Course Reports

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Breaking Boards

One of the highlights of teaching introductory mechanics is always the “karate board” lab, which I start off by punching through a wooden board. That gets the class’s attention, and then we have them hang weights on boards and measure the deflection in response to a known force. This confirms that the board behaves like…

One of the points I make repeatedly in teaching introductory mechanics (as I’m doing this term) is that absolutely every problem students encounter can, in principle, be solved using just Newton’s Laws or, in the terminology used by Matter and Interactions, the Momentum Principle. You don’t strictly need any of the other stuff we talk…

A few years ago, I taught one of our “SRS” classes, which are supposed to introduce students to research at the college level– I blogged about it while the course was in progress. I taught it again in the recently-concluded Winter term, but didn’t blog much about it because I was mostly doing the same…

How Does Angular Momentum Emerge?

Yesterday’s post about VPython simulation of the famous bicycle wheel demo showed that you can get the precession and nutation from a simulation that only includes forces. But this is still kind of mysterious, from the standpoint of basic physics intuition. Specifically, it’s sort of hard to see how any of this produces a force…

The Emergence of Angular Momentum

The third of the great physics principles introduced in our introductory mechanics courses is the conservation of angular momentum, or the Angular Momentum Principle in the language of the Matter and Interactions curriculum we use. This tends to be one of the hardest topics to introduce, in no small part because it’s the last thing…

I’m teaching my “Brief History of Timekeeping” class again this term, and as always, I’m tweaking things a bit. This is one of our “Sophomore Research Seminar” courses, intended to introduce students to academic research, so it’s not specifically a physics class, but I’m choosing to take the statements about research outside the student’s field…

General Relativity With Toddler Toys

A couple of times last week, I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to demonstrate relativity with toddler toys and string. This was an inspiration that hit late on Thursday, when I was trying to think of a better way to explain embedding diagrams (the technical term for those stretched-rubber-sheet pictures that everybody uses…

Trains of Clocks

My Gen Ed relativity course has mostly been me lecturing about stuff to this point, so on Wednesday I decided to shake things up a bit and convert a chapter of David Mermin’s It’s About Time. The idea was to get students up and moving around a bit, and actually making some measurements of stuff.…

New Year, New Class: Gen Ed Relativity

The new academic year starts this week– first day of classes is Wednesday– and I’m dealing with the usual chaos associated with the influx of a new class of students. Who now look to me only a tiny bit older than SteelyKid and the Pip in the above picture (and if you think that sharing…

Uncertain Dots 16

For the sixteenth episode of Uncertain Dots, we decided to bring in some guests, Andy Rundquist and Kelly O’Shea for a conversation about standards-based grading. This came up because I’m playing around with this using the same tiered scheme I talked about back in January. This was a fun conversation, and some interesting ideas came…