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Teaching high school physics

  1. Jan 5, 2007 #1

    I took EE at University.. working on my master's right now (advanced control for electric power steering system). Kind of wanted to always teach, and here in Ontario, teachers are paid fairly well. Plus I can teach math / senior math as well as physics.

    Anyway, looking at the Ontario curriculum, it's different in what I was taught, in that more experiments/ demos are to be carried out to demonstrate concepts. I've already talked to one of the local school's physics teachers to see how he runs things.

    I'd certainly like to use a dc motor to illustrate the electrical and magnetic concepts, as I work with those quite frequently in my research.

    I figure the famous Newtonian prism (also the Pink Floyd logo) would be great for backing up Snell's Laws, colour, etc.

    Anyone else on these forums teach physics (either at high school or 1st year University level) have any tips, or suggestions for experiments that are great for student's understanding basic physics concepts?

    With my background, I can think of hundreds of experiments for mechanics, energy/power, electricity and magnetism, sound, waves, and light.

    However, I'd like to hear your guys suggestions, especially, on experiments/demos/videos to demonstrate the basics of relativity and quantum mechanics, as they are covered in 1 of the 5 units


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  3. Jan 5, 2007 #2


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  4. Jan 5, 2007 #3

    George Jones

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  5. Jan 5, 2007 #4
    don't use any sort of java appletts and avoid powerpoints.

    While you should maybe post links to various java applettes on your website in the event a student is having real trouble with something at home and there's no other option, don't wste class time with them, they're un-enlightening and boring.

    Same goes for powerpoint, how many people here hate it when their college professors pull out the powerpoints? personally I can barely pay attention to a professor when they pull out a powerpoint, and I'm in love with physics.

    So in general remember that if your demonstrating something then use a real demonstration that everyone can see ie. van de graffs, tesla coils, curved mirrors, pool balls, and penduluums. Because virtual demonstations don't do anything for your students.
  6. Jan 5, 2007 #5

    Why do you think I wanted to be a physics teacher? Perhaps I can make dinkering with electrical and other mechanical / optic devices a part time hobby :) I intend to use as much practical examples to back up concepts taught in class. To me, that's the most essential: explain the concept on the board, back up with an actual experiment, whether you just do it (1 unit) or the class participates in it doing it (a full lab).

    And yes, I would never use powerpoint. My high school teachers never used powerpoint, and neither did my 1st year University classes or math courses at the U. It's the "lazy" way to teach -- it's much easier than writing on the board, but on the board, you can kind of get a "flow" to the thought process to help learn material faster.

    I'm glad the physics curriculum in Ontario is more detailed than when I took it a few years back (including more topics on electricity, magnetism, fields, optics, and modern physics.) That's the stuff I'm more interested in -- though I like the basic mechanics as well.

    Although, I think java applets, but only shown after a lesson, might help to visualize a process that's hard to build a demo for.

    I'll need to brush up on my relativity : I've never actually learned that in either high school or at the University (although I imagine it is taught in the 1st year physics general course.) I did basic quantum physics for my semiconductor courses.
  7. Jan 5, 2007 #6
    I noticed the curriculum also wants you to teach a bit of "physics history": Newton, Einstein, etc.

    Good thing I read "A Brief History of Nearly Everything" by Bryson.. gives some interesting insight into these famous scientists. ;)
  8. Jan 5, 2007 #7
    I am not completely positive since I am not up to general theory of relativity yet but from my reading, I believe that to develop a solid grasp of gtr, one must have a very good understanding of differential equations (which I am sure you are), differential/algebraic geometry and perhaps some topology. You might want to brush up on these as well, if you haven't been exposed to them in a while.
  9. Jan 5, 2007 #8
    I think he's referring to the special theory of relativity, which at the level of highschool would not involve any of the above mathematical topics.
  10. Jan 5, 2007 #9
    That makes more sense. <3
  11. Jan 6, 2007 #10
    Well, I'm thinking of just attending a 1st year University physics class this semester (it's the second course of 2, covering light,waves,EM, and modern). Not going to write the tests or anything -- apparently the prof in charge is quite a hardass, and loves the "1st year is a weeding out year" ideal.
    I just want to see how the material is presented in the 1st year U introductory course (as the same material is covered in gr 12 advanced physics.)

    Yeah, I'm good with differential equations (as I use them all the time to model control systems), but I've never did any topology ... heh :)

    If I recall, differential equations are used for the basic quantum wave mechanics, as well (Schrodinger's (SP?) equation.) I learned that in semiconductors, though, admittedly, I never got a good grasp of it (I suppose it's not the easiest thing to understand intuitively.)
  12. Jan 6, 2007 #11
    Although by my own admission I don't possess enougn understanding to fully appreciate any mathematical aspect of QM, I do believe the mathematics behind maybe QFT (or just QM in general), are less intuitive than usual.
  13. Jan 6, 2007 #12
    If hes teaching high school physics, I doubt they're going to make it to the chapter on QFT or even QM ;)
  14. Jan 6, 2007 #13
    Well, "modern physics" wasn't taught at the high school level, until recently, I believe, here in Ontario.

    When I took the 2nd high school physics course (OAC/gr13, now grade 12 in Ontario), this was not a chapter usually taught. However, it apparently was part of the curriculum, just usually omitted for time concerns (as it was never a full "chapter").

