Category Archives: Physics

What are we really learning from practical work?

As we study science, a lot of our time and resources are devoted to implementing an engaging practical scheme of work. Are we really making the most educational use of this time, these resources and the opportunities that we have? 

Teachers all over the world use experiments and demonstrations to engage students in the concept being taught. But does this actually improve student learning? Two recent videos have got me thinking about this issue, and before you read on you should watch them both.

The first is from UK science teacher & communicator Alom Shaha (@alomshaha), half the brains behind the website. The video was produced for the Nuffield Foundation’s new Practical Work for Learning resource. He refers to a number of research papers in the video, and is also one of the leaders of the #SciTeachJC (science teachers journal club) twitter discussion group.

Do you recognise those labs and how do you use them? Do the labs we do really help us teach the concepts we intend them to, and how can we rethink (or at least evaluate) our use of labs.

The second video is from US Chemistry teacher Tom Stelling (@ChemistTom), on his “vRant” about students asking to “blow something up” and the dangers of ‘wow’ demos as distraction rather than education.

Note: this post rambles a bit from here on. If you want to know more, please read on. Otherwise, all the good bits were in Alom & Tom’s videos. 

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Manga Guides & Comics in Education

This tweet from the IB World Magazine links to an interesting article:

It also reminded me of these Manga Guides to Physics, Statistics, Biochemistry, Mathematics by NoStarch, which were shared recently by Frank Noschese and Dr Tae. They’re translated from Japanese, and written in the Manga style by artists and experts in their field.

You can see some sample pages on Scribd:

They are funny, with some clear explainers and a narrative context for the content. You could recreate some of the situations or experiments in class, and use pages as a discussion (in a similar way to concept cartoons).

I do have some concern that the common thread through the books is of a young girl who doesn’t ‘get it’ and so needs the help of an “explaining male*” (typically nerdy, with glasses) to be able to understand – and the motivation seems to be to save grades or achieve romance. Does this reinforce gender stereotypes, or would high school students see through it as part of the narrative gimmick? Being in Japan, I often see my students and other young adults on trains reading comic books with similar artwork and, I assume, storylines. The style is commonplace here, but I do wonder how girls in other countries would react to the imagery.

I can see it being recommended as a supplement to differentiate the presentation of content for students who are into the comic book/ manga genres, rather than as a class text.

SampleQ from Manga Guide to Physics – similar to Concept Cartoons.


* Mother Jones article: the problem with men explaining things

Forces & Motion

As our G10 class get working on the Forces and Change in Motion unit, I thought it was time to update the resources to take advantage of the Stratos jump and try out GoogleDocs* and presentations embedded into WordPress.

This task was designed based on student feedback from the last unit test. Some students wanted more (!) test-like situations and practice with the criterion, so I put this together. Prior to this lesson we had some short discussion on prior knowledge on forces (based on sports day situations) and free body diagrams. The rest they were learning as they went along. It was more engaging than I expected – lots of reaching for whiteboards, cooperative arguments and research.

The presentation for the unit is first, with the stimulus video next and the task below.

Note: interestingly the GPresentation embedded fine, but the embedded GDoc lost its formatting. 

Red Bull Stratos – Jumping from the Edge of Space

Felix Baumgartner is ready to jump! Follow the live feed below, or on the Red Bull Stratos website. His aim is to jump from the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier in freefall. Whoo!

Here’s a CGI simulation of what’s expected:

Floating Spinning Magnet Trick

This is really cool…

For more of these demos and explanations, visit the Sixty Symbols YouTube channel. And of course Veritasium, for videos to make you think!

One Direction Do Physics

A bit of fun for my Grade 10 group to work through as we’re on PD days…

There’s a Quia Quiz here, if you want to have a go too.

Engineering a Classroom Brand

This looks like a great way to turn a classroom into a community, building ownership of learning, by Gary Abud. For a full post on the idea and more inspired ideas and some great posts on modeling chemistry (#ModChem), head over to his blog: Productive & Constructive.

The Sun’s Energy & Temperature Misconceptions

Here’s Derek Veritasium at it again, with two neat little videos. The first explores where the Sun gets its energy and the other shows a cool little demo regarding heat transfer. Enjoy!

Boson the Fourth of July

Yesterday was a big day for science, and luckily the internet was on hand to give us a live stream of reliable information and the CERN press conference (which is more than CNN could manage).

Why is it important? Here are some really useful Higgs links: 


This whole exercise is a great example of internationalism in science and is probably the world’s biggest group 4 project. It showcases the scientific method perfectly, as Adam Rutherford tweeted:

After the PR disaster of the EU’s hopelessly patronising Science: It’s a Girl Thing campaign, it was great to see a real inspiration to girls and boys take the stage – Fabiola Gianotti.

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Four Fundamental Forces in Six Videos [Crash Course]

Here’s Hank, giving a run-down of the fundamental forces. Might be useful for a flipclass intro or review for older students.

Strong Force

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