Seeing through the eyes of 5th and 6th graders

The assignment was simple enough. Take a photo that reflects energy changing from one form to another. It could be a photo that you find funny or interesting. Or it could be something that you’re curious about or have questions about. That part was up to them. The “why” behind the photo was their business.

Here’s a few of the highlights. Enjoy. It’s not very often you get to see physics through the eyes of 10-12-year-olds.


Which one is your favorite?

Morning reading – The Loudest Sound in the World

From the physics department, I started my morning with a fascinating bit of reading from FiveThirtyEight.

They hooked me with the intro line:

The questions kids ask about science aren’t always easy to answer. Sometimes, their little brains can lead to big places adults forget to explore. With that in mind, we’ve started a series called Science Question From a Toddler, which will use kids’ curiosity as a jumping-off point to investigate the scientific wonders that adults don’t even think to ask about.

You want to capture my attention? That’s a pretty good way to do it.

What follows is a really approachable discussion of sound energy that is designed to be understandable but doesn’t skimp on all the science-y goodies to do it. It also doesn’t shirk on the drama.

A sound is a shove — just a little one, a tap on the tightly stretched membrane of your ear drum. The louder the sound, the heavier the knock. If a sound is loud enough, it can rip a hole in your ear drum. If a sound is loud enough, it can plow into you like a linebacker and knock you flat on your butt. When the shock wave from a bomb levels a house, that’s sound tearing apart bricks and splintering glass. Sound can kill you.

Go ahead and give it a read. I’d consider using it in a high school physics course. Although, full disclosure: I can’t universally recommend FiveThirtyEight since I know they also write about a lot of other topics and not all of their writers stick to basic school-appropriate rules, like no swears.

It also mixes in a bit of history (some nice story-telling on the eruption of Krakatoa) and some nice unit discussions (hertz, decibels, some prefixes get in the mix, too.)

All in all, definitely an article worth checking out.

Sky Dive Trampoline: Real or Fake?

It has been a while since I’ve posted an additional installment to my “Real or Fake” Collection, but when I see videos like this, I just wonder what everyone else sees when they watch it.

So, a man jumps out of a plane at several thousand feet with no parachute and slips through a 3 x 5 hole in the roof of a warehouse to land on a trampoline where a crowd of perhaps 100 wait to celebrate his victorious descent.

If this is a hoax, the sell job is pretty elaborate: the tech team on the in the control room, the steering device, the slow-motion replay… It sells well. I suppose that is why the video went viral.

But I’m not sold.

First, this stunt is awfully high-risk. Like, it either works, or the stunt man isn’t getting up.

Second, no rehearsal for this technology that is probably seriously tricky to get right. I suspect this guy would have wanted to see a trial drop with a test dummy at least once before he jumps.

I envision that first test drop going sort of like this:

Third, can some of my physics friends verify my skepticism over the meager bounce the man shows once he lands? One minute at free fall? That’s a lot of kinetic energy. A lot. That’s all I’m saying.


All right, your turn.


What do you think? Real or fake?


If you are curious, here are my other posts in the “Real or Fake” collection.

Life-Saving Baseball Catch

Ski Jump Luge

The Boiling Water Problem – Assessment on Functions

Boiling Water – 2 Cups – Full from Andrew Shauver on Vimeo.


Our transition to the common core has forced me to reconsider how I assess what student know and how much they understand.

A fairly standard content expectation from the Michigan Merit Curriculum might read, “Students will be able to identify what family a function belongs to and can analyze transformations to the parent function that will yield…” you get the idea.

A lot of questions come up in my mind when I think about assessing that standard. The first is how am I going to assess it? The second one is how can we make that knowledge useful to the students. The answer to the second question is the input, if the output is to be meaningful learning. The answer to the first question is the basis for how I design the situation that leads to the learning.

So, I submit for internet scrutiny the video above. I asked the following questions.

What is a possible independent variable? What would be the dependent variable? Do your choices create a function? Why or why not? If so, what family does your function best fit in? What would the parent function be? What transformation happened?

I found that there are ALL SORTS of misconceptions about variables, functions, parent functions, transformations.

I also found that the students are pretty good at crafting an argument using a formal math definition as support. They wrote pretty coherently as a group, although some were resistant to write with depth. That is nothing new, I’m afraid.

Ordinarily this type of thing would be an end of the unit project. I’m trying to use it as an exploration that is instructive and provides a chance for collaboration, flexibility, and individuality. Plus the fact that it serves as a formative assessment doesn’t hurt.


Feel free to load the comments with suggestions, constructive critiques, alternatives, and other ideas.


Another Watched Pot

Boiling Water – 4 Cup – Clip 1 from Andrew Shauver on Vimeo.

I simply couldn’t resist the urge to add some depth to the previous boiling pot video. Such a simple, everyday situation can create so many opportunities for exploration and mathematical/scientific inquiry.

So, use this video to create some conjectures about the difference in heating two cups of water versus heating four cups of water.

To verify your conjectures, the whole videos are both available at my Vimeo profile.

A watched pot never boils…

Boiling Water – 2 Cups – Clip 1 from Andrew Shauver on Vimeo.

So, I have proven to myself time and time again that watching a pot does not really affect whether or not it boils. I hope that you are convinced of that, too.

If not, then let this video serve as proof that we can even video tape a pot and it will boil again and again!

If we explore this video more deeply, it reveals the possibility of us asking all sorts of questions aside from whether or not the water will indeed boil. For example, is the rate of temperature increase constant or variable? What would the graph of the temperature change look like? Can we use the first minute’s data to accurately predict what will happen in minute two? three? 10? When will the water boil? What will happen to the temperature then?

How do you think the answers to the above questions will change if we were to double the amount of water in the pot?

Can you think of any other questions? Post them in the comments.

My battery is dying. I better call someone.

According to an article by Richard Gray on The Telegraph from 8 May 2011, Korean researchers are working on developing a way to capture the residual mechanical energy that is created when a person is talking on their cell phone and use it to charge the battery.

From the middle of the piece:

The technology would also be able to harness background noise and even music to charge a phone when not in use. However, there could be a downside to the innovation, if it gives people a new reason to shout into their phones as they attempt to squeeze in every extra bit of power they can.

The influx of nanotechnology, specifically nanotubes and their potential for superconductivity, adds a ton of possibilities to the conversation about green energy. It doesn’t get more renewable than the power of a young person’s voice. However, it does seem like the amount of mechanical energy released during a typical cell phone conversation would be quite small.

In the meantime, at least we have our solar chargers.