    This was probably due to the fact we simply didn't have the math background for OAC physics -- at this point, we hadn't taken algebra or calculus. So, math concepts such as vector analysis (for projectile motion, etc) the teacher had to teach before the physics.
    I don't believe we got to EM either (I remember doing sound, waves, and light).

    Well, if I teach physics, I'd like to at least include a bit on modern physics (as it's part of the curriculum, and a good thing to know). However, it's chapter "5" of 5, so I bet it's the first to go if the teacher runs out of time.

    The light/waves/mechanics/EM I know much a good bit past the gr12/13 level, because of my EE courses, but I'll have to learn this new modern physics stuff that I only know about at a superficial level (I'm sure I can pick it up).

    Anyway, here's what the senior physics class, for unit 5 "matter/energy interface" are expected to do/learn:

    o Concepts and units related to nature of the atom
    and elementary particles
    -Explain the meaning of quantum, photon,
    photoelectric effect, work function

    o Describe principle forms of nuclear decay
    - Write nuclear equations for alpha & beta decay

    o State Einstein’s 2 postulates for special theory of

    o Apply Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence

    o The Standard Model of elementary particles
    -Distinguish between elementary and composite

    o Collect experimental evidence of Bohr’s model of
    the atom
    - Explain the contribution of some scientists to the
    development of the early quantum theory
    -Analyse trajectories of elementary particles in
    images to determine mass versus charge ratio

    o Distinguish between elementary and composite

    o State some characteristics of elementary
    particles such as their mass and charge

    Anyway, could anyone recommend a good book that explains modern physics at a high school / early University level ? I know there's the standard books they use for high school physics, as well as 1st/2nd year University (of which I only have the EM section); I'm looking for something a bit better explained or elaborated upon (though not too detailed.. I'm not a nuclear physicist.)
  15. Jan 12, 2007 #14
    I know you may be looking for more in depth, but if your class is more discussion oriented, you may look into A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, It doens't go into the math much at all and covers a very broad range of modern physics topics. It is a favorite of mine, I read it while in highschool as a freshmen or sohpomore and It was what reallly got me interested in physics
  16. Jan 12, 2007 #15
    Yeah.. I read that about a year back, great book.

    Great book.. I thought he started to stray a bit in the latter half of the book (then again, the subject material is a little hard to understand.)
  17. Jan 12, 2007 #16
    At a high school level, probably the most interesting way to give some sort of description of quantum mechanics would be to show a single or double slit laser experiment.

    Just for an example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slit_experiment

    A single slit demo can be done really easily and cheaply actually. All you need is 1 laser pointer, 1 sewing needle, and a good surface to shine the light on. Shine the laser through the needle hole and watch the diffraction pattern appear :) You might want to tape the needle onto a thick piece of paper and then poke a hole through where the needle hole is so that the laser will only go where you want it. But I assure you this works, I've done it here myself.

    Again, good luck in teaching!
  18. Jan 12, 2007 #17

    George Jones

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    For special relativity, I recommend a couple of books.

    At the high school level, there is the very small book https://www.amazon.com/Einsteins-Sp...f=sr_1_1/002-1086803-0800840?ie=UTF8&s=books" by Ernie McFarland. Mcfarland is a physics prof at the University of Guelph and was awarded the 1997 Canadian Association of Physicists' Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. I think that this book is a must for you.

    From the book's preface:

    At the early university level, there is the small book https://www.amazon.com/Travelers-Gu...f=sr_1_1/002-1086803-0800840?ie=UTF8&s=books" by Thomas Moore. I think it is useful for a teacher (at any level from grade one to grad school) to know the material at a level one step higher than the level at which the teacher intends to teach. Useful, but not always practical - people often have a lot on their plates. For getting a deeper understanding of special relativity, I can't recommend this book highly enough. And it is small. :smile:

    I'll try and think more about appropriate recommendations for the nuclear/elementary stuff, but I can't guarantee that I'll come up with anyting useful.
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  19. Jan 12, 2007 #18


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    If you are going to teach the course at the high school level, you must be familiar with it at at least the undergraduate level. For your own preparation, use something like "Modern Physics", by Tipler.

    http://www.whfreeman.com/college/book.asp?disc=&id_product=1149000010&compType=TOC [Broken]
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  20. Jan 15, 2007 #19
    I'm going to start teaching physics for practice in February.

    I asked the current physics teacher there what he did to cover the chapter 5 unit "matter/energy interface" (modern physics), and he said he just showed a good video on Einstein to give the students an intro to it.

    It seems that although the Ontario curriculum has a whole chapter devoted to modern physics, not many of the physics teachers have enough time in the class to get around to it (the chapters on motion, energy/work, EM fields, and light come first I guess.)

    A lot of this has to do with the fact, when many of the students take gr 12A physics, they don't have algebra (Vectors) yet. So the physics teacher has to teach that first, so the students can do the vector based classical physics.

    Ofcourse, I'm still going to read up on it for my own knowledge. Thanks for the info guys.
  21. Jan 15, 2007 #20
    might i suggest signing up for the gr12u physics course through the independent learning centre (www.ilc.org)?[/URL] the courses are $40 each.

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