trip, so stop back by to see what’s up. If you forget the password, it’s the name of my granddaughter !!

The photo on the right is after midnight, and I’m still not finished packing 🙁

Lucky the plane doesn’t leave until 8:30 pm.